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.

 

Foreigners or Family?

“Foreigners or Family?”

January 07, 2018

(Epiphany)

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Ephesians 3:1-12                               Matthew 2:1-12

 

 

Since this is the beginning of a new year, let’s take a moment to be introspective.  Let’s take a look deep inside of ourselves. Over the past month or so we’ve discussed the idea of “us” and “them” a few times and we’re going to touch on that one more time today as well.  And so, the question I want you to consider is this: who in your life is “the other?”  Perhaps if you are a college educated person with college educated parents, “the other” is a person who works a blue collar job for an hourly wage.  But if you are a blue collar, union member from a long line of union members, then maybe “the other” is someone who wears a tie to work every day in some high rise building downtown, or in New York or some other big city.  Maybe “the other” person is a CEO, or a multimillionaire, whose job, and entire lifestyle is really more than you can even imagine.  Or maybe your life has been mostly comfortable and “the other” is a homeless person who is so unlike you, and unlike your life’ experiences, that you can’t even imagine how they got there or what it must be like to call a little spot under a bridge “home.”  Many of our families have been living on this continent for so long that we have no idea what it’s like to be someone who was born somewhere else and immigrated here or who has moved here temporarily on a work visa.  In many places that I have lived, and I imagine that this area isn’t terribly different, I knew people who had never left the county they were born in, and quite a few who had never been anywhere outside the state of Ohio.  For them, “the other” can often be people who travel or almost anyone who has come here from Texas, or California, or somewhere else, especially those who have come here from another country.

 

Think about who “the other” might be for you.  Who is it whose life, and whose life experiences, are so vastly different that yours, that you have a hard time understanding the things that they do, how they act, the choices that they make, the things that they like and dislike, and who they are as a person?

 

Who is it that is so different from you that you can barely imagine having a conversation with them, let alone consider the possibility that one day you might be friends?

 

Got it?

 

Now, keep that person in mind as we consider our scriptures for today, which is Epiphany, the day that we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men.

 

We begin once again by reading from the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60:1-6 where we hear these words…


60:1
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

 

Isaiah writes of a time, in the future, when God’s messiah would come and the entire world would rejoice, bring gifts, and bring praise and worship to God.  From our side of history, we take this for granted, but in the time of Isaiah, and up until the coming of Jesus, Israel was God’s chosen people.  God had made a covenant with Abraham and it was only his family that had a relationship with God.  In order for other people, or other nations to worship Israel’s god, they had to come to Israel and to her temple, and worship there.  In order for them to follow God and to have a relationship with him, they would have to be circumcised (at least the men, obviously) and become practicing Jews, but in order to be a practicing Jew, it was necessary to make occasional visits to the temple to make sacrifices and to celebrate holy days.  While people from other nations occasionally came to faith in Israel’s god and converted to Judaism, it was fairly rare.  For the most part, the people of Israel considered foreigners to be “the other.”  Israel was “us” and everyone else was “them.”  Hundred of years had passed since women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba had converted to Judaism, but even though they belonged to the genealogy of King David, they were still referred to as Gentile women.  Gentiles and foreigners were always “the other.”

 

This is one reason that Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that breaks with tradition and includes five women (women were rarely, if ever included in official genealogies), three of whom were foreigners and Gentiles.  From the beginning, Matthew makes sure that his reader understands that the thing that God is doing is not limited to men, or even limited to the nation of Israel.  And then we come to Matthew 2:1-12, where we hear about the coming of the Wise Men.


2:1 
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

A great deal can be said about the coming of the Magi, but for today it is enough to point out that this is exactly the beginning of what Isaiah was talking about.  Foreigners, Gentiles, people who were clearly “the other” came to Israel from a distant country rejoicing, bringing gifts, and bringing praise and worship to God.  Just as Isaiah had said, “the other” was being invited in.  Two weeks ago, I talked about outsiders who were invited in.  These were people like the shepherds, people who technically belonged but who, for the most part, lived on the fringes of society.  But the Magi are an entirely different class of outsiders.  These aren’t people from the family of Abraham who had taken a bad path, or who smelled bad, or who were cast aside because they were poor, or even because they were unclean, the Magi were totally outside.  The Magi were never a part of God’s covenant.

 

They… were never… us.

 

Until now.

 

In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul explains just how dramatically, and earth-shatteringly radical and important this really was.


3:1 
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

 

Paul’s message is that with the coming of Jesus, the Gentiles are now not only welcomed into the Temple, but are adopted into God’s family as co-heirs with Israel, members of one body, one church, and one people.

 

For almost everyone in Israel and Judea, everyone who was Jewish, and everyone who worshipped Israel’s God, the Gentiles, more than anyone else, had been considered to be “the other.”  While shepherds, prostitutes, and even those that collaborated with the enemy like tax collectors, and half breeds like the Samaritans, were considered to be aliens and outsiders, they at least had some connection, however distant, to the family of Abraham.  But the Gentiles were the ultimate outsiders.  They were completely outside the family of Abraham.  They weren’t Jewish at all.  They had never belonged.  As much as Israel admired King David and King Solomon, and even though they looked forward to a King that would come from David’s royal family, they still considered women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba to be Gentiles and outsiders.  Despite converting to Judaism, despite marrying into the family, despite worshipping Israel’s god, and despite being the matriarchs of one of Israel’s greatest families, they were still thought to be “the other” because they were foreigners.

 

But both Matthew and Paul are very clear that the coming of Jesus changed all that.

 

With the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, there is no longer anyone whom we can consider to be “the other.”

 

The most ‘other’ outsiders that existed had not only been invited in, they had been adopted as brothers and sisters.  And not only were they adopted, they were included as equal in God’s inheritance, co-heirs with God’s chosen people.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, there is no longer anyone that we can think of as “the other.”  Not the rich, not the poor, not the educated or the uneducated, not city people, not country people, not blue collar or white collar, union or non-union, well to do or homeless, and not American, immigrant, or foreigner.

 

There are no longer outsiders.

 

There is no longer anyone that we can call foreigners.

 

There is only…  family.

 

And Paul says that, as the church, God has given us the mission to make sure that everyone hears the story of Jesus, and feels like family in the church.

 

In this New Year, let us resolve to be that kind of a church.

 

 

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

 

The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

“The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’”

December 24, 2017

(4th Sunday of Advent)

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

How many of you watch football?

 

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

 

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

 

But what happens at Christmas is bigger by far.

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And this is why Christmas is such a big deal.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And that is worth celebrating.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

 

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

 

“Patience and the Promise Keeper”

“Patience and the Promise Keeper”

December 10, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 40:1-5                          2 Peter 3:8-15                         Mark 1:1-8

 

 

Have you ever received mail from a friend or relative that got lost by the post office somewhere along the way and arrived long after it had been sent?  Have you ever read stories about people who had been separated by World War Two and decades later received love letters or gifts that had been found in an attic by their grandchildren?  These sorts of things take us on journeys out of time, or displaced in time, in some way.  I also think about some of the older families in the east coast.  A friend of mine once told me a story about a friend of his who had been dating a girl in the DuPont family.  The DuPonts are the family that founded, and still own a majority share, of the international chemical conglomerate, but their family goes back to founding of our nation.  The story that I heard was that, while visiting his girlfriend, this young man was invited to help decorate the DuPont family Christmas tree, and while doing so was reminded to handle the decorations with care, because some of them had been handed down from generation to generation and dated back to the 1700’s.  As I heard it, the young man was nearly paralyzed with the fear that he might break something that was clearly irreplaceable.

 

With that in mind, now imagine that while you were unpacking such a box you found a letter from your four or five times great grand parents in which they promised an inheritance that would not only change your life, but would change the course of our nation, and lead to a world in which the leader of the United States would rule over the entire world.  That idea would be pretty hard to get your head around.  A thousand questions would swirl through your mind. How could they have known?  How would they ever be able to accomplish such a thing?  But let’s make it even harder.  Imagine that you were doing some historical research and found a letter with that same kind of bold promise, but the letter in question was so old that the English in it had to be translated before you could understand it.  Imagine that such a letter was written eight hundred years ago in the year 1217, a year in which the Crusades were being fought, Genghis Khan was conquering Persia, the Magna Carta had only just been written, and the Shogun still ruled over Japan.

 

We would think that such a promise was impossible to make or to keep and, after 800 years, had certainly been forgotten.  But that is exactly the sort of thing that we are talking about as we read the prophecies and the promises of God sent to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah.  Of course, there’s a big difference between the promises of a human being and the promises of God, but eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah wrote these words to the people of Israel in Isaiah 40:1-5:


40:1 
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 

And, far from being lost in some library somewhere, the people of Israel kept the words of Isaiah close to their hearts, taught them to their children, passed them down from generation to generation, and read them in their synagogues.  But, much like today, some people in positions of authority, and people who thought that they were “sophisticated” began to think that the words of Isaiah were no longer important or relevant while others took God at his word and had the faith to believe that, despite the long wait, God would keep his promises.  That’s why there were people like Mary and Joseph whose faith allowed them to believe that God was at work in their world and in them.  That’s why scholars from the east (perhaps in Babylon) noticed the birth of the messiah before Israel’s own scholars.  And that’s why the beginning of the book of Mark sounds so familiar to anyone who had ever heard the words of Isaiah. (Mark 1:1-8)

 

1:1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

After 800 years of waiting, God was moving in Israel.  After generations of wondering when it would happen, God’s messenger had arrived to proclaim the arrival of the messiah, savior, and rescuer of Israel.

 

God was keeping his promise.

 

But that 800 year wait seems like a long time.  In fact, 800 year doesn’t “seem” like a long time, 800 years “is” an extraordinarily long time.  And as we notice that, we cannot help but notice that it’s been almost 2000 years since Jesus rose from the dead and promised to return.  So much is different. So much has changed.  Are we wrong?  Has God forgotten?  Is God slow to keep his promises?  Or is it something else?

 

These are not uncommon questions.  In fact, these are not new questions.  In a letter to the entire church and to believers everywhere, Jesus’ disciple and close friend Peter addresses some of these very questions.

(2 Peter 3:8-15)

 

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

 

Peter reminds us that the God who spoke galaxies and stars and the entire universe into existence is not a creature that is a slave to time in the way that we are.  God sees time but experiences it, or at least thinks about it, in an entirely different way.  Perhaps simply being an immortal, eternal being makes him less constrained by, or less concerned with, the passage of time than human are.  But in any case, Peter explains that God is not slow in the way that we understand slowness.  God has made promises to his people, and God intends to keep those promises.  But since God is not only eternal and immortal, but also omniscient, or all-knowing, God has the ability to keep his promises in a way that benefits the most people.  God does not desire for anyone to die in their sin, but desires instead that everyone might repent and be saved.  Rather than rush to fulfill his promises, God chooses to be patient in order that more people might have the opportunity to be saved.

 

But Peter also reminds us that a day of destruction, the end of the world, and judgement is coming.  We therefore look forward to a new creation, a new heaven, and a new earth where the righteous will live forever.  But as we look forward, we are called to do all that we can, in Peter’s words, to “make every effort” to live righteous lives, to be as perfect as possible, so that we might “be found spotless, blameless, and at peace” with God.

 

And so, on this second Sunday of Advent, as we light the candle of Love, we remember that God is not slow to keep his promises, but instead is being patient with us.  God is taking his time to give us another chance to get it right.  God is being patient so that we might make another effort to be righteous, to be as perfect as we can be, to be more like Jesus than ever before, and to tell even more people about the Good News of Jesus so that everyone might repent and be saved.

 

It was 800 years from the time prophecies of Isaiah to their fulfillment in time of Jesus, and it’s been almost 2000 years since Jesus promised that he would return.

 

God is not slow.

 

God is giving us another chance to get it right.

 

Let’s not waste it.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Important Preparations

Christmas-tree

Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.

As we enter December, we are also entering the season of Advent.  Advent, much like the season of Lent before Easter, is meant to be a season of preparation.

But what does that mean?

Honestly, an easy way to think about it is the same way we think about preparing for many other things during this time of the year.  We know that winter is coming, and with it our usual mix of snow, ice, and cold weather.  And so, in preparation, many of us have spent time digging our winter coats, hats, mittens, scarves, and other things from the backs of closets.  We’ve stocked up on salt for the driveway and made sure that our snow shovels and snow blowers are ready to go.  Similarly, we have begun preparing our homes for Christmas by pulling our decorations out of the garage, attic, basement, crawlspace, or wherever else we’ve stored them since last year.  And we’re making plans to bake cookies, make candy, bake pies, and whatever else needs done to make us feel “ready” for the arrival of Christmas day.

Some of us, and I am one of them, need this time.  It is sometimes hard for me to feel festive at Christmas.  I drift more easily toward “humbug” than to “Ho ho ho.”  And so to prepare, I deliberately try to listen to Christmas music, and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and other classic Christmas specials that we grew up with, along with various Hallmark Christmas movies on television.

But Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.

Advent is about our heart condition.

Advent asks us to think about whether or not our hearts are ready to receive the Christ child at Christmas.  Advent asks us if we are ready to accept the greatest gift that God has ever offered to us.  And so, for four weeks, we are offered this season of preparation.  This is a time for us to consider the condition of our hearts.  To read, and to listen to the stories of scripture, to fellowship and sing with others and, just as we are preparing our homes, to prepare our hearts so that we will be truly “ready” for Christmas and the arrival of God’s greatest gift to humanity.

So consider this an invitation to the season of Advent.  Come with us on a journey together.  Let us spend time worshipping together, singing together, and studying together.  I invite you to be a part of something bigger than yourself.  Perhaps to pick up an Advent devotional and have a few moments of daily quiet time alone with God.

You wouldn’t dream of being snowed in this winter without coats and hats, shovels and salt, and a pantry full of food (with a few cookies and fudge).

You want to be prepared.

The Savior of the world is coming.  God’s greatest gift.

Please take the time to prepare your heart as well.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

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God and Weasels

“God and Weasels”

July 10, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 10:25-37              Colossians 1:1-14                  Amos 5:7-17

 

Do you watch the news at all?

Does this year’s political fiasco stir up any questions for you or for your friends?

I suspect that it has, and I think that it should.

Here are some politically charged questions that are often asked by the followers of Jesus Christ as well as your average person on the street.  And, while they are politically charged questions, they deserve thoughtful, theological, answers.

Why do good things happen to bad people?

Why don’t bad things happen to bad people?

Why are there people, that no matter what they do, nothing bad ever seems to ever happen to them?

Why do these same people manipulate the media so that the people don’t ever hear the truth?

The funny thing about these questions is that, while I have put them into a 21st century context by the way that I worded them, I wasn’t referring specifically to the Bushes, Cheneys, Clintons, or anyone else.  In fact, I drew these questions from a story in the Bible from almost three thousand years ago.  (Amos 7:7-17)

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

Amos was just a guy herding sheep in the middle of nowhere until God called him to take a message to the people of Israel.  But when he did, the priest at the nation’s most important place of worship, the place where the king would have sacrificed and worshipped, Bethel, sends a message to King Jeroboam that Amos is trying to undermine his authority and destroy Israel.  In our terminology, he is conspiring to control the news cycle and stifle free speech, so that the people won’t have a chance to hear the truth, so that the people won’t have a chance to hear message from God that Amos is preaching.

Amaziah the priest goes on to tell Amos to go home and not to bother coming to bring God’s words to the king, to the capital city, and to the nation’s most prominent place of worship.  But Amos’s answer is this: If God has called me to bring a message to Israel then I will bring a message to Israel.  And if you want to stop me, then God has a message of disaster for you as well.

King Jeroboam didn’t like bad news and he didn’t like his people to hear bad news either.  In fact, he had been manipulating the news for so long that he didn’t want the people to hear the truth at all.  On top of that, the church, along with the nation’s most important priest, was one of his leading coconspirators. Together, they had been building something that God says doesn’t measure up, a nation, and policies, morals and ethics, that don’t match God’s standards.  And the message that Amos brought was that God himself was coming with his plumb line, his measuring stick, to see what is built to standard, to see what is straight, to find what is crooked, to test them, to measure them, and everything, and everyone, that didn’t measure up would be destroyed.

Perhaps one of the most important messages that we learn from Amos is that while God’s justice may not always be immediate, or as fast as we would hope it would be, God has not forgotten.  The weasels will get what they deserve, in God’s time.  Ignoring God does not make God, or God’s justice, go away and ignoring God’s laws does not protect you from the consequences of breaking them no matter how wealthy or important (or unimportant) you may be.

Nearly eight hundred years later, in the time of Jesus, people haven’t changed.  Leaders of the nation and of the church are still trying to manipulate and misinterpret the words of God for their own benefit but Jesus isn’t having any of it.  (Luke 10:25-37)

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This man, who is described as an expert in Jewish law, comes to Jesus and seems confused by the meaning of one of the two fundamental laws of God, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He accepts that this is a fundamental law of God, and he accepts that he is commanded to love his neighbor, but when it comes time to decide who his neighbor might be, he wants to play fast and loose with the definition.

He knew that he wasn’t loving and so, because “he wanted to justify himself” he tries to get Jesus to give him a definition of “neighbor” that will allow him to weasel out of loving people that he doesn’t like.

But Jesus isn’t having any of that noise.

Jesus tells him a story, in which the hero of the story, the most loving, and most godly character, is a man that every Jew has been raised and trained to hate with every fiber of his being, an enemy that they disliked more than they hated the Romans, a Samaritan.  In the end, the teacher of the law admits that it was his enemy that showed mercy, but even then he can’t bring himself to even say the word “Samaritan” out loud.

Jesus wants us to know that just like it was in the time of Amos, we can’t change God’s rules just because we don’t like them.  Redefining words, or misinterpreting scripture, to make ourselves look good is not acceptable.

We cannot follow the way of the weasel.

There is another way.

As the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Colossae, he begins by complimenting them because the things that they have been doing have people all over talking about them. (Colossians 1:1-14)

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The faith of the church in Colossae, their love, and their ministry, is bearing fruit and people are talking about them so much that Paul keeps hearing about them as he travels on his missionary journeys.  And so, Paul, and his travelling companions, are continually in prayer for the Colossian church so that God would continue the good work there, strengthen them, and give them great endurance and patience so that the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ might continue to grow throughout the world.

Jesus calls us to follow him and to obey his teaching.  But the followers of Jesus Christ are called to do things his way and not to redefine words, reinterpret, and misinterpret scripture so that we make the gospel message into something it isn’t just so that we can look good.

Instead, we are reminded of God’s promise in Deuteronomy 30:9-10 where it says, “The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

God’s justice may not always come as fast as we would hope it would but God has not forgotten.  The weasels will get what they deserve, in God’s time.

Ignoring God does not make God go away.

Ignoring God does not make God’s justice go away.

Ignoring God’s laws does not protect you from the consequences of breaking them.

We are called to follow the way of Jesus Christ… and not the way of the weasel.

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

The Gift of Excalibur

“The Gift of Excalibur”

May 15, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

How many of you have heard of King Arthur, the one of whom so many stories, movies and plays have been written?

Now, how many of you actually know the story of King Arthur beyond the one that we heard from Walt Disney’s “The Sword and the Stone” or the Hollywood musical “Camelot” with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave?

Of course, some of you are young enough that you have no idea who Richard Harris was.  You should go home and look this up on Netflix.  There have been countless other adaptations of this story and each of them is a little different.  But honestly, if once you start looking, the variations started hundreds of years ago and even the oldest sources for the legend of Arthur can be very different from one another.

In any case, the basic story goes something like this: King Uther Pendragon fancied another man’s wife, Lady Igraine, so much that he intended to steal her by force.  To that end, he took an army to attack the castle in Cornwall belonging to her husband, the Duke of Tintagel.  During the battle, the Duke was killed, and Merlin used magic to change Uther Pendragon into the shape of the Duke so that he could sleep with Lady Igraine without her knowing.  By that deception, Arthur was conceived but Merlin didn’t work his magic for free, and in the deal that Uther had made to sleep with Lady Igraine, when Arthur was born, he was given to Merlin and Merlin, in turn, gave him to someone else as a foster parent.

Much later, Arthur, not knowing that he is the rightful heir of King Uther Pendragon, pulls a sword out of a stone and anvil.  According to the legend, that sword was well known in England and it was said that only the true and right king of all England would be able to draw it out.

Later still, Arthur complained to Merlin that he didn’t have a really good sword that he could call his own, and so Merlin took him to a lake where he met Nimue, the Lady of the Lake.  Nimue had a fantastic sword that belonged to her and her only, but she would loan it to Arthur and told him that it would serve him well.  The sword was encased by a beautiful scabbard made of gold and inlaid with precious gems but it was more than that.  The scabbard also had the power to protect Arthur from all harm on the battlefield.  Another part of the story says that the sword, through the light that reflected from it, and the magic that it held within it, had the power to bedazzle his enemies so that he could overcome them even if he were vastly outnumbered.

There are tons of books that can tell you more about the legend of the great King Arthur, but this much of the story is important to our message today.  There are three important reasons that I shared these parts of the legend of King Arthur… but I’m not going to tell you what they are until later.

We begin our scripture lesson this morning in John 14:8-17, 25-27 where we hear this:

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 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Jesus promised the disciples that after he leaves them, God will send his Spirit to live with us forever and that spirit will come to lead us, guide us, and to help us do the will of God.

That promise is fulfilled after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension in to heaven and we hear that story in Acts 2:1-21.

2:1When 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.’

People who witnessed the coming of the Spirit of God were amazed and wondered what it meant and Peter is more than happy to explain it to them.  The coming of the Spirit of God was prophesied by the prophet Joel as well as Jesus.  Those prophecies tell us that the coming of the Spirit would give the followers of God the power to prophecy, dream dreams, see visions, and otherwise hear the voice of God as well as to do the will of God so that all of humanity might call on the name of the Lord and be saved.

The Spirit of God gave the disciples the ability to preach in languages that they didn’t know so that the crowds of people, who had come to Jerusalem from all over the world, could hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Finally today, we read from Romans 8:14-17, where we hear Paul explain what it means for us to receive the gift of the Spirit of God.

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.

And that brings us back to the story of King Arthur because there are three important parallels between King Arthur and each of us who are gathered here.

First, Arthur was the true heir of the King and so are you.  Because Arthur was the true son of the King, despite the fact that he had no knowledge of his real parentage, he was able to draw the sword out of the anvil and stone.  Because you are a child of the King of kings, adopted into sonship, co-heirs with Jesus, regardless of your human parentage, you too are able to receive a great gift.  In your case, what you can receive is not a sword, but the power of the living Spirit of God.

Second, Arthur was given a great gift, Excalibur, which enabled him to do far more than he could have done through his own effort, strength and power.  And so have you.  Because, when you came to faith in Jesus Christ and put your trust in him, the Spirit of God came to live within you.  And because the Spirit of God lives within you, you are able to do far more through the power of that Spirit, than you ever could through your own effort, strength and power.

And finally, The Lady of the Lake gave Arthur the sword Excalibur because he was worthy, but in the end, Arthur was mortally wounded in battle because of a moral failure.  Similarly, Jesus said that if we love him, we must keep his commands.  Our ability to be channels of the power of the Spirit of God is limited, or even lost, when we fail to be obedient to the commands of God.

And so, as we remember and celebrate Pentecost, I want each of you to remember that you are like King Arthur.  It is as if you have been given the gift of Excalibur.  You have been declared to be a true heir of the King of kings.  You have been given a great gift.  It is a gift of indescribable power and it can help you to do the work of God’s Kingdom in ways that go far beyond your own effort, strength, courage, wisdom, and understanding.  But to wield that power effectively, you must stay close to God and do your very best to be obedient to his commands.

You are heirs of the King of kings and are servants, warriors, and knights in his service.

You have been given a gift that is more powerful than the mythical sword Excalibur, and you have been called by God to use that gift in the service of his kingdom.

How will you answer brave knight?

 

 

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