Who Are You in the Dark?

Who Are You in the Dark?

April 21, 2019*

Easter Sunday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:1-18                          Acts 10:34-43

 

What do you do when you are alone?

When Patti (my wife) is working, or out of the house, and I am home alone, I admit that I sometime don’t really do anything at all.  But other times, I use her absence as an opportunity to do chores in the garage while her car is out of the way or, despite the fact that Patti doesn’t mind that I have hobbies, I sometimes take time, in her absence, to engage in hobbies, or work on my projects, without worrying about what other chores might need done around the house.

But what we do when no one is watching can be revealing.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching”

And 19th century evangelist D. L. Moody said that “Character is what you are in the dark.”

It is by that measure that we discover a revealing piece of the Easter story.  In John 20:1-18, we meet Mary Magdalene…

…in the dark…

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

On Sunday morning, the first day of the Jewish week, the earliest that it was permitted to do work after the sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene is up before the sun and already on her way to the tomb where Jesus had been buried on Friday.  In an era thousands of years before the invention of the alarm clock, Mary is up and dressed and out of the house while the roosters are still asleep.  It is almost certain that she has been awake for most of the night.  And, while it is still dark, she discovers that the stone has been removed, the tomb is empty, and Jesus’ body is missing.  In her despair, she runs to find Peter and John, and they return with her to investigate, only to find that everything is just as she had described. 

After confirming what Mary had said in the first place, Peter and John go back to the places where they had been staying during Passover, but Mary did not.  Mary could be in no other place than the place where she had last seen Jesus.  She had followed him alongside the disciples for years, she had followed him and watched his trial, she had followed him and watched his crucifixion when almost everyone else had fled, and she had followed him that evening as he was buried in a rush before sundown.

But now, Jesus was gone.

And Mary could think of no place that she’d rather be than the last place that she had seen him.  And so, she sat beside his grave… and she wept.  But pausing to look inside the tomb again, perhaps for the twentieth or thirtieth time, each time hoping to see something different, but each time seeing the same empty tomb, and suddenly… there is something different.  Angels.  And the angels ask, “Why are you crying?”  And as she turns away from the tomb she sees, but does not recognize, Jesus.  Possibly because she was looking through her tears, and possibly because she simply didn’t expect to see a dead man to be standing upright and asking her questions.  But everything changes with a single word.

“Mary.”

Only Jesus spoke to her that way.  Only Jesus had that voice.  Only Jesus used that tone.  It was a voice that she knew so well, and had heard so often, that it was utterly unmistakable.  And she knew.

She knew.

Mary may not have yet understood how, or why, but she knew that Jesus was alive.

And in the last moment that we see Mary Magdalene in all of scripture, she goes to tell the disciples what she had seen and what she had heard.


Think about that for a moment.  After spending three years preaching, eating, sleeping, walking, and living with the disciples, Jesus appears first to Mary and not to any of the disciples.  In a culture that was all about men, Jesus appears first to a woman.  Surrounded by healthy people, Jesus announces his return to a woman who had been afflicted with, and whom he had cured from, demonic possession.  This is one of the pieces of the story that help us to believe that it must be true, because it is completely counter-cultural.  If you intended to write a fictional story in order to establish a new religion, this is clearly not how you would have written it.  Unless it was true.

Jesus was alive, Mary becomes the first missionary of the Resurrection, and I think that it’s quite likely that it had everything to do with Mary’s faith.  I suspect that these events may have been on Peter’s mind when he gave his great speech in Acts 10:34-43.

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

God does not show favoritism but accepts everyone who fears him and does what is right.  We must go out into the world and tell everyone that we can find about the Gospel message, the Good News, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ because we are witnesses.  We may not have been standing beside Mary or been in the room when she told the disciples, but we have surely seen the evidence of how Jesus has changed our lives and we know the miracles that he has done in our families and in the lives of the people around us.

We are witnesses.

Jesus has commanded us to preach, and to testify, that he is the one who God has appointed as judge, it is about him whom the prophets have written, and those that put their faith in him will be forgiven of their sins.

We know that Mary Magdalene probably came from a family that had money, but her life was anything but easy.  When she came to Jesus she was described as having the worst case of demon possession of anyone that the disciples had met.  She was said to have had seven demons, or allegorically speaking, a perfection of demon affliction.  But unlike nine out of ten lepers that Jesus healed, unlike the thousands of others whom Jesus healed of various afflictions, and unlike even the disciples themselves, Mary Magdalene did the thing that Peter promised and couldn’t deliver.  She stayed.

Mary.  Never.  Left.

Throughout his ministry, throughout his trial, throughout his crucifixion, Mary was there.

And in the dark of that Saturday evening, and the dawn of Sunday morning, Mary was there.

And so, if D. L. Moody was right, if “Character is what you are in the dark,” then on this Easter Sunday morning we know what kind of character that Mary Magdalene had but all of us are confronted with this question:

Who are you in the dark?

 

 

 


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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.

Performance Review

Performance Review


February 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 17:5-10                      Luke 6:17-26                  1 Corinthians 15:12-20

 

When was the last time you had a performance review?

Both in secular jobs and in pastoral ministry, my job performance has been periodically evaluated.  Theoretically, this is supposed to happen annually, but in reality, my supervisors and, to a lesser extent, my Staff Parish Relations Committees, have occasionally missed those deadlines.  But regardless of how often they happen, most all of us have experienced them with some regularity.  We sit in a room together with our boss, or with a committee, and we discuss how things have been going, what things are going well, what things need to be improved, and what things we might focus on in the months ahead.  Although it is almost always stressful, sometimes the process is generally painless, and at other times, “painless” is clearly not a word that we would use to describe them.

But can you imagine what it would be like to be reviewed by God for your job performance as one of his followers or as a follower of Jesus Christ?

With that in mind, we begin this morning by reading Jeremiah 17:5-10, where we discover something that sounds very much like a performance review from God.

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

There is some hard-hitting, close to home, preaching here that hits many of us right where we live. 

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

Jeremiah wastes no time and does not fool with political correctness when he says that we should not ever put our trust in kings, or presidents, or human governments, or even in pastors, priests, popes, or churches led by humans.  When we put too much trust in human beings, whether in governments or in the men and women who oversee our churches, that misplaced trust can cause our hearts to turn away from God and we become like a bush that grows in a wasteland, always wanting more, never having enough, and never being satisfied.  But, if we put our whole trust and confidence in God, then we will be like a tree that is planted by a lake or a river, never in fear of drought or summer, or sunshine, and always being fruitful and giving to the world around it.

But the last line of this passage strikes us most of all.

“I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

That clearly sounds like a performance review.

And not just a performance review, but a merit-based performance review.  God will examine our hearts and minds and reward each person based on our conduct, our behavior, and our actions. 

This serious business.  There is not a lot of “wiggle room” here.  You either perform, or you don’t, and your reward will be based on your performance.

But there are some caveats, or qualifications, that need to be made to that sort of teaching.  It needs to be explained because many of the people of Israel, or the Old Testament followers of God, read passages like that and began to believe that since rich people seemed to be blessed by God, then they must be good people, and since poor people seem to not be blessed by God, then the poor must be sinners and have somehow made God angry at them.  That line of thinking is still heard today among those who preach what is referred to as the “prosperity gospel.”  The prosperity gospel says, “If you truly believe, or if you only believe hard enough, if only your faith is strong enough, then God will make you healthy and rich.”  But that isn’t at all what Jeremiah was saying.  And, in truth, this understanding became so common that Jesus and the disciples spent a considerable time preaching against it.  One of the most famous of these lessons in contained in Luke 6:17-26 where we hear this:

17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Jesus us in the middle of healing a crowd of people from all over the region.  Some had physical illnesses, others had spiritual problems, and some might have had mental illnesses (as we understand them) as well.  Jesus was so filled with the spirit and the power of God that people were being healed simply by touching him.  But in the midst of this, Jesus looks directly at his disciples and gives a speech.  Clearly, this is something of vital importance that they needed to know, and which was illustrated in some way by the healing that was going on in front of them.

And Jesus’ message is that the kingdom of God belongs to poor people, that hungry people are blessed, that people who are experiencing great sadness, sorrow, and depression are not cursed, but will eventually rediscover laughter.  Jesus wants this followers to remember that when life stinks, you are still blessed by God, and more than that, if your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus, or because you are doing the work of Jesus Christ, then you are blessed precisely because you are hated, insulted, excluded, and rejected.

If your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus Christ and because you are acting like a follower of Jesus Christ, then remember that God’s own prophets were similarly mistreated.  God’s prophets were still loved, honored, and blessed by God even when the world treated them like crap. 

And so are you. 

If… you are mistreated because of Jesus.

If you live a life that honors God and does the work of Jesus Christ, even if that life stinks, you need to know that you are piling up blessings that may not ever be received until after you meet Jesus face-to-face.

At the same time, contrary to popular opinion, being rich might just mean that you are cursed by God, and not blessed.  If you are rich, or comfortable, or well fed, or spend your days in joy and laughter, or if everyone speaks well of you and thinks that you’re great, if you live well because you say the things that people want to hear… and you have forgotten to live a life that honors God, and have forgotten to live a life that does the deeds and actions of a follower of Jesus, then the only blessing that you will ever get is the one that you have now. 

And you will have all of eternity to regret the choices that you have made.

Once again, that clearly describes a merit based, performance review.

But don’t let the thought of a performance review fill you with anxiety or uncertainty.  Instead, be reassured and remember the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth where he reminds them of what is true and real (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then nothing that we have done is worth anything.  If Christ has not risen from the dead, then everyone is lost, and no one has anything in which to find hope.  But Christ is real.  And Christ really did rise from the dead.  And if Jesus rose from the dead, then he is the first born from the dead, or as Paul said, the first fruits of the dead.  And that means that everyone who has aligned themselves with Jesus, everyone who has become a follower of Jesus, carries with them the promise of resurrection from the dead. 

Paul’s message is that resurrection is real.  The Bible is real.  The Gospel message is real.  And in that reality, we have a future if we believe in Jesus Christ.  But when we believe in Jesus, we must also live for Jesus by doing the things that he has called us, and commanded us, to do.

Rest in the knowledge that, if you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, then you will be see resurrection.

Be confident that we will live, with Jesus, in God’s eternal house.

But be – daily – spurred to action, be motivated, by remembering that there will be a performance review on the day of judgement.

 

 

 

 


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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.

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.

 

A Resurrected Heart

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“A Resurrected Heart”

(Easter, So What? – Part 3)

May 07, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41                               Luke 24:13-35                        1 Peter 1:17-23

 

Have you ever seen the Loch Ness monster?

What about Bigfoot, a Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, or a chupacabra?

I’m going to guess not.  But even if you saw proof tonight, their existence probably wouldn’t change your life.  Their existence, or non-existence, is only of academic interest to us.

When we learn things that are interesting, but not life changing, we are intellectually stimulated; we take note of the information, think about it, file it away, and go on with our lives.

But how we react to news that has the potential to change our lives is different.

If we heard on the news that there was another terrorist attack in France, it would be of academic interest.  But if we had family or friends that lived there, we evaluate the information in a completely different way, and if a member of our family, or one of our friends was present at the time of the attack, or was the victim of the attack, our thinking would take place on an entirely different level that is far from academic.

This is exactly the difference that we witness this morning, as we read the story about the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.

13 Now that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.  And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

As we read this story we can recognize a four-step process to the thinking of the disciples.  The story begins with them already at the first step.  In that step the disciples simply know the facts about the events that they had experienced.  They knew what had happened in Jerusalem and so did everyone else.  So widespread was this knowledge that they were surprised when they met someone who didn’t seem to know what had happened.  But as they walk, Jesus walks them through the scriptures and brings them to the next level which is an academic understanding of what had happened.  Instead of merely knowing what had happened, they now understood the context of what had happened, they understood how the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion fit into the prophecies of Israel and the Messiah for whom Israel had been waiting.

But as Jesus broke bread, they arrived at step three.  Their eyes were opened, they recognized Jesus, and suddenly a connection was made between their minds and their hearts.  Suddenly, what had happened was no longer simply an academic exercise, but a deeply personal experience that made a difference in their lives.  The fourth step came immediately afterward.  Now that they knew academically, and understood in their hearts what had really happened, they also knew what had to be done about it.

What they knew was no longer something that was merely of academic interest.  What they knew was no longer held back by the dangers of traveling a road that was awash with bandits at night.  What they knew was so important, so transformative, and so life changing, that they had to immediately take action and go out into the night, regardless of the danger, to tell the other disciples, and everyone that knew Jesus, what they had seen and heard.

In Acts 2:14a, 36-41, we see the crowd moving through the same steps, but in this case, with the help of Peter’s explanation, they do so much more quickly.

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

 


36 
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

 

The people begin by knowing facts of the story.  But as Peter speaks and explains to them that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Messiah of Israel, the people were “cut to the heart.”  They immediately understand academically, and they connect deeply and personally with what has happened.  What remains, and what they do not understand, is what action that they must take because of it.  And so Peter explains that because they understand, the action they must take is that every one of them must repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus.

 

But beyond that, as we sit here today, we wonder what happens next.  Many of us have already been baptized and we might wonder why Easter is still supposed to be such a big deal.  The answer to that, at least in part, is also answered by Peter in his letter to the church in Asia Minor. (1 Peter 1:17-23)

 

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart  23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

 

Peter spells it out for the church this way: Because we belong to a God who is truly and completely impartial, we should live our lives as if our legal status is as tentative as a foreign citizen travelling in the United States with only a passport, or perhaps even without one.  We must live in “reverent fear” by appreciating what we have, but understanding that we must conform our lives to the law and, at the same time, appreciate that we might, at any moment, be called upon to return home and take nothing with us.  We know that our rescue from sin and death has been purchased at the highest possible price with nothing less than the blood of the Son of God.  It is through him, and because of him, that we believe in God and put our faith and trust in him.  We purify ourselves daily by obeying the truths that we have been taught by Jesus and through the scriptures and we obey them so that we can learn to love sincerely, so that we can learn to love one another deeply, and to love from the heart.  Peter reminds us that believing in God, and in his son Jesus, is a heart condition that requires daily attention just as much as those who have medical conditions must pay diligent, daily, attention to their diets and to taking their medication.  In our case, we must work daily to study and obey the word of God, to love one another, and to tell the world what we have learned so that they might also be rescued from death.

 

The story of Easter is far more than a fairy tale, and Jesus is much more than a mythical creature like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot.  Scripture and history tell us clearly that Jesus is real and we believe that the story is true.  But knowing the story is much more than an academic exercise. When we come to faith, we connect with the story at a deeper level and we understand with our hearts as well as with our minds.  This heart connection makes us realize that the story of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection is so important, so transformative, and so life changing, that we must take action.  We must do something with what we have learned.  Believing in Jesus is a heart condition that requires daily attention.

 

The Easter story isn’t a “one and done” kind of a story…

 

…It’s a transformative moment in history that changes us, shapes us, directs us, and calls us to take action every single day of our lives.

 

 

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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.

 

Resurrection? So What?

“Resurrection? So What?”

(Easter.  So What? – Part 1)

April 16, 2017

(Easter Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Colossians 3:1-4                     Matthew 28:1-10                               Acts 10:34-43

Did you watch the news at all this week?

Every week, almost every day, we are confronted with stories and images that demand our attention.  This week we were horrified to see United Air Lines being drag a passenger off of a flight against his will simply because the airline overbooked the flight and randomly selected him to be removed. In the past we’ve seen the images of Tamir Rice being shot by police, police officers being attacked or shot in the line of duty, American Indian tribes protesting a pipeline, or heard about the FDA allowing the use of a dangerous pesticide, or the dramatic loss of honey bee colonies, and a host of others.  Our initial reaction might be surprise, or shock, or sadness, or anger, but the most important question that we are left with when the news is over is, “So what?”

What are we expected to do about it?

Are we simply better informed than we were a moment ago, or is there something that we can, or should be doing as a result of the information that we have received?  Should we sell our stock in United? Call our congressman? Vote for the police levy?  Read the labels at Home Depot and refuse to buy products that contain dangerous pesticides?  Plant bee gardens?

The “So what?” question is important because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

In our seminary class on preaching, our professor reminded us that our Sunday sermons ought to pay attention to the “So what?” question.  If what we have to say on Sunday morning is important, then so what?  What do we want the congregation to do with the information that we have studied, prepared, practiced, and provided?

The “So what?” question is important because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

And that’s really the heart of the Easter story as well.  But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember the story. (Matthew 28:1-10)

28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

 

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

 

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

The women are shocked and afraid as they meet Jesus, whom they (obviously) thought was dead.  But Jesus calms their fears and then answers the “So what?” question as he sends them to carry the message of Good News to the disciples in Galilee.

 

It took a while for the disciples to fully understand what it meant that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Over the course of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples had seen the impossible.  The blind could see, the lame could walk, incurable diseases had been cured, and they had even seen the dead restored to life.  But now Jesus, the teacher, and their connection to the power of God, was the one who had died.  Who was left that could defeat death now?  Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary man.  Jesus had done miracles that even the greatest of God’s prophets had never accomplished, and rising from the dead was the greatest miracle of all.  What did it all mean?  What were they expected to do about it?  They knew that if they didn’t do something, if they didn’t change, then nothing would change.  And this was far too important to allow that to happen.

 

A few months later, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, and after the events of Pentecost, Peter answers the “So what?” question for the disciples and other followers of Jesus in Acts 10:34-43.

 

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

 

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

 

Peter is a changed man.  Only a month or two ago he denied even knowing Jesus, and hid from the authorities. Then, after the crucifixion, he left Jerusalem, walked back to Galilee, and went back to his old job.  He was utterly defeated and a ruined man.  And suddenly we see him as forceful, decisive, thoughtful and confrontational as he stands before a crowd of people in the streets of Jerusalem.  He is clearly not the same man that we saw during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  What he had seen was so important that the answer to the “So what” question changed his life.

 

He knew that if he didn’t change… then nothing would change.

 

And so he changed.

 

And as he preached, he argued that everyone else had to change as well.  The “So what?” of the resurrection of Jesus was nothing less than world changing.  No one else in the history of the world had done what Jesus did.  The most famous and most powerful of God’s prophets had not even come close.  The resurrection was important.  The resurrection meant something.  And Peter preaches to the world about its meaning.  Peter says that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus really happened.  Everyone knew that it happened because they were witnesses and because they were witnesses, they had to do something.  They had to change.  We have to change.

 

Because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

 

Jesus has commanded us to preach to the people, to testify about Jesus, and tell the world that he is the judge of all humanity, and by believing in him we receive forgiveness for sins.

 

Paul, writing to the church in Colossae, answers the “So what?” question in a slightly different way. (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

Paul says that since Jesus saved your life and rescued you from death, then you should do something about it.  If we believe in Jesus, and have put our faith in him, then we must build our lives around his teaching and around the expectation that heaven is real and that we expect to live there.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just information.  It isn’t just something that we need to know to be well informed.  It is so important, so significant, that we are expected to do something about it.

 

Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary man.  Jesus had done miracles that even the greatest of God’s prophets had never accomplished, and rising from the dead was the greatest miracle of all.  The resurrection is important.  The resurrection means something.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that he is the Messiah, the Savior and rescuer of all humanity.

 

And because we are witnesses, we are expected to preach to the people, to testify about Jesus, and tell the world that he is the judge of all humanity, and by believing in him we receive forgiveness for sins.

 

We are expected to do these things…

 

Because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

 

 

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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.

 

Why Does God do Miracles?

“Are You Raised, Transformed, or Redirected?”

(Why Does God do Miracles?)

June 05, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 7:11-17            Galatians 1:11-24         1 Kings 17:8-24

 George Herbert Leigh Mallory was born on June 18th, 1886 and was an extraordinary mountain climber who was attempting to be the first to reach the peak of Mount Everest.  He made climbs of nearly every well known mountain and in the 1920’s made three attempts, in 1921, 1922, and again in 1924, to reach the summit of Everest.  On March 18, 1923 a reporter from The New York Times asked Mallory, “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” This question was asked particularly in light of his plans to go again in 1924, and Mallory responded with what has been described as the most famous quote in mountaineering, “Because it’s there.”

During Mallory’s third attempt, on either 8 or 9 June 1924, Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew “Sandy” Irvine both disappeared on the North-East ridge when they were only about 800 vertical feet from the summit.  Mallory’s body was lost for 75 years and only discovered in 1999.  Irvine’s body, and the camera that he carried (which might provide evidence of whether or not they reached the summit before Sir Edmund Hillary), remain missing even today.

And that brings us to the question for today because last week we talked a lot about the great power of God and the amazing miracles recorded in scripture that displayed God’s power.  But in the end, we often ask the same question that the New York Times asked George Mallory… “Why?”  Why does God perform miracles?  Why does God choose to display his unlimited and unmeasurable power?  And in order to arrive at an answer we will, once again, take a look at some of the miracles that God has performed.  We begin again with the stories of Israel’s greatest prophet, Elijah, during a drought and famine that caused hardship all over the region. (1 Kings 17:8-24)

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there [Zarephath was to the north of Israel, beyond Galilee, in what was then a part of the Assyrian empire and what is now the nation of Lebanon]. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed.20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”

24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

God does some amazing things in this story, but this is what I want you to remember: At the end of the story we hear the widow say, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

And then Luke 7:11-17, we hear about a miracle of Jesus that echoes the story of Elijah…

11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

16 “They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.”

In this story, Jesus is in the town of Nain which, while it isn’t as far north as Elijah was, is still in the region of Galilee and far enough north to remind everyone of Elijah’s story.  Here, Jesus meets a funeral procession on its way to the cemetery.  The funeral is already over, the time of mourning in the home is over, and the mourners are now carrying the body to be buried.  Jesus stops and touches the bier, or platform, on which the body rests and the pall bearers stop with him.  Jesus simply commands the dead man to get up, and he does.

And once again I want you to remember the last two verses from that story: “They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.”

And finally we come to the story of Paul’s conversion that we discussed last week. This time found in Galatians 1:11-24.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

Paul is even farther north than Elijah and Jesus as he travels in Syria and Cilicia (which is in modern Turkey).  Paul’s entire life is changed.  He doesn’t physically come back from the dead, but he is restored to life eternal by his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.  Paul’s entire life is transformed and given a new direction.  And what is the result?  Paul says: “They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.  And they praised God because of me.”

And so today we have heard three stories about the power of God and each time we heard words that sound very similar.

  • Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

 

  • “They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.”

 

  • They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they praised God because of me.

Each time, the “why,” the reason that God performed a miracle, was so that God could be made known to humanity.

I have had people ask me why we don’t see miracles as often as we used to, or why we don’t see miracles in North America when others in places like Africa, parts of Asia and Cuba, do occasionally see them.  And at least a part of the answer is in these three scriptures.  If God performs miracles so that he can be made known, what need is there to perform them in places where there are already an abundance of believers who have already been called to do that very thing?

But more important than that is the understanding that God never performed miracles just so that he could be famous.  God doesn’t just want to be made known so that everyone knows him.  God wants to be known so that he can use us.  For reasons that we don’t understand, God wants us to join his family and to live with him.  But before we can do that, he needs to make us perfect.  Few, if any, of us will come anywhere close to perfect in this life, but God intends to move us in that direction whenever possible.  God is at work every day moving us toward perfection… if we will let him.  And in the process, God will do three things: First, he will rescue us from death and raise us to a new life.  Not just a new life after this one ends, but a new life that begins now, a new and radical life that is dedicated to serving him.  Second, God will be at work transforming our lives so that we, more and more, resemble him.  Every day, little by little, we should increasingly reflect God’s values, love, compassion, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and every other aspect of his personality.  At some point in that process, others will likely begin to notice that we are different than we used to be and, if we are doing it right, they will want to know what happened to us so that they can have whatever we have found.  And third, God is at work redirecting us so that instead of dedicating our lives in the pursuit of pleasure, money, power, or something else, the direction of our lives becomes a reflection of his will and his mission so that we truly become the hand and feet of Jesus.

In reality, answering the question of “Why” God does miracles is the easy part.

God does it for us.

God performs miracles to make himself known to humanity. But what follows is harder.  What follows is a journey of faith that begins with our resurrection to life eternal, continues with transformation into a new creation as we become the people that God intends for us to be, and finally begins a pursuit to become a reflection of his will and mission so that we do the work of the Kingdom of God and truly become the hands and feet of Jesus.

The hard questions are these: Are you raised, transformed, and redirected?

How far have we come?

Are we moving forward, or are we stuck?

What must I do to become the person that God created me to be?

How is God calling me to become the hands and feet of Jesus?

 

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

What Happened? You Happened.

“What Happened?  You Happened.”

March 27, 2016

(Easter Sunrise)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 24:1-12                     Romans 6:3-11

Pastor: He is Risen!

People: He is Risen indeed.

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How are you feeling right at this very moment?

Most of us are doing okay, but among all of us that are here, there is likely to be quite a range of emotions.

And if I were to ask you all what emotions that you felt during the past week, I am confident that we would amass a list that would cover almost the entire spectrum of human feelings.

And that is exactly what happened to the followers of Jesus during the week that began with the triumphal entry (what we remembered at Palm Sunday) and ended with the resurrection of Jesus and beyond.

They were filled with wonder one moment, then joyous, then afraid, then panicked, then terrified, then shocked, then angry, then mournful, and everything in between.  It was like body blows that landed upon them one, after another, after another.  And then we read this in Luke 24:1-12.

24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.

9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Peter was just like us and every other human being that ever walked the earth.  What was happening was totally unexpected and that’s why, to the ears of the disciples, the women sounded like they were babbling total nonsense.  What was happening was clearly not normal.

So what happened?

Even when Peter begins to understand that Jesus rose from the dead, and even after Jesus ascends into heaven and Peter’s entire life is totally transformed, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some part of him was still just a little confused.  Some part of him, and a part of us, continued to ask… what happened?

And in his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul answers many of our questions. (Romans 6:3-11)

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul explains that our baptism is a symbol of Jesus’ death.  Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish beneath the water for three days, and just as Jesus was in the grave for three days, our baptism is a symbol.  The water is a symbol so that as we are covered in the water, we join Jesus in death and rise with him to a new life.  Paul says that through our baptism, by joining Jesus symbolically in death, we are united with him and united in his resurrection.  Just as Jesus was crucified, our old selves were crucified so that sin would no longer control us and we would no longer be slaves to sin.

Paul says that the death that Jesus died was for everyone, everywhere, forever and the life that he now lives is dedicated to God.  In the same way because, through baptism, we have died with Jesus and were set free from sin and death, we also now live forever and our lives are dedicated to God.

It wasn’t surprising that Peter and the other followers of Jesus wondered what happened.  But Paul wants us to know that what happened didn’t just happen to Jesus, and it didn’t just happen to the disciples, it happened to you too.

Pastor: He is Risen!

People: He is Risen indeed.

And so have you.

 

 
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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.