Past, Present, Future

BellsLast night I attended our youth group meeting and had the incredible opportunity to climb the bell tower and see some of the “behind the scenes” things that most people never see.  I posted pictures on Facebook of our bells, the view of the street through the wire mesh, and the incredible size of some of the beams that support the roof.  Those beams are huge, and every few inches is a rivet the size of a half dollar or a half of a golf ball.  Mike Greiner and I were marveling as we remembered what it must have took to put that all in place in 1896.  Fifty years before welding was invented, each of those rivets would have been hammered in by hand while still red-hot, and each of those mammoth beams had to be carefully raised into place three for four stories above the ground. img_20180923_222439_111

While we were in the tower, we also had the chance to jump over one of those beams, climb down a rickety looking ladder, climb the catwalk, maneuver around some other beams, and ultimately stand in the space above our sanctuary ceiling.  It is only in that space that you can see the original sanctuary ceiling which was covered up during a renovation in the 1930’s.  At that time, the ceiling was lowered, perhaps in an effort to add insulation and increase energy efficiency, but that effort also allowed the removal of the great sanctuary chandelier gas lights and install overhead electric lighting in the ceiling instead.

img_20180923_190423428I love being able to do things like that.  I had a great time, and I’m pretty sure that all our youth did too (Thanks Mike!).  But this experience got me thinking.  As our trustees and finance committees meet, I often thank God for the gifts that have been given to us by those giants of the faith who were here before us.  Since 1839, generations of men and women have labored together in this place and contributed their sweat, their time, their passion, their hearts, and their money to the ministry that goes on here still today.

But we also remember, that as impressive as it is, they didn’t do all of this so that we could take up space in an impressive building.  Buildings may be impressive, and they may be beautiful, but they don’t inspire, and they don’t accomplish the mission.  Those men and women who were here from 1839 until now left us a legacy of more than bricks and mortar.  Each of them worked to preach the message of the Gospel, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to care for the widows and the orphans, to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ, to offer light to a dark world, and rescue to people who were condemned by God.

And thinking about all of that brought me to this thought: What will we be remembered for?  Many of us, and many of those in our community, have a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ because generations of people in this place made sure that they passed on what they knew to the next generation.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Those men and women built a church, they carved out a community and a city in the middle of a wilderness, they constructed, and remodeled, a marvelous architectural work of art in which we worship, and they remained faithful to the mission and the vision of Jesus Christ. img_20180923_183536_854

But today, the responsibility for that mission and vision has fallen to us.  If we are to be remembered, then resting on the shoulders of those giants isn’t enough.  We must carry on, and move forward, with the same vision, passion and commitment as those who went before us.  It’s our turn to preach the Gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and orphans, offer light to a dark world, and rescue the lost.

Make no mistake.  Our church building is incredible.  But as we admire its beauty we should ask ourselves:

How will we be remembered?

What legacy will we leave behind?

Why I am Not Posting

There haven’t been any updates here for a couple of weeks now and it’s not an accident.

But why?

Those of you who follow me on social media already know, but some folk might have missed it.

We’re moving.

Most of my post come from our regular Sunday worship services, or from funerals, weddings, hallway conversations, questions that I get asked or commentary on news events that intersect with the church or religion in some way.  But while my/our ministry is continuing, it is also changing locations.  I have been reassigned from Trinity church in Massillon, Ohio to Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance, Ohio.  We’ve already hauled five or six trailers full of stuff out of the house and into storage.  For the last week or two we’ve been attending our church’s Annual Conference at Lakeside near Sandusky, Ohio but for the last few months we’ve also been packing.  Within the next couple weeks the moving trucks will come, friends will volunteer, and everything we own will be transported to a new house, a new church, and a new community.

It’s a lot to take in.

And there are a ton of details to wade through.

So, in the meantime, I’m not spending a lot of time on my computer doing much of anything.  I will, however be preaching at Christ Church in Alliance on July first and that message will appear here.  As we get settled in, a more regular pace will be reestablished.

And possibly a few new surprises as well.

Stay tuned.

Resurrection: Then What?

“Resurrection: Then What?”

April 08, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 20:19-31            Acts 4:32-35               1 John 1:1 – 2:2

                       

 

Today is the second Sunday of Easter or, a part of the church’s Eastertide celebration.  Today, and during the next few weeks, we will be remembering what happened after the resurrection and the events leading up to Pentecost.  This is important stuff.  This is the story of the disciples and the early church as they discovered what it meant to serve a Jesus that had risen from the dead.  It was one thing to be a follower of a rabbi, or teacher, that preached throughout the countryside and challenged  their church leaders to be ethical, moral, and actually do what scripture taught.  But following Jesus the rabbi and teacher, and following the Jesus that had defeated sin and death were two very different things.

 

In these next few days and weeks, everyone’s understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus was changing.  Everything that they thought they knew, and much of what they believed, was challenged.  Everything that they thought they understood about the mission of the church, and their role in that mission, was being deconstructed and rebuilt into something new.  After the death and resurrection of Jesus, everyone was starting over and their lives would never be the same again.  We begin our story today in John 20:19-31, when the disciples meet the risen Jesus for the first time:

 

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

The disciples were together, probably talking about the wild stories that the women had told them about seeing angels and a risen Jesus.  Since the crucifixion, they had been trying to figure out what to do next.  They had left their jobs, careers, and families behind to follow Jesus and now he was gone.   They were filled with grief and confusion.  Their lives were in turmoil… and now this!  What did it really mean that the tomb was empty?  Was it possible that Jesus had risen from the dead?  Had the Romans, or the Pharisees, or someone else, stolen Jesus’ body?  Did they suspect each other?  Were the disciples asking one another if they had done it for some reason?  We don’t really know.  But what we do know is that they were together, and that they were afraid of being discovered together, or at least afraid of being discovered by the Pharisees or the Sadducees and arrested, or worse.  They were so afraid of being discovered, or overheard by neighbors, that they had closed all the windows and locked all the doors.

 

And suddenly, Jesus appeared among them.

 

And in the midst of their confusion, and pain, and grief, and fear, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus’ first gift to them is to comfort them, calm them, and assure them that he was not gone and that all would be well.  But Jesus also says that just as God had sent him to earth, Jesus is sending his disciples out as well.  And not only is he sending them, he breathes on them and offers them the gift of the Holy Spirit (these acts are connected because in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit” are the same word).  And to make absolutely sure that no one was left out, Jesus returns to make sure that Thomas is included and all of the disciples (other than Judas) are working together.  In the span of a single week, Jesus moves the disciples from a place of fear, confusion, grief, and turmoil to a place of unity, belief, understanding, and growing confidence.  And going forward, that is what the church begins to look like as well.  In Acts 4:32-35, Luke says this:

 

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

 

The followers of Jesus Christ were so unified in their belief, so focused on their mission, and so trusting of one another, that they shared everything that they had.  That doesn’t necessarily imply that they were living in a commune or were supporting communism, because many of them still owned land and houses, and presumably in some cases, businesses.  Luke doesn’t say that these people sold everything that they owned, but that those who had something made sure that they shared what they had with those who had nothing.  It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that the followers of Jesus didn’t share what they had or give money to the poor because they got a tax deduction for doing so.  A believer in Jesus Christ shares what they have with others, and gives to the church, simply because the Spirit leads us in that direction and because God has asked us to do so.  Any tax benefit that results from our generosity and obedience is clearly not something that the disciples ever considered.

 

And as we heard last week, and many times before that, the mission of the church was clear from the beginning.  In 1 John 1:1 – 2:2, it sounds like this:

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

2:1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

John again repeats, several times, the core mission of the church.  We have heard, we have seen, we have touched, and we must tell the world what we have learned so that others may have what we have.  We must share the good news of Jesus so that others can come out of darkness and live in the light.

 

But.

 

Isn’t there always a “but?”

 

John says “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

 

And as he explains further, what he is saying is that if we follow Jesus, we will walk in the light and Jesus will purify us, and he will be at work perfecting us.

 

But.

 

While these things are all true, if we follow Jesus then we must do our best to act like it.  We cannot claim that we are perfect or without sin, because we are not, but we try as hard as we can not to sin and trust Jesus for forgiveness when we do.

 

And so we see that from the very beginning, the followers of Jesus Christ had several core beliefs that directed their entire lives.  First, trust that Jesus loves you and is in control of your life.  Second, believe that Jesus has defeated sin and death and has paid the price for your sin through his suffering, death and resurrection.  Third, we must focus on the mission together.  We must care for the poor, feed the hungry, lift up the brokenhearted, cloth the naked, be a voice for the voiceless, and in all things have compassion for others and be Jesus to the people around us.  Fourth, because we have heard the good news, because we have seen the power of Jesus to change lives, and because we know the truth, we must tell the world what we have learned so that others may have what we have.  We must share the good news of Jesus so that others can come out of darkness and live in the light.  And finally, we must live and we must lovetogether.  We must resist sin and live lives that honor God, and we must act as if the teachings of Jesus are important.

 

It’s a short list.

 

And it’s not easy.

 

But these five things must shape everything we 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.

 

See. Hear. Go. Tell.

“See. Hear. Go. Tell.”

April 01, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 20:1-18              Acts 10:34-43             1 Corinthians 15:1-11                       

 

 

Leader: He is Risen!

People: He is Risen indeed!

 

We join together this morning to remember and to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is the most important day on the Christian calendar and represents the climax and conclusion of the story that begins with Christmas.  Well, sort of.  We know that it is wrong to say that the story “began” at Christmas because we have thousands of years of recorded history that tell us about the people of God and God’s work on earth prior to the coming of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament.  Likewise, we know that it’s wrong to say that Easter is the conclusion of the story because we’re still here two thousand years later.  But however we choose to describe it, Easter is indeed the climax of the story.  This day, the day that Jesus rose from the dead, is a pivotal moment in history and the pivotal moment of God’s redemption and rescue of humanity.  But if the story doesn’t end with the resurrection, if we are still here two thousand years later, if we are still worshipping and following God, then we are presented with some questions that need answering and foremost among them is “Why?”  Why are we still here?  When is the end of the story?  What is supposed to happen between now and the end?  And finally, what are we supposed to be doing?

 

We won’t have time to answer all of those questions today, but the Easter story itself answers some of them, so let’s begin there by reading the story from John 20:1-18.

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.

One of the things that struck me as I read this passage is that each participant saw something.  Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb and she saw that the stone had been removed.  She ran to Peter and John and immediately told them what she had seen.  Peter and John ran to the tomb and they saw the strips of linen and the empty tomb.  But then, while Peter and John return to the home where they are staying, Mary remains at the tomb weeping and brokenhearted.  And while she is there two angels appear and ask why.  “Why are you crying?”  And Mary explains that Jesus has been taken from her and she doesn’t know where they have put him.  And then she repeats herself to the gardener but in doing so, suddenly realizes that it is not the gardener to whom she is speaking but Jesus, risen, resurrected, alive, and well.  But then, Jesus tells her to “Go” and to “Tell” the disciples that Jesus was returning to heaven.

 

Twice, Mary had seen, and twice she ran to tell others what she had found.

 

These moments, at the very heart of the Easter story, set the pattern that is to be followed throughout history and to this very day.  In Acts 10:34-43, Luke tells us how the disciples themselves understood what had happened at Easter.

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.”

“You know the message God sent to the people.”  “We are witnesses of everything he did”

Peter said, you were there, you saw, you heard, you know.  And because of that, Jesus “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.”  Peter wasn’t preaching to the disciples, or to the apostles, or even to the church, but to a gathering of Gentiles gathered in the home of a Roman centurion who had heard the stories of Jesus and had been given a vision by God.  The command to tell others is not a command that was given to disciples, or to pastors, or teachers, but a command that was given to everyone who knows the story.

 

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul explains it this way:

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

This is the next generation of believers.  Paul never claims to be a witness to the crucifixion or to the resurrection.  Paul did meet Jesus, but long after the events of Easter recorded in the Gospels.  And Paul isn’t writing to eyewitnesses as John and Peter did.  Paul was writing to a church in Greece, to people who were nowhere near Jerusalem or Israel when Jesus rose from the dead.

 

In other words, Paul was writing to people like us.

 

And Paul says, “what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.”  There were, at that time, still plenty of people who had seen Jesus after the resurrection and Paul emphasizes that the church in Corinth had heard the story from him, had believed, and held firmly to what they had learned.  But Paul also says that what the apostles knew, they preached so that others, like the Corinthians, might also believe.

 

It’s a pattern that began on that first Easter morning.

 

Come and see.

Hear the Good News.

Go, and tell.

 

The church has followed that pattern throughout the ages from that time until today.  Every one of us is here today because someone else heard the story and then told it to us.  And now, because we have heard the story, it becomes our mission to do the same for others.

 

Our world, our nation, our community, our neighborhoods, and even our families are filled with people who don’t know the story and who haven’t heard the good news.  They have no idea that Jesus came to rescue them from guilt, sin, and death. In Romans chapter 10, Paul asks, how can people call on Jesus Christ if they don’t believe in him?  How can people believe if they have not heard the story?  How can they hear of no one ever told them?  And how can anyone preach, if the church never sent them?

 

We’re glad that you came today, but it isn’t enough to hear the story and then keep it to yourself.

 

You have seen and you have heard the story.

 

Now it’s your turn.

 

Go and tell.

 

 

 

_________

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Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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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.

 

The God Delusion

 

“The God Delusion”

October 15, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 32:1-14                      Philippians 4:1-9                                Matthew 22:1-14

 

 

Have you ever lied to yourself?

 

It isn’t uncommon.  We lie to ourselves so that we don’t have to struggle with the realities of a difficult truth.  We pretend that our children are not grown up, or that they aren’t doing some things that we know they are probably doing.  We pretend that our parents never had sex despite the fact that our existence is obvious evidence to the contrary.  We pretend that the sins of our favorite political candidate are not as bad as the sins of the opposition, or we tell people that we can’t do math, simply because we find it difficult.

 

Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said:

 

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

 

And this is the way that we often lie to ourselves about God.

 

In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan the Lion is the ruler of the land of Narnia and is an allegory for Jesus Christ.  In the book, we are reminded that humans often rewrite, reimagine, reinvent God into something that he isn’t.  In the one conversation, Susan, learns of Aslan from Mr. Beaver, who says…

 

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…  “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

 

And that is the first of what I am calling “God Delusions.”  Humans deceive themselves that God is safe.  A cursory reading of either the Old or the New Testaments should cure us of such a delusion.

 

God is not safe.

 

God is a jealous God.  God will not allow us to worship anything or anyone more than we worship him.  God punishes sin.  God is not safe… but he is good.

 

Another time, the children remember something else that Mr. Beaver had told them about Aslan…

 

“He’ll be coming and going” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

 

And that is, once again, a common delusion.  God is not tame and that frightens us.  And so, rather than being frightened, we pretend that God is something that he is not.

 

This is exactly what happened in Exodus 32:1-14.


32:1
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings.  Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Last week we heard that the people were terrified of God.  And so, when Moses took too long to return from the mountain they imagined the worst.  None of them would go up the mountain to look for him, and their fear began to direct their thoughts.  “God is scary” they thought.   Perhaps God has killed him.  And if God has killed Moses, then we can make new gods that aren’t so scary and we will pretend that these are the gods that brought us up out of Egypt.

 

The people of Israel were prepared to do exactly what Kierkegaard described; to believe what wasn’t true, and to refuse to believe those things that, from their own experience, they knew were, absolutely, true about God.

 

Israel wanted a god that was tame and safe, despite knowing that the God that had rescued them from slavery was neither of those things.

 

We see the same thing in the Gospel stories about Jesus as the leaders, the teachers, and the Pharisees, ignored the facts and the evidence that they had seen with their own eyes. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus sums up their behavior.


22:1 
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

 

Since we live in a republic that elects its leaders, we should remember what it is like to live under a king.  This is something that everyone in Jesus’ time would have immediately appreciated.  Whether the ruler of their country called himself King, or Caesar, or Pharaoh, there were rules and expectations that everyone knew.  In this particular case, what is important is that a royal wedding is a big deal.  They don’t happen often, sometimes only once in a lifetime, and an invitation to such an event is of utmost importance.  An invitation from the king is really less of an invitation and more of a command performance.  The only thing that should excuse you from such an event is a funeral, and then only if the funeral that you are attending is your own.

 

In Jesus’ story, the people who were invited, and who were expected to attend, didn’t have an excuse.  They totally ignored the king, and went off instead to do something that was absolutely trivial in comparison.  Not only was this simply not done, it was a terrible insult to the king, and as you might expect, insulting someone who commands armies is not a great idea, especially in a world where life had little value.  Not only did these fools ignore the king, they decide to kill the king’s messengers.  These people suffered from a delusion.  They deceived themselves into believing that the king was tame.  And so, not unexpectedly, the king kills them and burns their city to the ground.

 

Anyone listening to the story could have predicted the outcome based on their personal experiences with their kings and those of neighboring nations.  But then, the king does something unexpected.  With a wedding already planned and a banquet already prepared, the king invites everyone he can find.  We are told that the king’s messengers went out to the streets or to the street corners to invite people to the wedding banquet.  There is language here that most of us miss unless we are reading the footnotes or following along in a biblical commentary.  What we miss is that the Jews often referred to the Gentiles as “the people of the streets” or as people who lived on the streets and street corners.  And so, when we are told that the king invited people from the streets, Jesus’ listeners would have understood that the king was inviting Gentiles to the wedding banquet.

 

But so what?

 

What does this all mean?

 

In Philippians 4:1-9, Paul puts it this way:


4:1 
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

 

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

It is never safe for us to suffer from the delusion that God is safe, tame, and inconsequential.

 

You see, our God, is a god of peace.  Our god is a god of love.  Our god is a god of justice.  But much like the lion Aslan, God is neither tame nor safe … but he is good.

 

Ignoring the invitation of God, or the commands of God, is not a good idea.  It is not a good idea to sin and offend God.  Doing these things, believing that God doesn’t care, and expecting that God is powerless is delusional.

 

We must not allow ourselves to suffer from this God delusion.

 

Mr. Beaver and C.S. Lewis said it well. Our God is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.  He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.  He isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you.

 

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with 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 at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

 

 

 

Doing What is Hard

This past week my wife, Patti, and I traveled to Parris Island, South Carolina with other members of our extended family to watch our son Noah graduate from Marine Corps boot camp.  After graduation, we spent a day on the beach and then headed home.  During those twelve hours in the car, he shared some of the stories of how he had spent the last three months, of what he had done, and some of the things that happened during his training.  While I well remember the difficult things that we did during my eight weeks of Army basic training, what he did goes well beyond many of the things that I experienced.  For thirteen weeks these young men (the Marines also have women, but men and women train separately) did things that most of them, as well as their parents, would have thought impossible only a short time earlier.  But as I listened to Noah share his stories, I began to think of how this mirrors our walk with God and I thought of several lessons that would be good for us all to remember.

  • We are capable of more than we think we are – All of these young men accomplished things in thirteen weeks that they never dreamed they were capable of doing. And yet, all of them succeeded.  Why?  They were capable all along.  They had the ability all along.  All they needed was a little training, some encouragement, and the assurance that they could succeed.  We are exactly like them.  The only reason that we do not rise to the challenges that face us is our belief that we are not capable.  We may need a little training and a little encouragement, but it is often our failure to believe in ourselves that holds us back.
  • We don’t do what we can simply because we do not try – Similarly, when we allow our challenges to intimidate us, we retreat. We fail because we are too afraid to try.
  • We often shy away from doing what we can because it sounds difficult – Not everyone is cut out to be a United States Marine, but even fewer will attempt it because what they do sounds difficult. Make no mistake, it is.  What those young men did in thirteen weeks was almost certainly the hardest thing that they had ever done.  For some of them, it will, for the remainder of their lives, be the hardest thing they ever did.  But they will always remember that they succeeded and the memory of that success will make them less afraid to attempt other difficult things.  The worst thing that can happen if we attempt something difficult is that we might fail.  But if we do not try, we fail anyway.
  • We accomplish more as a team than as individuals – From the very beginning of boot camp the Marines are repeatedly reminded that they are a team. As platoons, as battalions, and whole of the Unites States Marines they are a team.  They succeed and fail together.  And together they regularly accomplish things that others believed to be impossible.  We regularly see thing play out in church as well.  There are many things that I could never do by myself but we regularly do together.  From Vacation Bible School, to Sunday worship, to mission projects and everything in between, our success comes only through all of us working together.  This is equally true of our larger church connection when many thousands, even millions of us work together to reduce poverty, build hospitals, and even reduce the death rate from malaria by fifty percent in continent of Africa.  We may not be the United States Marines, but our team is accomplishing amazing things every day.

I’m sure that there are more parallels that I could point out, but I hope that you will remember this:

You are capable of more than you imagine.

Never be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to attempt big things, or try new things, because they sound difficult.  We often discover that the most worthwhile things are not easy.

But together, with God, we can accomplish the impossible.

 

 

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Resurrection. Then What?

“Resurrection. Then What?”

February 07, 2016

By John PartridgeU

 

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-13                      1 Corinthians 15:1-11                       Luke 5:1-11

Have you ever tried to figure out one of those Rube Goldberg machines?  If you aren’t familiar with the name “Rube Goldberg,” these contraptions are those machines that take lots of unnecessary steps to do something simple.  The beginning of the television detective show, “Elementary,” starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson begins with that sort of machine. There are many videos on the Internet that show these kinds of machines and a few really incredible ones by the musical group “OK Go.  Years ago, Kermit the Frog used to have one occasionally to talk about “what happens next” and with each step he would talk about, not surprisingly, what happens next.  Whether we are young enough to watch Sesame Street, or old enough to remember when Basil Rathbone was the definitive Sherlock Holmes, watching these sorts of things is fascinating as we all wonder how the builders think and we wonder what will happen next.

It is with this fascination that we look forward to the next book in a series, or the next sequel to our favorite movie.  And it is with this same fascination that we read other stories, including scripture, and we wonder, what happens next.  And so, even though the Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection is the highlight of the Christian year, and the climax of the Biblical narrative, we keep on reading to see what happens next until Jesus ascends into heaven, and then later, the story of Pentecost.

But then what?

When we read the Bible like a story that has a beginning, middle and end, we know that the Old Testament is the beginning and has a lot of the background and back stories that we need to understand the characters.  We understand that the Christmas story is the beginning of the Jesus story and Easter and the resurrection are the climax.  But what happens next?  Is the story over when Jesus returns to heaven?  Obviously, the disciples go out into the world and their story is in the rest of the New Testament, but what is the point?  If the whole story starts in Genesis, and Easter is the climax, then what’s the point?  We read these stories and we often wonder… what happens next?

To answer that, let’s begin once again in Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13) so we can understand the background that led to the coming of Jesus the Messiah.


6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’  10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, 12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

Isaiah proclaims that Israel will be destroyed, the cities left empty, houses deserted, fields and crops burned, and even those who survive will face another round of destruction until even the forests are left with only stumps.  All of Israel is described as a desolate wasteland.

But hope remains.

Isaiah doesn’t describe the stumps of the trees as dead things as most of us would expect, but as seeds.  “The holy seed will be the stump in the land.”  Isaiah wants the people to know that the holy seed, that thing that God is doing, remains in the land.  Although the land is desolate and the people are few, God is not dead.  Instead, both the land and the people of Israel are to endure a time of dormancy.  In more modern language, Isaiah says, “Winter is coming.”  But dormancy and winter, although dreary and dark, still contain a seed of hope… the hope of spring.

And we find the spring in the coming of Jesus.  In Luke 5:1-11 we hear these words:

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

In this short story, there are several things that reveal who Jesus is.  The fishermen can see immediately that Jesus is able to see things in nature that they cannot.  They see that Jesus can see in each of them, what they could not see in themselves.  They see that God can prepare a blessing for them even though they cannot see it.  And finally, they see that Jesus’ knowledge of the world, and of them, is truly frightening.  For these men there was no doubt that the seed Isaiah spoke of had sprouted, there was no doubt that winter was over, and that the promised Messiah had come.

That was God’s story all along.  Eight hundred years before the coming of Jesus, during the life of the prophet Isaiah, God knew.  God knew that Jesus would stand by that lake; he knew that those fishermen would be there, and he knew that those fish would be where he needed them to be.

God knew.

It was a part of his story.

But where does that leave us?

How does this all lead us to what happens after the resurrection?

And so, let us turn to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where Paul is answering a very similar question.

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

At first, this may not seem to answer the question about what happens after the resurrection but it does, so bear with me for just a minute.

Paul says that the story of Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection, is what he has preached, what we have all believed, and that our belief in that story is what has saved us.  Then Paul says that this story, that Jesus died for our sins, is of first importance.

And so what happened after the resurrection of Jesus?

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the twelve disciples.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred men and women who believed in him, and then he appeared to Paul and converted him as well.

And if we go one step further, what happened next?

What did the disciples do after they saw Jesus resurrected, alive, and walking the earth?  What did the five hundred do when they heard?  What did Paul do when he heard?  And what did Paul’s church do when he told them?

They all did what Paul was doing.  They all considered that story, the birth, life, death, resurrection of Jesus to be of first importance, to be more important than anything else.  And all of them committed their lives to telling others what had happened so that they could also hear the good news and be saved.  Each generation that has heard this story has believed that it was true, and they took upon themselves that same mission.  Each generation told the next generation until now that story has come down to us.

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.  God’s story didn’t end with the resurrection.  God’s story is still being written.

“What happens next,” has been happening for two thousand years and is still happening today.

What happens next is that the story that Paul told is still the story of first importance.  The story of the Gospel message is still the most important story ever told, it is still the most important story that we know, and it is still the most important thing that we do.

What happens next is that we must still do what the disciples did, what the five hundred did, what Paul did, and what every generation since then has done.

We are no longer the people who listen; we have become the people who know the story.  And because we know the story, the story that is of first importance, it is our turn, it has become our job, our mission, to share that message of good news with anyone who hasn’t yet heard it.

That is what happens next and that is what happens after the resurrection.

The Gospel story is of first importance.

And sharing that story with others is the first, and the most important, thing that we do.

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U 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 http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.