Rescued and Grateful

Rescued and Grateful


March 10, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11                        Luke 4:1-13                            Romans 10:8b-13

 

How many of you watch cute cat videos on the internet?

 

How about stories about dogs that almost make you cry?

I saw one of those this week.  It was about a long-distance truck driver who had recently lost one of his favorite dogs and he simply wasn’t the same afterward.  He said that his heart was no longer whole.  But his wife sent him a photo of a dog that was about to be put down, and somehow, in a way that he couldn’t explain, he connected with that dog.  The problem was that he lived in California and the dog was on the east coast.  No matter, he called the pound, paid a deposit so the dog wouldn’t be put down, asked his boss for a haul to New York, and set out, driving over 1,500 miles, to rescue that dog.  And, as strange as it may seem, it appears that the dog knew exactly what that man has done for him.  That dog simply adores his new human and his new life.  He rides in that truck every day, loves on his owner, and gives kisses and hugs to anyone and everyone that he meets.  He is, or at least as much as is possible for a dog, truly joyful and truly grateful.

Now, I know that some people will accuse me of anthropomorphizing, which is attributing human characteristics to an animal that can’t necessarily “feel” the same emotions that we feel.  Maybe.  But as a life long animal lover who has lived with eight dogs, at least six cats, and a whole pile of other animals, it seems obvious to me that even if they aren’t the same as ours, animals clearly feel emotion.  In any case, this is about us, and not my dogs.

Why is it that we do things for our parents and grandparents for free?  My brother and I once drove from Akron to East McKeesport, Pennsylvania (which is just outside of Pittsburgh) because our grandmother needed to have her garage painted.  The two of us were willing to spend an entire day, drive three hours one-way, spend the day in the hot sun scraping and painting an old garage, get home in time to go to bed, hot, sweaty, and tired.  And we were willing to do it all for nothing (but of course grandma insisted on giving us “gas money”).  Why? 

Why were we willing to do this for free, when ordinarily we probably couldn’t be persuaded to do that same thing if someone was willing to pay us?  And the answer is threefold: relationship, love, and gratitude.  We were willing to go to all that effort because of the relationship that we had with our grandmother, because of the love that we had for her, and she for us, and because of the gratitude that we had for all the things that she had already done for us, for our parents, and for our entire family.

And its those same three things that I want you watch for this morning as we read and discuss today’s scriptures for the season of Lent.  We begin in Deuteronomy 26:1-11, where we hear these directions for the people of Israel as they entered the Promised Land:

26:1 When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

This entire passage is about gratitude.  Gratitude for a God who keeps his promises and brought his people into the land that he had promised to their ancestors, gratitude for their rescue from slavery, gratitude for a new nation and a new home, gratitude for a successful harvest, and gratitude for the abundance of the land.  And out of that gratitude the people bring to God an offering of the first fruits, the initial and beginning of the harvest, and then, having given a gift of gratitude to God, the priests and the foreigners, the insiders and the outsiders alike, rejoice and give thanks for the things that God has done for them and the gifts that God has given to them.

And with that in mind, we turn to the story of the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4:1-13, where we hear this:

4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

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

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

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

There is a lot that we could learn within these verses, but considering what we’ve been discussing already, we can see that Jesus knew who had given him everything that he had.  And with that knowledge, every time that Satan tried to tempt him with food, power, authority, fame, fortune, greed, other human lusts, Jesus remembered who it was to whom he should be grateful.  And his gratitude to God led him to honor God by living for him, and returning to God his gratitude, thankfulness, love, respect, relationship, and honor.

But what does that mean to us?

And we find a part of that answer in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome as we read Romans 10:8-13.

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Paul says that the word of God is as near to us as our own mouth and our own heart.  If you declare with your mouth, and believe in your heart, the message of Jesus Christ, then you know without a doubt, that you are a saved, rescued, redeemed, child of God.  It doesn’t matter if you are an insider, or an outsider, God welcomes all of us, and blesses anyone who puts their faith in him.  Paul wants to give us assurance and confidence that our future is secure, and that we are loved and welcomed into the family of God.

But with that assurance, there is a question that we ought to be asking ourselves.

The people of Israel showed God their gratitude by bringing gifts of the first harvest to the altar of God and by celebrating together and giving thanks for the things that God had given to them.

Jesus showed God his gratitude by faithfully following God and honoring him by living a life that reflected the instructions and the teachings of God without being distracted or led astray by all the temptations that Satan and the world had to offer him.

Paul and the apostles showed God their gratitude by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the people in the world around them so that others who hadn’t heard, the outsiders, could know the joy, comfort, and assurance that was to be found in knowing that we are rescued, redeemed, secure, loved, and welcomed into the family of God.  We can’t really lick God’s face, or drive over and paint his garage, but the question that we still need to ask ourselves, is…

… “How am I showing my gratitude?”

 

 

 

 


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

2018 – By the Numbers

by-the-numbers

So, how are we doing?

Each fall our church staff and volunteers fill out several forms, with line after line of questions, we also submit quite a few other reports, budgets, lists of nominated and elected officers, and all of this is compiled into our Charge Conference report.  By the middle of January, we report even more numbers, on five or six more forms, for our official “End of Year” report.  Many of these numbers are of not that interesting to the casual observer, but there are a few that are, and some of these are useful in “taking the temperature” of the church and help us to see where we are and in what direction we might be going.  I have a few other numbers that I track monthly and the end of the year is a good time to look at that data as well.

Although we report church membership at both Charge Conference and in the End of Year report, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from it.  It is difficult, because our membership is more than three times our annual attendance.  And that, in turn means that either we have a great many inactive members (which might be good if we can get them to attend more regularly) or, that we have many people on the membership rolls that shouldn’t be, or both.  In any case, in 2016 membership at Christ Church was 362, in 2017 it was 356, and in 2018 we ended with 323.  In the last year, we lost 18 members to death, 2 to transfer, and 14 were removed simply because we had lost all contact with them.  We did, however, add one member to our rolls through transfer (Hi, Hayley!).   So is declining membership bad?  Maybe, but it’s hard to tell.

I guess the good news (if you can call it that) is that we don’t remove people every year, those who were removed haven’t attended for a long time, and our number of deaths was much larger than usual.  So, although membership “declined” by 33 people, the impact on our congregation, although significant, is not as bad as the numbers might imply.

On the other hand, while our average Sunday attendance was 69 in 2017, it was 71 in June, and by the end of the year had risen to 78.  Similarly, we saw an increase in Sunday school attendance, an increase in the number of people who were giving to the church, and a healthy increase in our stewardship pledges.  Not only that, but we also saw an increase in participation in missions and outreach, an increase in the number of people we served in our community, and a small decrease in our total church expenses.  In short, attendance is increasing, and we’re doing more, with less.

Another measure that is not yet reported to our district or Annual Conference, but is of growing usefulness, is our ability to engage with our community on social media.  For the moment, the only number that I can report to you is our number of Facebook followers.   In the last year, the number of people who have “liked” our Facebook page has increased by 27, from 172 to 199.  That isn’t a lot, but it’s a positive increase and it at least hints at a growing engagement between our church and our community.

I understand I’ve only been here for half a year, but even if I were here longer, I know that I am not solely responsible for any of this.  We are a church and a community, and we work together as a team.  But as I have said before, what I see in our reports, and what I see in these, and other numbers, is good news.  Clearly, we have work to do, but  in many ways we are doing well, or at least doing better.  Digging through the numbers and filling out reports is not anyone’s idea of fun, but I want to thank Dolores, Julie, and all our staff and volunteers that help us do it.

Because, in the end, when I read through our reports, I see every reason to be hopeful, even excited, about the direction that we are going, the future of Christ Church, our ministry here, and our outreach to our community and the world.

Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

Keep up the good work.

Let’s build on what we have and make 2019 even better.

 

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?

A Different Spring To-Do List

crocusI know that many of you will be reading this after Easter even though I am writing it in March. But the arrival of Easter and spring often signify a flurry of activity.  Many of us are already making lists of things that need to be done outside in our flower beds, gardens and lawns as well as a host of things that we put off during cold weather. If we have children, there are even more things being added to our schedules with the arrival of spring sports and other activities. But in the midst of all this busy-ness, I hope that you will also take the time to put a few spiritual things on your to-do lists. Spring and Easter are filled with images that remind us of God and of spiritual things. And so, in the midst of our rush to get things done, I encourage you to take some time out to appreciate the gift that spring really is, to “be still” and listen to the heartbeat of God, and to notice the ways in which we are surrounded by the miraculous.

What follows is far from being an all-inclusive list, but are just a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Sit.  That’s all. Just sit. Once it gets warm enough, find a place on your porch or in the back yard, pull up a lawn chair, and just sit. Leave your phone in the house. Feel the sun on your face. Listen to the wind, the birds, the neighbors, squirrels, or whatever it is that’s going on. Now remember the silence of the winter and give thanks. You’re alive and all around you the world is emerging from death and the grave of winter. Remember the resurrection of Jesus at Easter, and imagine what your new birth will be like.
  • Look for the signs. Flowers, trees, and animals of all kinds have been buried in the earth, or been dormant, in hibernation, or have migrated for thousands of miles. Now they are emerging from the earth, reawakening, and returning from far away. Within the boundaries of your lawn you can find dozens of examples of rebirth and resurrection. Give thanks for all of these little miracles.
  • Smell.  Seriously. Take a moment. Snow doesn’t smell like much, but now your yard and your neighborhood smell different. Pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Smell the fragrance of spring flowers, the aroma of dirt, earth, and grasses that are warmed by the sun. They are alive and growing. Even the more unpleasant smells are new. Rejoice in all the new-ness around you and give thanks that you can smell, that you have life, and health, and can appreciate these gifts.
  • Touch.  Lean down and look at the spring flowers, the buds on the trees, or even the tender shoots of grass. They are so small, so fragile, and so tender that anything but the slightest touch might damage them. And yet they survived the winter, and they’ve pushed their way through the soil or forced open the tips of a woody branch to emerge into your world. Rejoice that you are there to see it but also consider how God has made something so small, so tender, so fragile, and yet at the same time, so determined, so tough, so persistent, and so resilient. Remember that the same God made you. Toughness, resilience, persistence, tenderness, love, and compassion all live within you. Give thanks for the gifts God has given to you and the ways that he has brought you through your wintery trials.
  • Your turn. Contemplate. Be still. Listen. In what other ways will God reveal himself to you?

 

 

 

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Who Owns Your Success?

“Who Owns Your Success?”

November 19, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 8:7-18             2 Corinthians 9:6-15                         Luke 17:11-19

 

 

Have you ever owned your own home?

 

The process for applying for a mortgage is intimidating but the feeling of home ownership is a pretty good one.  But unless you’ve owned your home for a long time, and made a lot of payments to the bank, we are reminded, at least once a month when our payment is due, that the real owner of our home is the bank.

 

When we have been employees, no matter how much we love our jobs and take pride in our work, and care for the facilities as if they were our very own, we are constantly reminded that they belong to someone else.

 

If you buy a new car, you have to have insurance, but if you wreck the car, the majority of the insurance money will go to the bank that owns most of the car.

 

In an episode of The Big Bang Theory (Application Deterioration), several of the characters, Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard, come up with an idea that is patentable and could make them millions of dollars.  But when they go to their employer’s legal office to ask about pursuing a patent, they get that same sort of stunning reminder.  The patent attorney declares that they

 

“Just need you to review and sign this document acknowledging that you understand the university will own 75% of the patent.

Howard: 75%?

Sheldon: That’s outrageous. This is our idea based on our research. How can you possibly justify owning a majority share?

Patent Attorney: It’s university policy.

 

Leonard: Hold on, hold on. So the three of us do all the work and only end up with 25%?

Patent Attorney: Dr. Hofstadter, this university has been paying your salaries for over ten years. Did you think we do that out of the goodness of our hearts?

Leonard: Well, until you just said that mean thing, kinda.

 

Three of the four men are reminded that because their research and knowledge grow out of work that their employer has already paid for, 75 percent of any profits belong to the employer.  Even worse, since Howard is already an employee of the Federal government, he isn’t entitled to anything at all.

 

All of these types of stories remind us that we often fool ourselves into believing that we own things that rightly belong to someone else.  We are also prone to take too much credit for work that we did as a group, or pass along too much blame to others for mistakes that we made for ourselves.  And in Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Joshua reminds the people of Israel that they must be careful not to take credit for the work that was done by someone else.

 

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

 

Joshua emphasizes that God has already given them much, and is about to give them even more.  Their blessings will be wonderful and the land will be abundantly good to them in many ways.  But they must be careful to remember that God has given all these things to them as a gift.  Joshua warns that it is all too easy to forget the giver and allow our pride to fool ourselves into believing that we did it, that “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But that, Joshua says, is a lie because it is God who gives us the ability to produce, wealth.  Ultimately, it is God who has given us everything that we have, and it is God to whom we should be grateful.

 

In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, the Apostle Paul goes a step further.  He reminds the people of God that not only should we be grateful for what we have been given, our thankfulness should be demonstrated through our generosity.


Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

 

Paul has several points that are neatly sewn together.  First, if our mission is to grow the church, then we must be generous in what we plant.  When we garden, we plant seed in proportion to the harvest that we expect in the fall, and our ministry is no different.  If our goal is to bring many people to faith in Jesus Christ, then we must plant seeds toward that end with the same generous abundance as the harvest for which we pray.  But, at the same time, our trust must remain in God as we remember that the God who provides seeds to plant and bread to eat, is the same God who will lead us toward bountiful harvests of both rescued souls and personal righteousness.  We cannot be stingy with the things that God has given to us, we must use them for our mission and ministry, and we must share what we have been given with those in need.

 

And of course, as we consider our success and the gifts that we have been given, we would be foolish to skip over the words of Jesus found in Luke 17:11-19, where we hear this:

 

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

 

Ten men begged for pity, for compassion, for help, and for healing.  They begged that the lives that had been stolen from them by their incurable disease might be given back to them.  And Jesus cures them all of an incurable disease.  And yet, of the ten, only one, and he a foreigner who would have commonly been hated and mocked, only this one man returns to Jesus to gives thanks for the invaluable gift that he had been given.

 

These words of Jesus remind us all that our lives are a gift.  As we celebrate our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday, let us never forget that our success doesn’t belong to us.  Our lives do not belong to us.  Our possessions do not belong to us.  All that we have has been given to us as a gift from God.

 

Let us give thanks to God, and may we always be generous with what we have been given so that our harvest, both for the Kingdom of God, and for our own righteousness, might be equally generous.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Unmet Expectations

“Unmet Expectations”

September 24, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 16:1-15              Philippians 1:21-30                     Matthew 20:1-16

 

 

Have you ever made a choice and been disappointed with the way that things turned out?

 

Sure you have.

 

We’ve all bought something that turned out to be much less than was advertised, or that broke when it was almost new.  I have a belt clip that holds my cell phone.  After almost a year of good service, it broke.  The good news is that it was still under warranty and the company gave me a new one.  And that one broke only a week after I got it.

 

The Cleveland Browns seem to have a real knack for disappointing draft picks.  The Canton Repository recently ran an article whose title included the phrase “Seven straight years of broken first rounds” and if you enter “Browns” and “Draft Picks” in your internet search engine, you will find lists with titles like “12 worst first round draft picks” and “Brown’s long, sad history of failed draft picks.” As we have all experienced, sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way that we expected and sometimes our choices don’t lead us to the future that we thought they would, or our progress in that direction seems to be much slower than we expected it to be.

 

That is exactly where we find the people of Israel in the story of the Exodus as we rejoin them in Exodus 16:1-15.  Israel has escaped captivity, fled across the desert, been pursued by the Egyptian army, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and watched some of Egypt’s most elite soldiers drown as God returned the sea to its place.  But then, boredom strikes.  The journey to the Promised Land was not a short one and to many people it was taking too long.  They were too hot.  They didn’t have as much food as they thought they would have.  Things weren’t going the way they expected, as fast as they had expected them to go.  And so, as people will do, they began to complain…

 

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 

 

In that passage, we hear the word “grumble,” “grumbled,” or “grumbling” at least seven times.  Since a Jewish month is either 29 or 30 days, depending on exactly when they started, we know that the people of Israel were traveling for between a month, to a month and a half.  And after all of that travelling, they found themselves in a desert.  Undoubtedly, people who were accustomed to herding sheep and goats for a living would be distressed at living in the wilderness and having a hard time finding food for their flocks.  Likewise, people who were accustomed to being fed by the Egyptians were painfully unfamiliar with having to forage for food and they probably didn’t care much for living in tents, if there were any, and sleeping out under the stars for more than a month.  But if you remember, the important point that we heard after the events at the Red Sea was that the people of Israel “put their trust in God.”

 

Clearly, the people of Israel have some unmet expectations.  Life isn’t turning out the way they thought it would.

 

But all of this impatience and complaining doesn’t look like trust.

 

And we see something very similar in a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-16.

 

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

It is helpful for us, some two thousand years later, to understand that a denarius was the accepted rate of pay for approximately one day’s worth of work.  Naturally, an employer could pay more or less than that based on his or her generosity or upon the skill and experience of the employee.  Today, our minimum wage is a bit over $8 per hour so for a full day of ten to twelve hours someone would make in the neighborhood of $100.  With that in mind, let’s think about the story.  The employer has a need for short-term employees to bring in his harvest and so, probably at dawn, he goes to the public square where people who want to work gather and where employees and employers often meet.  There, he hires everyone that he can find and agrees to pay them $100 for the day.  He does the same at 9 o’clock, again at noon, again at three, and still again, even at five when the day was nearly over.  As the sun begins to set everyone lines up behind the paymaster and expects to be paid but the land owner has them line up in reverse order of the way that they were hired to that the guys who only worked a few hours are at the head of the line.  These men, despite being hired at the end of the work day, are paid $100 and the guys that worked since sunrise begin to expect that they are going to be paid very well since they worked ten times as much, but when their turn comes they get… $100.

 

And again the word that we hear is “grumble”.

 

Clearly, they have unmet expectations.

 

Life didn’t turn out the way that they expected.  And they are angry.

 

But the owner explains that he paid them exactly the wage that they all agreed upon.  They worked for a day and got paid a day’s wages.  The landowner explains that if he chooses to be generous to the people who worked for less than a day, he has done nothing wrong and has still kept his word to the people who worked all day.

 

And so, before we finish, let’s take a look at Philippians 1:21-30, where Paul says…

 

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

 

What Paul is saying, is that as long as we live, we do so because God has a purpose for us and work for us to do.  But in all things, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to behave in a way that is worthy of the Gospel that we have been given.  We must strive to stay together, to stand together, and work together, without being frightened of those who oppose the mission of Jesus Christ and the work that we are doing on his behalf.  But along the way, Paul warns us that we are likely to suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ.  We are not immune from struggle and pain simply because we have chosen to follow Jesus.

 

Even though we follow Jesus, life might not turn out like we expect it to.  Life might be harder than we thought it would be.  We might have more pain, and more suffering, and more discomfort than we thought we would have.

 

We will most likely have some unmet expectations.

But impatience and complaining doesn’t look like trust.

 

And crowds of people grumbling about their God’s generosity don’t either.

 

Paul said, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

 

Even if life doesn’t turn out like we thought it would…

 

Even if we have unmet expectations

 

God still expects us to act as if we are grateful for the things that he has done for us.

 

God has given us everything that he promised that he would.  And even if we sometimes feel like we have the luck of a Cleveland Browns draft pick…

 

We are called to behave like people who are worthy of the gifts that we have been given.

 

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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 Surrender of Self

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“The Surrender of Self”

March 01, 2017

(Ash Wednesday)

By John Partridge*

 

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20             Matthew 5:21-37                 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

It happens every Sunday morning in practically every church in the United States, Canada, North America, Africa, Asia, and everywhere.  It isn’t peculiar to the United Methodist Church but happens in Baptist Churches, and Presbyterian churches, Catholic churches, independent churches and every other denominational and non-denominational church you can find.  In fact, it happens in Christian churches, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, and Buddhist temples.  This thing that happens is the offering.  At some point before, during, or after their services of worship, there will be an opportunity for the worshipers and visitors to make some contribution toward the religion, for the poor, or at least toward the upkeep of the building.  Despite the fact that there are sometimes enormous differences between us, one of the things that make us all the same is that no matter where you are, or who you worship, it costs money to maintain the property and keep the lights on.  And so, everywhere we go, even sometimes for secular events, we are asked to sacrifice a little of our hard earned cash.  It’s so ordinary that we most often don’t give it a second thought if the American Legion needs to run a raffle, or the band boosters sell candy bars.

 

But suddenly we arrive at the season of Lent, and something changes.

 

Because although we will probably still be collecting offerings on Sunday mornings during Lent, an entirely different sort of giving and surrendering becomes the central focus as we spend time preparing our hearts for the resurrection of Jesus.  That change in focus is found today in Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 where we hear these words:

 

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
    a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Through Joel, God warns his people that the day of judgement will be a day of darkness and despair.  But on the day of judgement, no one is going to be looking at your tax statements or your church giving receipts, and no one is really going to care very much how much you put in the offering plate.  God said, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”  In reading this, we understand that tearing one’s shirt, or robe, or other garment was a sign of mourning, repentance, and humility, but God declares that even these outward signs are not enough.  Instead, what God really wants, is a broken heart.  God doesn’t want us to show the world how much we’re sorry.  God doesn’t want us to make grand gestures to show him how sorry we are.  What God really wants, is for us to be genuinely sorry. What God wants, is for us to be so sorry that our hearts are broken so badly that we become changed people who live life differently.  So important is this that God wants us to declare a fast, call a sacred assembly, gather the people, and call together all of God’s people in ways that symbolize a meeting of the utmost importance, even bridegrooms and priests serving in the temple will not be excused.  Everyone is needed, because this change of heart is of utmost importance for the continued existence of God’s people and our inheritance from God.

Paul emphasizes this same level of importance in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 where he says:

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


6:1 
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul encourages us to be reconciled with God, to be forgiven through the power of Jesus Christ and to become co-workers with God, working toward the same goals and objectives as God himself.  More than that, Paul says that as servants of God we surrender ourselves, through trouble, hardship, distress, beatings, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, purity, understanding, patience, through dishonor, bad reports, and in many other ways.  Few of the things on Paul’s list are situations that we would ordinarily, on our own, seek out, but he encourages us to set aside our own desires, to surrender ourselves, in order to pursue the goals and objectives of the Kingdom of God.

And finally, in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, we hear Jesus as he challenges his followers to do good, not just for the sake of doing good, but to do good for the right reasons.

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Much of what Jesus has to say in this passage is an encouragement to have our hearts in the right place, to do good, not for the sake of doing good, and certainly not to do good because it is of benefit to us, but simply to do good for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  This is sometimes a little weird, but we are not called to be righteous so that we can go to heaven, we are called to be righteous in order to for God to be glorified.  Our motives are everything because the condition of our hearts is everything.  Our motives for everything that we do should be God’s motives.  We are called to work, to volunteer, to donate money, to live lives of purity and righteousness, even suffer and sometimes die, not because we have any expectation that our lives will be wonderful, or even that there will be some earthly benefit to us.  We simply do these things because our goals have come in line with God’s goals, our desires are becoming the same as God’s desires, and so we live our lives in ways that are of benefit to the Kingdom of God and not in ways that are necessarily of any benefit to us.

This is the call of the season of Lent, to “Rend your heart and not your garments,” to remember that the gift, the offering, that God truly desires, is not money, or time, or sacrifice, although it might look like any of those.  The gift that God truly desires is for us to surrender ourselves, to surrender our desires, and to replace them with the goals and desires of God.

These are the things that we must think upon as we prepare our hearts for Easter.

This is what it means to surrender self.

 

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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.