The Path to Peace

The Path to Peace

May 26, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:23-29            Acts 16:9-15               Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

 

Let’s begin with an easy question that turns out to be more difficult than we expected.

What is peace?

While at first a part of us wants to think that defining peace ought to be easy, the more we think about it, the harder it gets.

When most of us begin thinking about peace, we probably thing about the violence between nations.  In that case, peace is simply the absence of war and violence.  That’s probably the kind of peace that we’re thinking of when we talk about “world peace” or when hippies say things like “peace, man” or “peace out.”  But then there’s the kind of peace that Mom is looking for when she says that she just wants “a little peace and quiet.”  Of course, that means the end of sibling violence, but in this case, she also means a lack of worry and the ability to find a moment of rest.  If we extend those few moments of quiet rest, maybe that’s what we mean when we say that we are “at peace” or when we are searching for “inner peace,” or maybe that’s what the Eagles mean when they sing about that “peaceful, easy feeling.”  And, of course, there is the religious wish that is common to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, when we express our wishes for Salaam, Shalom, or “peace be unto you.”

But as much and as hard as we might search for, seek out, strive toward, or wish for peace, it may well be that our human efforts will always fall short if we do not include God as a part of, and as a participant in, our search for peace.  In John 14:23-29, Jesus tells the disciples that peace is a gift that he is giving to them, and to us, if only we will truly love him.

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus says that if we will only obey his teaching, God will love us, and both he and Jesus will make their home with us, and a part of what comes with that, is Jesus’ gift of peace.  Moreover, Jesus helps us to define what he means by peace, in this case, by saying that we should not let our hearts be troubled nor should be we afraid.  But peace can be hard.  We are often plagued by doubts about the future, and questions about where we ought to go and what we ought to be doing.  We ask ourselves, “Should I study this or that,” take this job offer or that one, is God in this, or not, is this better or worse than that, or more generally, “Just what does God want from me?”  And in asking those questions, we struggle, and we sometimes lose our sense of peace.  But as we read the stories about how God has called others to do his work, we can learn something about how God might call us.  In Acts 16:9-15 we remember the way that God called Paul to ministry in Philippi.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia [central Turkey], having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia [western Turkey], they tried to enter Bithynia [northern Turkey], but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas [northeast coast of Turkey]. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia [across the Aegean Sea and north of Greece] standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace [Aegean island], and the next day we went on to Neapolis [eastern Greece]. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony [and a bit inland] and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira [a Greek city in eastern modern Turkey, near Mysia, where Paul had just been] named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Now, if all of that wasn’t confusing enough, if you were trying to follow along this journey on ancient maps, one of the things that you’d probably notice is that the woman that Paul meets, and in whose house they end up staying, Lydia, comes from the city of Thyatira, which is in the nation of… Lydia.  Anyway, after all of that, what I wanted to point out was that Paul was struggling to find peace with what he was doing, where he was going, and what God wanted him to do.  He kept trying to do different things, and go different directions, and things were not going his way.  He wanted to do ministry in Asia, or as we understand it, in eastern Turkey, but felt that the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to do so.  We don’t know if that was an unsettled feeling, or an inability to sleep, or just physical or political barriers, but clearly something kept Paul and his team from going where they wanted to go.  But one night, Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia, a nation to the north of Greece, begging them to come there and preach.  And so, that’s where they go, and once there, they meet a wealthy businesswoman, who specializes in the manufacture and distribution of rare purple cloth, she comes to faith in Jesus Christ, is baptized, and all of them are persuaded to stay with her in her estate.

All of that may sound like a rabbit trail, but I include it here to make a point.  Even though Paul’s journeys were long and difficult, even though his direction was not always certain, even though his travels often seemed to include arrest and torture, Paul had the peace of knowing that he was where God wanted him to be and he was doing what God had called him to do.  Certainly, while being arrested and beaten does not sound peaceful, Paul had inner peace, the peace of knowing that he was where he was supposed to be.  But Paul also knew that the peace that we so desperately seem to pursue cannot often be found in this life.  Paul knew that a greater peace awaited him as a reward for his faithfulness.  John writes about that in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where we hear these words:

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Believe it or not, as odd as some of this language sounds, many of its visual images are all about safety and peace.  Because darkness in the ancient world, and to a lesser extent today, was associated with danger, John notes that in the new Jerusalem, it never gets dark.  The light of God and the protection of God, shines on everyone constantly.  Both nations and their kings come to live under the light and under the protection and justice of God and that, finally, after thousands of years of history, sounds like a government that we can trust.  And then John says that the gates of the city are never shut.  For those of us who live in the twenty-first century, far removed from a time when it was necessary, or even possible, to live inside of walled cities, it might be easy to miss the importance of what John is saying.  But, at a time when walls meant safety, remember that the gates were closed at night to keep out robbers, spies, and enemies.  If an enemy army approached, the gates would be shut.  If danger was suspected, the gates were there as a last measure of protection.  But John says that here, the gates are never closed because there is never any danger.  There are no thieves, bandits, spies, there is are no armies, and there is no danger.  There is no impurity, there is no hunger or thirst, and leaves of the trees, as common as they are, provide for the healing of any wounds that we carry in with us.  The curses that God laid upon humanity after the failure and fall of Adam and Eve are all removed.  We will serve God only, and we will see him face to face.

In every way, by every definition, there will be peace.

Let’s put that all together.

Jesus said that his gift to us was a gift of peace.  Some of that we can have now, and the rest is promised to us after the judgement at the end of time.  But, if we follow Jesus, if we listen for his voice, and are obedient to him, then we can find peace in knowing that we are where we need to be and doing what God has called us to do.  And even when our call brings difficulty into our lives, or when the chaos of our world erupts around us, we can trust that when we reach our eternal destination, we will finally, and forever, by every possible definition, be at peace.

There is a roadmap and a path that will lead us to peace.

The great question of humanity is not “How do I achieve peace?” 

The question is, “Am I willing to trust the one who has shown me the path?”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

The Path to Eternity: Submit, Trust, Follow

The Path to Eternity:

Submit, Trust, Follow

October 28, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Job 42:1-6, 10-17                   Mark 10:46-52                       Hebrews 7:23-28

Have you ever used a map?

Today it seems like everyone uses GPS, or Google Maps, or some other electronic format, but still, it’s a map.  We’ve told our kids that it’s still useful to keep a road atlas in their cars because technology can, and does, fail from time to time.  Batteries die, cell service is lost, cell towers get overwhelmed, and as we’ve seen in Florida recently, disaster does happen.

But, even when the worst happens, perhaps especially when the worst happens, we still need to know how to get from here to there, from where we are, to where we want to go.

And while finding the map that’s been buried under candy wrappers and a pile of gas receipts in the back pocket of the car might be a challenge, that kind of a map isn’t going to help us find our way to our seat at the dinner table of God’s house.  So today, let’s consider that journey for a few minutes.

We could, quite literally, spend days, even weeks, talking about the path to eternity, or how we get from where we are, to where we want to, eventually, be.  But for this morning, we’re just going to hit a few highlights from our scriptures from this week’s lectionary selection and from those, we begin at the end of the story of Job.  In this passage we hear Job reply to God following God’s answer.  All through the story, Job has been demanding justice and demanding that God answer him.  But when God finally answers, he thunders at Job and asks questions like, “Where were you when I laid the cornerstone of the earth?” or, ““Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?” (Job 42:1-6, 10-17)

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.

Job understands God’s message and God’s answer.  Job understands that God is God and we are not.  Job understands that we are in no position to dictate terms to God, that God will do what God will do.  God is not a genie that does our bidding and answers to our beck and call.  The creation of the universe is so far above our pay grade that rather than demand that God behave the way that we want or expect God to behave, God will, instead, behave as God wishes and our place is not to demand, but to submit.

But please note, that in submitting to the will of God, God blesses Job and returns to him twice as much as he had before Satan was allowed to torment him.

From there we jump to Mark 10:46-52 where we hear this story:

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Bartimaeus knew who Jesus was and he knew what Jesus could do.  He calls out to Jesus by addressing him as “Son of David.”  Jesus was, literally a descendant of David by lineage, both from Mary and from Joseph, but this seems to be far more than an identification.  Since Bartimaeus is calling out to Jesus for mercy and, ultimately, for healing, it isn’t difficult to understand that his calling Jesus is an appeal to authority, that he recognizes that Jesus is an heir to the throne of David, but also, perhaps that Jesus is the promised Messiah, or at least a prophet of God who has the power to heal his blindness.  In crying out to Jesus, Bartimaeus has already submitted to God, but when Jesus calls him, he throws aside his cloak in his excitement.  Why is that important?  Let’s consider that for a moment.  Remember that Bartimaeus is blind.  He cannot keep an eye on his coat once it leaves his possession and neither will it be easy for him to find it once he leaves it behind.  But Bartimaeus doesn’t set his cloak aside neatly, or hand it to a friend, or take it with him, he throws it aside and jumps to his feet.  Either Bartimaeus is so excited that he has completely forgotten habits that he had formed over a lifetime, or he already trusted that Jesus was capable of, and likely intended to, heal him of his blindness.  At the very least, Bartimaeus trusted that Jesus would care about his well-being and the return of his cloak.

And Bartimaeus is healed.

But rather than responding to Jesus’ command to “Go” by going home and getting back to his family and the business of living his life, Bartimaeus chooses instead to “Go” and to follow Jesus along the road.  Bartimaeus had no idea where Jesus was going, and it didn’t matter.  He knew who Jesus was, he submitted to Jesus, he trusted Jesus, and he was willing to follow Jesus wherever he went.

And if that is the path, from surrender, to trust, to following, then where does the path lead?

And in Hebrews 7:23-28, Paul answers by describing who Jesus is:

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests, men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

Jesus is the high priest, the leader of the church, but because his sacrifice was truly and totally perfect, his sacrifice need not ever be repeated.  Jesus’ sacrifice was done once, for all of humanity, for all time.  And for that reason, Jesus has become our high priest, the perfect man, the king of the universe, the leader of the church, the shepherd of his people, and all we need to do, is to trust him, and follow him forever.

Job had no guarantees that God was going to bless him, but he submitted anyway and was willing to follow God no matter where that path took him.

Bartimaeus had no idea where Jesus was going to lead him.  But he trusted Jesus enough to follow him anyway.

Our call, as servants of our great high priest Jesus, isn’t to demand justice, to demand answers, or to demand that God do things our way, our call is to submit to the realization that God is God and we are not.  God will do what God will do.  God will behave as God wishes and our place is not to demand, but to submit.

Our call isn’t to obsess over what heaven looks like, or what we will do, or where we will go, or who else will be there, or what heaven will be like.  Our call is to trust Jesus, our high priest, to stop demanding to get our way, to give up trying to control everything, and to follow him wherever he chooses to lead us both now… and forever.


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

Alive But Dead

“Alive but Dead”

April 02, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14                      John 11:1-45                          Romans 8:6-11

 

As the new United States waged its war for independence with England, Captain John Paul Jones set sail in 1777 with orders to harass, disrupt, and create havoc with British shipping wherever he could.  And so in 1779, sailing a repurposed cargo ship, the Bonhomme Richard, off the coast of Scotland Jones encountered a merchant convoy guarded by two well-armed, and well-trained, British naval vessels.  Jones’ ships were not purpose built fighting ships and his crews were thrown together volunteers from America, France, and many other nations while the British crews were professionals with far superior training.  In the first pass between the Bonhomme Richard and the British frigate Serapis, the American ship was raked with cannon fire, a great many crewmen immediately killed, fires were started all over the deck and below deck.  By all outward appearances, it was already time for Captain Jones to surrender.

 

But when he was asked if he cared to do so, Captain Jones instead proclaimed, “I have not yet begun to fight.”

 

And fight he did.

 

Although Captain Jones’ ship, the Bonhomme Richard, was so badly damaged that it sank and he had to climb aboard another ship, and despite being outgunned, out trained, and out manned, the fire from her guns was so fierce that the crews aboard the Serapis could not and would not venture above deck.  So fearful had the crew of the Serapis become by the end of the battle, that her commander, Captain Pearson, could not persuade a single one of her crew to strike her flag in surrender, and he was forced to climb the mast and do it himself.

 

The Americans were presumed dead, asked to surrender, and persisted with ferocity until they won.

 

This remains one of the most humiliating defeats in British naval history.

 

And all because the Americans had a leader that could see the possibilities beyond surrender and defeat.

 

In Ezekiel 37:1-14, we find a similar story with a different twist.  Here, the people of Israel have been captured and taken into captivity in Babylon.  They are without hope.  They feel as if their God has abandoned them.  They are ready to give up and die.  And in that moment, God comes to the prophet Ezekiel.


37:1 
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

 

God declares to Ezekiel and to the people of Israel that he holds power over life and death.  Even though Jerusalem lay in ruins and the people had been dragged into slavery in a foreign country, God proclaimed that life would return to their dry bones and that Israel would live again because he would put his Spirit in them.  It was the Spirit of God that made the difference between life and death.  And while this all seems very figurative and philosophical, when we read the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-45, we find that the scriptures are very clear that Jesus, quite literally, has power over life and death.

 

11:1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

 

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

 

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

 

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

Clearly, Lazarus was dead.  He had been buried, and sealed in his tomb, for four days.  And yet, when Jesus calls to him, Lazarus stands up and walks out of the tomb.

 

What made the difference?

 

How was it that one moment Lazarus was dead and alive the next?

 

We find the answer to that in Romans 8:6-11 where we hear this:

 

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

 

The people of Israel thought that they were dead but through his prophet Ezekiel, God assured them that by putting his Spirit in them, he could return life to the dead.  Lazarus was certifiably dead and had been buried for four days and Jesus commanded him to get up and live again.  And here, Paul explains that living, in order to satisfy the desires of the flesh, is death but living, governed by the Spirit of God, is filled with life and peace.  Paul admits that we all live in a world of flesh, but we can live in the world of the Spirit of God if we belong to Jesus Christ.  The difference between life and death has always been the Spirit of God.  God’s Spirit is what made the difference between dry bones and a living nation of Israel.  God’s Spirit was the difference between a rotting corpse and a living Lazarus.  And God’s Spirit is what makes the difference between life and death today.  There is a difference between appearing alive, and actually being filled with life.  Many of the people who walk the earth are walking corpses.  They appear to be alive, but are, in reality, quite dead.  But those people who have accepted Jesus Christ are filled with his Spirit and already live in the world of the Spirit of God.

 

If you have accepted Jesus, then you have already begun to live forever.

 

We must all choose.

 

Will we live our lives as dry bones?  Or will we answer the call of Jesus as Lazarus did?

 

We are invited to put our full faith and hope in Jesus, be filled with the Spirit of God, throw open our graves, cast aside the clothing of death, and walk free.

 

Lazarus answered and walked with Jesus.

 

Won’t 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.

 

Life is More than Living

“Life is More Than Living”

March 12, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 12:1-4a                      John 3:1-17                            Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

 

Are there people in your life that you trust?

We probably all have someone that we trust.  And, depending on how long we’ve known them, and the history that we have between us, our trust varies.

So I guess the question is, “How much do you trust?”

As an illustration, I want to remind you about Charles Blondin, also known as “The Great Blondin,” or just “Blondin,” whom I have used as a sermon illustration before.  Blondin was a tightrope walker and daredevil in the 19th century.  In June and July of 1855 he strung a tightrope across Niagara Falls near where the Rainbow Bridge now stands.  The crossing was 1100 feet long on a rope 3.25” in diameter, and 160 feet above the water.  During those two months, Blondin made as many as 17 crossings between the United States and Canada, but his own personal drive was such that after the first time, just crossing wasn’t enough.  On each trip he did something to make that crossing more spectacular than the last.  He once crossed blindfolded, once with his legs in a sack, then on stilts, and once with both his hands and his feet in manacles.  He stopped in the middle to do tricks; he did backflips, lowered a rope to the Maid of the Mist on the river below, hoisted a bottled beverage from the boat, drank it, and then continued on.  He once carried a stove with him on his back, stopped in the middle, cooked, and then ate an omelet.  Once he carried a chair, stopped in the middle, balanced the chair on one leg, and stood on it. He crossed once on a bicycle, once crossed backward, and returned pushing a wheelbarrow.  Afterward, he reportedly asked the crowd if they thought he could do it again, and they all shouted “Yes.”  He then asked if they thought he could do it again with a man in the wheelbarrow, and again they shouted “Yes.”  But when he asked if any of them would volunteer to sit in the wheelbarrow, not one of them volunteered.  The crowd believed that he could do it, you might even say that they even trusted that he could do it, but there are limits to our trust.  On the other hand, at least once, if not twice, Blondin made the crossing with a man on his back.  Once he crossed with his manager, Harry Colcord, and possibly once more with his assistant.

And so again, we return to the question of how much do we trust.  Do you trust your boss, or your employees, or coworkers, or anyone, enough to put your life in their hands?

It’s that kind of trust that we need to think about this morning as we begin in Genesis 12:1-4a with the story of Abram.

12:1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.

 

At the age of seventy-five, Abram makes a new beginning, leaves behind everything that he knew, and sets out for a country that he’s never been to, and in fact toward a destination that he didn’t even know when the trip started.

 

God said “Go,” and Abram went.

 

God did not lay out a map, pass out lots of charts and graphs, and give a PowerPoint presentation to show Abram where he was going, what was going to happen when he got there, and what his standard of living would look like.

 

God said “Go,” and Abram went.

 

And to be totally fair, so did Sarai.

 

Because he trusted God, and because he went where, and when, God told him to go, Abram was honored and revered as the patriarch and founder of the nation of Israel for generation after generation.  But what was it that made Abram and Sarai honorable?  Should they be respected because of their actions or because of their faith and trust in God?  And that is exactly the question that Paul answers for us in Romans 4:1-5, 13-17.

 

4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

 

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

 

Paul reminds us that Abraham was described in Genesis 15 as being “credited with righteousness” because of his faith and belief in God.  For Paul, wages are paid to someone who works and wages are therefore owed to the worker as an obligation of the employer.  But on the other hand, for someone who simply trusts God for their justification, it is their faith that results in God crediting them with righteousness.  In Paul’s equation, work equals pay, but trust equals faith.

 

Paul continues by pointing out that since the laws of Moses had not yet been written, it was not the law that saved Abraham either.  For Paul, even though he was a Pharisee and a devout Jew, it was not the rules that brought about salvation.  Instead, it is our faith, and the grace of God, that brings about our salvation.

 

All that means that Abram and Sarai weren’t saved because they answered God’s call to “Go,” they went because they had faith and trust in God and believed that God would be faithful in return.  It is their faith that makes them admirable.

 

After all that, I guess the next question is this: Just how important is faith in God and in his son Jesus?

 

In John 3:1-17, we remember this meeting between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus:

 

3:1 Now 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. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, [Note: “lifted up” means “exalted,” but also hints at the coming crucifixion] 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.

 

First, it is important to note that although we often hear stories about how the Pharisees made attempts to trick or trap Jesus, and how Jesus often criticized the Pharisees in return, Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  Not only that, he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, and we know that he came to Jesus as a representative of others because he begins his talk with Jesus with a statement in the plural saying, ““Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.”  This tells us that at least some of the Pharisees and the members of the Sanhedrin knew that Jesus was a teacher that had been sent by God and they agreed that the signs and miracles that Jesus had performed were certain evidence of this.  But Jesus replies that simply knowing, academically, that Jesus had been sent by God was not enough.  In order to be credited with God’s righteousness, you must not only be born physically, but also be born of the Spirit of God.  In order to go to heaven, you must have faith and trust in God and in his son Jesus Christ.

 

What Jesus is saying, is that simply being born is not enough.  Depending on your Jewish heritage and the covenant of God with Israel was not enough.  Following the Law of Moses, the Commandments, and the rules of the Pharisees, was not enough.  Living a “good” life and being a “good” person is not enough.  Simply being alive is not enough.

 

There is more to life than living.

 

Real life is more than living.

 

Of all the people that gathered to watch the Great Blondin cross the chasm at Niagara Falls, only two had real faith in his ability.  It wasn’t enough to believe that Blondin was capable of crossing the chasm at Niagara Falls.  Simply believing that he could do it didn’t demonstrate faith or trust.  The two that had real faith were willing to get into the wheelbarrow or climb up on his back.

 

Likewise, it isn’t enough to simply believe that Jesus has been sent by God.  It isn’t enough to know, academically, that Jesus has been sent by God.  It isn’t enough to believe, academically, that Jesus is the Son of God, and the savior and rescuer of all humanity.

 

We have to be willing to trust him enough to get in the wheelbarrow.  We have to be willing to trust Jesus with our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

 

There is more to life than living.

 

Real life, which is eternal life, is lived by trusting Jesus with everything that we are, everything that we have, and everything that we hope for the future.  We have to put our faith and trust in him and be willing to answer his call to “Go” wherever he sends us.

 

And so we return to the question that we started with.

 

How much do you trust?

 

Do you trust Jesus enough; do you have faith enough, to get in the wheelbarrow?

 

 

 

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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.

 

Trust and Leverage

leverage

“A Scoundrel’s Lesson: Trust and Leverage”

September 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 16:1-13                     1 Timothy 2:1-7        

 

As we watch the current election process and listen to the daily news, we are regularly bombarded with examples of how not to do things  We constantly hear about new ways to rip people off, or business people, banks, or corporations who managed to defraud their customers and one another.  And while it is tempting to shake our heads, moan about how evil the world has become, and assume that God’s people have nothing to learn from such schemes, we would often be mistaken.  While we should never condone such practices, there are often lessons that we can learn from even the most misguided pursuits.  In Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a parable about an unscrupulous, rip-off artist that was fired from a management position in a rich man’s organization.

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The manager in the story was not a good manager.  He was accused of wasting his employer’s money or belongings, or both.  Perhaps he was helping himself to some of them, or perhaps he had just made a few bad investment decisions that caused his employer’s portfolio to suffer.  But in either case, we learn pretty quickly that he was dishonest.  The confusing part of the story is that the both the employer and Jesus have something good to say about him.  Clearly, Jesus describes the man as dishonest, and we know that Jesus is not encouraging anyone to be dishonest, so what is he saying.  The scoundrel is commended because he is shrewd.  He may be dishonest, but the guy knows how to get things done.  Knowing that he was going to lose his job anyway, he used his employer’s wealth to buy him friends that would be indebted to him and who could give him a place to live and food to eat while he tried to figure out where to go and what to do next.

While Jesus isn’t encouraging his followers to be dishonest, what he does say is that we ought to be shrewd.  That simply means that we ought to do better at using the things that we have, and the people that we know, and leveraging them to do kingdom work and to bring people into God’s kingdom.  Jesus goes on to talk about how trust is earned.  We’ve all experienced that and we understand it in the short term here on earth.  Most of us realize that you wouldn’t hire a person that steals money from his employer to be your new treasurer.  But Jesus says that the stakes are even higher because the trust that you earn on earth now, determines how much God trusts you, both on earth, and in eternity.

The way Jesus spells it out, either you can be trusted, or you can’t.  God has given us things to manage, much as the man in the story.  We have been given health, wealth, time, friendships, and other resources and God is interested in how we use all of these things to grow his kingdom.  According to Jesus, in God’s eyes if you can’t be trusted here on earth, then God doesn’t trust you either.  And, if you can’t be trusted, then God will not give you things that you otherwise might have had.  In that sense, God is much like an investment advisor who is rearranging his portfolio.  Those investments (that would be us) that do well are places where God will invest more.  But if those investments aren’t doing that much, then God will invest what he has somewhere else.

And just in case we have forgotten why this is important, let’s read Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Jesus Christ is the mediator, between every human being and the perfect, immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing God.  Jesus gave his life in order to secure the ransom and rescue of every single human being that has ever lived.  And Jesus did that, because he wants all people, every single one of us, to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

In telling the story about the unscrupulous manager, Jesus was emphasizing two important points.  First, his followers, although called to be honest and truthful, should be more like that manager and use every means at our disposal to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, to help people come to a knowledge of the truth, and to rescue as many people as possible.  And second, Jesus watches each of us to see how well we do with what we have been given, to see how effective we are as managers.  While your employer may watch to see how you help his company to make money, God watches to see how trustworthy we are in using the things that he has given to us to make disciples of all people, and of all nations.

May we all live our lives in such a way that we might be found to be faithful, prudent, wise, and yes, even shrewd, in using our resources to rescue the lost and grow the kingdom of God.

 

 

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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.

Compassion Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where does that leave us?

What message should we take away from all of this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helium, God, and the Church


Most of us want as little of God as possible.
    We don’t want to admit it of course, but God scares us.  My friend Brian Baer once read a meditation in our Sunday school class called “Just a cup of God please.”  It said that God is prepared to pour out blessings on us through a fountain the size of Niagara Falls.  But we come prepared to collect it in a tea cup because we’re afraid of what God might do with us if we had more.
    The other day I saw a yard sale sign with balloons attached to it but the balloons had been there too long.  Instead of floating, they just sort of hung there.
Lifeless. 
    As I drove by, it occurred to me that our churches are a lot like that.  We are like a balloon.  We are a vessel that takes its shape by being filled with the Spirit of God.  The more of him we contain, the more we begin to take the shape that he intends for us, the more we look like what God intends for us to look.
But to get there, we have to be stretched.
    Balloons aren’t useful unless they are stretched.  Until they are stretched, and dangerously close to bursting, they do not, they cannot, do the thing that they are intended to do.  If they aren’t stretched, they just hang there… lifeless.  
That’s exactly how many of us are.  We want God to come into the church, but too much of God frightens us.  
Being stretched is hard.
It scares us.
    We’re afraid of what might happen if we allow too much of God to come into our lives.  When balloons are too full they fly away or they burst.  We’ve read the stories in the Bible.  When God fills people up, scary things happen.  Life feels like it’s out of control.  Lives are changed.  God asks people to do things they’ve never done before.
Like helium in a balloon, when God comes in we get stretched.
    But if a balloon isn’t stretched by the helium in it, there isn’t enough to overcome the effects of gravity that is pulling it down and it just hangs there.  Lifeless.
    Likewise, even though it might feel safer, when there isn’t enough God in us to stretch us, then there isn’t enough of God to overcome the evil in the world that drags us down.  Without enough of God in the church, we look just like every other human organization. 
We don’t have enough God in us to take his shape.
I know that it’s scary.
Being stretched is uncomfortable.
Being filled with God feels dangerous (and it is).
But if we aren’t filled with enough God to really stretch us…
                  …we will never fly.

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