The Birth of Hope

The Birth of Hope

April 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:19-38                        Acts 2:14a, 22-32                   1 Peter 1:3-9

 

 

Some of us have known, or might still have, family members who lived through the Great Depression, followed by World War Two.  Eighty years later, we can still see how that experience changed their lives, and their lifestyle forever.  People who watched banks collapse never completely trusted banks again.   People who lived through hard and uncertain times learned to save for a rainy day because they knew, from experience, that sometimes life rains on our parade.   People who found their way through a life filled with ration cards and nationwide shortages of practically everything, learned how to keep a garden, can and preserve their own food, and keep reasonable amounts of many staples, canned goods, and other things in stock, “just in case.”  The experiences that they had living through the Great Depression and World War Two changed them forever and shaped their lives because of the hard lessons that they taught.  And those of us who were their children, grandchildren, or even friends, only had to listen and pay attention to see the deep and enduring impact those experiences had on them.

 

It isn’t surprising then, that the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection would also have a similarly transformational and enduring impact on the lives of the people who lived through them.  And scripture tells us that is exactly what happened.  We begin in John 20:19-31, where we rejoin the disciples, after the resurrection of Jesus, but still so frightened of the religious leaders and government authorities that they only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.

 

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.

 

 

At the beginning, the disciples are afraid.  So afraid, that when they even dare to meet, they will only meet in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked so that no one will see or hear them and know that they are there. 

 

But Jesus.

 

At this point, they already know that Jesus has risen from the dead, but they are still afraid.  And Jesus shows up again, this time there are no missing disciples.  Peter and John are there, and so is Thomas.  And this passage concludes by saying that Jesus performed many other signs so that they, would believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that by believing we could have life in his name.

 

Why is this important? 

 

Because it is after this, and after the events of Pentecost, that the events witnessed by the disciples and the other followers of Jesus, begin to completely transform their behavior.  Nowhere is that change clearer than when we see Peter speaking in Acts 2:14a, 22-32, where this happens:

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:

 

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

 

Peter was the one who was so afraid of the Pharisees and the leaders of the Temple that, three times, he denied that he even knew Jesus.  Peter was the one who was so disheartened and emotionally wounded from his denial, and from witnessing Jesus’s crucifixion, that he went home to Galilee and back to his fishing boat.  Peter, even when he was personally summoned back to Jerusalem at the request of the resurrected Jesus is, with the other disciples, still so afraid of being arrested that they will only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.

 

But that isn’t the person that we see in Acts.  The difference in Peter, and in the other disciples, is nothing short of a total transformation.  It is as if this is a totally different person.  Suddenly, Peter not only stands up and preaches, but he openly confronts the very same people of whom he was so very recently afraid.  Peter not only stands up in public and preaches in front of them, he openly confronts them, and reminds them that they were the ones who killed Jesus, and in his summation says that it is because of what he has seen, and because of what he has heard, and because of the experiences that they have had, that they now understand what must be done.  Like those who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two, the experiences, and the trauma, of the disciples and the first followers of Jesus have transformed their lives.  They are changed forever and will never be the same as they once were.

 

But so, what?

 

What does that mean to us in the twenty-first century, particularly as we endure the changes, and the strangeness, of our collective fight against the Corona virus?

 

For that, let us listen to what Peter thought in 1 Peter 1:3-9 where he says,

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

Peter says that in his mercy, through the experience, and through the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God has given us all a new birth into a new life filled with hope.  And not only hope, but a living hope into an inheritance in heaven that can never be taken away from us.  Although, Peter admits, that in this life we may have to suffer grief from all kinds of trials, including disease and pandemics, through it all we can still rejoice greatly.  It is through our trials that our faith is revealed, proven, and refined as if by fire and it is through those same trials that may result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ is finally revealed at the end of days.  It is because of the experiences, stories, and trials of Peter and the other disciples that we too have seen Jesus, why we too have come to love him and believe in him as they did, and why we are also filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

 

And, from that, I want to draw a conclusion specifically for us as we endure the unusual circumstances of this present pandemic.  Certainly, from everything we know about the Great Depression, and World War Two, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and the story of Easter, we all know that our experiences, especially the experiences of trauma, change us.  Regardless of what we endure, or the illnesses that we suffer, or the friends or family members that are lost, those trials, those experiences, will change us.  These experiences will change us all, whether we go to church, or whether we have faith, or not.  And, if we are paying attention, we will notice that these experiences are already changing us.  Whether this ends in six months, or eighteen months, or in thirty-six months, we will not come away from this the same as we were at the beginning. 

 

We will be changed.

 

But we do have faith.  We have already heard the stories, and we have experienced the difference that faith in Jesus Christ has made in our lives.  We are already a people who are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because we have been given new birth into a new life filled with hope.

 

May these trials prove the genuineness of our faith.  May we be so determined, so hopeful, and so anchored by our faith, that the change that God brings to us through this pandemic is not a change wrought by fear, but a change that only amplifies our courage, our hope, and our joy.  Let us pray that we may we emerge from this experience, and from whatever trauma we are called to endure, like Peter and the other disciples.  Let us pray that we emerge as a people who are more courageous, more fearless, more faithful, and more loving than ever before.

 

May we emerge from this pandemic so much like Jesus that the world cannot help but to stand up and take notice.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Kb9-bPHeny0


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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.

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

December 15, 2019*

(Third Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 35:1-10                             Matthew 11:2-11                               James 5:7-10

What feelings come to mind as you think about Christmas?

What emotions get stirred within you?

Most of us immediately begin to think of gamily gatherings around the Christmas tree, and opening presents, and families that get along with one another and are reunited at Christmas time.  For many of us the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds about right when it says…

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Tidings of comfort and joy sounds like a good summary for our feelings as well as for the message of the Christmas story.  And, quite often, that’s close to the truth for some of us.  Naturally, there are those among us whose childhoods were not idyllic, or who are struggling with unemployment, or homelessness, or divorce, or any number of other things that tend to make our emotions complicated.  But the message of scripture reminds us that Christmas itself, although filled with “good news of great joy,” is also more than just a story of comfort and joy. We begin, once again, with the promises of God given through the prophet Isaiah.  (Isaiah 35:1-10)

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah declares that the coming of the messiah will be a time of gladness, rejoicing, and joy and compares it to rain in the desert that brings hidden flowers to bloom which is, once again, a symbol of resurrection with life exploding out of what looked lifelessness.  But while Israel waits for the coming of the messiah, Isaiah urges them to “be strong, do not fear, your God will come.”  Be strong, be patient, because we worship a God who always keeps his promises.  And then, in verse five, Isaiah shares the memorable words that Jesus would use to reassure an imprisoned John the Baptist.  Jesus uses these words of Isaiah to tell John that he is indeed the messiah that God had promised.  We hear that story in Matthew 11:2-11:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The Messiah had come, John the Baptist announced his arrival, but John was not experiencing comfort and joy.  Instead, he was rotting in prison.  I’ve visited the site where John is reputed to have been imprisoned, and whether that’s the actual site or if it was remotely similar, it was basically just a cave with bars on the door that would be cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and would probably have pools of water on the floor whenever there was a hard rain.  And in that environment, John begins to worry that Jesus isn’t doing the things that he thought the messiah was supposed to be doing. 

But rather than reassure John that comfort and joy would be coming soon, Jesus simply tells John’s followers to say that Isaiah’s words were being fulfilled.  The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  The messiah had come, but that didn’t guarantee that the suffering of the world was going to end (just yet) or that John, or anyone else, was going to find comfort and joy.

Jesus then speaks to the crowd and declares that John is the greatest prophet, indeed the greatest human being, ever born in Israel or anywhere else.  And yet, John would endure suffering, imprisonment, and death before he received any kind of comfort and joy.  How do we make sense of that?  If the coming of the messiah was the fulfillment of God’s promises, why don’t God’s people find the comfort and joy we thought we were supposed to get?  At least a part of the answer comes from James, the brother of Jesus in James 5:7-10 where we hear this:

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The coming of the messiah is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end.  James says that it’s like a farmer planting crops.  The seeds have been planted but now we must wait for the harvest.  While we find comfort and joy in knowing that the crops have been planted, we still must wait, patiently, until the harvest.  In the same way, we are comforted in knowing that God has already begun to fulfill his promises.  The messiah has come.  We do find comfort and joy in the story of Christmas.  But, at the same time, just as a farmer must wait for the rain, we must continue to wait patiently for coming of the messiah.  On that day, we will receive unimaginable gifts of comfort and joy, but until then we understand that life will still be full of discomfort, pain, and suffering.

Our calling, today, is to be patient, not to grumble, but to care for one another. 

Be patient.

Stand firm.

Because the Lord is near.

“Fear not then”, said the Angel
“Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might”
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Costly Love

Costly Love

December 23, 2018*

Fourth Sunday of Advent

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Micah 5:2-5a              Luke 1:39-45              Hebrews 10:5-10

Love.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and today is set aside to remember love.  But if there’s one thing that anyone knows about love, its that love isn’t always roses and unicorns, sweetness and light.  Sometimes love is painful and not at all like a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie.

But in particular, because this is church, and because we’re celebrating Advent and the birth of Jesus, the love that we’re talking about is God’s love, and the love of Jesus.  And for that, we begin this morning with the prophet Micah who lived and proclaimed the words of God between 750 and 686 B.C.  And in his writings, Micah tells of a king, a rescuer, whom God would eventually send to reunite the Israelites. (Micah 5:2-5a)

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace.

Seven hundred years before the Christmas story unfolds, Micah says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem and hints that he will be a descendant from the line of King David.  But more curiously, Micah declares that the origins of this coming king are from ancient times.  He is, he will be, a ruler who has been known throughout antiquity, perhaps reminding God’s people that he is the rescuer that the prophets had been writing about from the very beginning.

And it is this rescuer, redeemer, messiah, and king that Micah describes as someone who will stand up for his people and protect his flock through the strength of God.  He is the one who will bring security, greatness, honor and glory to his people.  And it is this king who will finally bring the one thing for which everyone had been praying for thousands of years.  Peace. 

“And he will be our peace.”

Fast forward seven hundred years and in Luke 1:39-45 we read these words:

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

From the moment that Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she knows, as does her unborn son John the Baptist, that Mary’s son will not only be a blessing to God’s people but will also be their king.  Elizabeth knows that it is through Mary, and through her son, that God has chosen to fulfill his promises to his people.

But so, what?

Of course, keeping promises is a good thing, but what difference does it make to us two thousand years later?

And we can find the answer to that in the letter written to the people known as the Hebrews.  Scholars have argued whether the author of this letter is Barnabus or possibly Apollos who travelled with Paul, but in either case, this is what he says about the coming of Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-10.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

First off, we are reminded that Jesus was quoting the words of King David and Psalm 40 when he spoke about God’s displeasure with the sacrifices of his followers.  Although those sacrifices satisfied the requirements and the specifications of the Law of Moses, they weren’t what God wanted because, although the people were performing the ritual, they were not doing the will of God.  It is as if the people were performing an act of the mind, but not allowing God to reach their hearts.  Beyond that, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus came to set aside the entire sacrificial system so that he could establish the will of God as the new standard of obedience.   The result, the “so what,” was that where God’s people were once periodically and repeatedly purified, temporarily, through the sacrifice of animals and other offerings on the altar of the Temple, we have now been purified and made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once, forever.

So, you see, the difference that this makes two thousand years later, the “so what,” of the Christmas story, is the greatest gift that God has ever given to humanity and the most expensive gift ever conceived.  The coming of Jesus, and his sacrifice, death, and resurrection are the gift that brings perfection, purification, and holiness to us imperfect, impure, unholy, and altogether messy human beings. 

The coming of Jesus, son of David, the Prince of Peace, and Lord of lords, is the fulfillment of every prophecy written about the messiah for two thousand years.  The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a gift that was and is unimaginably expensive, horrifically painful, and inconceivably wondrous, and it represents the epitome, peak and pinnacle, the very embodiment…

…of costly love.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

God’s Unwanted Gifts

God’s Unwanted Gifts

October 07, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Job 1:1; 2:1-10                       Mark 10:2-16             Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

 

Have you ever gotten gifts that were more exciting to unwrap than to receive?

You know what I mean.  You’ve opened gifts, and been all excited, and the gift turned out to be an ugly sweater.  Our kids would occasionally get gifts from relatives that were things that they really liked… three years before.  A Dora the Explorer backpack would’ve been welcome in elementary school, but it just wasn’t what our junior high daughter had in mind.  Over the years, I’ve seen a number of those kinds of things in all degrees of severity.  Lovely gifts of wine or scotch whiskey… to friends that don’t drink, hair coloring to people who prefer natural color, a white sweater to a platinum blonde that never, ever wears white, a Bible for an atheist, and so on.  But the next level is when your boss tries to do you a favor and gives you a raise and a promotion, but it means that you must sell your house and move.  You interview for a new job, get hired, and move to a new city, only to discover that the company that just hired you has declared bankruptcy and your new job is gone.

Some gifts are not what we wanted and others, that we thought we wanted, turn out to be much less valuable or pleasurable than we thought they would be when we asked for them.  And the stories that we find in scripture often reflect this same idea, and sometimes we find that the gifts that God wants to give us, are the kinds of gifts that make us run screaming from the room.  We begin in the story of Job.  An honest, upright, and faithful man of God, to whom horrible things would happen, for no apparent reason.  (Job 1:1; 2:1-10)

1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

2:1 On another day the angel came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

For the record, I understand that it was Satan who afflicted Job and not God, but God knew about it, God knew what Satan intended, and not only did God allow it, God seemed to invite it.  And, while a study of the book of Job can, and has, result in volumes of sermons with a great many valuable lessons, the takeaway here is Job’s rhetorical question, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

If we trust God, and if we trust that God cares about us, knows everything about us, and knows everything that happens to us, then do we demonstrate a lack of faith when we wonder if God is aware, or if God cares, when we go through times of trouble?  Job’s question is as relevant to us as it was to his wife, if we accept good from God how can we not accept trouble as a gift from God when it comes?  Trouble, pain, suffering, difficulty, and trials are not gifts that we ask for, and are sometimes gifts that cause us to run screaming from the room, but many times, not always, but many times, these difficult situations are indeed gifts from God that are intended for a higher purpose.

In Mark 10:2-16 we find a story that may give us some insight into how we accept difficulty in our lives.

10:1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again, crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

This passage seems a little odd because it starts with a conversation about divorce, but if we take a moment to consider what it meant to the people in the story, it helps us to understand it better.  The pharisees were having an argument over what criteria needed to be met in order to grant a divorce.  Historically, some rabbis made the case that the slightest infraction, like burning your breakfast, was enough, but others argued for a much higher standard.  Jesus rightly points out that all of this came about because Moses had said that it was okay for people to divorce and the rabbis throughout history had argued over how high a standard should be met before giving permission to do so.  But Jesus wades into the dispute like a bull in a china chop and upsets every vested interest, by saying that God is never okay with divorce, that it is always a sin, and that Moses only allowed it because human beings, even faithful, churchgoing humans, are a miserable, stubborn, disobedient, hardhearted bunch and would disobey God no matter what he said.

Ouch.

Instead, Jesus says, we ought to be more like the children that came to meet them.  The kingdom of God, Jesus says, belongs to people who are like children and, what’s more, if we don’t receive the kingdom like a little child, we can’t enter the kingdom at all.

So, what does that mean?  Let’s unpack it a little bit.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time at all with children knows that children are both innocent and trusting.  If you say come, they come.  If you say go, they go.  If tell them to do this, or don’t do that, they do what you tell them to do (certainly not always, but as a rule, they are far more trusting than adults).  For our purposes today, it’s important to note that children accept teaching, rebuke, and correction from their teachers, mentors, and parents better than adults.  In short, they are teachable and correctable and if we adults want to get into the kingdom of God, we need to be like them.

In this passage of scripture, Jesus contradicts the teaching of the pharisees on the subject of divorce, but this isn’t unique.  Time after time, Jesus makes it clear, that we aren’t as good as we thought we were.  The rules are stricter, and God’s standards are higher, than we thought they were.  Over and over again, Jesus makes it clear that we aren’t as perfect as we thought we were or as good as we imagined ourselves to be.

But if God is so demanding, and we are so deeply flawed, shouldn’t we despair and give up even trying to be good?  No.  And in Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Paul explains why.

1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

2:5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

Paul reminds us that Jesus came to earth to provide purification of our sins before God.  Jesus now rules over the angels in heaven because he suffered death for us, to pay the price for our sin and rebellion against God.  Jesus was, and is, the pioneer of our salvation and rescue so that we could be made perfect through suffering.

But if we read Paul’s words carefully, it says, “10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”  Paul is reminding us that Jesus was the pioneer, the first, and through him God chose to make our salvation perfect through suffering.  But by using the word “pioneer,” in this way, it seems as if Paul is also reminding us that suffering was not unique to Jesus.  Jesus made us perfect, in the eyes of God, through suffering, but we face our own suffering and at times, God intends for our discomfort, our inconvenience, our pain, and our suffering to change us.  Sometimes, pain and suffering cause us to leave our comfort zones and discover new truths, sometimes suffering leads us to new discoveries about ourselves, about others, about our world, and about God’s mercy, grace, and love.  And sometimes, our pain and suffering are the means that God uses to move us toward perfection, toward a better version of ourselves, toward the person that God created us to be, and toward the person that God needs us to become.

Trouble, pain, suffering, difficulty, and trials are not gifts that we ask for, or gifts that we ever wanted.  But rather than fight God tooth and nail, rather than demanding that God immediately rescue us, consider that we might want to be like little children before God and consider that God has indeed given these to us as a gift.  Consider that God may intend for us to learn something from our pain.  Remember that God loves us enough to sacrifice his own son, loves us enough to personally suffer the agony of persecution, flogging, crucifixion, and death.  If we trust God, and if we trust that God cares about us, then we should consider that no matter what joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain, comfort or suffering, that God allows into our lives, each of them is a gift that is intended to shape us into something better.

 

 


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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.

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.