A Don Rickles Christmas Story

A Don Rickles Christmas Story

December 05, 2019

(Meditation for Communion at Copeland Oaks)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 3:7-18

I probably couldn’t use this illustration in a younger audience, but I’m confident that everyone here will understand.  Do you remember when Don Rickles was invited to speak at Ronald Reagan’s inauguration?  There was some concern about what he would say because, well, because he was Don Rickles, the master of the put-down.  But second, because it was no secret that Don Rickles was a Democrat and had actively campaigned for Ronald Reagan’s opponent.  Maybe because that was back when people had some sense, when you could count on an entertainer to do the right thing, and when politicians had a sense of humor, but he was, ultimately invited, he accepted the invitation, and his roast of the president was absolutely hilarious.

But, imagine if you went to hear an evangelist and were attacked in the way that Don Rickles roasted people.  And then, imagine that the roasts weren’t funny, but instead were deadly serious.  It seems difficult to believe that such a thing would be a good formula to reach people and draw them to any kind of faith in God.  But as weird as that sounds, that is almost exactly how John the Baptist preached to the people who came to see him… at least at first.  In Luke 3:7-18, as John the Baptist proclaims the coming of the Messiah and the coming judgment, but also offers helpful instruction… and hope.

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

I cannot remember a single time when I have taken classes on preaching or public speaking, when anyone thought it was a good idea to begin a message by openly insulting and taunting our listeners.  In fact, I am virtually certain that, unless you were Don Rickles, this is a bad idea most of the time.  But this is exactly what John does.  John begins by calling everyone snakes and talks about judgment and the wrath of God.

According to John, no one can be saved because they were born in the church, born to people who went to church, or because they themselves go to church.  For John, the only real measure of godliness is the fruit that grows out of repentance.

Today, some of us would wonder what the fruit of repentance would look like, and the people in the crowd felt exactly the same way.  John’s answer is to share what you have, with people who don’t have any.  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked.  But even that isn’t enough because some people want to know specifics.  Tax collectors, who were widely considered to be cheats, scoundrels, and enemy collaborators, are told to just do their jobs as honestly as they could.  Soldiers, who were, in fact, the enemy, were told to do their job, not to take money they weren’t entitled to take, and not to accuse innocent people.  It is interesting to note, that although both groups were widely hated because of what they did, John did not advise them to quit or to change jobs, but simply to do them honestly.

John then tells the people of the coming Messiah who will bring judgment as he separates the wheat (which is fruit) from the chaff (which is basically useless).  And he appealed to the people that they should hear the good news of the coming Messiah.

And, although an important part of the Advent message is a message of repentance and the need to get our hearts right before God, but John tells us that repentance is just the first step.  What comes next, producing fruit, is just as critical.  Fruit trees without fruit will be cut down and burned in the fire.  The wheat and the chaff will be separated, and the useless chaff burned in the fire.  John warns everyone, including us, that our purpose is to live a life of fruitfulness, to do our jobs well, but honestly, and to willingly share what we have with those who do not have.

But despite the Don Rickles style delivery, and despite all the talk about repentance, judgement, and burning chaff, John’s message ultimately is a message of hope.  Although John openly condemned the leaders of the church who put on a good show but used their position for their own benefit while abusing the elderly and the poor, John also made it plain that even those who were widely thought to be the enemies of Israel and the enemies of God, could seek repentance, receive forgiveness, and be restored and welcomed into to God’s family.

Don Rickles’ attacks could be absolutely scathing, but they included just enough truth to be funny.  John the Baptist’s delivery was just as, if not more abusive but as angry as offensive as it might have sounded to the rich, it was a beautiful song of welcome, forgiveness, and hope to the poor, the helpless, hopeless, and the outcasts.

As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to that same mission today.  To challenge the establishment, to confront power, to share what we have with those who are in need, and to sing God’s message of hope to the poor, the hungry, the helpless, the hopeless, the outsiders, and the outcasts.

No matter where we are, no matter who we are, that is Good News worth sharing.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio 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.

One Truth, One People, One Mission

One Truth, One People, One Mission

September 22, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1               1 Timothy 2:1-7                     Luke 16:1-13

 

Do you watch the news or read a newspaper, or even just try to keep up with what’s going on by reading an internet news feed of some kind?

No matter how you do it, if you understand the world around you with a Christian worldview, we often cycle between several questions about the insanity that seems to be going on around us.  And, not surprisingly, some of the questions that we ask ourselves are the same questions that the followers of God have been asking themselves for millennia.  Six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Jeremiah watched as his nation was carried off in to captivity and he weeps, laments, and cries out to God with what I see as two common questions (questions that we still often ask today), and one wish that offers direction to us today.  (Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1)

18 You who are my Comforter in sorrow,
    my heart is faint within me.
19 Listen to the cry of my people
    from a land far away:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King no longer there?”

And there is the first question.  Jeremiah says, ‘My people have been carried away into captivity in a faraway land.’ And he asks the question, ‘Has God abandoned us?’  ‘Is God no longer the God in Jerusalem?’

“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
    with their worthless foreign idols?”

And there we find the second question: ‘Or, have we abandoned God?”

20 “The harvest is past,
    the summer has ended,
    and we are not saved.”

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?

9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
    for the slain of my people.

Jeremiah finds uncertainty amid the chaos of war. The northern kingdom of Israel had been captured more than a hundred years earlier and now he watches as Jerusalem and all of Judea is captured and her people carried off into captivity in Babylon.  But in the middle of his uncertainty, Jeremiah cries out that if all he can do is weep, then his wish is that he might be able to weep even more.  This is powerful.  In the middle of Jeremiah’s powerlessness, his wish is that he might at least be able to do more of the little that he is able to do.  Think about that, because we’re going to come back to that idea before we’re finished.

In one sense, this wish, or this prayer, of Jeremiah has some of the same heart as the shrewd manager in the story told by Jesus on Luke 16:1-13 where we hear this:

16:1 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.”

Jesus is quick to point out that wealth, and wealthy people, isn’t evil just because one person has it and another doesn’t.  Instead, Jesus makes the point that wealth isn’t evil at all if that wealth is used to bring people into the kingdom of God.  And to those of us who fall short of being called wealthy, Jesus emphasizes that the goal isn’t to be rich, but to be trustworthy in handling whatever we have been given.  We cannot serve money, but we can use it as a tool to serve God.

At the end of the day, the manager in Jesus’ story didn’t have much once he knew that he was going to lose his job.  He didn’t have much time, he didn’t have much money of his own, he wasn’t strong enough to work in the fields or as a laborer, he didn’t have any notable skills, but he is commended by his master because he was shrewd enough to use what he had to make place for himself in the homes of several of his master’s customers after he lost his job.  And there is that lesson that we heard in Jeremiah, no matter how much or how little you have, you can use what you have.

But to what end?

What is our purpose?  As the people of God and as the followers of Jesus Christ, what should we be doing?

And that is exactly the question that Paul answers in his letter to his protégé and friend, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

2:1 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.

First, Paul says that we should pray, not just for our friends, and not just for the people that agree with us, and not even just for our allies, but that we should pray for everyone.   Paul says that, even in a world where authority was abused and kings were often terrible, cruel, and violent despots, we should even pray for kings and people in positions of authority, so that we might be left alone and live quiet lives, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ without interference.  Next, Paul reminds Timothy that God wants all people to be saved and come to know one, single, truth: There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, Jesus Christ.  Jesus came, not to save the rich, or the poor, or the people of Israel, or church people, or even good people.  Jesus’ mission was to give himself as a ransom for all people.

The Old Testament and New Testament are not different stories, they are the stores from different times about the same truth, the first is about the promise of God and the second is about the fulfillment of that promise.

And so, we remember that there is one truth, that there is one God, and one mediator between God and mankind, Jesus Christ who gave himself as a ransom for all people.  There is only one people, the people of God, who know that the rescue of all humanity flows through Jesus Christ and him only.  And there is only one mission, to do everything in our power, whether we have much or whether we have little, to use everything that we do have, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible.

That means, that like Jeremiah, we should pray that we could do more with what little we have.  That means that like the shrewd manager, we should use whatever we have, whatever we have been given and whatever lies at our disposal, to serve God, and gain friends that can be with us in eternity.

There’s nothing wrong with being rich, if you use your money for God.

Most of us will never be rich.

But you don’t have to be rich.

You just need to be smart and use what you have.

 

 

 


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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.

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

August 25, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10                     Hebrews 12:18-29                 Luke 12:49-56

Have you ever asked someone to do something, and you just knew that they were making excuses to avoid saying “no” to your face?  You know what I mean.  How many times can someone need to wash their hair when you ask them out on a date?  Or be out of town every single time you ask them to help with something?  Look, if you don’t want to go on that next mission trip, just tell me that you don’t want to go, and I’ll quit bothering you about it.  But, can you imagine how many excuses God has heard when he asks his people to do stuff?  And, don’t you think that God knows that we’re just making excuses?  Of course, he does.

And in Jeremiah 1:4-10 we hear exactly that kind of a discussion as God calls Jeremiah to be his prophet in Israel and in Judea and to speak God’s words to humanity.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Some theologians have estimated that Jeremiah could have been as young as twelve when God called him to be his prophet.  Of course, it would seem strange to hear the words of God from the mouth of a twelve-year-old, of course the King would be unwilling, or at least unlikely, to listen to a twelve-year-old tell him what to do.  Jeremiah wasn’t stupid.  He knew that he would have a hard time because of his age, especially as someone who had not trained as a public speaker and who didn’t have any experience speaking in front of anyone, let alone princes and kings.

But God basically just commands Jeremiah to stop making excuses.  God tells him not to say that he is too young, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, to even too afraid.  Instead, just do what God has called you to do, just go to the places that God has called you to go to, and just stop making excuses.  God knows what he is doing and if God has called you, then God still knows what he is doing and has a plan to do it that involves you… even if you’re too  young, or too old, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, or too untrained, or too afraid. 

Even if you are afraid, even if you are all those things, just do it anyway and trust that God knows what he is doing.

Jeremiah was afraid that people wouldn’t listen to him or respect him, and he was right.  He was often disrespected and, for the most part, no one listened to him.  But that wasn’t just because he was young.  The people who have carried God’s messages have often, if not always, had that problem.  Prophets, teachers, preachers, and evangelists of all kinds have had similar experiences. 

Even Jesus.

In Luke 13:10-17 we hear yet another story of when the leaders of the church criticized Jesus for doing the things that God had called him to do simply because they had made “the rules” more important that God.

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So, come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Jesus is criticized for doing work on the Sabbath because he healed someone who had been crippled and suffering for eighteen years.  Holy cow!  Can you imagine the relief that she felt?  Can you imagine the joy?  And can you imagine what was going through her mind as her own church leaders criticized Jesus for doing the thing that brought her that joy?  Can you imagine what she felt as she realized that if Jesus had only followed the rules, he probably would have left town before he could heal her?  And even if not, she would have suffered for at least another day. 

But Jesus has a different answer. 

Jesus’ answer is that it was the teachers and the leaders who were wrong about God.  Yes, God has rules.  Yes, we are expected to obey them.  But those rules should never become so important that they become unchangeable dogma that overwhelms the heart of God.  Yes, we are called to keep a Sabbath and take a day of rest and spend time with God.  Yes, we should avoid work if we’re going to try to get some rest.  But (and this is vitally important) healing is not work.  Freedom is not work.  Mercy, decency, kindness, compassion, and love are not work.  These are the things that reflect the heart of God, and all these things are far more important than some religious doctrine, dogma, or some arbitrary set of rules that were written by human beings.  Just this week I heard stories about churches who criticized people because they were divorced, or remarried, or had tattoos, or showed too much skin, or had a big bosom, or because they accidently took a new medication incorrectly.  As a church, before we ever get too involved in enforcing “the rules,” we would do well to look deeper to see exactly who wrote them and how they compare to the heart of God.

So, with the coming of Jesus, with his death and resurrection, how do we see the world, and the church differently?  How do we respond to the call of God and how is it different than it was when God called Jeremiah?  The Apostle Paul provides at least a partial answer to that question in Hebrews 12:18-29.

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Through the stories that we heard about the ministry of Moses and Joshua, and in the centuries since Moses, and especially with the coming of Jesus, we have learned more about the heart of God.  Paul reminds us that we no longer fear God in the way that you would fear a tyrant as people often did in the time of Moses.  Instead, the city of God is known to be a place of peace and joy.  It is the church and the home of Jesus Christ and all the people who have put their trust in him.  When we come to God, we come to the place where the righteous will be made perfect and where Jesus is the mediator and for all of us through the new covenant in which Jesus has paid for our forgiveness and repaired our relationship with God.

And in that place of peace and forgiveness, we should take care not to say “No” to God.  How can we turn away from a God who has already done so much for us?  We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and so we should be filled with reverence and awe and be thankful for all that we have been given.  We should stop focusing on the minutia, the details, the doctrine, the dogma, and the rules that God never wrote in the first place and instead focus on his heart.  Like Jeremiah, we must stop making excuses and get on with the work of answering God’s call and telling the world about the healing, freedom, mercy, decency, compassion, and love of God.  We are called to do the work of the kingdom of God. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Each of us is called to do something for the kingdom of God.  We may not all be called to be prophets, pastors, or evangelist, but all of us are called…

…to have the heart of God.

 

 

 


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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.

Embrace the Suck

Embrace the Suck

August 18, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 5:1-7                Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2                        Luke 12:49-56

What do you do when everything seems to be going badly?

You know what I mean.  When your plans are falling apart, and nothing is going the way that you expected it to go.  Worse than that, what do you do when the tide, and life itself, seems to have turned against you?

There is a famous phrase that has been incorrectly attributed to several well-known people but whose origins remain unclear that says, “If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going” – Unknown

Simply put, don’t get stuck in a bad place because you gave up trying.  Keep going.  Keep moving forward until you get to a better place.  But, at the same time, as we move forward, and as we find success and a better place, we must be careful not to think that we are responsible for what God has given us.  In both extremes, in both good times and bad, we are often tempted to go our own way.

In Isaiah 5:1-7, God’s prophet tells a story about a lover (who is God) who has built a vineyard (which is Israel), but after all of his work to build, and to care for, the vineyard, the results were not what most of us would hope for.

5:1 I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
    judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
    than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
    why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
    what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
    and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
    and it will be trampled.

Isaiah says that God built his vineyard from scratch by carving it out of a fertile hillside, but no matter how much work he put into it, no matter how he protected it, all that it produced was bad fruit.  Whether it was in good times or bad, Israel chose to go her own way and ignored the God that had done so much for her.  And, as a result, God, after many repeated attempts to improve his vineyard, finally threatens to give up, plow the whole thing under, and allow Israel to be trampled underfoot.

God’s threat carries through the ages.  It is as if he is saying that at some point, he is willing to cut his losses.  And the loss that he is prepared to cut, is us.  But it doesn’t need to be that way.

In Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, we are reminded of many times that God was faithful to his people, and the many times that his people were faithful to God, even when things were not going well.

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God

At first, this sounds like a list of great heroes of the faith and the great stories that we heard where faith allows them, with God’s help, to conquer despite facing great odds.  But then the tone of the story changes dramatically.  Suddenly, with the phrase, “there were others…” we hear about people, who with great faith, were tortured to death, were flogged, laughed at, stoned, sawed in two, and killed with swords.  Still others ran for their lives and wandered in the deserts, or mountains, and lived in caves.  All of these, both victors and victims, are commended for their faith because whether they were victors or victims, neither received everything that they had been promised because God had something better planned for them than they could ever receive on earth.

In the military, there is a phrase that is often used when things are not going well, or when you find yourself in conditions that are unpleasant and likely to stay that way.  The phrase that is used is, “Embrace the suck.”  Now, I appreciate that this is the kind of thing that my mother would find to be inappropriate for a gentlemen to say, and certainly to use in church, but bear with me for a minute and I’ll explain what it means and why it fits here.  “Embrace the suck” can be defined as an encouragement to consciously “accept or appreciate something that is extremely unpleasant but unavoidable for future progression.”  During World War Two, there was a period when the front was moving forward so quickly that logistics and supply could not move forward fast enough to provide the support that their leadership normally requires, but they did manage to keep the forward troops supplied with food and ammunition with what became known as the “Red Ball Express.” 

From August until December of 1944 the Red Ball Express moved as much as 12,500 tons of supplies each day through France, by truck, to forward supply depots, until the port of Antwerp, Belgium was reopened, the rail lines were repaired, and portable fuel pipelines were constructed.  As many as 5,958 vehicles, mostly trucks, were pulled from anywhere they could be found, and they were driven nearly 24 hours a day.  Drivers were pulled from any unit that could spare personnel of any kind, particularly from administration, clerks, and even wounded who were waiting to be reassigned.  These drivers ran almost nonstop for three months and many suffered accidents, and even death, from lack of sleep.  More than 75 percent of the drivers were African Americans.  In order for the Allied armies to continue moving forward and to prevent the German Army from having a chance to regroup and rebuild, the men of the Red Ball Express “embraced the suck,” they accepted that what they were doing was unpleasant, even deadly, but they knew that what they were doing was unavoidable if the Allies were going to win.

In many ways, this is what we see in the list of faithful saints that we read about in Hebrews.  For some of them, things went well, God was with them, and they were victorious.  But not all of them.  Some of them, despite their faith, and despite God being with them, were not victorious, did not win the day, were not rescued, did not have enough to eat, and they suffered, and they died, in the wilderness and at the hands of their enemies.  But, and this is important, they did not give up.  They did not give up their faith, they did not stop believing in God, they “embraced the suck” and recognized that to get where they wanted to go, they had to pass through unpleasantness, pain, suffering, and death, to reach their goal.

And that brings us to an uncomfortable teaching of Jesus from Luke 12:49-56 where Jesus says this:

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

Jesus is clear that not everyone is going to want to follow him, and not everyone is going to want to live their lives for God.  Some people will stand against God and go their own way.  But Jesus also says although sometimes things go well, sometimes the world is going to stink.  Watch for the signs.  Know that the world we live in is in a constant battle between good and evil.  Know that good doesn’t win all the time.  Things don’t always go your way.  Sometimes rescue doesn’t come in time.  Sometimes the good die young and evil thrives.  But knowing that God is in control, and knowing that ultimately, God is going to redeem the world and make everything right again, helps us to understand what is going on around us and keep things in the right perspective.  Like those heroes of the faith, both the victors and the victims, know that we look forward to something that we will never receive on earth.  Know that there is more to life than… life.

When things are going well, enjoy it, and give thanks to God.  But don’t forget to give God the credit so that you don’t begin to think that you are solely responsible for your good fortune and begin to think that you no longer have need of God.  At the same time, when things are not going well, look to God for your strength to stand up for what’s good and what’s right and against injustice and evil.  Sometimes the world stinks.  Or, to put it more crudely, sometimes the world sucks. 

Embrace the suck.

Appreciate that although what you are going through is unpleasant, it is also unavoidable on the way to the future that God has prepared for you.  Don’t give up.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Stay strong in your faith no matter what.

Let us run with perseverance when times are good.

And let us run with perseverance when everything seems to be against you.

You know how the story ends.

You know that victory lies ahead.

Don’t be afraid to “embrace the suck” so that you can get from where you are, to the home, and to the reward, that God has prepared for you.

 

 

 


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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.

Near-Sighted Death

Near-Sighted Death

August 04, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23        Colossians 3:1-11         Luke 12:13-21

 

broken-glassesHow many of you wear glasses or contact lenses?

Of those, are you near-sighted?  Or far-sighted?  If you forget which-is-which, just remember that if you can read without glasses, you are near-sighted and if you can drive a car without glasses, you are far-sighted.

Those of us who wear glasses are constantly aware that driving without our glasses would be dangerous to ourselves and others.  Even the Bureau of Motor Vehicles thinks so and they put a restriction on our driver’s license that declares it to be a legal offense to drive without our glasses.

But although we know that near-sightedness can be dangerous, that isn’t the kind of near-sightedness that we need to talk about.  Although it might be described as near-sightedness, the vision problem that we are warned about in scripture is an entirely different, and far more widespread, problem than the one that can be corrected with eyeglasses.

We begin this morning with a reading from the book of Ecclesiastes, a book that was likely written by the wise King Solomon, but as we read it, we quickly discover that Solomon must have been in a very dark emotional place while he was writing. (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23)

1:2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

1:12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

2:17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

Up until the end of our reading, Solomon is focused entirely on what the world can give him.  The word the he often repeats is, “meaningless” and, in Hebrew, this can be understood to mean something that is empty, futile, or transient.  Solomon knows that everything that he, and his father, have worked so hard to accomplish will one day be left to someone else who may, or may not, care about him, his goals, his values, or his legacy.  But this is what you see when your vision sees no further than your own mortality.  This is a deadly kind of near-sightedness.  But in the verses and chapters beyond these, Solomon begins to understand that finding meaning in this life depends entirely on understanding that there is something, and someone, that is greater than ourselves.  Finding meaning depends on understanding that there is more to life than just sixty or eighty years of this mortal life. 

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus encounters a man who is struggling with the same problem and provides a prescription for the deadly near-sightedness of our fleshly humanity.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Someone in the crowd asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute between him and his brother.  This wouldn’t necessarily be out of line because it’s conceivable that rabbis might occasionally do such things.  But Jesus isn’t interested because he has far more important issues to address than whether, or not, one brother is dividing his father’s estate “fairly.”  The person in the crowd is basically saying that he isn’t getting enough of the money for which his father had worked and toiled.  Worrying about how large your inheritance is, or how much stuff you have, or how much money you have in the bank, is the kind of greedy, near-sighted thinking that Jesus cautions us to guard against.

In Jesus’ parable, a rich man keeps building bigger barns in which to store stuff so that he can continue to accumulate more rather than sharing what he has with the poor or donating even a portion of it to the church, or to any other cause.  Jesus echoes Solomon by saying, once you are dead, “then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  Does your wealth bring you meaning if you’re dead?  Life is meaningless for whomever stores things up for themselves. 

A life of meaning only comes when we share our riches with God and with others.

But besides sharing our stuff with God, how do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, live lives of meaning every day?  In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul explains it this way:

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is more than just sharing our stuff or sharing our money, it’s a lifestyle that is far-sighted instead of near-sighted.  Instead of focusing on our 60 or 80 years of mortal life, focus instead on a life lived for eternity.  Realize that our entire lives on earth are just an instant compared to the forever that comes next.  Realize that people who are different from us, people from the other side of the tracks, from different social and economic circumstances than ours, people who like different music, people that live on the other side of the planet from us, who speak different languages, and who have a different color skin, may well be our next door neighbors, co-workers, mentors, and friends when we move into our new homes in heaven.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is beginning your eternity now, by putting to death those things that are near-sighted and focused on your own personal satisfaction, and pleasure such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Paul says that greed isn’t just bad, but greed is, in fact, idolatry because greed puts money and self in the place of God.  Get rid of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies so that you can become more like the person that God created you to be, and the person that you will one day become.

Setting your sights only on your life on earth is a near-sighted recipe for destruction, meaninglessness, and death.  Instead, we must set our sights on God, on eternity, and a life in heaven that will be lived alongside people of every tribe, every nation, and every language.  To live a life of meaning, we must be a people who are far-sighted.  Because, by seeing the distant and eternal future, we can put today’s problems, fears, social tension, injustice, needs, wants, desires, and everyday ordinary decisions of every kind in their proper perspective.

May we all live deeply meaningful lives that are rich toward God in every way.

 

 

 


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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.

Turning Power Upside-Down

Turning Power Upside-Down

July 07, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 5:1-14                       Luke 10:1-11, 16-20              Galatians 6:1-16

 

Have you ever seen a pyramid?  Most of us haven’t seen one in real life, but almost everyone has probably seen pictures of one.

What I’m thinking about is just the general shape of a pyramid.  Do you have that image in your mind?  That shape, the shape of a pyramid, is often used to describe the way that human beings generally run things whether it’s clubs, or unions, corporations, or governments.  There’s a big base that is filled with ordinary people, laborers and worker bees, and above them are the foremen, then managers, then supervisors, then directors, then vice-presidents, presidents, and at the top is the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO.  In governments there are similar structures and at the top is the mayor, or governor, president, or prime minister.  We see this same style of organization in many of our churches, with lay people, pastors, district superintendents, bishops, and in some denominations, archbishops and popes.

But as common as this structure is, we are making a mistake when we assume that this is the way that God runs things.  While I have seen several business gurus preach that it’s important to “flatten” the pyramid and operate with a simpler, less management intensive, hierarchy, God’s system of administration and government has a way of turning the entire pyramid upside-down.  In 2 Kings 5:1-14, we hear the story of the great military commander Naaman, a powerful man who was second only to the king of Aram, but one who contracted a repulsive and incurable disease.

5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So, Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So, he turned and went off in a rage.13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

It didn’t matter how powerful Naaman was, if word got out that he had leprosy, he was ruined.  People were afraid of lepers.  Leprosy was ultimately fatal, no one knew how it was contracted, and there was no cure.  Lepers lived their lives by begging and were prohibited from being around healthy people.  Certainly, no one would want to be under his command so his ability to lead would be destroyed.  His power was of no use to him against this enemy.  But hope come to him in the strangest way.  Hope comes not from power, or authority, not from the king, but from a slave girl who knows that the prophet of Israel’s God could cure him.  And so, based on the advice of a slave, this powerful man travels to Israel for a cure and then to the door of Elisha’s house.  But here, Naaman’s ego is offended because Elisha doesn’t even come outside to see him and Naaman is told that he should go to the Jordan River, wash seven times, and be cleansed.  And again, his ego is offended because his home country has plenty of rivers, so why should he wash in Israel’s river? 

But he is rescued a second time, by one of his servants who reminds him that he would have gladly undertaken a great quest, or an impossible task, if Elisha had demanded it, so why not swallow his pride and ego and do something simple? 

He does. 

And he is healed.

In God’s calculation, Naaman’s power and authority are useless, it doesn’t matter that he sits near the pinnacle of the pyramid of power.  Instead, his humility and willingness to listen to his servants, and to hear the command of God, however simple, are the things that bring about his healing.

Similarly, even when God gives power to his followers, we are cautioned in how we use it.  In Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples plus seventy-two others, and sends them out to teach and to minister to the people.  And, when they return, they marvel at the power that God has given them, but Jesus refocuses their understanding in an entirely different way.

10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus sends out seventy-two of his followers as missionaries to the communities along the route that he would soon visit.  And when they return, they are thrilled to report that the sick were healed, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and even the demons obey their commands.  But Jesus cautions them all to remember humility.  They aren’t great because they have power.  Jesus tells them that he watched as Satan, the most powerful of God’s angels, was cast out of heaven.  The cause for rejoicing, Jesus says, is not that they have power, but that God has rescued them from sin and death.

Humility is one of the hallmarks of living a Christian life throughout scripture.  We saw in in the story of Elisha and Naaman, we saw it in the story of Jesus and the seventy-two, and we see it as a central message of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 6:1-16) where we hear these words:

6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  8Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Paul’s tone in this passage speaks to us in the twenty-first century as piercingly and compellingly as it did in the first century.  If someone is caught in sin, don’t gloat, and don’t parade them through the streets or through the media to bathe them in shame, but instead restore them… gently.  Instead of watching the people around you so that you can pounce on them the moment that they screw up, keep an eye on yourself so that you won’t be tempted and become the person that screwed up.  Instead of piling guilt and shame on people who make mistakes, or instead of watching the people around you struggle with doubt, struggle with divorce, struggle with poverty, struggle with single parenthood, struggle with being a widow, struggle with losing a parent or for caring for an elderly parent, instead of watching each other struggle, carry each other’s burdens.  Help the people around you who are struggling, share their burden, so that all of us can walk this journey a little easier.  Don’t you dare think that you are all that important, especially when you are not.  Test yourself.  Take a hard look at your actions and see if you are acting the way that Jesus acted, or if you are just acting like a selfish jerk.

Paul says that it’s okay to be proud of yourself, but don’t compare yourself to others.  It’s okay to be proud of what you have accomplished or what you have overcome, but it’s not okay to say that you are better or worse than someone else because of it.  And if you are lucky enough to have been able to study scripture, and to have good teachers to teach you about the word of God and the message of Jesus Christ, then don’t be afraid to show your appreciation to the people who taught you, and, in my understanding, don’t be afraid to share what you have learned with others.  Those who have been taught today become the teachers of tomorrow.

I’m not sure what all was going on in that church in Galatia, but Paul is really fired up.  He continues by reminding everyone that we harvest the same things that we plant.  If we plant the things of the flesh, then we will harvest destruction, but if we plant the things of the Spirit, we will harvest eternal life.  Don’t get tired of doing good.  Don’t give up.  Whenever you can, do good to all the people around you, especially to those who surround you in your community of faith because, hopefully, those are the same people that are walking with you and sharing your burdens.

Both in the first century and in the twenty-first centuries, the church was, and is, dealing with people who are using the things of the flesh, things like money, power, sex, drugs, pleasure, and influence to impress one another.  Knowing that, Paul points out that there are people who are trying to use those same tools to impress people and persuade them to come around to their way of thinking, and the only reason that they are doing so, is so that they can avoid being persecuted or discriminated against for being Christian.  While these influential people were far from perfect themselves, they wanted to persuade others to follow them so that they could brag about how many they persuaded.  To them, the followers of Jesus Christ were only being used as poker chips to keep score. 

Instead, Paul insists that the only thing that we, as Christians, ought to brag about is the cross of Jesus.  None of the things that the world uses to brag about, and impress people are worth anything today, nor will they be worth anything on the day of judgement.  The only thing that is worth anything, is the work that Jesus is doing in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the day, the spiritual world doesn’t look anything at all like a pyramid.  Power and influence aren’t important.  Money, and pleasure aren’t worth bragging about.  They pyramid isn’t just turned upside down by Jesus Christ, it’s completely flattened.  There’s Jesus… and then there’s us.  And we aren’t under him, because at the moment we put our faith in him, we were adopted by God as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

The only thing we have to impress people… is Jesus.

The only thing we have to brag about… is Jesus.

The goal isn’t to become rich, and powerful, to climb to the top of the pyramid, and live a life that is full of pleasure and influence.

The goal is to discover humility.  The goal is to live, and to love,…

            …like Jesus.

 

 

 


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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.

Popular? Or Faithful?

Popular? Or Faithful?

June 23, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 18:20-39                   Luke 7:1-10                Galatians 1:1-12

 

Martin Luther had seen rampant abuse in the way that the church raised money and preached that both the church and the pope had claimed powers that were not to be found anywhere in scripture.  Threatened with excommunication and imprisonment, Luther was tried for heresy against the church for the things that he had written and preached regarding the corruption of the church and the powers wielded by the pope.  He stood trial and defended himself on April 16 – 17, 1521 and on the 17th famously concluded his arguments by saying, “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest evidence…I cannot and will not retract, for we must never act contrary to our conscience… Here I stand. God help me! Amen!”

In 1932, in a rigged election, key positions in the German Lutheran Church were won by Nazi supporters and, shortly afterwards, official church rules were changed in order to remove all pastors and church officials of Jewish descent.  As a result, many pastors left the church and joined together in opposition of the Nazified church in what would be known as the “Confessing Church” which was increasingly persecuted by the growing Nazi regime.  One of those Lutheran pastors, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stood with those in the confessing church because, having lived and taught alongside the poor in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Bonhoeffer believed that the church, and its people, had to stand against social injustice.  Ultimately, Bonhoeffer’s participation in the Confessing Church and his opposition to the Nazis and the Hitler cult brought about his arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution.

Today, the pressures that we face are not likely to be nearly so life threatening, but we struggle all the same.  Every day, the church and its people are tempted to agree with government policies, elected officials, and partisan party platforms that stand in opposition to the teaching of scripture.  And, as the followers of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to choose whether we want to risk disagreeing with our friends, family members, fellow union members, or with political parties that we have identified with for decades or if we will stand up for what we know to be right.

This is deep stuff so, before we dive into that dark water, let’s go back and look at some of our history.  Let’s begin in 1 Kings 18:20-39, where we find Elijah standing alone against the King of Israel, all the people, and four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal whose worship was officially encouraged (if not required), and which had become the predominant religion of Israel.

20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs [about 24 pounds] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, were worshippers of the god Baal and they both encouraged, and enforced, Baal worship among the people of Israel.  Under their rule, the priests and prophets of the God of Israel were hunted down and killed.  Even Elijah had lived in hiding for many years in fear of the king and his armies.  But now was a time for a showdown.  And in that showdown, God demonstrates, in an inescapably obvious way, that there is only one God in Israel.  In answer to Elijah’s simple prayer, fire falls from the sky and consumes the sacrifice, the wood, twelve large jars full of water, the rocks, and even the dirt under the altar.

Clearly God wins.

But what about Elijah?  We remember this story not only because of the great power that God displayed on that day, but because of the courage that we witness in Elijah.  Not only was it unpopular to stand against Ahab and Jezebel, it was dangerous and positively life-threatening.  By this time, Elijah believes that he is the only prophet left in all of Israel (although we learn that God has hidden others as well), and he is afraid for his life, but he still stands up for his God, for his faith, and for what is right regardless of the risks.

And we see something similar, on both sides, in the story of a Roman centurion who had a sick servant in Luke 7:1-10.

7:1 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

The elders of the Jews recommended that Jesus meet with the centurion because he had come to love Israel and had provided the funds to build a synagogue.  It seems that he had become sympathetic to the Jewish faith though I suspect that he did not become a convert to Judaism.  It was probably not popular for a Roman to be so friendly with the Jews.  It seems likely that his Roman countrymen would look down on this kind of fraternizing, and just being a Roman would make you unpopular among most Jews.  Jesus would have faced this same criticism among the Jews for meeting with a Roman, but he consents to go anyway.  Likewise, I’m sure that there was criticism for healing a Roman servant, but Jesus not only did so, he praises the centurion by saying that he had never seen anyone, in all of Israel, Jewish or not, that had such great faith.

Doing such things, and saying such things, did not make Jesus popular.

In Galatians 1:1-12, Paul explains it this way:

1:1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

I completely understand why we do what we do.  We really aren’t that different than the Israelites in the time of Elijah and King Ahab.

We all want people to like us.  We want to be safe.

But being popular has never been the goal of a follower of God or a believer in Jesus Christ.

As Paul said, we aren’t trying to win the approval of human beings, we should be seeking the approval of God.

We must stand up for what is right and stand against what is wrong even when it’s “our” political party, our friends, or our family that’s wrong. 

We must choose Jesus.  Even when it’s unpopular.  Even when it’s dangerous.  Even when it’s life-threatening.

Do what’s right.

Keep the faith.

Do the things that God has called us to do.

Always.

 

 

 


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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.