Duty, Mission, Reward

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Duty, Mission, Reward

April 17, 2022*

(Easter Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 24:1-12                          Acts 10:34-43                         1 Corinthians 15:19-26

There are things that we do that are unpleasant, but we do them anyway.  Some things we can delegate to others, but some things, regardless of how much we might dislike the task, simply must be done, and so we do them.  Sometimes these things are commanded by others, like cleaning latrines, or emptying “honey pots” in the military (if you know, you know), but sometimes these are things that we “command” ourselves to do, like changing stinky diapers, cleaning the bathroom after being sick, changing the cat litter, or cleaning up the dog poo in the back yard.  Sometimes, regardless of the unpleasantness, we just do those things that must be done.  Sometimes it is necessity that pushes us, sometimes survival, and often, duty. 

And regardless of what you might want to call it, it is that sense of duty in the face of unpleasantness, that begins the Easter story.  John 20 says, “Early on the first day, while it was still dark,” Mary Magdalene and some of the other women went to the tomb to embalm the body of Jesus with spices that would mask the stench of decay.  But Jesus had already been dead for at least 36 hours, and although the smell of decomposition may not yet have been overpowering, they were not expecting it to be a pleasant task.  But, pleasant or not, these women had either violated the Sabbath to prepare the things that they needed, or they had been awake since the earliest hours of the morning so that they could do what needed to be done.  In Luke 24:1-12, Luke says,

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. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 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? 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.’” Then they remembered his words.

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.

As the women planned and prepared to do what had to be done, one of the first items of business always had to be asking someone, anyone, to help them move the stone.  I’ve seen them.  Even the small ones are not small, and the big ones are enormous.  The stones are almost invariably round, and usually rest in a smooth stone trench so that they roll… easier.  But six hundred pounds, or one thousand pounds, or more isn’t going to be easy and, I suspect, that the women did not plan to do all that work alone.  My guess is that they hoped that the soldiers, who had been commanded to guard the tomb, could be persuaded to help them move the stone as long as their assistance wasn’t required to do the unpleasant work inside.  But, as they drew closer, there were no guards, and when they arrived, they found that the stone had already been rolled away.  Amid their confusion and curiosity, they entered the tomb, and discovered that Jesus’ body was missing as well.  And, as they wondered, and discussed, what might have happened, angels appear and ask why they are looking in a grave for a man who was alive.

But when they ran to tell the disciples what had happened to them, they didn’t make any sense.  Their words, however true, sounded like gibberish.  No guards, open tomb, missing body, blinding lights, angels, resurrection.  None of it made any rational sense.  Surely the women must’ve accidently eaten poison, or in their grief, had too much to drink overnight.  But Peter wants to know what really happened, and so he runs to the tomb… and finds it empty just as the women had described.

That’s the story that most of us have heard a few dozen times. 

But what does it mean?

Peter was the one who wanted to see the tomb, with his own eyes, after hearing the story told by Mary Magdalene and the other women.  It was Peter, we are told, who wondered, and thought about what had happened.  And, after meeting the risen Jesus, we listen as Peter explains to others what it all means in Acts 10:34-43.

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but 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, 40but 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 summarizes three years of ministry with Jesus, the trial, the cross, and the resurrection, by saying God accepts anyone and everyone who fears him and who does what is right.  Peter reminds his audience that they know the message, and that they had all heard the stories about Jesus and his ministry.  And it is the mission of the disciples, and all who knew Jesus, and everyone who follows them, to stand up as witnesses of what he did, and what he taught.  The message of Jesus is a message for everyone, that forgiveness is available to anyone who believes in him, and it is our mission to tell them.

But now that we know what the story means, and what we are supposed to do about it, the next question we need to answer is… why.

Why is it important to be a witness to the world?  Why is it important that every follower of Jesus be a participant in sharing his message of forgiveness with the world?  Why can’t we be satisfied that the minister can do it, or the missionaries can do it, or that a few people from our congregation might be excited, or even just willing, to learn about evangelism?

And Paul answers the “why” question in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 when he says…

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. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Paul says that the good news of Jesus Christ is important to everyone because Jesus rose from the dead.  Yeah, yeah, we get that, I mean, it’s Easter.  That’s the message we expected to hear this morning.  But Paul’s point is that all of us are going to die.  Every person that you have ever known, every person that you know, every person that you will ever know, is going to die.  Every person that has ever lived, even Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead, has died, or will die. 

But…

But because Jesus rose from the dead, and because Jesus was the first human being to defeat death and rise from the dead, everyone who chooses to follow Jesus can be, and will be, made alive again after our death.  It isn’t going to happen today, but it will happen.  There is a day coming when there will be no presidents, no governments, no armies, no irritating or difficult persons of power or authority, no bureaucracies, just the freedom of eternal life.  On the day that Jesus returns, everyone who belongs to Jesus will be made alive again.  Paul is clear in saying that resurrection isn’t going to happen to everyone, but it will happen to everyone who chooses to follow Jesus while they are alive.  But it’s a limited time offer.  Because human beings have a limited life span, we don’t have forever to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.

How would you feel on judgement day if your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers, and the people you love, look at you and ask why you never told them that they could live forever with Jesus?

It’s not just the job of the preachers, or the missionaries, or even a handful of people who want to learn about evangelism.  Our mission is to share the good news with everybody. 

And the only way possible for us to do that, is for all of us to work together.


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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.

Risk and Return

“Risk and Return”
October 11, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: Job 23:1-9, 16-17                    Hebrews 4:12-16                         Mark 10:17-31

Have you ever taken a risk?

Almost certainly you have. Life is all about risk.

Every time we get out of bed, there is a risk that the effort of waking up will cause a heart attack or a stroke.

Every time we get in a car, there is a risk that we will be in an accident.

Every time we take a bath or a shower, there is a risk that we will slip and fall.

Every time we eat fresh produce, or other foods, from the grocery store or prepared meals from a restaurant, there is a risk that something has gone wrong somewhere along the line, and there is a risk of serious illness.

We make choices, and take risks, all day, everyday.

The choices that we make cannot eliminate risk; all that we can do is to make choices that limit our risk to a level where we feel comfortable.

Some of us feel safer staying at home, while others are perfectly comfortable skydiving or SCUBA diving.

But our ability to risk, our comfort level with risk, is also a key factor in the way that we invest and prepare for the future. Investment advisers make a living helping others to make wise choices, based in-part on how comfortable they are with risk, in how they invest and prepare for retirement and other future events.

And our understanding of risk also plays a big part in how we understand the choices that we make about what happens after our lives end. We must decide what happens when this life is over and what preparations we can or should make for what comes next.

We begin again this morning in the book of Job (Job 23:1-9, 16-17), where Job wrestles with his suffering which he perceives as being sent by God unfairly.

Then Job replied:
2 “Even today my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
3 If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling!
4 I would state my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say to me.
6 Would he vigorously oppose me?
No, he would not press charges against me.
7 There the upright can establish their innocence before him,
and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

8 “But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.

16 God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me.
17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness,
by the thick darkness that covers my face.

Job wants to confront God and demand answers for the injustice that he feels. He knows that God is fair but God seems to be missing and Job cannot find him. Job is accustomed to talking to God and to feeling his presence but suddenly he cannot and this, combined with the terrible things that have happened to him, make Job afraid. But even in the face of injustice, even in the face of fear, even in the face of death, Job perseveres and presses on. As Job evaluates risk, even in the face of all that he has endured, Job will not give up, and he will not give up on God.

But even if we are enough like Job to hold on to God in times of trouble (and it isn’t always easy), we still worry that God’s standards are too hard. We worry that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t trust enough, or have enough faith. We worry that God’s judgement will be too harsh when our lives are finally weighed in the balance. And it isn’t just paranoia that feeds this kind of worry. There are well-known stories in scripture, stories about Jesus which can feed our fear if they are understood incompletely. One of those stories is found in Mark 10:17-31, where a man wants to follow Jesus, but finds that he cannot because Jesus’ standards are just too high.

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

This man, known as the rich, young ruler, claims that he has followed all of the commandments of God (Jesus only listed six) but when asked to give away his money he cannot. Most of us, even if were asked by Jesus himself, would hesitate to give up everything that we own, but the rich, young ruler believed that he kept all of God’s commands. He walks away not because Jesus condemns him, but because Jesus’ question reveals his sin. He loved money more than God. He coveted money and has made money into an idol. That’s at least three commandments that he couldn’t keep.

And he is not the only one who is worried about Jesus’ reply. The disciples themselves worry that this standard is so high that none of them would be good enough. But Jesus’ answer to them is one of comfort as well as mathematics. Jesus tells the disciples that God keeps accounts. God keeps track. God knows what we do and how we live our lives. God knows the risks we take and he knows what we give up to serve him. God knows what you have given up in terms of money, family, time, pride, prestige and popularity to follow him. And Jesus promises that your return on investment will be 10,000 percent. As we evaluate the risk of investing in a future that lies on the other side of the chasm of death, we recognize that there is risk, but the reward is so significant, so amazing, that even a small amount invested will result in enormous returns.

But the best wrinkle in this story of risk is shared with us by the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:12-16) who reassures us about the fairness of God’s judgment where he says:

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Simply put: God is not dead.

The word of God slices into us, even in the darkest corners of our soul, and reveals our sin. God’s word shines the light of judgement on our actions, thoughts and attitudes. But even though our innermost thoughts are revealed before the judgement seat of Jesus, we have no need to fear. Our high priest, Jesus, who sits in on the throne of God, was a human being just like us. He knows exactly what it means to be afraid. He knows how it feels to take risks. He understands us better than we do ourselves and it was his sacrifice that rescues us from our sins.

Even though it is frightening to know that God keeps an accounting of every moment of our lives, God’s accounting of the followers of Jesus Christ is not intended to condemn or destroy us. Instead, because Jesus knows us and understands what it is to be human, and because we have put our faith and confidence in him, we can approach the throne of God with confidence instead of fear. When we are weighed in the balance, the penalty for our sins has already been paid.

On the day that we approach the throne of judgement, instead of finding condemnation, we will instead find a place of mercy and grace.

There is no risk in trusting God.

There is no risk in following Jesus.

There is only reward.

There are only two real risks that we need to worry about.

First, there is the huge risk of failing to put our trust in Jesus.

And the second is in failing to invest in the life we have with him both now and forever.