Wisdom, Truth… Hope

Wisdom, Truth… Hope

June 16, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31                        John 16:12-15                        Romans 5:1-5

 

It seems that our world is increasingly without hope. 

We regularly meet people in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our communities that are struggling.  And certainly, the people in our churches are not immune.

Hope seems to be in increasingly short supply.

We see it on the news almost every day.  People are wondering why the world seems so filled with disaster, hate, mayhem, hunger, fear, and hopelessness.  Even at our church’s Annual Conference this week, as we worked to elect a slate of delegates to next year’s General Conference, amid our denomination’s divisive debate over homosexuality, there were many discussions about the future.  We discussed what the future might look like, and even whether our denomination, or any denomination, has a future at all.

But despite some discussions of what might appear to be dark or grim possibilities, our discussions were also often filled with hope.

Hope.

Hope is something that seems to be in short supply in the world but remains abundant in the church. 

Why is that?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

In Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Solomon speaks about the creation and the beginning of time in this way:

Does not wisdom call out?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
    I raise my voice to all mankind.

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
    before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

Solomon speaks of wisdom as the first creation of God. Wisdom was there before the mountains and the oceans.  Wisdom has been, and is, the constant companion of God in all that he does.  And it is wisdom that stands at the gates of the city and cries out to all of humanity… if we will only listen.

But wisdom isn’t the only voice that is trying to speak into our lives.  In John 16:12-15, Jesus speaks with his disciples and prepares them for a time when he will soon depart with these words:

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Jesus says that after he returns to heaven, he will send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.  The Spirit of God will carry the words of Jesus to us and guide us into the future.

But because we know the story of Jesus, we also know that listening to the Spirit and doing the will of God doesn’t shelter us from suffering.  Just as Jesus suffered because of his faith, we may also endure times of suffering because of our faith.  But our high calling is to always hear the voice of wisdom, to stand up for the truth, and to follow God wherever he leads us.  In Romans 5:1-5, Paul shares this wisdom:

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

This short passage is often quoted because, as short as it is, it is also filled with great power.  We know that life isn’t perfect.  We know that life is filled with suffering.  But we are encouraged as we remember that suffering produces perseverance.  Perseverance produces character, and character produces… hope.  But don’t forget that last part either.  Hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our lives, through the Holy Spirit that has been sent to us by Jesus Christ.   Not only are we being built up, day by day, through our faith in Jesus Christ, and through our daily suffering, but we are also, through the Spirit that lives within us, being filled with the love of God.  Daily, we should be growing in love and compassion for our families, for our friends, for our community, the world, and for everyone around us.

Our life of faith is a group project, a work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Since before the beginning of time, the wisdom of God has cried out to all of creation and to all of humanity if only we would take the time to listen.

And every day, the Spirit of God pours the love of God into our lives and speaks the words of Jesus into our hearts and minds in order to guide us to the truth.

And, as we persist in our faith, and endure the sufferings of this life, we grow daily in character and are filled…

…with hope.

In a world that is increasingly without hope, where we see a rise in opioids, despair, and suicide, we, the people of God, must be bold in proclaiming the truth so that the people around us can discover the great gift that we have received through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We must share with the world the gift…

            …of hope.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Forgiven. Sent. Empowered.

Forgiven. Sent. Empowered.

May 27, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 3:1-17                Isaiah 6:1-8                Romans 8:12-17

 

Have you ever played a team sport?

 

I don’t necessarily mean that you played on an official team in high school or college.  What I mean is, have you ever played a game where the participation of every single person made a difference?  Have you ever been in a serious tug-of-war when one of your team members slipped in the mud?  Have you ever played baseball when one of your outfielders was caught sleeping and an easy pop-fly dropped right next to them?  Have you ever run a relay race when one of your runners dropped the baton?  Can you imagine how it would go if the Cleveland Cavaliers had to play their next game with only four players instead of five?  When you play as a team, whether it’s sports, or at work, or in the church, doing well requires that every member of the team be an active and involved participant.

 

This is not only a good example in the physical world; it works just as well in the spiritual world.  In Isaiah 6:1-8 the prophet Isaiah is recruited into God’s team in a way that he hadn’t considered before.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

 

Here Isaiah sees God on his throne in heaven surrounded by angels who proclaimed his glory.  Isaiah assumed that any human being who saw God or who witnessed such wonders would die from the experience.  Isaiah knows that he is not pure enough to be in the presence of God and he believes that he isn’t good enough to serve God.  But then, one of the angels picks up a live coal from the fire at the altar of sacrifice, flies to Isaiah, and touches his lips with it saying that Isaiah’s guilt has been taken away and the price paid for his sins.  But after that, God asks, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”

 

Because Isaiah has been purified and forgiven, he is therefore sent out to carry the messages of God to the world.

 

But “I” is singular and “Us” is plural.  Is God using what we might describe as the “royal ‘we’”?  Is God referring to himself in the plural just because he can? Or is this a reference to the Trinity? Or is it because God is speaking for himself, all of the angels, and everyone on his team?

 

It’s hard to tell.  But in other scriptures we gain other insights.

 

In John 3:1-17, Jesus meets a Pharisee named Nicodemus at night and has something interesting to say about the nature of God.

 

3:1Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

 

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 

Jesus tells Nicodemus that there is more to following God than just following the rules.  The way that Jesus describes it, following God requires us to be reborn, through the Spirit, into an entirely new life.  Jesus also uses the language of reproduction again saying that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  Since this is Trinity Sunday, it is also noteworthy that Jesus, the Son of God, is talking about both God the Father and God the Spirit.  He is deliberate in naming them differently, particularly when he says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” And so this passage is yet another where we can “see” all three members of the Trinity in the same passage.  But in all of this, what Jesus is saying is that Jesus has been sent into the world, by God the Father, in order to save the world, but the agent that brings you into the kingdom of God is the Spirit of God, and it is the Spirit of God that gives us the strength to live a new life in Christ Jesus.

 

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul follows up on this idea by explaining what a new birth, and new life, through the Spirit of God would look like.  (Romans 8:12-17)

 

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 

Because we have received the Spirit of God, we now have an obligation to love according to the spirit.  When we are born of the spirit we must make every effort to put to death the desires of our fleshly body.  We have an obligation to be better than our desires.  This is why, at least in part, we are said to be born into a new life through the Spirit of God, because in that life, we begin to live differently, to act differently, to place our priorities in different places, to behave more courageously, because of, and through, the power of the spirit that lives within us.

 

Paul says that we are adopted children of God and our relationship is so close that we call God “Abba” or in English, “Papa” or “Daddy.”  And, because we are God’s children, we are heirs, with Jesus, to God’s kingdom, if we share in the sufferings of Jesus.  That is, if we do the work of the kingdom of God, completing the mission of Jesus Christ, through the Spirit of God that lives within us.  If we do that…, then we will share in the glory of God.

 

And so from the words of Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul, we find that we are forgiven by God the Father, sent by Jesus the Son of God, and empowered through the Spirit of God to purify ourselves, and to share in the mission, and in the suffering, of Jesus Christ so that together we can rescue the lost and save the world.

 

God said, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

 

From the beginning, God wanted everyone to know that this was a team effort.  It takes every member of the Trinity, every angel, every follower of Jesus, and every one of us.

 

We can’t get caught sleeping in the outfield.

 

We cannot drop the baton.

 

There can be no bench-sitters.

 

Every member of the team must be an active and involved participant.

 

Even me.

 

Even you.

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

How “Local” is Mission?

How “Local” is Mission?

 push-pinsRecently, I have heard folk from Trinity discussing the need for our church to focus on, and to encourage the support of, more local missions. My impression was that the speakers meant to say that we might be focusing too intently on missions that weren’t local and that local missions were more important.  To be fair, one of those speakers was deliberate in saying that other missions were important, but the implication was that our focus might have shifted too far in another direction. I admit that my impression of that conversation was probably shaped by other churches where I have served, because I’ve heard that opinion expressed in other places before. My first reaction was to dismiss that idea as wrong, but as I thought about it, I decided that I ought to look in our church budget and see where our dollars were really going and next I decided that I should probably write about it because if a few people are talking about it, the odds are good that a lot of people are thinking about it.

 

Before I get into the details of what I found, I want to remember why it is that we do missions. First, in Matthew 28:18, as Jesus said goodbye to his disciples before he ascended into heaven he gave us what is now called the Great Commission saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And in Luke’s version of this story, found in Acts 1:8, Jesus says, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

 

Our calling, as the followers of Jesus is not just to stay in Jerusalem, but to go share the gospel throughout the entire world. With that in mind, I know that caring for those people nearest to us has to have some priority because if we don’t do it, who will? But, at the same time, the good we can do in other places for a small amount of money, is also vitally important. And so with that in mind, I looked at our January finance report to see where Trinity spent its time and money and divided those places into the same kind of categories that Jesus used. Instead of using Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the earth, I translated that into local, Ohio, National, and International.

 

While some of the ministries we support were a little difficult to neatly put in one of these categories, and without asking what mission the UMW supported, I counted 22 local missions, 2 Ohio missions, 7 National missions, and 4 International missions. Local missions were things like Perry Helping Perry, Neighbor Helping Neighbor, the Homeless Outreach Team, the SAM Center, Canton Calvary Mission, RAHAB ministries, Aunt Suzie’s Cancer Wellness, Guidestone, and our own Trinity youth. Ohio missions were things like Flat Rock Homes in Cleveland, and the Kairos prison ministry. I classified things like Disaster relief through UMCOR, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Red Bird Mission, including our mission trip to The Joy Center, as National missions.

And finally, there were four International missions such as Zoe ministries, Farmer to Farmer, Heifer International, and Africa University. Financially, the breakdown of these categories was, Local $10,727, Ohio $100, National $7,739, and International $1300. It was interesting to note that as far as I can tell, all of the missions in the International category were given by our young people from your generous giving to the noisy offering.

Ultimately, I think that we are finding a good balance in these categories, but if you have any concerns I invite you to share them with me, or Jan Gash and our missions team. In total, the generous people of Trinity gave nearly $20,000 to these missions and that is both incredible and commendable. The people of Trinity have good and generous hearts, and it shows. At the same time, even this generous level of giving adds up to less than 10 percent of our budget, so maybe we do have something to think about.

 

 

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A Bigger Baptism

“A Bigger Baptism”

January 21, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 1:1-5                         Mark 1:4-11                           Acts 19:1-7

 

 

As you probably know by now, I am a fan of science fiction and franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek.  In the Star Trek original series, as well as in the Next Generation, we would occasionally see a technologically advanced civilization with starships encounter a far more primitive one.  The Federation of Planets had rules about such encounters.  There were rules because if a primitive society would see Starfleet crew members using their technology they would attribute those abilities to magic or believe that the members of Star Fleet were gods.  Starfleet understood that just the act of seeing something could change the course of history forever.  Simply knowing that something was possible could change the direction of science and culture forever.

 

Now, imagine with me a world where fire fighters were stuck in the previous century.  No new technology has been developed for a hundred years.  There are no fire trucks, or hoses, or pressurized fire hydrants, or internal building sprinkling systems.  In this world, the world of firefighting is essentially one of prevention and rescue.  Buildings would have buckets of sand that could be used to fight fires and possibly some sort of bucket brigade, but the primary role of a firefighter in the event of a major fire was to try to rescue those unfortunate souls who were still inside the building or otherwise endangered by the fire.

 

This seems ridiculous to us because while fire prevention and rescue are important roles of a fire fighter, we understand that fighting the fire itself with water and whatever tools we can place at their disposal, is a critical and vital part of what firefighters do.  Firefighting is bigger than simply working at prevention and rescue.  With that in mind, we begin this morning by reading from Genesis 1:1-5, where we hear these words:
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

 

While this passage is probably familiar to all of us, I want to point out that in it we see two persons of the Trinity.  In verse one, we hear “In the beginning God…” and in verse two, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  Similarly, as we read the story of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River in Mark 1:4-11, we see in it all three persons of the Trinity.

 

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

 

As Jesus (who is the Son) comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends from heaven like a dove, and the voice of God the Father declares his love for Jesus and declares that he is pleased with his Son.  I know that understanding the Trinity can sometimes be difficult, but it is because of passages like these that we know that it is real and we are compelled to wrestle with it.

 

But then in Acts 19:1-7, the Apostle Paul meets some disciples of Jesus who knew about God, who knew about Jesus, and who knew about baptism, but were missing a vital piece of the puzzle.


19:1 
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

 

The believers and disciples that Paul met in Ephesus had been baptized by John, but they had not heard the Good News of Jesus Christ or at least had not heard all of it.  Perhaps they had not heard the story about Jesus’ death and resurrection.  All they knew was what John had preached, that you had to repent of your sins.  They were missing a vital piece of the puzzle.  It was as if they were trying to fight fires without a knowledge of water, or without fire trucks, hoses, pumps, and pressurized water systems.  They had been baptized by John the Baptist as a symbol of their repentance from sin, but they had never been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and they had never received the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps like a primitive society that had been exposed to advanced technology, simply knowing that things could be different, changed the course of their lives forever.  Knowing about Jesus, and knowing about a bigger baptism, they were filled with the Spirit, spoke in foreign languages they had never learned, and were given the gift of prophecy.

 

What these believers had known was true but their knowledge was missing a critical and vital component.  Yes, baptism is about repenting from our sins.  And yes, baptism is an outward sign that for us, takes the place of circumcision.  But while those things are both true, these things alone are missing a critical and vital component and that is the participation of the Spirit of God in our baptism.  Ever since the day of Pentecost, whenever we are baptized we invite the Holy Spirit to descend upon us, fill us, work within us and through us to do the work of Jesus Christ in our world.  John’s baptism was big, and it was important, but this is the bigger baptism.

 

Being filled with the Spirit of God is life changing.  It is such a powerful thing that simply knowing about it can change the lives and the futures of others.  And so, unlike the officers and crew of a starship in Star Trek, we must not hide ourselves from people who haven’t heard the good news of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Instead, we must do all that we can to tell as many people as we can so that lives can be changed, people can hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, be baptized themselves, and receive the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

 

You have it within your power to change the course of history forever.

 

All that you have to do is to trust God and share what you know with the people around you.

 

What you have within you is life altering, world changing stuff because it is fueled and powered by nothing less than the Spirit of the holy creator God.

 

We can’t hide out in the church.

 

We musts go out from this place… and change the world.

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Justice, Power, Gentleness

“Justice, Power, Gentleness”

January 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 42:1-9                                      Matthew 3:13-17                                           Acts 10:34-43

 How much do you know about Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX?

I know that most of you have heard of Dr. Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon.

What you may not know, is that these two very different men, from different generations, and entirely different backgrounds have a dream for humanity that is surprisingly similar.

Buzz Aldrin has been a tireless advocate for the support of manned spaceflight and Elon Musk has made it his goal to make spaceflight cheaper by several orders of magnitude.  Okay, I know I lost a few of you with that comment.  I’m an engineer and a math geek so that language is natural to me, but for those of you who have never been especially friendly with math, an “order of magnitude” means something that is divided or multiplied by ten so that when describing it you are moving the decimal by one place.  For example, if something costs $1000, reducing the cost by one order of magnitude would make the price $100 and two orders of magnitude would reduce it to only $10.  So what Elon Musk is attempting, is to reduce the cost of a rocket launch from something like $100 million per launch to $10 million or even $1 million per launch.  That’s a really big deal.

In any case, the vision for humanity that is held by both Buzz Aldrin and Elon Musk is that we, as a species, should attempt, as soon as possible, to land men on Mars and, shortly thereafter, attempt to establish a human colony there.

Not surprisingly, science fiction writers have been thinking about what this would be like for generations.  One thing that is presented as a problem for a moon colony or a Mars colony is that since the gravity of the moon is one-sixth the gravity of Earth, and the gravity of Mars is only one-third that of Earth, when children are eventually born on such a colony, their bones won’t grow the way that our do.  Without a stronger gravity, their bones won’t be as strong as ours and they will likely never be able to come “home” to Earth.

But with that in mind, what I want you to think about is really the opposite.  What if humans were to somehow build a colony on Saturn or Jupiter, or somewhere else where the gravity is much greater than ours?  When those colonists, or their children, returned to Earth, they would be a little bit like Superman.  They would have incredible strength because, to them, the gravity of Earth would affect them the way that the moon’s gravity affected Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and the rest of the Apollo astronauts.  These people would be incredibly strong but would they also remain capable of gentleness and tenderness?  Superman can lift an airplane, but he can still catch Lois Lane without hurting her and Clark Kent can still buy groceries without crushing the eggs in his basket.

I admit that this discussion is a little strange for a Sunday morning, but bear with me because I hope that it will help us to understand a greater truth before we’re done.  We begin this morning once again in Isaiah, this time we are reading from Isaiah 42:1-9, where he continues to look ahead and to describe for the world what the coming messiah will look like.

42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Isaiah says that the Spirit of God will be put on the messiah so that he will be able to bring justice to the nations.  But Isaiah also draws for us a dramatic contrast from our natural expectations.  If we are honest with ourselves, whenever we think of someone who is powerful enough to conquer the world and to bring justice to all of the evil and terrible things in the world, whenever we think of a person that is great enough to bring justice to the Adolf Hitlers and Julius Ceasars of the world, and powerful enough to overcome the Roman Empires and the ISIS-es of the world, we almost automatically think of someone who is not only strong and powerful, but also ruthless and perhaps a little wild.

But that is not the picture that Isaiah paints.

The messiah that Isaiah describes is powerful enough to overcome all of the evil in the world, but will not shout, or raise his voice, he will be so tender that he will not break a bruised reed, or snuff out a smoldering wick.  In these two examples, Isaiah describes two things that are more fragile than an eggshell.  If you’ve ever held a candle that was sputtering and drowning in its own wax, you know that one jostle in the wrong direction will smother it.  Likewise, a bruised reed needs only the slightest touch to break it the rest of the way.  And so, what Isaiah describes for us is a messiah that not only has indescribable power, but who is also so self-controlled, so gentle, so caring, and so compassionate, that he will care for even the most fragile among us without breaking them.

Also worth noting is that Isaiah also says that God will make the messiah to be a new covenant for the people and that, while he is sending this incredibly powerful messiah, who will be filled with the Spirit of God, God will not yield his glory to another.  And so, while the messiah is powerful, and filled with God’s Spirit, and is a new covenant for the people of God, he is not someone who is other than God, but perhaps in some way, is God himself.

I am certain that this was a puzzle for everyone who has read this that did not know of Jesus the messiah or who does not believe in what we now call the Trinity.  In this passage, God speaks of himself, of his Spirit, and of his messiah in ways that sound as if they are all somehow separate, and yet are all one God.  And then with the coming of Jesus, we hear these words in Matthew 3:13-17:

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

And again, in that moment, we hear the voice of God, we see the Spirit of God descend, and we also see Jesus who is the object of God’s praise.  And yet again, we remember that God said that he would not yield his glory to another.  And so where does that leave us?  It is a puzzle, but before we’re done let us also consider Peter’s explanation in Acts 10:34-43:

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Peter again emphasizes that Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power and was able to do all the things that he did through the power of God that was with him.  Peter then goes on to say that Jesus died, was raised from the dead, by God, after three days, that Jesus was the messiah that all the prophets had testified about, and that human beings were able to receive forgiveness through the name of Jesus.

 This is an impressive list.

 But nearly all these things are impossible for someone who was no more than just a human being.  No one else, in all of scripture was able to raise the dead simply by commanding them to do so.  No one else was raised from the dead by God in the way that Jesus was.  No one else could ever fulfill the prophecies that were written about God’s messiah.  And if you remember the objections of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, no one has the power to forgive sin, except God himself.

 And again, here we are faced with a puzzle.  How can Jesus be all these things at the same time?  How can God be all these things and yet not yield his glory to another unless Jesus is, himself, God in human flesh?

 The conclusion of countless theologians throughout history is that these three things, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, must somehow, be one and the same, and yet, somehow, exist separately.  I remind you that this word that we use, “Trinity,” appears nowhere in scripture.  It was invented in the first century after Jesus in an attempt to describe the relationship that we’ve been reading about this morning.  But two thousand years later, when we are faced with the facts, from the Old Testament, the Gospel stories, and from the testimony of the New Testament eyewitnesses, we are compelled to come to the same conclusion or one very much like it.

 Jesus is the messiah, sent by God, to bring justice to the nations.  He is the one who has been given supernatural power to overcome evil and bring righteousness to the world.  And yet, he is so in control, so gentle, so compassionate, that even while yielding this incredible, indescribable power, he will not raise his voice or break the most fragile and damaged among us.

There is no alien from another world like that.

There is no human being like that.

The only conclusion is that Jesus…  is… God.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

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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.

 

What *IS* Trinity?

“What is Trinity?”

May 22, 2016

(Trinity Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: John 16:12-15            Romans 5:1-5              Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

 

How many of you know anything at all about cars?

Most of us know a little, and most of us know that a gasoline engine has cylinders that burn the gasoline, and go up and down, which makes the driveshaft spin, which makes the car go.

So what would you say if we were standing next to a car and asked where the engine was?  You would point to the front of the car where the engine does its thing.  But if I reached under the hood and pulled out a cylinder, is that the engine?  What about the engine block?  And the answer to each question is both yes… and no.  Each is a part of the engine and the engine can’t do what it does without the contribution of all of them.  If you want to be even more confused, think about the thing that pulls a train down the railroad tracks.  We call that thing a locomotive or an engine, but inside of that engine are several engines.  All of them work together to make up one engine, but each one is, by itself, also an engine.

Confused yet?

And that brings us to today because today is Trinity Sunday.  That means that today is the day when your pastor makes a valiant attempt to explain the unexplainable, makes your head hurt, and usually ends up leaving you more confused than you started.

Toward that end, this morning we are going to learn (I hope) a little more about the Trinity than we knew before we came.

As you probably know, the Trinity is our understanding of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons.  This is not one person with three divided personalities, and this is not three gods who like to hang out together.  The followers of Jesus Christ have attempted many ways to describe the Trinity and while many of these are helpful, each of them falls short in some way.  I admit it is a little confusing.

Let’s begin this morning by reading Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31.  This passage doesn’t speak about the Trinity because it is from the Jewish scriptures, what we call the Old Testament.  The Jews didn’t, and don’t, think about God as a trinity, and in fact, the name “Trinity” is never found in the New Testament.  What we do find however, is an idea that becomes so apparent… that it needed a name.

8:1 Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.


22 
“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.

The obvious thing to say about this passage is that it is not about the trinity at all but is all about wisdom.  That is absolutely true, but this Old Testament understanding of wisdom helps us to understand how the followers of God in the New Testament came to understand God as a trinity.

In this passage, wisdom is described, metaphorically, as a living being that God “brought forth” into existence before the beginning of creation.  And so while there are some big differences between the trinity and wisdom, this metaphorical description of wisdom, which every Jewish believer would have known and understood, eventually allowed, and even assisted, those same believers to understand the relationship between God and Jesus Christ.  In the world of the Disciples, and in the early church, Jesus was described with this same language.  Jesus was said to have been “brought forth” by God, not as a created being, but as a person who had always existed and who was made from the same stuff that God was made and was co-equal, and co-eternal, with God.

In Romans 5:1-5 we find one of several passages in the New Testament where all three members of the Trinity are discussed together.

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

In this passage we hear that we have peace with God, through Jesus, and also that God’s love has been poured out through the Holy Spirit.

Another passage where this sort of thing happens is in John 16:12-15 where we hear Jesus say…

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.  He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

And so John is telling us about a conversation where Jesus was speaking about the Spirit of God, and about God the Father as if they were not exactly the same person but, at the same time, neither of those persons were the same person as Jesus.

Does your head hurt yet?

Mine does.

Honestly, if you don’t completely understand how the Trinity works, that’s okay.  I know that I don’t.  I know that bishops and people with PhD’s argue about it.  And I know that this is often described as one of the “mysteries” of the church, not because it is unknown, but simply that this is one of the places where the nature of God is not completely understood.  The way that I have described it is that this is one of those places where finite, created, mortal creatures with a finite and limited capacity to think and understand, are attempting to describe and understand something that was not created, and is infinite, immortal, and unlimited in its understanding.  It is inevitable that we fall short when we try to get our minds around it.

But instead of focusing on the things that we do not understand, let us instead focus on the things that we do understand.

We understand that the three members of the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are co-equal, co-eternal, uncreated, and made of the same substance.

We understand that through faith we have peace with God through Jesus Christ and that through Jesus we gain access to grace.

We understand that it is through our hope in God that we bring glory to God and that God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We understand that the Spirit of God was a gift to us, from God the Father, through Jesus Christ and that the Spirit of God is the agent that leads us to the truth in all things.

We understand that the Spirit of God brings glory to Jesus Christ because Jesus sent him, and because that same spirit allows us to hear the voice of God and to understand the words of Jesus Christ.

And finally, we understand that everything in all of creation belongs to God the Father and everything that belongs to God also belongs to Jesus.

My suspicion is that, just as I predicted at the beginning, you just might be more confused that when we started.  But I hope that you will remember that it’s okay not to completely understand the Trinity.

There are a lot of things that we may not understand completely and yet are able to understand what is important to us.  We may not completely understand how televisions or cell phones work, but we do understand that they carry information from one place to another.  We may not completely understand how the internal components of an automobile engine work, but we understand that because they do, we can travel from one place to another.

And so, remember this: We may not completely understand how the Trinity works, but we know enough to understand that God loves us so much that he gave his own life to save ours and that he has come down from heaven to take up residence inside each believer to lead us, to guide us, and to point us to a better of understanding of Jesus Christ.

It might make our heads hurt.

And we might not completely understand it.

But the parts that we do understand are absolutely, incredibly, wonderful.

 

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Who Watches the Supplies? – A Football Meditation


    In the books of first and second Samuel we read the story of King David.  Many of us have heard stories about David, but there is at least one that we don’t often remember.  In 1 Samuel 30, we find David and 600 men who had just returned from fighting alongside Achish the king of the Philistines.  As they return home they discover that the Amalekites had raided their town, captured their wives (including two of David’s wives), their children, their livestock, as well as anything of value.  After consulting with their priest to find the will of God, David pursues the Amalekite raiding party.
    As they hurry to catch up to the raiders however, David finds that two hundred of his men are too exhausted to continue and so he leaves them behind with all their gear, supplies and what is left of their town.  David and the four hundred remaining men pursue the Amalekite raiding party and find them celebrating over all the loot that they had plundered.  David and his men attack and fight with the Amalekites from dusk that day, until the end of the following day, defeat them, and recapture every single animal, personal belonging, wife and family member.
    But when they return to their camp, the troublemakers began to stir things up.  They argued with David that the two hundred men who were left behind should not receive any of the plunder because they didn’t fight to get it.  They argued that these men should get their families back, but receive no share of the loot and plunder that they had taken from the Amalekites.
    David fights back.  David makes an argument that is important to every single one of us and one that is important to each of you on the football field.  David said:
“No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us. 24 Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” 25 David made this a statute and ordinance for Israel from that day to this.
    It is important to remember that when you win, it isn’t just the superstars and the heroes that win the game.  Every member of your team had a part, Every coach, every water boy, every trainer, every teacher you ever had who helped you to earn the grades you needed to play ball, it took the guy on the sidelines who sprained his ankle before the season started, every football booster, every friend who gave you a ride home from practice, every relative, every parent, and every brother or sister that comes to watch you play.  As David said, these are the people who “watch the supplies” for you. 
    When you win, it isn’t just because of the guy who threw the touchdown pass, or who caught the interception, or who made the big tackle.  Your victory didn’t come because of the superstars; it took every single one of you. 
And that includes the people who just watch the supplies.

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