God Ran

God Ran

Monday Lenten Luncheon

Vine Street UMC*

March 25, 2019

 

How much do you love your children?

Have you still loved them even when they have done things that hurt you?

So why do we have such a hard time believing that God might still love us after all of the things that we have done to hurt him?

If your church follows the lectionary, one of the passages of scripture that we encounter every year during the season of Lent is a parable of Jesus that we often describe as the story of the prodigal son, or more accurately, the story of the loving father.  In that story, we find a picture of two entirely disagreeable sons who both resemble people with whom we are familiar in both the ancient and the modern church.  But we also gain a better understanding of just how much God loves us.

We begin with the story that we find in Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable:

11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Most of us who are here today have heard a dozen or more sermons about this parable.  We know that the younger son’s demand for his inheritance was an enormous insult to his father and practically equivalent to saying, “I wish that you were dead because all that I care about is your money.”  We know that the older brother behaved exactly as the Pharisees of the ancient world reacted to Jesus’ ministry to the tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, and other outsiders and exactly like the grumpy old men and women of today’s world who grumble at exactly the same kind of ministry.  How dare we hold a Bible study in a bar, or our church have a float in a gay pride parade, or open our homes to pregnant teenagers?  How dare we be like Jesus?

But you’ve probably heard all those things.

What I want to look at today is the father of those two sons.  We all know that the father in this parable is the part that is played by God, right?  So, I want to look at how the father reacted when his younger son wished him dead, took a third of all that he owned, left him for a foreign country, never wrote or sent a telegram or an email, and was totally estranged for what was probably several years.

What our scripture tells us is that, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him.”

I would suggest that the father didn’t see his son by accident, but that this was a deliberate act.  Despite the insults, despite the abandonment, despite the hurt, despite the years that he had been gone, the father was in the habit of keeping watch on the road.  The father watched, and hoped, that one day his beloved son would come home and return to his father and to his family.

But if that doesn’t give you the “feels,” the next part should.

Our scripture says that the father “was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

That’s nice.

But our twenty first century, Western, North American and European culture and attitudes have dimmed and dulled the impact of that sentence. So that father ran.

So what? 

You see, in Eastern culture, both in the ancient world and in many places still today, men simply do. Not. Run. Ever.

Children run.  Young men might, occasionally run.  But mature, grown, men do not run.  And the more responsible and respectable that you become, the less you might ever even consider the possibility of running.

I recall reading a story by Tom Clancy or another writer of books in that genre, in which a South Korean general was inspecting an installation on the Demilitarized Zone.  All day long he moved at nothing faster than a dignified walk.  And suddenly one of the soldiers saw him running, and it seemed strange to him because he’d never seen a South Korean officer, especially not a general, run unless something was on fire.

That is the kind of world in which the father lived.  In addition, the men of Jesus’ era wore robes and in order to run, or to do battle, those robes had to be gathered up.  We have heard scripture use phrases like “gird your loins” or “gather your robes” because in order to be physically active, the hem of your robe had to be gathered and pulled up to your waist so that your legs were unimpaired and freed so that you could move.  But outside of combat and firefighting, respectable men simply didn’t do that.

Running was undignified and possibly even humiliating.  

For a grown man to run was to act like a child.

But that is exactly what Jesus said that the father did. 

The father ran.

God ran.

He didn’t care about propriety.  He didn’t care about maturity.  He didn’t care about looking foolish or being embarrassed.  He didn’t care that others might make fun of him.  He didn’t care about respectability.

He only cared about his child. 

Despite the hurt, the insults, the pain, and the abandonment he only cared about the love that he had for his son, and the joy that he felt to have him back in his family.

We all know that we’ve made mistakes.

We all know that we have sinned against God.  We know that we have hurt him, insulted him, and even abandoned him.  We know that we are surrounded by people who have done what we have done, and some of them have done worse things than we have done.  They are… we are, sinners.

But God doesn’t care.

God wants us back and is willing to forgive us for the things that we have done whenever we are ready to ask for forgiveness and return home.

Never forget that we worship the God… who ran.

 

 

 


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

Reversal of Fortune

“Reversal of Fortune”

September 30, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

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

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

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

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

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

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

But what is that thing about salt losing its saltiness?

Remember that Matthew 5:13-16 says,

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

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

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

Those are lessons that were unexpected.

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

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

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

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

This passage if full of the miraculous and the unexpected.

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

This is the ultimate reversal of fortune.

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

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

That is certainly worth a little inconvenience and suffering.

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

Don’t ever be afraid to be salty.

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


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

Seismic Sellouts

“Seismic Sellouts”

April 09, 2017

(Palm Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Matthew 21:1-11                   Matthew 26:14-25                 Matthew 27:11-26

 

 

Have you ever felt the earth move?

 

I’m not talking about when the love of your life kisses you for the first time.  I really mean, have you ever felt the earth shift?

 

On April 18, 1906 the city of San Francisco experienced the most devastating earthquake of its history.  A foreshock hit the city first and then 20 or 25 seconds later the full intensity of the main quake began.  The earth shook for over a full minute.  People said that you could see waves several feet high moving down the streets as the city heaved up and down.  In some places the earth was displaced as much as 28 feet and the Salinas River shifted to a new course and now the mouth of the river fed into the bay six miles from where it had previously.  With both gas mains and water mains sheared and shattered all over the city, fires raged out of control for weeks and in the end, 80 percent of the city was destroyed, at least 3000 people were killed, and 300, 000 people, 75 percent of its population, were left homeless.  The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 not only changed the course of history for the city and the people who lived there, it changed the course of history for all of California and the entire United States and beyond.  Everything from building codes, to the design of water mains and fire fighting equipment, to mining and drilling regulations, and even the planning of things like the interstate highway system, were all shaped, and continue to be influenced, by our understanding of this disaster.

 

The word “seismic” means “pertaining to, of the nature of, or caused by an earthquake or vibration of the earth, whether due to natural or artificial causes.”  Earthquakes are a big deal.  But other world events can be said to have a “seismic” impact as well.  Other events in the story of humanity can have world changing impact or set in motion a chain of events that redirect the course of history just as surely as the San Francisco earthquake changed the course of the Salinas River.

 

Our scripture readings for today describe one of those events.   We begin this morning by reading from Matthew 21:1-11 as Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover with his disciples.


21:1 
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

 

Jesus and his disciples were not alone as they entered the city of Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover.  Thousands, even tens, or hundreds of thousands, of people came to the city for this celebration.  The historian Josephus recorded that the city would swell to many times its normal population during the festivities of Passover week.  And so, as Jesus entered the city, he rode on a donkey as a symbol of royalty and the people proclaimed him as the Son of David, or, as the king of Israel.

 

But only a day or two later, on the first day of the feast, the first tremors of the shockwave begin in Matthew 26:14-25.


14 
Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

 

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”

23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.  But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said so.”

 

And so Judas, through the betrayal of his companion, teacher, and friend, sets in motion the beginning of a seismic sellout and betrayal of Jesus.  Skipping ahead a little to Matthew 27:11-66 and the trial of Jesus in front of Pilate, we read this:

 

27:11 Meanwhile, Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.

19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

 

Only days earlier, the crowds in Jerusalem had proclaimed the arrival of Jesus as they would have the arrival of the king of Israel but now, after the betrayal of Judas and the manipulation and distortion of justice by the leaders of the church, Jesus is sold out and abandoned by many of the very people who would have proclaimed him king.  It is a sellout of epic proportions, a seismic sellout, if you will.  And that sellout leads to the single event that would change the course of human history more than any other.

 

32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews.

38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

 

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

 

At the moment of Jesus’ death, the earth itself is shaken, rocks split, tombs break open, the dead walk the earth, and the curtain that separates ordinary humans from the holiest of places in the temple is torn open from top to bottom.  Even the centurion on guard realizes that something supernatural is happening and proclaims that Jesus must have been the Son of God.

 

Far more than just and ordinary earthquake, the earth was shaken and the course of human history was changed forever.

 

But so what?

 

What does any of that mean for you and me?

 

Simply put, hear these words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5-11.

 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

 

Jesus was the Son of God, God in human flesh, and yet he did not wield his power over other humans in an effort to intimidate or subjugate, or to glorify himself.  Instead, he became a servant, even sacrificing his own life, so that all of humanity might be saved from sin and death.

 

We are encouraged, therefore, to remember this model in our relationships with others.  Rather than expending our efforts to glorify ourselves, we are called to use our time, energy, skills, strength, and talents to help others.

 

Looking out for number one might change your life, but looking out for everyone else will change the world.

 

 

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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.

 

Sin, Judgement, Rescue

“Sin, Judgement, Rescue”

March 05, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7               Matthew 4:1-11                      Romans 5:12-19

Have you ever done something that seemed like a good idea when you started, but turned out to be a really bad idea once you were finished?

There’s an old saying, “When you’re up to your armpits in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the original plan was to drain the swamp.”  This sort of funny saying simply reminds us that when we’re in the middle of the mess we created, it’s hard to remember that we thought the original plan was a good idea.  But once we are through to the other side of the swamp, or at least far enough removed from the alligators to gain a little perspective, it is useful, and wise, to think about the thought processes and circumstances that led us into the swamp in the first place.

And so, along those lines, as we begin the season of Lent, a time that we set aside each year to consider our sinfulness and our need for repentance, it is useful to begin by remembering how sin came into our lives at the beginning of humanity’s story.  We begin at the beginning, in Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7.

2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

 

First, the enemy of God undermines God’s message in much the same way that he does today, by telling Eve that God was wrong, and that wonderful things will come to her if she disobeys God.  We hear that same message from our culture and from our enemy today. We’re told that sex isn’t wrong, gambling isn’t wrong, greed isn’t wrong, all these things are really good and you’ve just gotten confused about what God really meant.  But Eve considers what the serpent said, and thinks about how good the fruit looks, and how good it must taste, and how food, generally, is good for you, and she decides to disobey God and eat it.  Having done so, she offers it to Adam, who has surely noticed by now that Eve didn’t just fall over dead when she ate it, and so he tries it.  For what it’s worth, when I read that this week, I noticed that while Eve considers what the serpent said, and that food is good for you, and that she would learn the difference between good and evil, Adam not described that way.  The story we have about Adam is that he watches Eve try it, and then blindly follows her example and tries it for himself.  Either way, in both cases, with only a little encouragement from the serpent, both Adam and Eve make deliberate, conscious, decisions to disobey a specific and direct instruction from God for their own, personal, benefit.

 

And “boom,” sin enters the world.

 

For the first time in history, human beings, created by God, say “What I want is more important than what God wants.”  And that, by definition, is sin because in that moment, we set ourselves ahead of God and make gods of our own desires.

 

At that moment, humanity was infected with an almost irresistible desire to do as we please and to worship our own selfishness.  And that was the situation for thousands of years.  Until the arrival of Jesus Christ, who was the one human being who did what no other had ever been capable of doing before.  (Matthew 4:1-11)

 

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

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

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

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 

First, Satan offers Jesus the easy way out.  To satisfy his desire and his hunger for food by transforming stones into bread.  Second, he tempts Jesus with ego and fame, because surely people would notice that Jesus had been rescued by God in such a public spectacle.  And third, Jesus is tempted by power as Satan offers to let him rule over all the nations of the earth.  But in each case, Jesus refuses Satan and replies by clearly stating what it is that God wants for humanity and in doing so emphasizes that this is more important than what Jesus might want for himself.  Throughout his entire life, even during the events leading up to his death, Jesus continued to choose what God wanted and continued to put the desires of God ahead of his own.

 

In doing so, Jesus did what no other human being in all of human history had ever done.  And because he did, Jesus was able to rescue all of humanity from the judgement that it had faced since the time of Adam.  In Romans 5:12-19, Paul explained it this way:

 

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

 

What Paul says is that Adam’s sin corrupted all of humanity and that even those people who lived in a time between Adam and Moses, a time in which the Law and the Commandments had not yet been written, even they suffered from the death brought about by sin.  Paul’s argument is that even though they could not be condemned under the law, they would still have been judged by God, who is the righteous judge, for their actions.  But the gift of Jesus Christ is different than the sin of Adam, even if it follows a similar pattern.  While the sin of Adam and Eve corrupted all of humanity, the sinless life and sacrificial death of Jesus allows the rescue of all who believe.  Since the time of Adam, every human being has been called into judgement, not for the sins of Adam, but for the selfishness and sinful acts that they themselves have committed.  But through the grace of God and the sinless obedience of Jesus Christ, we all have the opportunity to be made righteous before God.

 

A great many of the things that we do seemed like a good idea when we started, but in the end we realize just how selfish we’ve become and how far we’ve drifted from God’s plan for our lives.  Since the time of Adam and Eve we, and all of humanity, have been drawn to sin like a moth to a flame, and just as surely that temptation leads us to stand in judgement before God.  The good news is that Jesus was not like us.  He was, and is, the one human being in all of creation that was able to live an entirely sinless life and to do what God wanted instead of what he might have wanted for himself.  Because Jesus was able to do what no one else, before or since, was able to do, he is, through God’s grace, able to offer us the one thing we could never find for ourselves… rescue from sin and death.

 

We are all doomed because of our selfishness and sin.

 

We will all be judged by God for the things that we have done.

 

We have all sinned and the punishment for sin is death.

 

But we have the opportunity to be rescued from death simply by accepting the gift of life that is offered to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

 

And so, as we begin this season of Lent, let us prayerfully consider how we have fallen short of what God wants for us and how we can change for the better.

 

But let us also make sure that we have accepted the gift of indescribable value that Jesus has offered to us.

 

If you have not accepted that gift, I urge you to do so as soon as possible.  Today, before you leave this room, if possible.  And if you have already accepted his gift, and have accepted Jesus Christ as your rescuer and savior, give thanks for what he has done and, particularly during this season of Lent, recommit yourselves to living the life that God has called you to live.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Compassion Theater

“Compassion Theater”
November 08, 2015
(Veterans’ Sunday)
By John Partridge

Scripture:  Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17               Hebrews 9:24-28                     Mark 12:38-44

How many of you have taken a vacation in the last ten years?

How many of you have flown on an airplane, either for vacation or for business in the last few years?

If you haven’t travelled much lately you might not have noticed, but if you went anywhere near the airport since 9-11 you will have noticed that things are very different than they used to be.

While there used to be security at the airport, since September 11th, 2001 there have been huge changes in the amount, the types, and the locations of security. You now enter security earlier, they check a lot more things, a lot more thoroughly, and they prohibit travelers from taking a lot more things with them. But for all of the expense, and all of the hassle, a lot of people have begun to refer to the entire process as “Security Theater.” The reason it has earned such a nickname is that for all the additional trouble, the process hasn’t really caught, or stopped, any more terrorists than the old system and, in fact, the people in charge of our security have been arrested for crimes many times more often than they arrest anyone else. No other country in the world made the changes we did, and their security is generally better. Worse, by some estimates, the new enhanced security is even less safe, and less effective than it was before they made us take off our shoes and took away our fingernail clippers. Security Theater is very much what the nickname implies. It’s a great show, with marvelous acting. It makes you feel like you are safer, but doesn’t really do much else.

But the same thing happens in a lot of churches. People put on a good show, but don’t really do much else. To better understand what I mean, let’s return to the story of Ruth. Here, after Ruth and Naomi have returned from Moab, to Israel, they struggle, as widows, to survive on the kindness of others but try to find stability and hope for the future. (Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17)

3:1 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.

4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, was not fake. Her actions were not an act. Because Ruth is not a native of Israel she knows that she doesn’t always understand the language, the culture, or the way people think. But she trusts Naomi with her life and when Naomi comes up with a plan, she agrees to do whatever Naomi tells her to do. Because of her trust, faith and obedience, Ruth and Boaz are married, find the stability and hope that both women were seeking, and Ruth becomes, eventually, the grandmother of King David.

That isn’t theater. That’s the real deal. Ruth’s trust and devotion are real.

But in Mark 12:38-44, Jesus warns his followers about a completely different kind of person.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Jesus wanted his disciples to watch some of the church leaders because they were participating in “Compassion Theater.” Instead of being ‘real’ like Ruth, instead of truly having faith, trust, and obedience to the words of God, these men do all that they can to put on a good show so that they look good, despite the fact that, in reality, they are more despicable than many unbelievers. These were men who were more than willing to foreclose on poor widows and steal their houses, but still offered loud and long prayers in public places where everyone could see them.

In total contrast to these men, Jesus points out a poor widow, whose total net worth amounted to two copper coins. This was all the money that she had in the world, and she was willing to give it to God and trust him with her future. Others, rich people, came to give offerings, once again, in public, and gave large amounts of money… because they could. For them, even though the gifts were large, they weren’t costly. They were rich and could easily afford to give large gifts and never miss the money. Their giving was fake and all for show. Their giving never required them to sacrifice anything. But that poor widow was completely real, and gave an offering that represented the sacrifice of all that she had.

So where does that leave us?

What message should we take away from all of this?

Before we get to that, let’s read one more passage of scripture. In Hebrews 9:24-28, we remember the gift that Jesus gave to every one of us.

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the universe, came to earth to give a gift to the people that he loved. He had everything. He created the universe. The cattle on a thousand hills, and all that exists, belongs to him. And yet, the gift that he gave required sacrifice. Jesus, in order to truly give a gift of love, sacrificed himself.

And so the message we need to digest is to be careful that we do not participate in “Compassion Theater.” We should not give to the poor just because we want others to think that we care. We should not make a show of our faith in public just so people look at us and think that we’re good. Instead, our goal is to be as real as possible, to live a life of trust, faith and obedience to God instead of worrying about how good our charity or church attendance make us look.

We are impressed by the gifts that our veterans have given to us, not because they were drafted or because they volunteered, but because their gifts were costly. They spent years of their lives in service to our country, they spent time away from their families and friends, and they risked their very lives for our protection. Ruth’s gift to Naomi was real trust and devotion that risked everything. Jesus was impressed by the poor widow because her gift represented a significant sacrifice. Jesus could make all of his followers rich, but since he is the creator of everything, that wouldn’t be all that impressive. But we are astounded by Jesus’ gift to us because it represented real sacrifice, even for the King of kings.

As we give gifts to God, whether those gifts are financial or not, we need to ask ourselves if we are doing them to look good, or if we are truly doing them to honor God.

Real gifts, gifts that have meaning, are gifts that cost us something.