A Date with the Gallows

A Date with the Gallows

September 26, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22               Mark 9:38-50                         James 5:13-20

Do you watch movies?

Have you seen Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean?

There is a literary device that has been used in many books and movies and was used to good effect in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  The literary device to which I refer is one in which one of the main characters has been sentenced to death by hanging and awaits their appointment with death and their date with the gallows.  In The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow stands in line and waits for his meeting with the executioner until Will, and then Elizabeth, intervene to save his life.

As we read such stories or watch such movies, we imagine what it would be like to be in such a position ourselves.  How would we feel if we were sentenced to death and were only waiting for our date with the gallows or our appointment with death?  And imagine how much worse it would be if everyone that we knew, everyone of our family, friends, and community, were similarly condemned?  How would we feel?  What would we do?  It seems impossible, but that is exactly the situation that Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai, and all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire, faced.  An enemy of the Jews, Haman, was a close aide to the king, and had deceptively persuaded the king to sign an edict that doomed every Jew in the Empire.  But Esther had a plan.  Even though the mere act of appearing in the king’s presence without an invitation could be punishable by death, even for the queen, Esther dares to do so anyway.  And when the king rescues her, invites her in, and allows her to speak, she invites him to dinner for further discussion and then in Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22, we hear this:

 7:1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

9:20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Once the truth was known, and the consequences of the king’s edict, and Haman’s treachery, were understood, the king found a way to turn the tables.  The Jews were saved, Haman was hung on the six story tall gallows that he had built, and the sorrow of the Jews was changed into joy, and their tears transformed into gladness.

But sometimes it is hard to tell one side, or one team, from another.  It’s a bit like trying to watch, or even to play, a football game in which all of the players, from both sides, are wearing the same uniform.  That is the situation in which the disciples find themselves in Mark 9:38-50.  They thought they knew which side they were on.  There was Jesus, and then there was the twelve, and then there were the handful of people that generally hung out with them.  But suddenly their entire understanding of “us” and “them” is disrupted.

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck, and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Jesus takes this moment to teach a two-part message.  First, “us” is not so easily defined as “Jesus and the twelve.”  Jesus says that even if someone wasn’t physically following Jesus but was doing “deeds of power” in Jesus’ name then they couldn’t say anything bad about Jesus and must have been connecting to the power of God through Jesus’ name.  For us, that means that we shouldn’t always be so certain that we know who is “us” and who is “them.”  

The second part of that instruction hits even closer to home for the disciples, and probably does for us as well.  Jesus says that not only are there people on our side that we didn’t know about, but we also need to be careful not to drive people out of the kingdom of God by doing, or saying, something foolish.  Our words, and our actions, can sometimes be the things that cause others to trip and fall, or to step off the cliff into unbelief.  And Jesus says that we must not be a stumbling block, we must not be the reason that someone else stops believing.  Worse still, Jesus’ description offers us a terrifying picture of what might happen to those who cause others to stumble.

Finally, Jesus reminds us that, like salt, we were created with a purpose.  And, just like salt that isn’t salty, we cease to be useful if we fail to do the things for which we were created.  Salt that isn’t salty was typically just thrown out and used to fill in potholes on the walking path outside your house.  We wouldn’t want God to have that kind of opinion about our usefulness.

Instead, we should strive to be about God’s business and to do the work that Jesus has left for us to do.  Jesus’ brother James has this to say in James 5:13-20:

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James reminds us that while we are trying to be useful, one of the things for which we were created is to connect with God through prayer.  Pray for the sick and the suffering, sing when things go well, and ask for forgiveness when we fall short.  If the prayers of Elijah could stop the rain for three years and then start it back up again, then we know that our prayers are sufficient to bring the wanderers and the prodigals home again and return the lost to a closer walk with Jesus.

Never forget that rescuing God’s the lost children is the purpose for which we were created.  Without Jesus, we are like those pirates and other characters in books and movies who were waiting for their date with the gallows, or like the Jews who waited for their destruction.  Without Jesus, death awaits us all.  But when we return the lost to Jesus, through prayer or through the actions of individuals or through the work of the church, we change sorrow into joy, and tears into gladness.

Let us not sit idly and watch as others wait for their date with the gallows.

Instead, may God find us busy doing the work of rescue and restoration.


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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.

Why Are We Here?

Why Are We Here?

(Trinity Sunday)

June 07, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a       Matthew 28:16-20       2 Corinthians 13:11-13

  

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that we’ve probably asked ourselves, and others, these kinds of questions.  And at their core, all of these can be summed up by the question, “Why are we here?”  Why are we attending church?  Why are we following Jesus?  I mean, what’s the point of it all?

And thankfully, the answer is straightforward and not that difficult to find.

Let’s begin our discussion at the very beginning of the discussion, in the first chapter of Genesis, at the very beginning of God’s story (Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a).

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,

First, we note that “In the beginning… God.”  And then we see, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  And then, if we skip ahead to verse 26, we see, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”  All of these, even from the beginning, indicate that while God is one, God is God and Spirit.  While there is only one God, God is also something more than singular.  But we also see that the intent of our creation was for us to share the image of God.  That doesn’t mean that we were created to be godlike, or to be little gods, or to become like God.  But it does mean that we were intended to share the character of God, to be like him in his generosity, compassion, faithfulness, kindness, and love.  Humanity was created and called to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wind animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground” with the same nurture, love, care and benevolence that God has for us.  We weren’t called to subdue the earth by domination and destruction, but through gentle care and careful nurture.

And that understanding of our creation still applies as we read about the coming of the Messiah, as we watch and learn from the example of his ministry, as we witness his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, and as we read about his last moments with his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus offers his last words of instruction as a reminder of their, and our, mission on earth in his absence.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Particularly with today being Trinity Sunday, we are reminded, much as we were as we read from Genesis, that our God is one but, at the same time, is something more than singular.  We do not worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three gods, we worship one God, but acknowledge that, in ways that we cannot fully grasp or understand, God exists in the three persons of the Trinity.  And within the trinity, Jesus declares that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him as he watches over, rules, and sits in judgement of humanity, our planet, and the entire universe.  Our mission, as his followers, and his expectation of us, is that we are to go out into our communities, out into our states, our nations, and into the entire world in order to make disciples, baptize them, and pass on the wisdom, teaching, and commands that Jesus gave to us.

But why?

Why is this our mission?

What is the goal of such a mission?  What is our purpose?  What’s the point?  Why do we need to be the church to get the job done?  Why do we need to work together?  And, despite Paul’s habit of writing incredibly long sentences and intricate explanations, in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 he offers a remarkably short, succinct summary of why we do what we do when he says…

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

So, what’s the point?

Restoration is the point.  God’s purpose and goal for his mission on earth, and therefore ours, is to restore the relationship between God and his people.  To restore the relationship between God and us, the people who know him so that we can have the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have, and to restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and  become estranged from him.

So important is this goal, that all three persons of the trinity have a role in working toward it and that mission has been given to us as well.  And in these two bullet points we find the answers to all those questions we asked at the beginning of this message:

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

“Why are we here?” 

All of it.

Number one, we are here so that we can restore our relationship with God to the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have.

And number two, we are here so that we can learn how we can restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and become estranged from him.

Along the way, by gathering in community, we can encourage one another, support one another, and work together to that all of God’s children can live in peace.

And if the chaotic events of the last week tell us anything, it is this:

We have a lot of work to do.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/blhbTcrm2sw

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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.