Enemies No More

Enemies No More

March 15, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 17:1-7                        John 4:5-26                Romans 5:1-11

Last year, as a part of his activities in ROTC, our son Jonah participated in a competition involving a variety of firearms.  In and of itself, such a competition, for a bunch of young people who are preparing for a career as officers in the United States Army sounds pretty ordinary.  But what made it interesting, at least to me, is that it was possible, if you scored well enough, to earn an award that could be worn on your uniform.  What makes that remarkable, is that the competition is not an American competition and the award is not an American award.  Both the competition, and the award, are a part of the German army.  There are very few, if any, other similar awards, given out by other countries, that can be worn on the uniform of the United States Army and it is that rarity that highlights just how close the United States and Germany have become as allies in the last 60 years.  Imagine how odd that would seem to a time traveler that arrived here from the height of World War Two.  Or imagine their confusion at seeing the United States Navy and the Navy of Japan holding joint war games together.  Or imagine trying to explain to a visitor from the height of the Cold War, how we cooperate with Russia and other members of the former Soviet Union in building and operating the International Space Station. 

The world has changed.

Many of those nations with whom we were once at war, are now some of our closest allies.

And that idea is a big part of what we see as we read our scriptures for today.  We begin in Exodus 17:1-7, where we hear these words:

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 [Massah means testing] and Meribah [Meribah means quarreling] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

For four hundred years, the people of Israel lived as slaves in Egypt and prayed that God would rescue them.  Finally, God sends Moses, they gain their freedom, and they set out across the desert.  They got what they wanted.  They have their freedom.  They have escaped the grasp of the Egyptians.  And still, they complain.  They got what they wanted, but it still wasn’t good enough.  God rescued them, but they didn’t trust God.  They grumbled against Moses and talked about going back because they weren’t sure what God intended.  The people had followed God and Moses, but only half-heartedly.  They couldn’t bring themselves to trust God when things got difficult.  And their doubt caused them to test God by asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  And God tells Moses to go out in front of all the people and he provided a very visible and obvious sign so that everyone will know that God is still here, God is with you, and God still cares about you.

 

More than a thousand years later, Jesus arrives with an entirely different way of demonstrating that God is with us.  And with his coming, we receive the comfort of knowing that God cares about us and our entire understanding of what it means to be an enemy is changed.  (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.”

 

At first, this doesn’t sound nearly as revolutionary as it really was.  Jesus, a Jew, is passing through Samaria because Samaria was in the middle of Israel and the fastest way from the north of Israel to the South of Israel was to go through Samaria.  But it was still a big deal.  For years, the Jews and Samaritans were at war with one another.  They hated one another, and the only reason that they weren’t fighting was because the Romans made certain that they didn’t.  Jewish Rabbis taught that the Samaritans were unclean.  Good Jews generally tried not to have any interaction with Samaritans at all.  Some carried food with them as they journeyed through Samaria so that they didn’t have to talk to Samaritans or buy food from them.  So bitter was their hatred for one another was that devout priests and rabbis would add several days to their journey, and go several times farther, so that they could travel around Samaria rather than through it.  On top of that, good Jewish men often tried to limit their contact with women, and if you take all these things together you begin to see why the Samaritan woman was so surprised when Jesus takes the time to speak with her and have a conversation.  You can almost hear the surprise in her voice.  “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink?”

 

And before their conversation is over, the woman understands that Jesus is the messiah for which both the Israelites and the Samaritans had been waiting, hoping, and praying for generations.  And then, based on her testimony, the entire village comes out to meet Jesus.  In an instant, generations of hatred were erased, and enemies are joined as friends and coworkers for God’s kingdom.

 

But, as I often ask, what does that have to do with us?

 

And, as is often the case, the Apostle Paul can help us to understand.  In Romans 5:1-11, we hear 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 explains that it wasn’t just the Samaritans and the Jews that came together because of Jesus, the same is true for all of us.  We have been justified through faith and we have peace with God through Jesus Christ.  Not only were human beings constantly at war with one another, we were also enemies of God.  But because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have all been welcomed back into God’s family.  And, because human beings are still just as stubborn as they were in the time of Moses, God offers us a sign, a demonstration, of his love for us just as he did when he caused water to start flowing out of a rock for Moses.  Of course, in this case, the demonstration of God’s love for us is the sacrifice of his own son.  While we were powerless, Christ died for his enemies… us, so that we could be reconciled, and welcomed back into the family of God.

 

Abraham Lincoln had it right when he asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”   And that is exactly what Jesus did.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection ended our separation from God.  We are no longer the enemies of God once we believe in Jesus.  Just as the coming of the messiah brought the Jews and the Samaritans together, it also offers us hope that the warfare between other groups of humans can also be ended.  Because we are joined with Jesus, we no longer separated from one another.  Whether we are white, black, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, North American, South American, European, African, rich, poor, male, female, Jewish, Christian, rural, urban, suburban, college education, uneducated, or any other division that you can think of, once we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted by God as brothers and sisters and joined together in a common purpose for the Kingdom of God.

 

We are enemies no more. 

 

We are no longer the enemies of God, nor enemies of one another.

 

And that is the reason that Paul says that “we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

 

Every day we hear messages of hatred.  “I hate Republicans,” or “I hate Democrats,” or corporations, or rich people, or poor people, or sick people, or the Russians, or the Chinese, or evangelicals, or progressives, or Hollywood, or… whatever.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

The Prince of Peace has come to end the fighting and to end the hatred.

 

We have heard the Good News.

 

God is still here.  God is with you.  God still cares about you.

 

We know the truth.

 

We have hope.

 

Neither the Corona virus, nor anything else, can take away our hope, our joy, and our peace.

 

And it’s up to us to share our hope so that everyone else can have hope too.

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

The Unloving Jesus

The Unloving Jesus

February 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20                     Matthew 5:21-37                   1 Corinthians 3:1-9

 

What are the things that you hear people say about God?

Got is great, God is Good, God is love?  Occasionally people try to draw some kind of line between an “Old Testament God” and a “New Testament God” because the God of the Old Testament sometimes sounds mean and vindictive and we have a hard time connecting God’s actions in the Old Testament, with the God that we see in the New Testament.  The problem is that we can’t separate the two and so we are compelled to struggle with our understanding of God so that both things are true.

But the same thing happens with Jesus.

What are the things that you hear people say about Jesus?

They say that Jesus was loving, and caring, and inviting.  Jesus cared for people that the church had forgotten or had thrown out or cast aside.  Jesus welcomed the outsiders and the strangers and all kinds of other people.  And all those things are true.  But it is also important to remember that Jesus was disliked, and even hated by many people of his own time.  In the first century, as well as our twenty-first century, Jesus’ own words sometime sound hurtful, hateful, unloving, unbending, inflexible, and radically conservative.

These words of Jesus can be so difficult to understand, that they are often just set aside or unread because we have a hard time making them “fit” with the Jesus that was loving and compassionate.  But, like God, both of these things are true, and if we want to be honest, we need to wrestle with them and try to understand the whole person of Jesus and not some caricature of Jesus that fits some narrative that we desperately want to be true.

That’s a lot to digest, but I hope these things will become a little clearer as we study together.

Let’s begin this morning by reading the choice that God sets in front of the nation of Israel as Moses (now 120 years old) prepared to hand over his leadership to Joshua.  (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

 

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

 

While at first glance, this might sound harsh, God is giving the people the freedom to choose.  Everyone is welcome to choose for themselves whether or not they want to follow God but, God also makes it clear that there is a cost associated with choosing to walk away from him.  Choosing God is the same as choosing life and choosing to walk away is the same as choosing death and destruction.  God doesn’t threaten that he will destroy them, but simply explains that without his protection they would certainly be destroyed.  With that knowledge, the people were free to choose, and we remain free to make that same choice today.  It isn’t unloving to tell the truth.  It’s the same as when we tell children who can’t swim, not to go in the deep end of the pool.  Without Mom, or Dad, or another strong swimmer, going in the deep end alone will not end well.  And that is the core of what God is saying.  It isn’t mean, it’s just the truth.

 

And that’s the same thing that is going on in Matthew 5:21-37 as Jesus interprets scripture as it applies to several common cultural standards and everyday human interactions.  Jesus said,

 

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

 

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

 

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

 

The things that he said here, are the kind of things that made the Pharisees, the Sadducees and other leaders of Israel want Jesus to go away… forever.  Jesus starts with something that everyone can agree on, “anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.”  That isn’t the least bit controversial, but then Jesus says that if you call someone a fool, or use an Aramaic term of contempt like “Raca” which, in English could be understood as something like when Yosemite Sam calls Bugs Bunny an “Idjit” and is certainly similar to many of the insults that we see online being traded between Democrats and Republicans, then Jesus says that using these terms to insult people puts us in danger of condemnation and hell.  This matter is so serious that Jesus recommends meeting with your friends and reconciling with them before you walk into church and make an offering to God and settle your disputes before they go to court.

 

That’s hard.  And like us, the people who heard it had a hard time accepting it.  Surely God was more forgiving, loving, and tolerant than that, wasn’t he?  But then, rather than backing off, Jesus turns up the hear another notch by talking about adultery.  Jesus says that just looking at a person of the opposite sex lustfully qualifies as adultery and earns the condemnation of God.  Worse yet, Jesus continues to throw coal on the fire by taking up the issue of divorce.  At the time, much like today, divorce was relatively common.  We know, historically, that the rabbis of the day accepted that divorce was normal but argued between themselves over what offense was needed to justify it.  All agreed that infidelity qualified, but virtually all of them said that offenses far less serious were enough and some rabbis taught that something as minor as burning breakfast was enough to qualify.  But Jesus’s evaluation was far stricter than any of the rabbis of the day.  When Jesus steps into the middle of this argument, he says that nothing short of infidelity was acceptable.  That meant that Jesus was labelling nearly everyone who had been divorced, or who had married a divorced person, which had to be a sizable percentage of the population, including some of the church leadership, as adulterers. 

 

This didn’t win Jesus any friends, and it was language like this that made the leaders of the church want Jesus dead.  In our twenty-first century world, the people on social media would be screaming that Jesus was an inflexible, unloving, unforgiving, ultra-conservative hater.

 

Except that we know he wasn’t.  So how are we to make sense of all that?

 

Ultimately, it’s the same as what we saw in Deuteronomy.

 

Jesus doesn’t warn us about God’s condemnation because he is mean, or unloving but because he knows how high God’s standards and expectations really are.  He doesn’t speak this way because he hates us, but because he, of all people, understands the truth.  It’s just like a lifeguard telling us that there are dangerous riptides and it isn’t safe to go in the water.  The lifeguard doesn’t hate you.  He is aware that you travelled a long distance to be there and had high hopes for a pleasant swim in the ocean.  But he hopes that despite your disappointment in not being able to swim at the beach, the truth will save your life. 

 

The truth might hurt, but it isn’t meant to be hurtful.

 

People got upset when Jesus said that they were murderers, adulterers and sinners.  They were hurt and angry, and some of them decided that they wanted him dead.  But Jesus didn’t say those things to hurt them.  Jesus said those things to save them and hoped that, rather than watering down the word of God and deciding that sin wasn’t really sin, if people were equipped with a better understanding of God’s high standards, they also understand their need for forgiveness and their need for a savior.

 

Jesus says that we should be so dedicated to the truth, that we should not ever need to swear an oath by God, or by heaven, or on the Bible, or on your mother, or even on the hair of your own head.  You should be so committed to the truth that everyone knows that ‘yes’ means yes and ‘no’ mean no.

 

But we aren’t just called to tell the truth, we are called to be mature disciples of the truth and that means something about how we tell the truth.  In Ephesians 4:15, Paul says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  While we are called to be disciples of, and bearers of, God’s truth, as mature disciples, we must learn to communicate that truth as lovingly as we possibly can.  Not only is that one of the great challenges of Christianity in the twenty-first century, it is often something that Christians are often bad at doing.  In fact, I think that is one of the principle things that has led to the current division in our United Methodist denomination.  Although many of us disagree on what the truth is, I don’t think that’s the problem.  The church has survived disagreements for millennia.  The problem is that somewhere along the line, both sides seem to have abandoned any attempt to speak the truth in a truly loving way.  Regardless of our interpretation of scripture, if we abandon love, no one will ever listen to the message of truth that we carry.

 

No matter how hard it was to hear, and no matter how angry it might have made some of his listeners, Jesus never abandoned the truth, and he never stopped telling the truth to the people around him.  No matter how upset people might get, the lifeguard is not going to stop warning people about the riptides that can kill them.  Jesus knew how dangerous sin really is, and he never stopped warning people about their need for forgiveness.  But, at the same time, Jesus never stopped showing genuine love and concern for the people around him. 

 

Jesus always told the truth, but he told the truth as lovingly as possible.

 

And we must do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

We Shatter Oppression

We Shatter Oppression

January 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 9:1-4                            Matthew 4:12-23                               1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 

 

Growing up, many of us watched classic Western’s on television or in the movies and many times there was a tense situation where the good guys were trapped and overwhelmed by the enemy, but just when hope was almost lost, some kind of reinforcements would arrive and rescue them.  So common was this that in the lexicon of American English, we have all come to know what it means when we hear phrases that refer to being rescued by the arrival of the cavalry even when the situation has nothing to do with the American west and when it occurs a hundred years after the military went around on horseback.

 

As we think about scriptures today, I want you to think about how those trapped people might have felt, not just in the American west, but in any number of situations when a very real protagonist appears over the horizon to rescue them.  Imagine how slaves in the American south felt when they were freed by Union soldiers, or how the inmates of German concentration camps felt when Allied soldiers arrived (75 years ago this week), or how today’s victims of human trafficking might feel when law enforcement recognizes who they are and frees them from their captors.

 

Remembering these situations, and thinking about the victims’ feelings, will help us to have a better mental and emotional understanding of what we read in today’s scripture passages such as Isaiah 9:1-4, where we hear these words:

 

9:1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.

 

Isaiah declares that when the messiah comes, he will end the distress of his people and bring honor to the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali that had once been dishonored.  The transformation would be not only noticeable, but dramatic.  The people who lived in darkness would see a great light, those living in a land of deep darkness would witness the dawn, and those living in captivity and slavery would see the instruments of their oppression torn away and shattered.  Even more than seeing the cavalry ride over the horizon, this is a scene of dramatic rescue as distress is ended, joy returned, and freedom restored. 

 

And it is that same dramatic imagery that is used to connect the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with Isaiah’s prophecy in Matthew 4:12-23 as Jesus begins to call his disciples to follow him.

 

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

 

The imagery of recalling the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, and Galilee, and the dramatic transformation of a people living in darkness who see a great light or those living in the shadow of death welcoming the dawn all connects Jesus to the prophecies of Isaiah.  In this way, we are told that Jesus is the messiah that God has promised through the prophets, and it is Jesus that is bringing joy, light, honor, and freedom.  But Matthew immediately shifts from what was, to what is, from the past of Isaiah, to the present Jesus, and he begins to tell the story of how Jesus called his disciples to follow him.

 

Jesus first calls Peter and Andrew, who we met last week just a few verses earlier in the story, followed by James and John.  All of them were fishing beside the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called them, and all of them walk away from their work, their trade, their families, and their livelihoods at a moment’s notice.  And as soon as they begin to follow, they find them themselves walking with Jesus while he teaches, and preaches, and heals the sick.  There are two more important points to be made here.  First, is that the traditional understanding of the role of a disciple was to not only to follow, but to learn to be like the rabbi that they followed, to pattern and model their lives on the life of the rabbi, and to take upon themselves the mission and purpose of the rabbi that they followed.  The second thing we notice is that by declaring his intention to send them out to “fish for people,” Jesus is making a promise to teach, and to train, his disciples to do what he is doing.  This isn’t an invitation to watch a show, this is an invitation to an education, and an invitation to become like Jesus, and in a sense, to become Jesus by taking upon themselves the mission of Jesus.

 

And, in a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds the church who it is that we follow, and why Jesus sends us out into the world.  In 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Paul says:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

As we begin taking that apart, particularly as our own denomination seems almost certainly headed for some form of division or fracture, it’s worth noting, in this case, what specific kind of division that Paul is talking about.  Paul says that there should be no division in the church, but then he explains that what the people of Corinth are fighting over are various cults of personality.  Some people are saying that they are followers of Paul or followers of Apollos, or followers of Peter.  But Paul stresses that none of them belong to the church of Peter, or Paul, or the church of anyone except the church of Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who was crucified, and it was in the name of Jesus that we have all been baptized. 

 

And, as a disciple of Jesus, Paul has been sent on one single mission, and that mission was to preach the gospel.  Paul freely admits that his preaching does sound like the professional orators and speakers that people sometimes heard in the public square.  Instead, Paul’s preaching often seems to lack wisdom and eloquence, but it is in Paul’s shortcomings that the power of Jesus Christ is revealed.  People are not drawn to his preaching, and lives are not transformed because Paul was such an incredibly fabulous public speaker (he admits that he wasn’t).  It was not Paul’s words that drew people in, and it was not Paul that changed their hearts, it was the power of Jesus Christ that had sent him and it was the power of Jesus Christ that was working through him.

 

When we put these ideas together, we remember Isaiah’s prophecy that the messiah would come to bring light into the darkness of our world, to return honor to the people of God, to bring freedom to the captives, and to shatter the instruments of oppression.  As Jesus came, it was revealed that he was that messiah, and that he intended to accomplish the mission Isaiah had written about.  But Jesus had no intention of fulfilling the prophecies of God as a performer puts on a show.  Jesus called his disciples not to be spectators, but to be learners who would model their lives after the life of Jesus and to take up his mission for themselves.

 

And Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ mission didn’t end with the first twelve disciples but has been passed on to the church and to every generation of disciples throughout history.  Despite our divisions between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, despite our divisions between Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Evangelical, Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, and any number of other denominations past, present, or future, we are united in following one Jesus and in carrying out his mission.  As his disciples, we now carry on Jesus’ mission to bring freedom to those who are captive to slavery, captive to sin, captive to hunger, to human trafficking, to drugs, to alcohol, to uncaring governments, corporate cruelty, bureaucracy, school bullies, and to any other kind of oppression that we might encounter.

 

We might not wear tights or capes or think of ourselves as heroes, but if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, then we accept that it is our job to carry out his mission.  We aren’t here to put on a show.  We are here to share the good news, to tell the story of Jesus Christ.  We are here to fight for freedom.  And we are here to shatter oppression wherever we find it. 

 

Every day, men, women, and children are praying that God would send a hero to rescue them from the giants that oppress them.  Those giants may not look like Roman soldiers, or slave ship captains, or Nazi prison guards but those giants are just as real as they have ever been, and their oppression is just as painful.

 

For them, we might just be heroes they’ve been praying for.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Rescued and Grateful

Rescued and Grateful


March 10, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11                        Luke 4:1-13                            Romans 10:8b-13

 

How many of you watch cute cat videos on the internet?

 

How about stories about dogs that almost make you cry?

I saw one of those this week.  It was about a long-distance truck driver who had recently lost one of his favorite dogs and he simply wasn’t the same afterward.  He said that his heart was no longer whole.  But his wife sent him a photo of a dog that was about to be put down, and somehow, in a way that he couldn’t explain, he connected with that dog.  The problem was that he lived in California and the dog was on the east coast.  No matter, he called the pound, paid a deposit so the dog wouldn’t be put down, asked his boss for a haul to New York, and set out, driving over 1,500 miles, to rescue that dog.  And, as strange as it may seem, it appears that the dog knew exactly what that man has done for him.  That dog simply adores his new human and his new life.  He rides in that truck every day, loves on his owner, and gives kisses and hugs to anyone and everyone that he meets.  He is, or at least as much as is possible for a dog, truly joyful and truly grateful.

Now, I know that some people will accuse me of anthropomorphizing, which is attributing human characteristics to an animal that can’t necessarily “feel” the same emotions that we feel.  Maybe.  But as a life long animal lover who has lived with eight dogs, at least six cats, and a whole pile of other animals, it seems obvious to me that even if they aren’t the same as ours, animals clearly feel emotion.  In any case, this is about us, and not my dogs.

Why is it that we do things for our parents and grandparents for free?  My brother and I once drove from Akron to East McKeesport, Pennsylvania (which is just outside of Pittsburgh) because our grandmother needed to have her garage painted.  The two of us were willing to spend an entire day, drive three hours one-way, spend the day in the hot sun scraping and painting an old garage, get home in time to go to bed, hot, sweaty, and tired.  And we were willing to do it all for nothing (but of course grandma insisted on giving us “gas money”).  Why? 

Why were we willing to do this for free, when ordinarily we probably couldn’t be persuaded to do that same thing if someone was willing to pay us?  And the answer is threefold: relationship, love, and gratitude.  We were willing to go to all that effort because of the relationship that we had with our grandmother, because of the love that we had for her, and she for us, and because of the gratitude that we had for all the things that she had already done for us, for our parents, and for our entire family.

And its those same three things that I want you watch for this morning as we read and discuss today’s scriptures for the season of Lent.  We begin in Deuteronomy 26:1-11, where we hear these directions for the people of Israel as they entered the Promised Land:

26:1 When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

This entire passage is about gratitude.  Gratitude for a God who keeps his promises and brought his people into the land that he had promised to their ancestors, gratitude for their rescue from slavery, gratitude for a new nation and a new home, gratitude for a successful harvest, and gratitude for the abundance of the land.  And out of that gratitude the people bring to God an offering of the first fruits, the initial and beginning of the harvest, and then, having given a gift of gratitude to God, the priests and the foreigners, the insiders and the outsiders alike, rejoice and give thanks for the things that God has done for them and the gifts that God has given to them.

And with that in mind, we turn to the story of the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4:1-13, where we hear this:

4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

There is a lot that we could learn within these verses, but considering what we’ve been discussing already, we can see that Jesus knew who had given him everything that he had.  And with that knowledge, every time that Satan tried to tempt him with food, power, authority, fame, fortune, greed, other human lusts, Jesus remembered who it was to whom he should be grateful.  And his gratitude to God led him to honor God by living for him, and returning to God his gratitude, thankfulness, love, respect, relationship, and honor.

But what does that mean to us?

And we find a part of that answer in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome as we read Romans 10:8-13.

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Paul says that the word of God is as near to us as our own mouth and our own heart.  If you declare with your mouth, and believe in your heart, the message of Jesus Christ, then you know without a doubt, that you are a saved, rescued, redeemed, child of God.  It doesn’t matter if you are an insider, or an outsider, God welcomes all of us, and blesses anyone who puts their faith in him.  Paul wants to give us assurance and confidence that our future is secure, and that we are loved and welcomed into the family of God.

But with that assurance, there is a question that we ought to be asking ourselves.

The people of Israel showed God their gratitude by bringing gifts of the first harvest to the altar of God and by celebrating together and giving thanks for the things that God had given to them.

Jesus showed God his gratitude by faithfully following God and honoring him by living a life that reflected the instructions and the teachings of God without being distracted or led astray by all the temptations that Satan and the world had to offer him.

Paul and the apostles showed God their gratitude by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the people in the world around them so that others who hadn’t heard, the outsiders, could know the joy, comfort, and assurance that was to be found in knowing that we are rescued, redeemed, secure, loved, and welcomed into the family of God.  We can’t really lick God’s face, or drive over and paint his garage, but the question that we still need to ask ourselves, is…

… “How am I showing my gratitude?”

 

 

 

 


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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.

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.