Brotherhood and Betrayal

Brotherhood and Betrayal

August 09, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

  

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28            Romans 10:5-15                     Matthew 14:22-33

  

The news makes me sad.

Whether I watch the evening news on television or read it on my computer, in recent months the news just makes me sad.

While our news has almost always been dominated by bad news rather than good news, it seems that, lately, the news stories that we see, and read, are either reporting on, or contributing to, a sense of division within our nation.  We seem to be increasingly divided between white and black, between Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, (and whatever else), Conservative and Liberal, masks and no-masks, face-to-face school and distance learning, and on and on it goes.  Things have gotten so bad that it seems like our only options for peace are to only associate with the shrinking number of people who agree with us on everything, or to become media hermits that just start to tune the world out and increasingly retreat into a tiny, quiet world of our own creation.

But are those our only options?

What should we, as individuals and as a church, be doing?

Does God want us to retreat from the world?  Or are we called to do something else entirely?

Let’s begin by returning to the story of Jacob, which has now leapt ahead in time as we hear the story of Jacob’s twelfth son, Joseph. (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28)

37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So, Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver [about 8 ounces, about $195 at this week’s spot price] to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Joseph was obviously Jacob’s favorite.  He was, by far, the youngest child and was born to Jacob’s favorite wife, and Jacob gave Joseph a special robe of some kind.  This has been translated as a “coat of many colors” and in this reading it was translated as an “ornate” robe, but the truth is, the word that is rendered as “ornate” or “of many colors” is a word that is otherwise unknown to our modern Hebrew experts.  We don’t know what that word is, exactly, but whatever it is, the coat that Jacob gave to Joseph was special, it stood out, it marked him as the favorite, and it inspired and focused the pettiness, envy, and jealousy of his brothers to the point that they were willing to consider murdering him.  Reuben, the oldest, tries to calm his brothers enough to spare Joseph’s life and throw him into a cistern rather than kill him, and plans to return for him later.  But before he can, the rest of Joseph’s brothers decide to sell him to a caravan of merchants in their way to sell spices and other goods in Egypt.

Clearly, the bonds of brotherhood were betrayed and broken.

But, if you know anything at all about the story of Joseph in Egypt, this story in no way glamorizes that betrayal or the behavior of Joseph’s brothers.  Their actions are surprising, shocking, and become a cautionary tale to the world about the sins of hatred, betrayal, envy, and jealousy and the lifetime of danger, regret, and sorrow that flow from their actions.

In contrast, we can look at any number of stories from the life of Jesus but, for today, let’s look at Matthew 14:22-33, where Jesus and the disciples moving on after the execution of John the Baptist and Jesus’ feeding of fifteen thousand people (which is often called the “feeding of the five thousand.”  Remember that in that story, Jesus was trying to get away from the people to spend some time alone with God, and so after the people are fed, and finally go home, probably as evening and darkness approach, Jesus still wants to spend some time alone with God in prayer.

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

While, at first, this might not sound anything at all like the story about Joseph and his brothers, I want to think about the ways in which Jesus treats the people in this story, and in the story of the Jesus feeding the people who had come to hear him preach.  In every instance, Jesus treats the people in these stories with compassion, sympathy, and love even when the difficulties that the people found themselves in were caused by their own choices.  The people were hungry because they had traveled a considerable distance to see Jesus, stayed longer than they intended and, except for one young boy, did not bring anything with them to eat.  Peter was the one who stepped out of the boat, and it was Peter’s fear and lack of faith that caused him to sink, and yet, Jesus feeds the hungry people and he reaches out his hand and lifts Peter back into the boat.  The disciples, event the fishermen, are all afraid when they think that they see a ghost walking on the water, but Jesus soothes them and calls for them to take courage.  And, because of Jesus miracles, as well as his compassion, concern, and love for them, the disciples know that he must be the Son of God.

But how do we connect these dots?  What do either of these stories have to do with us, particularly in the twenty-first century, in the middle of a global pandemic, and a remarkably divisive culture war?

To connect those dots with today, I want to look at what Paul wrote to the church in Rome in Romans 10:5-15.  The church in Rome was a mixed-race church.  There were not only people who had come from all over the Roman Empire, there were a mixture of men and women, slaves, and free persons, as well as Jews and Gentiles who sometimes struggled to get along and find space for one another without the wrestling with the same kinds of jealousy and envy that Joseph’s brothers had felt.  And one of the things that they wrestled with, was how they should understand the laws of Moses and the writings of the prophets (what we call the Old Testament) and how the law applied to their lives in light of the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ.  Paul says:

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Paul explains that the shift from the prophets of old, to the teachings of Jesus Christ, was a shift in the way in which we seek righteousness.  Before, the pursuit of righteousness was an academic one.  We had to remember what all the rules were and how to follow them correctly.  But with the coming of Jesus, our pursuit of righteousness became an issue of the heart.  The word of God now lives in our hearts in such a way that we are saved by faith and express that faith by sharing it with others.  There is no longer a difference between Jews and Gentiles and, because Jesus saves everyone who puts their trust in him, neither group has an advantage over the other.

But Paul’s advice to those fighting against division wasn’t for them to take sides, or for them to retreat from the world, but to send them out into the chaos of the world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone who hadn’t yet heard it.

In a world filled with division, strained relationship, envy, arrogance, and chaos, the church, then and now, cannot retreat.  We must, as never before, move forward and share the good news.

Who do you know that needs to hear it?

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/gwzpTdJV0JU

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

 

*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.

Six Ways to Get Unfollowed on Twitter


    People follow one another on Twitter (and unfollow) for a lot of reasons, but in my book, these six things will get you unfollowed pretty quickly.

1)      Post too many times a day –  My general rule of thumb is that most people can post five times a day.  Even ten is acceptable if you have something really good to say, or if there is some special event that you are live tweeting.  But once you start crowding my feed, you are a target.
2)      Post too many times in a row – Some people post five or ten tweets in a row.  Sometimes it is a bunch of separate things all sent at once, and other times someone strings a long post into five or ten tweets.  If you want to blog, write a blog.  Either way, if you do it very often, I’m probably not going to follow you.
3)      Post too many pictures – I know everyone says that pictures attract attention, but if all you do is post a bunch of pictures, posters or memes on my feed, I’m probably not going to follow you.
4)      Post Off topic – I generally follow people because I am interested in what they post.  I completely understand that we are all human and a little “human interest” is fine.  The occasional post about your kids, or your nice dinner is okay, but if you say that your posts are about science, religion, business or whatever, and spend most of your time posting about something else, your days on my list might be numbered.
5)      Post ads – I understand that many of us are on social media to promote our place of business, books, or even ourselves.  But if all I ever see are ads instead of useful content, I’m probably not going to follow you.
6)      Post “click-bait” – We all have a variety of interests and occasionally we find interesting things that we want to share, but if the majority of your posts are links to “click-bait” advertising that looks like “Wow! Look at this Crazy Stuff!”  I’m probably not going to follow you.

    
I’m sure that  missed a few.

What have people done that made you unfollow them?



I tweet primarily about church, faith and religion, but also science, technology, the space program and the human condition.  And of course, a few about my kids.  Follow me @PastorPartridge

—————————————————————————————————

To receive email updates to the Crossfusion blog, click here.



I

Six Degrees of Social Media Separation


    In the last few decades, there has been much talk about “Six Degrees of Separation,” which is the idea that any person in the world can be introduced to any other person in the world, by being introduced through our networks of friends.  Statisticians have demonstrated that anyone in the US can be introduced to almost anyone else in the US by going through only two or three friends.  But as often as we hear such things, it is still amazing when it happens “in real life.”
    This week I received a private message on Facebook from a woman I never met.  And that was the beginning (or possibly the end) of an unusual series of connections through my life and through social media.  To understand the connections that led to this message, let me go back in time to high school.
    After my eighth grade year, my parents moved to the south side of Akron, Ohio.  At our new church I met Keith and Jamie Weaver, who would, within the next few years, depart for Kenya, East Africa as missionaries through Africa Inland Missionwhere they would serve for twenty five years.  After I graduated from college and began working in Cleveland, I was back at that same church and reconnected with Keith and Jamie during their occasional visits home. 
    When the time came for them to consider a return to the states, our church realized that no one (other than their children) had ever had the opportunity to visit them in Kenya.  Two women, Sandi, and my wife, Patti, volunteered and along with our missions committee, we decided that we would raise the funds to send them. 
    While Patti and Sandi were in Kenya visiting Keith and Jamie, they met Steve and Nancy Peifer.  Nancy was the librarian at Rift Valley Academy; Steve was the guidance counselor and also ran a feeding program at local Kenyan schools (Kenya Kids Can).
    With that as background, we return to the funeral preparations for my father.  As soon as it was available, I posted his obituary on my Facebook page and many friends, including Steve Peifer, posted their condolences. 
    The next day I had a private message.  The woman who sent that message acknowledged that we had never met. She had seen my name pop up when Steve had written on the link to my father’s obituary and it had seemed familiar.  She followed the link, read the obituary, realized who my father was, printed it, and showed it to her parents.
    What we discovered was that our fathers had sung together in college, he had been the best man in my parent’s wedding and my father had been the best man in theirs.  Our parents had exchanged letters and cards, but over the years had lost touch with one another.  She sent me a current photo of her parents to give to my mother, and I sent a current address so that they could send their condolences and reconnect.  My Mom was a little stunned when I handed her the photo and explained who it was.
    I know that we live in a connected world, but it was still exciting to see old friends reconnect because of two children on the Internet, two missionaries to Africa, an obituary, and social media.

—————————————————————————————————

To receive email updates to the Crossfusion blog, click here.

Westboro is NOT Winsome

    I have probably mentioned this before, but the folks from Westboro Baptist Church really burn my cookies.  Last night at our youth group meeting we watched a segment of Adam Hamilton’s “When Christians Get it Wrong” and were discussing how well-meaning church people often chase unbelievers away from the church instead of attracting them.  When I was much younger, we were always taught that the Christian faith should be “winsome.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but from the way it was used, it sounded as if it ought to be something that looked and sounded attractive.  According to the American Heritage online dictionary it does, in fact, mean charming. 

The followers of Jesus Christ are called upon to tell the world about the Good News of reconciliation, that God has done everything possible to repair our relationship with him and to demonstrate his love for us.  I have to think that demonstrating respect and love for others, for their religion, for their opinions, for their culture and for their existence would have to be the first step in doing that.  Showing up at a child’s funeral or anywhere else with signs that say “God Hates Fags,” “God Killed Your Sons,” or worst of all, “God Is Your Enemy” is definitely going in completely the wrong direction.  First of all these statements tell unbelievers that the church is out of touch and that it is full of bigoted idiots that have no desire (or ability) to understand their situation.  Worse than that, these things are all lies.  There is nothing in scripture that could lead someone to believe that God hates you or that God is your enemy.  the whole point of scripture, especially the message of the Gospel, is entirely the opposite, that God loves you more than you can know.

That doesn’t meant that God is making any compromises about things that he considers wrong, but that a message of love cannot be communicated by being hateful and hurtful.  In his book, When Christians Get it Wrong, Adam Hamilton, correctly, points to the Apostle Paul.  I have used Paul as an example for years, and so have many others.  Paul was a Pharisee.  He was incredibly well educated.  He had studied under some of the most noted Rabbis in history.  Paul knew sin and he wasn’t afraid to point out the sins of others.  Paul had often warned the churches of the evils of idol worship, particularly in those places under the influence of the Romans and Greeks (which we, pretty much everywhere), but that isn’t how he started a conversation with people who actually worshiped idols.  When Paul visited Athens, a city full of idols and temples of numerous false gods and goddesses, Luke tells us that “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”  Even so, Paul didn’t launch into a tirade about how evil they all were.  He went into the synagogue and and into the marketplace reasoned with the people. His reasoning was sound enough that he was asked to go to Mars Hill and explain his views further and even there, he didn’t condemn them.  Instead, Paul said:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)

Paul began by expressing his admiration for their care in pursuing the truth even though their worship of idols distressed him.  No one will believe you if you tell them you love them while you are beating them over the head.  Telling someone that God hates them is not winsome… or loving. 

It’s just wrong.

Is It Time to End Spousal Benefits?

    This week there was yet another blow-up about spousal benefits for domestic partners.  Specifically, sparked by the recent death of astronaut Sally Ride, many have been talking about the unfairness of how, even though they were together for 27 years her partner will receive no benefits whatsoever because they weren’t a “family” in the way that our society (and her employers) have defined it.  Look at this idea of family, or birth family, as we currently define it, and the benefits that we receive from our employers and, later, from the government.  
    Many will frame this as a homosexual issue, but it is not.  It is a fairness issue that just happens to affect homosexual partners as well as many others who do not “fit” the current definitions of “family.”  In my opening, I deliberately chose the words “domestic partners” because there are many in our society that share their lives but cannot claim possession of benefits that should, rightly, belong to them.  Obviously, this affects the lifelong partner of Sally Ride and others like her but it also affects heterosexuals. 
    Before I was married, I shared a house with my brother.  At the time we lived together, my brother had a good job but he has been unemployed (and as far as I know, without insurance) for three years.  He is, by birth, a member of my family.  But if we were two bachelors with no other family in the world, neither our health benefits nor our pensions, nor our Social Security benefits in retirement would allow us to care for one another.
    When my wife and I were first married, we moved in with our Aunt Gladys and we lived there for a couple years until we could afford to buy our own home.  Years later, Aunt Gladys came down with a serious and life threatening illness.  Thankfully, Aunt Gladys has good insurance, but what if she didn’t?  We owe her a lot and over the years she’s been good to us, but none of our benefits could be extended to her, ever.  
    What about unmarried, retired couples?  Both are retired.  Both have lost a spouse.  Both receive a pension from a deceased spouse as well as Social Security benefits.  Both would lose so many benefits from legally marrying that they would be destitute.  I have heard serious discussions among pastors about performing church weddings without any legal paperwork so that couples like this can be married in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the church regardless of the opinion of the state regarding the legality of their marriage.
    The problem that we are having with benefits is a fairnessproblem and an ownership problem not simply a homosexual problem.  Homosexuals are clearly caught up in this, but even an official or legal recognition of homosexual relationships would only fix a part of the problem.  Regardless of our sexual orientation, we need to reassess who “owns” our employee and government based benefits.  Perhaps the idea, as old as it is, of ‘spousal’ or even ‘family’ benefits needs to be redefined to better reflect the way that we live today.  The era of the nuclear family, where three (or more) generations live together as a family unit and care for one another is long past.  Perhaps pension and retirement benefits should be redesigned so that they are more like an IRA, where your employer (and government) makes deposits into an account in your name and the funds in that account belong to you and to your heirs, whomever they may be.  Perhaps health benefits should just eliminate the idea of spousal benefits entirely and instead just allow you to list persons that ‘belong’ to your ‘family.’  I know there would have to be some practical limit, but if employers will cover a family with twenty biological children, surely there is a viable solution somewhere.
 
What do you think?

A Deeper New Year

As we approach the New Year, many in our culture have a tradition of making resolutions.  We make a list of things that we hope to do better or ways in which we hope to improve ourselves.  We resolve to lose weight, go back to school, read that book we always meant to read, exercise more and host of other things.  As we approach this New Year however, I hope you will consider one thing more.
As we enter this New Year, I hope you will join me in deepening our relationship with Jesus.  That may be a new idea for some, you may not really grasp what I am trying to say, and that’s okay, I’ll explain.  Jesus desires to be friends with us at the deepest levels of our heart, he is said to be the friend that sticks closer than a brother and we are, in fact, adopted as brothers and sisters of Jesus.  Too often, our relationship with Jesus looks more like that of a casual acquaintance.  We know who they are, we recognize them on the street and we nod and wave when we see them.  The problem is that Jesus wants more than that.  Jesus wants us to know him, really know him so that we can be “closer than a brother.” 
How well do you know your best friend?  You spend time with them.  You spend a lot of time with them.  You can finish each other’s sentences.  You know what food they like, what makes them happy, or sad, or angry.  Without calling them to ask, you can often tell others just what they will think about a certain subject or how they will react to a particular situation.  Jesus wants us to know him like that.  He doesn’t just want us to know who he is in the way we know a casual acquaintance, but he wants us to have a real, deep, meaningful relationship with him.
But how do we do that?  Obviously, building a relationship like that isn’t something that happens overnight.  You didn’t get to know all about your best friend in a single day, a month, or even a year but spent time, regularly, building your friendship together.  Building your relationship with Jesus will be the same.  It will take time and it will take some commitment.  This year I hope that you will join me in making a commitment to building and deepening your relationship with Jesus.  Spend time in church but also make time to pray, to read the Bible, or attend a Bible study.  Do any or all of these things, do something more than you have done before, and you will begin to know Jesus better.
Jesus wants to be more than the acquaintance that you wave at in church once a week. 
  
         He wants more.    
                      He wants your relationship to go deeper.   
                                         Will you join me in this grand adventure?