Transformed!

Transformed!

January 27, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

butterfly

 

Isaiah 62:1-5             

John 2:1-11               

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

 

Have you ever been strangely captivated by television images of natural disasters and incredible destruction?  In recent years we’ve seen the towers fall on September 11th, 2001, earthquakes in various places around the world, and because of the popularity of cell phones and security cameras, we have seen countless images of tsunamis in Thailand, and Japan.

But imagine with me what would happen if time travel were possible. 

On April 18th, 1906 the earth shook for less than a minute in San Francisco, California, but between the shaking, poor construction, and the resulting fires, the city was devastated.  Nearly 500 city blocks were destroyed, 3,000 people were killed, and 400,000 people, nearly half of the city’s population, were left homeless.  Enormous tent cities grew up in Oakland in and other places across the bay as the homeless found their way across the few bridges that hadn’t been destroyed.

But imagine that someone from the twenty-first century, perhaps you, had travelled back in time and wandered the streets of those tent cities with the displaced residents of San Francisco.  Imagine what they would think of your message as you told them how their city would recover, rebuild, grow, and flourish in the next century.  Assuming that they believed you, can you imagine the hope that your message might bring to them.  It’s difficult to imagine a brighter future, when you’re surrounded by the destruction of everything familiar.  It would take something extraordinary to grasp the vision, to see and understand, that there might be a path that would return the world to normal again.

But that is exactly what Isaiah does.  As Isaiah writes to the people of Judah, Syria and the northern tribes of Israel, and all their lands, have already been captured by the Assyrian army.  Many people have seen the handwriting on the wall, they have heard the prophecy of Isaiah, they understand that soon, the nation of Judah would be next.  The people despair for their nation, lose hope for the future, and struggle to understand what this means to their faith in God.  And in the midst of this uncertainty and despair, Isaiah writes a message of hope for the future.  (Isaiah 62:1-5)

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
    her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
    and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
[ Hephzibah means my delight is in her.]
    and your land Beulah; [Beulah means married.]
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.

For the people of God, the destruction of Israel and Jerusalem is the almost the same as saying that God is a lie.  Jerusalem is God’s city, it contains God’s place of worship, and Israel is God’s people.  If they are all taken away, then what does it say about the reality of God himself?  But Isaiah tells of time when Jerusalem and Israel are vindicated.  When God, and his people, are proven right in front of the entire world.  Jerusalem herself will be renamed.  Instead of being known as “deserted” she will be known as “delightful.”  Instead of “desolate” she will be known as “married” or perhaps we might understand it better as “my beautiful bride.”  Isaiah says that just as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will God rejoice over Jerusalem, over Israel, and over his people.

Much like it would be if we could go back in time and tell the refugees from a destroyed San Francisco about the wonders of their city in the twenty-first century, Isaiah speaks of a time that is a hundred years or more in the future, when their city, their nation, and their people will be rebuilt. 

It is, for them, a message of transformation… and of hope.

And then, eight hundred years later, Jesus is invited to a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee, and, quite by accident, begins his ministry by performing his first miracle.  And in this miracle, Jesus brings hope to the world by bringing about a transformation of an entirely different kind.  (John 2:1-11)

2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Although this is a great story, what we often miss is the culture of the time.  Jesus lived in a culture of honor and shame.  In that culture, there were certain events, certain taboos, that could not be broken without bringing shame, and loss of honor.  That loss of honor could be personal, or quite widespread.  In some cases, in the Old Testament, entire tribes were dishonored and carried that dishonor for hundreds of years.  The loss of honor, as a person, as a family, or even as a tribe, could cost someone money, customers, business contracts and many other things.  In this story, it is quite likely that the servants and hosts in the back rooms were in a blind panic.  Weddings were attended by people from the entire village and beyond. Running out of wine so early in the celebration would have been a major embarrassment that could have caused a loss of honor to the family and to the entire village.  It was a really big deal.

And so, Jesus’ mother, remembering all those things from Jesus birth and childhood that she had “treasured in heart,” comes to him with the confidence that he could do something about this problem.  And Jesus, although not originally intending to begin his ministry this early, transforms 180 gallons of plain water, into fine wine.  By doing so, Jesus doesn’t just save one family from a minor embarrassment and rescue one party, Jesus literally redeems an entire village from a dishonor that could have cost them jobs and livelihoods for generations.

In the very first act of Jesus’ ministry, he provides a glimpse, a sneak peek, into his transformational power that will rescue his people and redeem the entire world from sin and death.

And then, in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, the Apostle Paul describes how that same transformational power flows into the modern world that we live in today.

12:1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth, but he speaks just as clearly to us half a world away in the twenty-first century.  Paul says that we used to be (past tense) pagans and unbelievers that were led astray and worshipped idols.  But now, we have been filled with the Spirit of God and given gifts that have transformed our lives, prepared, and equipped us to serve the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in our world.  Each of these gifts, Paul says, is the manifestation, the living example, of the Spirit of God in the modern world, who is working for the common good of all humanity. 

No one, Paul says, gets skipped, forgotten, ignored, or missed.  To “each one,” to each person, the living example of the Holy Spirit is given.  Not everyone is the same, and not everyone gets the same gift, but everyone is gifted, everyone receives a gift from God through the Holy Spirit.  Some receive wisdom, others knowledge, some receive the gift of faith, others healing, or miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, or gifts of languages.  These are all gifts of the spirit and each of these gifts is determined by the Holy Spirit, in order to advance the message and the mission of Jesus Christ in the world even in the twenty-first century. 

In the time of Isaiah, God revealed that he could and would transform Israel, in the time of Jesus, God revealed that he can transform not only the physical and material world, but the lives of the people and culture around them.  And in our modern world, God continues to do the work of transformation in our physical lives, our culture, our world, and in our spiritual lives as well.  God pours out the gift of transforming power into the lives of his followers by giving us amazing and powerful gifts that he intends for us to use to as his agents.  We are called not only to be grateful for the gifts that he has given to us, we are called  to use those gifts, each and every one of us, to transform the world around us, to carry out the mission, vision, and ministry of Jesus Christ, to rescue to lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be a voice to the voiceless, a father to the fatherless, and in every way possible reveal the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world around us.

It is a huge responsibility and an incredible, even herculean, task.

But that is exactly why we have been transformed, gifted, and equipped by the creator of the universe to do it.

Right now, I want you to think of one person.  I want you to think of one person whose life you can make better this week.  Call them, love them, shovel their sidewalk, pay a bill for them, buy them a cup of coffee, for each of you, and for each person you are thinking of, it will be different.  But I want you to choose one person, whose life you can change, even a little bit, and show them the love of Jesus Christ this week.

Let’s get busy.

Let’s go change the world.

One.

Life.

At a time.

 

 

 


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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.

Are You Fireproof?

Are You Fireproof?

January 13, 2019*

Baptism of Jesus

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 43:1-7              Luke 3:15-17, 21-22              Acts 8:14-17

 

For those of you old enough to remember, from 1981 to 1986, actor Lee Majors starred as a stuntman in a successful television show called, “The Fall Guy.”  A number to times, that show featured stuntmen doing fire stunts.  And if you have ever watched action movies, like James Bond, or something with Arnold Schwarzenegger, you have probably also seen the same sort of thing.  Fire has a way of capturing our imagination like few other things can.  And so, our question for today, “Are you fireproof?” probably also stirs our curiosity.  But that title isn’t just marketing, it’s a real question that’s asked by today’s look into scripture.

At the same time, while you may not know it, this is another special Sunday.  It is lesser known than Christmas or Easter, and even lesser known than Epiphany, but this is the week that we traditionally set aside to read and remember the baptism of Jesus.  There are several reasons for this, but primarily our need for a regular remembrance is because, like many other things, we are forgetful and need to remind ourselves why this event is important, and what it means to us.

We begin, once again, in the book of Isaiah where we hear more about the messiah that is to come (Isaiah 43:1-7.)

43:1 But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah describes a messiah who would redeem and bring back the children of Israel that had been carried away into slavery, or forced from the land by famine, pestilence, warfare, or poverty.  But he also talks of how God will be with them, and protect them, they will pass through the water in safety, they will walk through the fire and not be burned, and the flames will not set them ablaze.  God is saying, at least allegorically, that they will be fireproof.

Clearly, in the near term, God is promising that there was hope.  This was a promise that the people who had been (or soon would be) carried into captivity, or their children, would eventually return to Israel.  God was promising that despite the chaos and warfare that surrounded them, that he would watch over them and protect them, and bring them home.

But in the longer term, Israel understood that this scripture also applied to the messiah that was to come.  This was a promise that one day there would be an even bigger return of God’s people to the nation of Israel and that throughout the centuries, and even millennia, God would continue to watch over his people, protect them, and love them.

That expectation for the coming messiah endured.  It was passed on from generation to generation and to each generation it brought the hope that God cared, that God was watching over them, that God had a plan for them, and that there would, eventually, be a rescuer.  Filled with this hope, the people continued to keep watch and we see that expectation as we read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The people saw John, they saw that he was dressed the way that some of the Old Testament prophets had dressed, he lived in the wilderness as some of them had, and he preached with an intensity and a passion that hadn’t been seen in Israel for generations.  And when they saw these things, combined with their continued expectation and hope for a rescuer, redeemer, and messiah, they wondered if John was the one.  But John answers and explains that he is not the messiah but had been sent to announce the arrival of the messiah.

While baptism had become symbolic of purification and reminded the people of their passing from slavery in Egypt to freedom through the waters at the Red Sea and crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land of Israel, John proclaims that his baptism was only to prepare the people for the arrival of the God’s messiah.  The coming messiah would not only baptize with water but would also baptize with fire.  And John warned that the messiah would come not only to harvest God’s people, but to burn up the useless chaff with fire.

But the coming of the messiah meant more than the rescue of the Israelites two-thousand years ago.  In Acts 8:14-17, we hear the story of how baptism spreads beyond the borders of Israel into Samaria.

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Remember that Samaria was not Israel but was almost a country within a country and sat between Jerusalem and Galilee.  But the Samaritans were not, strictly speaking, Jewish.  They had intermarried with outsiders and foreigners during Israel’s seventy years in captivity and were despised by the Jews as “half-breeds.”  But we also remember that Jesus stopped in Samaria as he passed through, met a woman at a well, and stayed to preach and to teach his message to the entire village.  And so here, in the book of Acts, the disciples hear that the people of Samaria had accepted the word of God and had already been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but had not yet received the Holy Spirit.  Peter and John, despite the hostility that they had once had for the Samaritans, went to Samaria, laid hands on those who had believed in Jesus Christ, and the people received the Holy Spirit.

Like the story of Epiphany, this story reminds us that the message of Jesus Christ, as well as the baptism of both water and of the Spirit, wasn’t something old fashioned that only happened two thousand years ago, and it wasn’t something that was exclusively reserved for the Jews or the people of Israel, the baptism of Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is open to all who believe, and that means that it was open to the hated Samaritan half-breeds in the first century as well as to gentiles of the twenty-first century like us.

Our baptism symbolically welcomes us into God’s family and represents our death to sin and resurrection with Christ into a new life in him.  We become fireproof in the same sense that Isaiah taught, that now, through Christ, we have hope and we know that God watches over us, cares for us, and loves us.  But we also know that through the influence, guidance, and help of the Holy Spirit received at our baptism, we are drawn, daily, closer to Jesus Christ so that we will be fruitful and not become useless chaff that is burned in the fire.  We are also comforted as we remember the story of Jesus’ baptism when we notice God’s words of blessing, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  We are comforted when we realize that at the moment of his baptism, Jesus had not yet begun his ministry.  He had not yet called all his disciples, and he had not yet done much of anything at all to earn God’s favor or his love.  And yet, this was the moment that God chose to publicly state his love for Jesus.  We are comforted because this reminds us once again, that there is no need for us to try to earn God’s love.  God loves us, and has always loved us, long before we were able to anything to please him.

Doesn’t it feel good to be fireproof?

But, if you haven’t yet been baptized, and you would like to have this confidence and this hope, please come and see me.

Because the people of God should be… fireproof.

 

 

 


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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.

Reversal of Fortune

“Reversal of Fortune”

September 30, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

Have you ever watched a gigantic reversal in a game that you were watching?  The Browns are losing but in the last seconds of the fourth quarter the Cardiac Kids would score two touchdowns and squeak out a win.  There have been games when the Indians drive in several home runs, or one grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.  Or some player on Jeopardy! Is in dead last, but then sweeps two or three entire categories, hits a daily double, bets everything, wins, and then put it all on the line in Final Jeopardy, and wins again, to come from behind and take home the prize money.

Hugh E. Keough once said, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”

But sometimes the betting pool is wrong.  Sometimes, the unexpected happens.  Sometimes the underdog wins.  And that has everything to do with our stories from scripture today.

We begin in the book of Esther at the climax of her story.  Prior to where we begin, Haman, a high-ranking advisor to King Xerxes (pronounced Zerk-sees), convinced the king to sign an edict that would allow everyone in his kingdom to kill any Jew that they found and take their wealth, whatever it may be, for their own.  What Haman didn’t know, was that King Xerxes’ queen, Esther, was a Jew and she wasn’t about to sit idly by while this atrocity played itself out.  And so, she invited both Haman and the king to dinner, but chickened out and couldn’t bring herself to make the big announcement.  But then, she invited them both to a second dinner, and that is where we join the story. (Esther 7:1-10, 9:20-22)

7:1 So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”

Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.

Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.

The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits [75 ft.] stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”

The king said, “Impale him on it!” 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

Haman was descended from a tribe of people that had been almost wiped out by the people of Israel when they fought over, and settled into, the land that God had given them.  His hatred was for Ester’s uncle, Mordecai specifically, but also for all Jews everywhere, and he allowed his hatred to propose something truly evil and make it sound palatable and convincing to the king.  But God had put the right person, in the right place, at just the right moment.  As Mordecai had said, Esther was chosen by God “for just such a time as this.”  And suddenly the tables are turned, and the hunter becomes the hunted.  To make matters worse, Haman throws himself on the feet of Queen Esther to beg for his life just as the king returns to the room and it looks as if he is attacking her.  And before Haman leaves the room, they have already put a blindfold or a hangman’s hood over his face, and he is sentenced to die by being impaled on the same pole with which he had intended to kill Mordecai.

If you read the rest of the story, King Xerxes is unable to retract his earlier edict, but instead issues a second one that allows the Jews, wherever they are, to gather together and use whatever means necessary to defend themselves and, if anyone attacks them, the Jews get to keep the wealth of their attackers.    The moment that Haman had intended to watch his enemies die, became the moment of his own death and he dies on the pole that he had built for his enemy.  In the end, a day that was intended for the destruction of the Jews becomes a great victory instead.  It was a great reversal of fortune.  The unexpected happened, the underdog won.

This type of reversal of fortune is somewhat common in scripture because it is in the unlikely, the improbable, and the outright impossible that we most easily see the hand of God.  But, as we read the stories of the New Testament and the Gospels, we also see moments when the unexpected is not found in the miracles of God, but in the unexpected and expansive grace of God.  In Mark 9:38-50, the disciples come to Jesus because God has players on the field that aren’t on the team that the disciples thought they should be on.

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they 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 with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

First off, Jesus does the unexpected when he tells the disciples that there are others who follow Jesus, and who perform miracles in Jesus’ name, but who are not among the twelve disciples or among those that they know.  How can this be if Jesus told Peter that “on this rock I will build my church”?  How can followers of Jesus not follow Jesus?  But Jesus says that anyone who preaches the gospel is not their enemy.  Moreover, anyone who does good in the name of Jesus will be rewarded by God.

Conversely, Jesus says that God will punish those who do things that cause others, even children, to go astray.  We all know, many of us from painful experience, that it’s better to shut up, and be silent, than to say something stupid.  And Jesus make the same sort of point.  It’s better to lose a hand, or an eye, than to suffer in hell so even though doing the will of God and following the example and the teachings of Jesus may occasionally be inconvenient, or even painful, or costly, being inconvenienced is far better than being condemned to hell.

Jesus says, “everyone will be salted with fire.”  And the best way to understand that is to remember that gifts to God, sacrifices made to God, were burned on the altar.  And so, what Jesus is saying is that our inconveniences in following him, the sacrifices that we make, the trials that we endure, the pain that we suffer, in the name of Jesus are sacrifices that burn on the altar before God which ultimately purify us.

But what is that thing about salt losing its saltiness?

Remember that Matthew 5:13-16 says,

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Taken together these scriptures tell us that the sacrifices that we make, in order to follow Jesus, the inconveniences that we experience, the suffering that we endure, these are the things that make us different than the people around us.  These are the things that reveal the works of God to the world around us.  These are the things that make us the salt of the earth.  And if we lose our saltiness, if we become just like everybody else, and look, and act, just like everyone else, then we also lose any ability that we had to change our culture, to change our world, for the better.

Those are lessons that were unexpected.

But why is all of this important?  Why do we want to be salted with fire?  Why do we want to be the salt of the earth?  Why do we want to change the world?  And in James 5:13-20, we find the answer.

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

This passage if full of the miraculous and the unexpected.

Saying a prayer to an invisible and unseen God, whose temple doesn’t even have an idol, and that prayer has the power to heal the sick.  Expose yourself to potential pain and ridicule by confessing your sins in public, so that you can be healed.  And, James says, we do all of these things so that one life might be changed.  All of this is worthwhile, a multitude of sins can be erased, if just one person is rescued from death and returns to the ways of God.

This is the ultimate reversal of fortune.

The sinner, condemned to death, repents, returns to God, and is saved.  Life comes from death.  The world is changed for the better…  one life at a time.

And all of that happens because the followers of Jesus Christ are willing to lay their comfort, convenience, pain, and suffering on the altar and give it to God.  When we are willing to live our lives differently than the people and the culture around us, when we are willing to be salty, it is then that we can be seen.  It is then that the world, and the people around us can see God at work in us.  It is then that we are able to change the world, one life at a time, and be a part of God’s greatest reversal of fortune ever.  Rescuing the lost, restoring the condemned, and literally bringing life out of death.

That is certainly worth a little inconvenience and suffering.

Our inconvenience, pain, and suffering, in the name of Jesus, is the salt that will change the world.

Don’t ever be afraid to be salty.

“Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”


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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.

He Got ONE Wish

“He Got ONE Wish”

August 19, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14                     John 6:51-58              Ephesians 5:15-20

How many wishes do you get if you release a genie from a lamp?

If you’ve ever read “A 1,001 Arabian Nights”, or even if you’ve watched a lot of Bugs Bunny, most of us would say that you “normally” get three wishes.  But if you read more about genies you will find that they are often tricksters who are angry and unfriendly toward humans.  But obviously, both Bugs Bunny and “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights” are works of fiction.  In the real world, there’s no reason to argue over the number of wishes because no one gets wishes granted.  As Christians, we are accustomed to praying for the things that we need, but we are, or we should be, regularly reminded that God is not a genie that grants wishes.

So, what’s with the sermon title?  “He Got One Wish.”

Who did?

And for that let’s begin with our first scripture for today.  As we have been reading bits and pieces of the story of King David, we knew that there would, eventually, be an end to his story.  And so, in our first scripture for today we hear of the end of David’s life and rule over Israel, but also about the transition to his son, Solomon, whom God chose as David’s successor. (1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14)

2:10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

3:1 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

David’s son Solomon becomes the king of Israel and offers sacrifices to God.  One thousand sacrifices to God were offered on the altar at Gibeon alone.  And that night, after that sacrifice, God came to Solomon in a dream and instructed Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted.  It is as if God was offering Solomon one single wish.  And Solomon knew what it was that he wanted.  He had watched his David, his father, lead the nation of Israel.  He knew how hard life had sometimes been.  He had seen the trials that his father had faced, he had heard the stories of David’s victories, but also the stories of David’s time in the desert running from King Saul.  Solomon had seen David’s faith in God lived out in real life.  Solomon saw, firsthand, the conflict between David and Absalom and he knew of David’s great desire to build God’s temple.  Solomon knew that David’s faith, and David’s God, were very real.

And so, Solomon asks God for a discerning heart so that he might govern well and know the difference between right and wrong.  But the surprising part of the story isn’t what Solomon asked for, but the things for which Solomon didn’t ask.  Solomon didn’t ask for sex, or money, or power, or victory over his enemies, or health, or for a long life.  Solomon’s only request was a gift that would benefit the people of Israel more than it would Solomon.

And God is pleased.

Let’s stop here for just a moment because this is a lesson worth remembering.  God allows Solomon to ask for whatever he wants.  Solomon asks for a gift that benefits others.  And God is pleased.  We are often reminded that God invites us to ask for whatever we want or need.  But far less often are we reminded that God is pleased when we ask for gifts that benefit others.

And with that in mind, let’s remember where Jesus fits into what we are talking about as we read from John 6:51-58.  Jesus said,

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The confusion in this passage arises because the people thought that Jesus was talking about eating literal flesh but, in our understanding, Jesus was talking something else.  Some have taught that this was the origin of the idea of using bread to represent the body of Christ in communion, but a better understanding is to remember that John began his gospel by saying that Jesus was the Word, and the Word became flesh.  And so, the two ideas that we need to remember from this passage is first, that we must consume the word of God regularly so that we can live.  It is the word of God that sustains our lives and it is the word of God that will lead us to eternal life.  Second, remember that Jesus knew that the sacrifice of his life would make it possible for us to live forever.  Like Solomon, Jesus, as the son of the king of the universe, could have chosen anything that he wanted, but he chose to suffer so that he could give us the greatest gift of all.

It pleased God that Jesus chose a gift (the gift of suffering and death) that benefitted others.

So, what does that mean for us?

For that, let’s read Paul’s instructions to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 5:15-20).

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul says that as followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be careful of how we live.  We must be wise, like Solomon, and make the most of every opportunity.  We must not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is for our lives and for the world.  As we look at this and consider the scriptures that we read this morning, we remember that Solomon was wise because he chose the gift that benefitted others.  And we remember that the will of God, demonstrated through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was to rescue all of God’s people from sin and death.  Paul says that it is foolishness to get drunk on wine and live a life of debauchery, which is a caution against living a life of excess and selfishness.  God’s will is not to make you rich, or for you to ask him for sex, or money, or power, for victory over your enemies, or health, or for a long life.  God’s will is to save the world.

We are called to be pure and holy, to follow God’s direction, to regularly consume the word of God, to lift one another up, to be joyful, to be thankful, and to be wise enough to make the most of every opportunity.  We are called to be wise, and our examples today showed wisdom when God’s people chose to do what was best for others.

1 John 5:14-15 says, “14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Did you hear that?  “If we ask anything… according to his will, he will hear us.”

God is not a genie.  But God does answer prayers.  He is pleased when we ask for things that will help others.  John said, “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”   God will give us anything that we ask that aligns with his will.  And his will, his mission, is nothing less than to save the world.

The hardest part in all of this is, to align our desires with God’s desires.  To stop being selfish and asking for the things that we want, things like money, sex, power, victory over your enemies, health, or for a long life.  And instead start wanting the things that God wants, to be pure and holy, to encourage one another, to lift one another up, to be joyful and thankful, and to rescue as many of God’s people as we possibly can.

God is pleased when we ask for gifts that benefit others and which aid us in rescuing his children.

So, let’s not pray that our church would be bigger, or have more money, or be more popular.  Instead, let’s start praying that our church would become a lifeboat, or a light house, a place of rescue, a hospital of hope for the hopeless, and a light in the darkness so that the people around us who are hurting and lost can find a place of healing, hope, and rescue where they can hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and feed on the bread that brings eternal life.

If we could ask God for one wish, for just one answered prayer…

that ought to be it.

 

 

 

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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.

Hatred, Faith, Restoration

“Hatred, Faith, Restoration”

August 20, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 45:1-15                      Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                                 Matthew 15:21-28

 

 

Have you ever broken anything that was valuable to you but were later able to fix it so that you were able to enjoy it for years to come?

 

I suppose that if there is any advantage to breaking things, it is in the accomplishment and gratitude we feel when they are repaired and restored to us.

 

I have to tell you that I was disappointed.

 

After beginning the story of Joseph and his captivity in Egypt, I was looking forward to working through that story with you over the span of several weeks but, unfortunately, as we follow the lectionary, they have instead chosen to skip to the end of the story.  This is still a great story, but the shift, I think, has been so abrupt, that I need to fill you in on what we missed so that you can more easily make sense of what is happening in today’s story.

 

Last week, we heard the story about how Joseph was sold into slavery because of the jealousy and hatred of his older brothers.  The only brother that we didn’t hear about was his one younger brother, Benjamin, who was almost certainly too young at that time to leave home, and was, therefore, the only innocent sibling.  After Joseph was sold into slavery, a number of horrible as well as truly wonderful things happened to him, but each one demonstrated that God was truly with him and in the end Joseph was able to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh of Egypt.  These dreams told of a great famine.  First there would be seven years of bountiful harvests, and then there would come seven more years of drought and famine.  Because even Pharaoh recognized that Joseph’s ability to interpret these dreams was supernatural, Joseph was elevated to a position of power second only to the Pharaoh himself so that he could oversee the preparations for the famine that was to come.  It was Joseph who was in charge of building great storehouses for the harvests of Egypt so that there would be food to eat during seven years of famine.  And, when the famine came, it was Joseph who was in charge of making sure that the food was distributed fairly, and that some could be sold to people who were not from Egypt.  In this capacity, Joseph sits on a throne and, meets his own brothers who have come to beg for food to feed their families back home.  But since Joseph now speaks Egyptian, and by all appearances looks to be an Egyptian, including being clean shaven rather than bearded, his brothers have no idea who he is.

 

Joseph actually set them up to appear to be thieves in order to make them return a second time with his brother Benjamin.  This caused them great fear because after losing his son Joseph, their father never allowed Benjamin to go anywhere.  And so, we rejoin the story in Genesis 45:1-15 where Joseph finally breaks down and reveals his true identity.
45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

 

Imagine how his brothers felt.  For decades Joseph’s brothers lived with the guilt and shame of what they had done.  For decades they kept this great secret from their father.  For decades they lie awake at night imagining the horrors of what might have happened to their brother, imagining how he had suffered, and imagining how he had likely died.  And then, on this day, far from home and surrounded by armed Egyptian soldiers, they meet Joseph and discover that he is the second most powerful man in the world and can end their lives, or worse, with just a few words.

 

They were so afraid that they were unable to even speak.

 

And yet, instead of terror, revenge, or murder, what Joseph has in mind is thanksgiving, reunion, restoration, and reconciliation.  Joseph’s faith has brought him to understand that God was in control all along.  Through their hatred, betrayal, and deception, God had brought Joseph to Egypt, and even through his misfortune and suffering, God had brought Joseph to a place where he could save the lives of the people of Egypt, as well as those of his entire family.

 

And then we read this story of faith in Matthew 15:21-28.

 

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

 

There are several things that we need to remember in order to better understand this story.  First, Jesus is not in Israel any longer but in what had been, at various times, Syria and Phoenicia, and is therefore known as Syro-Phoenicia.  You may remember that the region of Galilee is in the far north of Israel, and as you keep going north you come to Tyre and then to Sidon.  If you kept going, the next large city is that of Beirut, so in modern terms, Jesus is now in Lebanon.  Second, Jesus has often made it clear that his mission and ministry during his time on earth was to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  While he did, occasionally, reach out to Gentiles, the focus of his mission was always to the Jews.  And so, as this woman comes asking Jesus to heal her daughter, the disciples urge him to send her away because she is neither Jewish nor even a citizen of Israel.  Even so, she persists in calling out to Jesus for help and so Jesus points out that you wouldn’t allow your own children to go hungry because you threw their food to the dogs.  [It is important to note here, that in Greek, there is a derogatory word for dogs that was used to insult people, and this is not that word.  This word is a friendlier term that we can understand, not as an insult, but simply as a comparison between children and pets and is not likely to have been intended, or received as an insult.]  But the woman rises to Jesus’ challenge and defends herself by arguing that Jesus’ power is so great, that what she wants is no more than crumbs from the table that the children would never miss.  Her understanding allows Jesus to heal her daughter and also to compliment her for her great faith.

 

As we remember these things, what we note is that although his mission is to the Jews, Jesus still cares for people who are not.  We also note that faith in the power of God and of Jesus is not limited to the disciples or to the Jews and it is this faith that opened the door to the healing of the woman’s daughter.  With this understanding, we can see that instead of being reluctant to heal an outsider or a foreigner, Jesus welcomes the opportunity to reveal God’s grace and mercy to everyone who is willing and able to have faith in him.

 

In Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Paul explains it this way as he speaks about the “lost-ness” of the Jews:

 

11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.

 

29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

 

Paul reminds us that at one time, all of us were lost, all of us were disobedient to God and, when we came to faith in Jesus Christ, all of us received mercy and were rescued from our disobedience from its consequences.  Without our disobedience, Paul argues, we would never have needed the mercy of God and the rescue of Jesus Christ.  It is Jesus who brings rescue, restoration, and reconciliation.  It is through Jesus that we receive God’s mercy, are rescued from sin and death, and are restored to the family of God.

 

It was Joseph’s faith that allowed him to have perspective on the suffering of his life.  Rather than being angry and vengeful toward his brothers, Joseph understood that their betrayal, and his many years of slavery and suffering, was used by God to rescue all of them.  Joseph’s faith allowed him to forgive his brothers and bring about the rescue of the future nation of Israel, the reunion of his family, and the restoration and reconciliation between him and those who had betrayed him.  Without their betrayal, which was redeemed and used by God, their entire family might easily have starved, or been enslaved and absorbed into the nation of Egypt.

 

Although the Syro-Phoenician woman who pestered Jesus until he heard her cry was neither a Jew nor an Israelite, her faith allowed her to receive God’s mercy and allowed her daughter to be healed by Jesus.

 

And Paul explains that although the Jews failure to believe in Jesus has separated them from God, they have not been rejected by God.  They have instead been called by God to accept Jesus, to come to faith in him just as the Syro-Phoenician woman did, so that they can receive God’s mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration.

 

And so, we should remember two things: First, that although we all suffer, we may not immediately understand our suffering, but it is entirely possible that, like Joseph, God is using our suffering to take us to a place where we can be a blessing to others, or even to change the world.  Second, as we go out into the world and as we meet people who do not know Jesus, what we offer them is the opportunity to open the door of faith so that the understanding of God, along with his mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration, can flow freely into their lives.

 

Faith is the key that opens our lives to healing, hope, and reconciliation.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Eternity Restored

“Eternity Restored”

May 28, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 1:6-14                           John 17:1-11                         1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

 

What does it mean to be “restored”?

 

There are some excellent clues for us in popular culture on television shows like Counting Cars, American Restoration, and to a lesser extent Fast n’ Loud, American Pickers, and Pawn Stars.  On all of these shows the viewers, at least occasionally, get to see old, damaged, and sometimes totally derelict artifacts from our history brought in and lovingly disassembled, repaired, and returned to factory new condition.  Often on these shows, it’s all about cars, but sometimes it’s also about motorcycles, bicycles, old signs, vending machines, glass domed gas pumps, and a host of other things.  Sometimes the restorations are so beautiful that they actually look better than the originals did coming off the assembly line.

 

Some years ago, Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican were restored to their former glory by art preservationists.  Centuries of soot and dirt were removed, damaged areas repaired, and the colors returned to the bright and vibrant shades they once were.  Many people were shocked by the transformation and textbooks about Michelangelo’s work had to be rewritten because the colors that he used were brighter and more “cheerful” than the art world had long believed.  What was once believed to be a painting which was deliberately dark and foreboding was in reality full of bright colors that had been hidden by centuries of accumulated soot and smoke from candles and oil lamps.

 

But what does any of that have to do with the church?

 

And the answer is… everything.

 

Let’s begin this morning by reading Acts 1:6-14, where we find the disciples of Jesus asking him a question about restoration that seems to be less than satisfying at first, but which ultimately tells us a lot.

 

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

 

Since this conversation happens after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples already understand that Jesus is not a conventional king and does not intend to raise an army, throw out the Roman legions, and rule Israel in the way that earthly kings ordinarily did.  The disciples already understand that they are not going to be rich and powerful advisors to the king.  And so they want to know when Jesus will restore Israel to greatness.  What they seek to understand from their question is simply to discover when Jesus will return to set up his eternal kingdom.

 

But Jesus replies that they don’t need to know.  What they do need to know is that God intends to give them great power through the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they can be witnesses for Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Jesus’ message is that it isn’t important for us to know when he will return, because the important thing for us to know is what we are supposed to be doing while we wait for him to return.  Although I didn’t realize that we would be talking about this exact scripture this week, this is the message that I shared with our children last week. We are to begin where we live (Jerusalem), go out to reach our neighbors (Judea), including the neighbors we don’t like very much (Samaria), and from there we are to go out to tell the story of Jesus to the entire world.

 

It is both interesting and important that the very next part of the story finds the disciples staring into the sky after Jesus ascends into heaven.  And as they stare at the sky, angels appear to tell them that since Jesus is gone, and since Jesus will eventually return, they should quit standing around staring at the sky and get to work.

 

John’s account of this same event includes a few more details saying (John 17:1-11)

 

17:1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

 

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

 

In this prayer, Jesus explains that eternal life is given to those who know God and who know Jesus Christ.  The mission of Jesus was to reveal God to the people of the world and he notes that those that follow him also obey him and understand that everything that Jesus has given to them came from God.  Finally, Jesus prays that God would protect his followers so that they might become one with each other and one with both God and Jesus.

 

But the road to one-ness and unity is not a road that is full of rainbows and unicorns where everything is painless and wonderful.  Instead, in his letter to the church in Asia Minor, Peter warns the people that life is likely to be more than a little difficult. (1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11).

 

4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 

 

5:Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

 

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

 

10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Peter explains that following the way of Jesus Christ, being his disciple, and doing the things that Jesus taught, is likely to not only be difficult, but that we will probably be insulted, suffer in various ways, and that “fiery ordeals” are likely to be more common that rare.  Our goal is not to have a perfect life that is free from pain, but to be humble enough to accept God’s guidance and protection.  Joining the cause of Jesus marks us as the enemy of evil and the enemy of God’s enemy and as such, we can fully expect to be attacked.

 

We are, after all, at war.

 

Peter advises the followers of Jesus Christ to stand your ground, to resist the attacks of the enemy and stand firm in your faith because we know that we aren’t unique and that the followers of Jesus all over the world are experiencing the same kind of problems.  I find this advice to be strikingly relevant as we live in a world that seems to continually ask us to compromise what we believe.  We are constantly asked to tone down our message because it is too harsh, too difficult, or too judgmental and it would seem that not much has changed.  It would appear that our world of the twenty-first century is not that different than Peter’s world of the first century.

 

Throughout history the believers of Jesus Christ have been attacked and asked to compromise their faith, and to “give a little.”  But Peter recommends that we do not.  Instead we should stand firm with the faith that we have been given and resist attempts to rewrite and revise Jesus into something that he wasn’t.  But to do that, we need to study the word of God so that we understand who Jesus really was and thoroughly understand what it is that he really taught.  In the end, Peter says, after we have been allowed to suffer for “a little while,” God will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast.

 

All of us are familiar with the periodic news stories about this or that Bible scholar, or this or that self-styled modern prophet, who thinks that they have finally figured out exactly when the second coming of Jesus will happen.  But the message of scripture is that none of us can possibly know.  More than that, it isn’t our job to know.  And even more than that, knowing when the return of Jesus will happen is far less important than knowing what we are supposed to be doing in the time that we have before he does.

 

We are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ and preach the Good News in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the world.  We are called endure criticism, and insults, and tests, and fiery ordeals because we fearlessly do the will of Jesus Christ and carry out his mission.  We are called to stand firm in our faith and resist the attacks of the enemy of God.  We are called to humble ourselves enough to trust him when we are afraid, to accept his guidance, his protection, and although we humans are an impatient bunch, we are called be humble enough to accept God’s timing.

 

The message of scripture is that it isn’t our job to know when, but that our focus must be kept on what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime.

 

When God is ready, Jesus will return to the earth.

 

When God is ready, Israel will be restored.

 

When God is ready, we will be rescued, made strong, firm, and steadfast, lovingly restored to the unbent, undamaged, better than factory new, perfect condition that God intended, and ushered into eternity.

 

Everything will happen when God chooses for it to happen.

 

But in the meantime… we have work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

“Prove It!”

“Prove It!”

March 19, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 17:1-7                        John 4:5-42                            Romans 5:1-11

All of us want proof.

All of us have been asked to do a lot of things by a lot of people.  But while it’s easy to do the simple things, we often need a little more information and support for the bigger things.  For example, in any of my previous secular jobs, if my boss asked me to go down to the accounting department and pick up some paperwork, it wouldn’t be a problem.  I could just leave my desk, walk over to the accounting department, and, even if I had no other information, I could ask around until I found what it was that my boss needed.  In the worse possible case, I might have to call her, or walk back to her office, and ask for more information before returning to accounting to find the paperwork.

But if my boss asked me to go to pick up that same paperwork, personally, from one of our clients in Italy, then I would need a lot more information up front.  Why me?  Why can’t it be mailed or faxed?  Are we combining this trip with a regular business trip when we would normally visit this client?  When do I leave?  How long will I be gone?  How are my expenses being handled?  For big jobs, you need more information.  Similarly, the more that you are asked to do, the more informed you like to be and the less you know, the more you worry about the things that you don’t know.  This is true even in environments where trust is assumed and where people are accustomed to following orders.  It isn’t hard to imagine that when the 101st Airborne division was first surrounded at Bastogne during WW2, that soldiers wanted to know when they were going to get more food, and ammunition, and when they might, or if they might, expect to be reinforced or relieved.

It is exactly that sort of desperation, and that sort of questioning, that we see in our first scripture this morning from Exodus 17:1-7.

17:1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

We often criticize the people of Israel for a lack of faith, but I honestly believe that most of us, and most normal people, would behave almost exactly the same way.  Granted, they were escaping from slavery, but they were being led by a man that few of them knew other than from old stories and legends and they had left behind a place where water was abundant and they were wandering in a place that was, quite literally, a desert with no water at all.  And as they got thirsty, and as they worried about their children and their livestock, and they began to complain and to ask questions about when they might see water again.  In the end, the people were demanding proof that if God was indeed with them, then Moses, or God, or somebody, should prove it.

 

And God does.

 

Moses strikes the rock, in front of all the leaders of Israel and water came out of the rock and provided all of the people, and all of their livestock, enough to drink.

 

Now we know that this is not always how God operates.  In fact, most of the time God simply allows events to play out and chooses not to get actively involved.  But on those occasions when God chooses to get involved, things get interesting in a real hurry.

 

Our scripture passage from the gospels this morning is a long one.  It is probably among the longest passages that we find during the course of the year, but during the seasons of Lent and Advent, as we prepare ourselves for the celebrations of Easter and Christmas, the lectionary uses these longer passages to help us remember the great stories of scripture.  For a few weeks we stop sipping from scripture and pause to drink deeply.  And so, this morning we read from the gospel of John and we remember the time when Jesus met with a Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42).

 

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34 “My food,” said Jesus “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

 

The Jews and the Samaritans disagreed on a great many things.  In fact, they hated each other so much that it was only the presence of the Roman army that kept them from violent attacks on one another.  But the Samaritans knew that one day the Messiah would come and explain everything, and they knew that when he came, that the Messiah would belong to them as well as to the Jews.

 

And Jesus simply says, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

 

And for them, the world literally changed in an instant.

 

The Samaritans were waiting for proof that the Messiah had come.  The woman at the well knew a lot about men and she demanded proof that Jesus was more than just another man.  The people in town didn’t take her at her word, they came to meet Jesus in person and get proof.

 

And Jesus gave them the proof that they wanted.

 

And, “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”  They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

 

We aren’t so very different.

 

The claims of the Bible and of Jesus are incredible and we often find ourselves thinking and acting just like the Israelites or the Samaritans.

 

We want proof.

 

And so, in Romans 5:1-11, Paul says this:

 

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

 

Paul says that the proof we want is to be found in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t wait for us to “get good” or even to “get better” before he was willing to give up his life and die in our place.  Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, while we were still the enemies of God, so that we would have the chance to be rescued.

 

We no longer have the opportunity to demand proof from Moses or from Jesus in person.  We have to rely upon eyewitness testimony, but many of us also have personal experiences that testify to the presence and the providence of God.  Just in the ten or twelve years that I have been a pastor, I have met several people who ought to be dead, people of whom the doctors said, “We can’t explain why you are alive.”  Many of you can tell the same kinds of stories.

 

Jesus is not dead.

 

He died, he was buried, he rose from the dead after three days, and he lives and reigns still today.  He knows our thoughts and he hears our prayers.  And, if we pay attention, he still offers proof through answered prayer and through our lives, and the lives around us.

 

Every day, God offers us proof… in our lives, in our friend’s lives, and in the world around us.

 

All we need to do is pay attention.

 

 

 

 

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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.