From Ruin to Rescue

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From Ruin to Rescue

February 06, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 6:1-13

Luke 5:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

There is a story that is common to special Sundays with the Gideon’s, or to inspirational speakers who are recovered alcoholics, or drug addicts, or former gang members.  It’s the same attraction that we have to the stories of people like Chuck Colson.  Colson was convicted of breaking into the Watergate building and was a key participant in that Nixon-era scandal, but he encountered the message of the risen Jesus in prison and founded Prison Fellowship ministry to reach others who find themselves on the wrong side of iron bars.  We are inspired by stories of people who got lost or reached rock bottom, but ultimately found a way to rebuild their lives.

As we read the stories of scripture, we find many stories like that and, in fact, the whole point of God’s message is a story of redemption, rescue, and restoration.  But before a story of rescue can be told, we often need to hear a story of ruin.  Before we hear how a person rose from the ashes like a phoenix, there is often a story of how they crashed and burned.  And, for that, we begin with the story of Israel contained in Isaiah 6:1-13 where we hear this:

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
    and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
    and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
    it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
    leave stumps when they are cut down,
    so the holy seed will be the stump* in the land.”

Isaiah has a vision of God in all his glory, sitting on the throne of heaven and Isaiah cries out that he is ruined or, we perhaps understand his intentions better by translating that as “I am a dead man walking.”    It was a common belief that any imperfect and sinful mortal who saw a perfect and holy God face to face would immediately die.  But an angel, a seraph, takes a hot coal from the altar, touches it to Isaiah’s lips and says that his guilt has been taken away and atonement has been made for his sin.  And so, when God asks who he might send into the world as his ambassador, Isaiah raises his hand and volunteers. 

.

But the message that God has for the people of Israel is terrifying.  God’s message is that the people just aren’t getting it.  They don’t see, they don’t understand, they’re sick, and they don’t want to get better, and God’s judgement is that for their disobedience, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their unbelief.  And, when Isaiah asks how long this punishment will endure, God replies that Israel will be left to their own devices until their houses, fields, people, and everything else are utterly ruined and the trees are left as stumps. 

Stumps.

The word “stumps” is worth noting because a few chapters later, Isaiah refers to the messiah as a shoot that comes up from the “stump of Jesse.” (Isaiah 11:1) God’s punishment is to turn Israel over to the natural consequences of their disobedient actions and refuse to rescue them.  But, in the same passage, God hints at the hope of future rescue.

And then, after we have heard about what happens to a disobedient people, and what happens to them when they refuse to hear the words of God, in Luke 5:1-11, we are given a vision of what happens when God’s people do listen and are obedient to his words as Jesus begins his ministry and encounters fishermen by the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.

Jesus had barely started his ministry but even so, Simon, who would later be called Peter, was willing to let Jesus borrow his boat as a place to preach to the people gathered on the shores of Galilee.  After Jesus was done preaching, he asked Simon, a professional fisherman who had been fishing the shores of this lake for his entire life, to go out into deep water and to throw out the nets that he and his partners had just spent hours cleaning.  Worse still, the fisherman had not only just cleaned the nets, they had spent the entire night fishing with them and caught nothing but weeds, grass, sticks, and rocks.  They had been awake all night.  They had been throwing heavy, wet, nets into the sea and hauling them back out, hand over hand, time after time, hour after hour, all night.  And then, after they had spent their morning cleaning and repairing those same nets, they were ready to go home, see their families, eat, get some sleep, and get ready to do it again.  They were tired, sore, hungry, and probably more than a little grouchy.

But despite their hunger, irritation, fatigue, professional experience, and every other reason that they had to say no, and tell Jesus to get stuffed, Simon tells Jesus, “…because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

“Because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

And because Simon and his friends are willing to be obedient, even when they don’t even really know Jesus, and even though everything says that they should just go home and get some sleep, their lives are completely transformed.  This is the opposite of what we saw a moment ago in Isaiah 6.  There, the people of God knew the words of God but selfishly chose to go their own way and to do their own thing.  Here, even though they haven’t yet recognized Jesus as the Messiah, these fishermen are willing to be obedient, even in the face of their own hunger, fatigue, and irritation.  And it is that willingness to be obedient that transforms their lives.

And that brings us to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where we find Paul warning the church in Corinth that they seem to be drifting toward selfishness and away from obedience.  Paul says:

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul says that the people of the church need to remember where they started, to remember the gospel message that they had originally found so compelling that they had left behind their former gods, and former religions, and chosen to follow Jesus instead.  It was that message, Paul says, that saved them and abandoning that message would make everything that they had done, and everything that they had endured, completely pointless.  He then recites four points that are still contained on many of our creeds today, that Christ died, was buried, raised on the third day, and appeared to Peter and the twelve. 

But Paul also says that although he had once persecuted the church, he was shown grace by God, had been transformed, and was now a missionary to the Gentiles for the cause of Jesus Christ.  Like Peter, Paul’s entire life was transformed by his obedience to God, and he urges the people of the church in Corinth to remember that this was the power of the gospel in which they had put their faith.

We face a choice between ruin and redemption, between ruin and rescue, and the thing that transforms one to the other is our obedience to God and our willingness to do the things that Jesus asks us to do.  Clinging to selfishness will inevitably lead to our destruction, but like Peter, the fishermen, and like Paul, our obedience to Jesus Christ can completely transform our lives into something new, powerful, unexpected, and completely amazing.

But, having been rescued, God asks us to rescue others.  God is still asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

Are you ready to be obedient?  Are you ready to fish for people?

What will be your answer? 


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

This is Not Barbecue Day

This is Not Barbecue Day

by John Partridge

(Revised and reprinted from Memorial Day 2012)

    Today is not barbecue day.  It is not “just” a part of “just another” long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not another excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered to remember.  We have not come to thank our veterans (we do that in November), but to remember those who have fallen, and given their lives, so that we might have freedom and liberty.  We gather to remember men and women for whom words like duty, honor, and country had meaning, and because of whom, these words are themselves more meaningful.

    During the War in Vietnam, Marine Private First Class Gary Martini, braving intense enemy fire, raced through an open field to drag a fallen comrade back to a friendly position.  Seeing a second fallen Marine just 20 meters from the enemy position, Martini once again risked his life to bring the man back to safety.  Upon reaching the fallen Marine, Martini was mortally wounded but continued to drag his comrade back to his platoon’s position, telling his men to remain under cover.  As he finally struggled to pull the man to safety, Private First Class Martini fell and succumbed to his wounds.

     Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, while under enemy fire in Iraq, organized the evacuation of three soldiers who had been wounded in an attack on their vehicle.  Sergeant Smith manned the machine gun mounted on their vehicle, maintaining an exposed position as he engaged the enemy forces, allowing the safe withdrawal of wounded soldiers.  He was mortally wounded in the attack but not before killing as many as 50 enemy fighters in order to save his injured comrades.

    During the Second World War, First Lieutenant Jack Mathis, flying a bomb run over Vegesack, Germany, was hit by enemy antiaircraft fire.  His right arm was shattered above the elbow, and he suffered a large wound on his side and abdomen.  Knowing that the success of the mission depended upon him, Lieutenant Mathis, mortally wounded, dragged himself of to his sights and released his bombs on target before he died.

    These few examples give us only a flavor of the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform have made for our freedom and for the freedom of others, often total strangers, in other nations.  So highly do we value this gift we call liberty, that we are willing to expend the blood of our own sons and daughters so that others might enjoy this gift also.

    Brave men and women wearing the uniform of the United States have fought and bled and died in places like Bunker Hill, Yorktown, Concord, Lexington, Saratoga, Bazentin Ridge, Belleau Wood, Manila Bay, Guantanamo, Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Beruit, Okinawa, Pork Chop Hill, Hamburger Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, Pusan, Inchon, Bastogne, the Ardennes Forest, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Saipan, Medina Ridge, Al Busayyah, Wadi Al-Batin, Baghdad, Kandahar, Khaz Oruzgan, Musa Qala and thousands of other places most of us have never heard of as well as places so remote that the places don’t even have names.

     On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania four and one half months after the Union victory over the Confederate Army in the Battle of Gettysburg.  On this day or remembrance, it is good to remember the words that President Lincoln spoke.

    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    This day is much like the hallowed ground of Gettysburg.  There is little that our feeble efforts or words can do to consecrate this day beyond what the blood of patriots has already done.  As we gather today, our task is to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln.  It is for us, the living, to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work for which these brave men and women have given their lives.  We must be resolved that these patriots did not die in vain.  It is too painful for us to remember their sacrifice each day, but on this precious and hallowed day we must take the time to remember.  We honor their sacrifice by appreciating the things that they have purchased with their blood. 

     Avail yourselves of the freedoms their sacrifices have purchased.  Vote.  Don’t just vote for the politician that promises to give us the most stuff. Vote for the men and women who hold dear the ideals of freedom and liberty.  Honor the flag that they fought for. It is more than a piece of cloth because it stands for the things those patriots fought, and bled, and died for.  Stand when the flag passes by, sing the national anthem, and teach your children to stand, teach them to take their hats off, and to hold their hands over their hearts.  I have been at sporting events where far too many are oblivious to the national anthem. While others are standing, they sit. While others are standing at attention with their hats held over their hearts, these others are busy talking on their cell phones.  We honor the blood of heroes by being courteous and respectful. 

I realize that all of us who put on the uniform of the United States did so to defend your rights not to stand, not to sing and not to hold your hand over your heart.  That’s fine.  If you are one of those who takes issue with it, what I ask of you is that you do so respectfully and that while the rest of us are standing and singing, you share a moment of silence and remember those brave men and women who gave you that right.

    Finally, I ask that you honor the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform with your prayers.  You don’t have to pray to the God I worship, feel free to pray to whatever deity you choose, but pray for all of the men and women who, even now, are away from their families, friends and homes.  Pray for those who today, instead of attending backyard barbecues and swim parties with their friends, are far out at sea, standing guard or even laying in a bunk half-way around the world, or eating cold Meals Ready to Eat out of a foil envelope while they huddle in a foxhole in the sand waiting for the next mortar round to drop on their heads.  Pray for the families of those who are away from home.  Today wives and husbands of these brave soldiers are doing what they can to hold their families together and their children are growing up wondering when, or if, their fathers or mothers are ever coming home again.

    Today is not barbecue day.  It is not just a part of another long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not an excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered to remember.  Today, let us remember the sacrifices that made us what we are and have given us freedom and liberty.  Today has been set aside as a day of remembrance. 

Let us all pause…

                                                   …and may we never forget.

Remembering Who We Are

Remembering Who We Are

April 01, 2021*

(Holy Thursday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14             John 13:1-17, 31b-35                         1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Often during the important seasons of the church year, we find ourselves wondering why.  Why do we do this every year?  Why to we say the same words, read the same scriptures, and repeat the same rituals?  Why do we tell the stories of Holy Week?  Why is it important?  Why does it even matter?

And our answer in the twenty-first century is the same as it was in the first century and the same as it was a thousand years before that.  And that, of course, is another story worth repeating.  This story is the story of the first Passover that is recorded in Exodus 12:1-14:

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lambfor his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs, and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”

Even before the Passover happened, God commanded his people to commemorate, to tell the story, to repeat the rituals, so that they would remember what had happened, so that they would remember what God had done for them, so that they would remember where they had come from, and so that they would remember who they were, and to whom they belonged.

These stories serve the same purpose for us.  They remind us of where we have been, where we came from, and where we are going.  They remind us that we are a part of a much larger story and they remind us that over thousands of years, God has never stopped loving us.  Of course, while we remember the story of the Passover, with the coming of Jesus, that is the focus of our ritual.  But in our modern liturgy, we heard the story of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:24, and we remember that Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me.

Just as God commanded Moses and the people of Israel to repeat the story of the Passover, and to make it a lasting remembrance, Jesus commands us to repeat the story and remember.

Just as it was thousands of years ago, we tell the stories, and repeat the rituals, so that we will remember what happened, remember what God had done for us, remember where we came from, remember who we

are, remember to whom we belong, remember that we are loved, and remember the price that was paid for our rescue.
And we remember because, by remembering the story, we are better able to remember what we are supposed to do with our lives.  Because the stories that we tell aren’t just the stories of the past, they are the stories that shape our present, and our future.  Because as we remember where we came from and who we are, we can clearly hear the words of Jesus in John 13:34-35 when he says,

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

May we remember who we are and live lives that the world around us will see and feel… as love.


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