Leaders: Shepherds or Thieves?

Leaders: Shepherds or Thieves?

May 10, 2020*

Mother’s Day

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 10:1-10              Acts 2:42-47                  1 Peter 2:19-25

 

There is a common theme in the movies, in literature, and even in computer hacking that should sound familiar.  If you can impersonate one of your enemy’s leaders well enough, you can fool them into giving you all kinds of information.  And you might even be able to take control of something valuable.  Computer hackers have been known to call in to the information technology or computer department at a company headquarters pretending to be the CEO, or the president, or some other corporate official, act as if they forgot their password, and try to convince someone to either give them the password over the phone or reset their password in a way that gives the hacker access to the company computer network with the access of that corporate officer.  Likewise, we’ve all seen movies where someone masquerades as a military general, or someone else in order to steal something, to rescue someone, or to save the world or something. 

 

In short, if you pretend to be someone’s leader, and can fool them well enough, long enough, you can do a lot of damage and can steal almost anything you want.  And as familiar as that theme is to us in literature, in movies, and real life, it ought to make sense when we read almost that same story in scripture, and we do in John 10:1-10, when Jesus accuses Israel’s Pharisees of impersonating real leadership.

 

10:1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.

 

Jesus’ accusation is that the leaders of Israel are only masquerading as leaders so that they can steal what they want, destroy what they want, and kill whomever they want, so that they can benefit themselves rather than offer leadership that genuinely cares for the people for whom they are responsible in the way that a true shepherd cares for their sheep.  Jesus explains that this is why many people do not follow the example of the Pharisees.  It is because the people, also known as the sheep, are smart enough, and sensitive enough to the calling of God, to know that these are not true shepherds.  Likewise, this explains the popularity that Jesus has, because the people recognize the care of the true shepherd in him.

 

But recognizing Jesus as our shepherd, and as the true shepherd of God, has implications for every one of us not only in what we believe, but in how we act and how we respond to the actions of others.  In 1 Peter 2:19-25, the Apostle Peter says this:

 

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

 

That means that, as followers of the true shepherd, we are called to do what is right, and what is best for everyone, regardless of the cost (much like many of our Mother’s sacrificed what they wanted so that we could have the things the we needed and wanted).  There is, of course, no commendation if we are punished for doing wrong, but we our actions are commendable before God if we are punished for doing what is right.  Because we were once lost, and because we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, we are called to be like him and to do what is right regardless of what it costs.

 

Well that sounds nice, and it certainly applies to those of us who find ourselves in leadership, but what does it mean otherwise?  Most of us are not being persecuted for our faith.  What does it look like to bear the cost of doing what’s right?  How does doing what is right apply to the ordinary business of day-to-day living for ordinary people?  And Luke offers an answer to that question in Acts 2:42-47 where he says:

 

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

Simply put, the followers of Jesus Christ made it a habit to be together, to share meals together, to share the stories of what they had seen God do in their lives, in the lives of the apostles, and in the lives of others.  And they not only shared these things, they shared all that they had.  They used what they had to meet the needs of others, not just the needs of those who belonged, but the needs of “anyone who had need.”  I know most of our parents taught us to share, but this is different.  This takes sharing to another level.  This kind of sharing costs something.  The followers of Jesus Christ sold some of the things that they had, and they sold off property, just so that they could give it away and care for those in need.  They invited people with nothing to eat, to eat with them, in their homes because their faith was sincere. 

 

Clearly, this goes far beyond giving from our excess, or even giving a tithe, or a tenth, to the church.  This was truly sacrificial, costly, giving.  But the end result was that their hearts were glad, they praised God, the people of their communities noticed what they were doing and universally thought well of them, and God blessed what they were doing.  “The Lord added to their number… daily… those who were being saved.”

 

As we read scripture, both today and any other day, we often find that we are both sheep and shepherd.  We are sheep because we follow Jesus as our shepherd, but whenever we have leadership over others, whether that is over employees at work, over students at school, over our children at home, over volunteers at church, or anywhere else, we are called to lead like Jesus.  Because Jesus sacrificed to do what was right, we are called to lead sacrificially as he did.  We must do what is right, and good, for those under us, and those around us, even when doing what is right costs us something.  We are called to be loving, …and giving, …and caring, even when doing so costs us something. 

 

Because, in the end, Jesus says that there are only two kinds of leaders… shepherds… and thieves.

 

We are surrounded by examples.  As we open our newspapers and watch the evening news it often isn’t difficult to find people in positions of leadership that seem to use their authority to enrich themselves and get what they want regardless of who gets hurt.  But occasionally, we see people who stand out in stark contrast to that kind of leader.  Occasionally, we see people who are willing to take a stand for what’s right.  To stand up for the people that work for them or for the people they represent.  Unfortunately, that kind of selfless leadership shouldn’t be so unusual.  It’s something that every follower of Jesus Christ has been called to do.

 

We each get to choose for ourselves, every day, what kind of leader we will be.

 

Will we be shepherds? 

 

Or will we be thieves?

 

It shouldn’t be that hard, but I pray that we will all choose wisely.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


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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.

The Urgency of the Truth

The Urgency of the Truth

April 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Luke 24:13-35                        Acts 2:14a, 36-41                   1 Peter 1:17-23

 

 

Have you ever watched any disaster movies?

 

In just about every one of them, there is either a scientist that knows the truth and is trying to sound the alarm to a world that isn’t listening, or there is someone who has discovered the truth about what is going on and there is a rush to get that information to important decision makers or to the news media.  The message in both cases is clear, lives can be saved if only the truth were known.  That was the message in San Andreas with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and in “Dante’s Peak” with Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, “2012” with John Cusack and Woody Harrelson, “Independence Day” with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, and a great many others and all too often that is how things happen in real life as well. 

 

Lives can be saved if only the truth were known.

 

In the world’s current struggle with the Coronavirus pandemic, that’s as true in real life today as it is in the movies and the same has been true throughout history.  The more we know, the better decisions we can make, and sometimes that knowledge saves lives.  And it is that principle that we see in action in the story of the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 which says:

 

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

 

In this story, two followers of Jesus are walking home from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus seven miles away.  While they were walking, they were joined by a third man who, at the time, they did not realize was Jesus.  As they walked, Jesus explained all the prophecies of the Old Testament about the messiah and how the scriptures had, centuries earlier, told of his death, burial, and resurrection.  But when they arrived in their village, Jesus continued as if he would continue walking down the road and the two men urged him to stay with them overnight instead.  That part is well explained in the story, but it is important for us to consider why they made this offer to someone they had only just met, and why this offer, and their urgency in making it, is important to the story.

 

Remember that in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, one man, who was walking alone, was attacked by bandits, stripped, beaten, and robbed.  When Jesus told that story, everyone could easily grasp its significance because those sorts of things happened with some regularity.  The trails and paths between towns were often narrow, dark, and passed through hills or mountains where you could easily misstep, and fall to your death, and where bandits could, and did, easily lay in wait for their victims.  Walking those paths, at night, was incredibly dangerous, and doing so alone was doubly dangerous.  Sensible people travelled in groups and only in daylight.  And so, even though these two men had not recognized Jesus, and thought him to be a stranger, they urged him to stay the night with them because, even as a stranger, they cared about his well-being.  It was just too dangerous to walk the road at night.

 

But then, as he breaks bread and give thanks to God, these followers of Jesus realize that it is he who is with them and who has been walking with them for the last few hours.  It is at that moment that they realize the truth and, our story tells us, that they immediately got up and left for Jerusalem… just the two of them… in the dark.

 

But why was it that, only moments earlier, they considered it so dangerous to be out at night that they invited a total stranger to spend the night, but suddenly rush out into the night themselves?

 

And the only reasonable answer is that the information that they had just learned was a matter of life and death.  They suddenly realized the incredible urgency of the truth.  Lives would be saved if only the truth were known.  And so, ignoring the danger, these two followers of Jesus rush out into the night so that they could return to Jerusalem, find the disciples, and tell them what had happened to them.

Like the men who walked the Emmaus road, the disciples also had to decide what to do with this truth and Peter emphasizes the conclusions of the gathered disciples in his summary statement at the end of his speech in Acts 2:14a, 36-41.

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

 

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

 

Peter’s summary begins, as it often does, with the word, “therefore.”   After all that they have seen, and all that they have heard, the disciples now boldly step into the public arena, at the risk of their lives, and conclude that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah.  With that conclusion, then it is imperative that every brother, sister, Israelite, Gentile, and anyone else be urged to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and in order to receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.  These words were not just an encouragement, but a warning.  Peter begged and pleaded with the people to hear this message because it was a matter of life and death.

 

We have often discussed the dramatic transformation of the Apostle Peter and the other disciples from fearful and afraid to people of great faith who were bold and courageous, and one critical piece of this is that they considered the news about Jesus Christ to literally be a matter of life and death.  There was and incredible urgency to the truth.

 

 Lives could be saved only if the truth were known.

 

And so, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus, risk their lives to tell as many people as possible about the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

But what about us?

 

Why is any of this important to us today?

 

And Peter explains that in his letter to the church in 1 Peter 1:17-23 where he says:

 

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.   23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

 

Peter reminds us that the Good News of Jesus Christ is still a matter of life and death.  The life that we had before we chose to follow Jesus was empty and led only to death.  But Jesus rescued us from death invited us into his house and gave us an everlasting life.  Our lives were saved because we heard the truth and that means that our lives were not only saved, they were changed.  Peter says that we are different because of what we know.  We no longer “fit in” the way that we used to.  And so, rather than blending in and acting as if nothing ever happened, we live differently than everyone else.  Rather than living as if we belong here, and as if we will be a part of this nation, and a part of this world, forever, instead we live as foreigners who know that this country, and this world, is not our home.  We do not belong here, and one day we will return to our true home in the only nation that is truly just, good, and loving.

 

But until then, we are just like all those scientists in all those disaster movies.  We know how the story ends.  We know the disaster that awaits people who are unprepared. 
We know that…

 

…Lives can be saved if only the truth were known.

 

And so, until it is our time to return to our eternal home, it is our job, just like the people in the movies, to rescue as many people as possible simply by spreading the Good News and sharing the truth with them.  Like the scientists in the movies, we know that not everyone is going to listen.  Not everyone will believe that there is an earthquake, or a volcano, or an alien invasion. Not everyone will believe that God’s judgement is coming.  But just like in the movies, the people who listen can be saved if the truth can be told. 

 

May we all have the courage to share the Good News, to tell the truth to everyone who will listen, and save as many lives as we can.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


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


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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.

When Will Church go Back to Normal?

Since both our governor and the President of the United States have been making a lot of noise about restarting the economy, and “getting back to normal,” I’m certain that many of us are wondering when church, and specifically, Sunday worship, will get back to normal.  It’s a great question, and it’s one that I have spent time thinking about, and one that has generated considerable discussion among my Methodist and other clergy colleagues.

And the answer is… it depends.

First, it depends on how quickly the rules are relaxed, both by our various levels of government and by our bishop.  But second, it also depends on how you define “normal.”  As to the first part, Governor DeWine has already made it clear that he intends to find a way forward with a “phased” restart which will insist that reopening businesses follow the safety protocols that have already been developed and put in practice by those essential businesses that have remained open.

What I think that will mean to the church, is that the restart will, at first, open things up to small groups of five or ten and then only if those group can insure a six-foot spacing between people.  It may also insist that meetings be kept under an hour.  Obviously, those guidelines will preclude worship, but we might be able to restart Bible studies, Threads of Love, or small Sunday school classes.  A little farther down that road, when larger groups are permitted, we might be able to worship in our sanctuary, but there will still be some significant changes.  We will have to be deliberate in spreading out across the sanctuary so assigned seating might be necessary.  We won’t want to shake hands, hug, or pass a plate from hand-to-hand, so our greetings and offering will look different.  Communion is going to be different too, and I have no idea how we will manage it just yet.  Similarly, it won’t be safe for the choir to squeeze into the choir loft, or the choir room, together so either we won’t see the choir for a while or, Lew and the choir will need to get a little “creative” in how they arrange themselves.  I honestly don’t know yet what that might look like.

And, more than that, any of our members and friends who are in a “vulnerable population” may well want to wait even longer.  Like it or not, gathering in groups is going to be risky, and potentially life threatening, until a vaccine is proven to be safe and becomes widely available.  That means that even though the economy restarts, people who are older, immune suppressed, have heart disease, asthma, or some other “underlying medical condition” may well want to stay home and join us in worship over the internet for some time to come.  That means that we should, and already are, thinking about how we can record, or livestream, our worship service over the internet even after we return to our sanctuary.

Altogether, the only thing that will be “normal” for a while will be change.  Things are going to be different, and the “normal” that we are used to, and the “normal” that we’ve seen for the last hundred years or so, is probably not going to return for at least twelve months.   And twelve months might easily turn intosomething like thirty-six months.  And, at some point, we might just have to accept that the old “normal” isn’t ever coming back and just get used to a new normal.

But no matter what normal ends up looking like, God hasn’t changed.  Our faith hasn’t changed.  Our mission hasn’t changed.  We are still the church.  We are still called to carry out the mission of the Kingdom and to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  We will still go about doing the same work that we have always done.  How we go about doing that work might change a little, and that’s okay.  This is a pivot point in history.  The church has adapted to change through the Renaissance, through the Industrial Revolution, through the changes brought about by steam ships, railroads, electricity, automobiles, and the internet, and we will adapt to whatever new things lie in store for us today and in the future.

Take heart.  Have courage.

God is with us.

But hold on to your hat, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

 

 

 


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Fear and Arrogance (Part 1) – Fear Gives Poor Advice

Fear and Arrogance

Part 1: Fear Gives Poor Advice

March 22, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Samuel 16:1-13                   John 9:1-41               

 

 

If you are a fan of scary movies, there is one thing that nearly every movie, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, to Jaws, to Halloween and Friday the 13th to the movies of the present day all seem to have in common.  And the thing that they have in common is this: People who are afraid, make poor choices.  That’s why we’re always shouting at the screen “Don’t go back in the house!”  We saw it in Germany as an entire nation allowed the Nazi’s to commit unconscionable acts simply because the people were too afraid to speak up.  In fact, we need look no further that our local grocery store shelves as we’ve entered a time of fear caused by the arrival of the Corona virus.  People are rushing to the grocery stores, and department stores, and even Amazon.com to buy things for which they have no reasonable need.  People are buying food that will certainly spoil before they can eat it all, cases upon cases of water that comes out of kitchen faucet of nearly every home, and enough toilet paper to supply an average college dormitory for a year.  Why?

 

Because fear gives poor advice.

 

None of these things make any sense because people aren’t thinking logically, rationally, or sensibly, they are simply reacting out of irrational fear.  It’s a lot like a cattle stampede.  One cow gets stung by a bee and started running, and the rest of the herd starts running because everyone else was running.

 

And, although sociologists will be talking about our current crisis for generations, fear certainly isn’t anything new.  In 1 Samuel 16:1-13, we hear the story of how God sent his prophet Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel because of the disobedience of King Saul.  And, in that story, we see both the prophet, David’s father Jesse, and the elders of Bethlehem act out of fear before they listen and respond to the calling of God.

 

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

 

Even before Samuel leaves home, he is already worried.  Samuel is afraid that if he obeys God, and if King Saul hears about what he is doing, Saul will be angry enough to kill him.  But God sends Samuel anyway.

 

Once Samuel arrives, the elders of the town of Bethlehem tremble when they meet him, and they aren’t even sure that they want to let him in, because the prophets of God had a reputation for bringing bad news, curses, and death.  And so, the elders (and this probably included Jesse) won’t let Samuel in the door until they are reassured that Samuel has come in peace.

 

But Samuel is deceived, one son after another, simply because he assumes that God is seeing the same things that he sees.  Samuel sees young men who are tall, handsome, physically fit, and seem like the kind of men that would look good as king.  In fact, David’s own father did the same thing. When Samuel arrives and invites his family to the sacrifice.  Everyone simply assumes that the youngest son, the kid who got left in the fields watching the sheep, isn’t worth anyone’s time and certainly won’t be missed.  It isn’t until God fails to select anyone that Samuel finally asks, “Are these all the sons you have?”  And then declares that they would not sit down to eat until that youngest son, the one everyone was prepared to ignore, finally arrives.  And that son, of course, turns out to be David, the greatest king in the entire history of Israel.

 

During our Bible study this week we talked about how Simon Peter swore that he would stand by Jesus even if he was arrested and put to death.  But when push came to shove, he denied even knowing Jesus not once, but three times.  Why?  Fear.

 

And so, as we shelter in place, and practice “social distancing” in the face of the Coronavirus outbreak, this message from scripture seems especially relevant.  We must not act out of fear because fear gives poor advice.  Fear told King Saul to disobey God (and he listened).  Fear told the prophet Samuel not to even leave the house to anoint David as God’s new king (but he didn’t listen).  Fear told Jesse and the elders of Bethlehem not to even let Samuel in the door, and it told Simon Peter to save his skin and betray Jesus.

 

Instead of listening to our fears, we are reminded to put our faith and trust in God.  God still cares.  God still loves you.  We will get through this difficult time if we listen to, and trust, God and we behave rationally, carefully, and behave prudently.

 

Fear says that it’s not safe to trust God.

Fear says that God will demand too much from you.

Fear says that you might miss out on something else if you follow God.

Fear says that you need to hold back on God so that you can stay in control.

Fear says that you need a year’s supply of toilet paper and ten gallons of hand sanitizer.

 

But fear is a liar.

 

Fear gives poor advice.

 

And so, as we watch the latest news and practice social distancing, let us also remember the words that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome and the words of the Jesus’ beloved disciple John.

 

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

 

And finally, in this time of uncertainty, I want you to hear God’s words from the prophet Isaiah:

 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

 

Although these are uncertain, and even frightening times…

 

Be encouraged.

 

Don’t be afraid.

 

God still cares.

 

God still loves you.

 

God is in control.

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 


You can find the livestream of this message here: https://youtu.be/MmS9yA5Sfas

To continue to Part 2, click here: https://pastorpartridge.com/2020/03/23/2689/


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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.

The Unloving Jesus

The Unloving Jesus

February 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

What are the things that you hear people say about God?

Got is great, God is Good, God is love?  Occasionally people try to draw some kind of line between an “Old Testament God” and a “New Testament God” because the God of the Old Testament sometimes sounds mean and vindictive and we have a hard time connecting God’s actions in the Old Testament, with the God that we see in the New Testament.  The problem is that we can’t separate the two and so we are compelled to struggle with our understanding of God so that both things are true.

But the same thing happens with Jesus.

What are the things that you hear people say about Jesus?

They say that Jesus was loving, and caring, and inviting.  Jesus cared for people that the church had forgotten or had thrown out or cast aside.  Jesus welcomed the outsiders and the strangers and all kinds of other people.  And all those things are true.  But it is also important to remember that Jesus was disliked, and even hated by many people of his own time.  In the first century, as well as our twenty-first century, Jesus’ own words sometime sound hurtful, hateful, unloving, unbending, inflexible, and radically conservative.

These words of Jesus can be so difficult to understand, that they are often just set aside or unread because we have a hard time making them “fit” with the Jesus that was loving and compassionate.  But, like God, both of these things are true, and if we want to be honest, we need to wrestle with them and try to understand the whole person of Jesus and not some caricature of Jesus that fits some narrative that we desperately want to be true.

That’s a lot to digest, but I hope these things will become a little clearer as we study together.

Let’s begin this morning by reading the choice that God sets in front of the nation of Israel as Moses (now 120 years old) prepared to hand over his leadership to Joshua.  (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

 

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

 

While at first glance, this might sound harsh, God is giving the people the freedom to choose.  Everyone is welcome to choose for themselves whether or not they want to follow God but, God also makes it clear that there is a cost associated with choosing to walk away from him.  Choosing God is the same as choosing life and choosing to walk away is the same as choosing death and destruction.  God doesn’t threaten that he will destroy them, but simply explains that without his protection they would certainly be destroyed.  With that knowledge, the people were free to choose, and we remain free to make that same choice today.  It isn’t unloving to tell the truth.  It’s the same as when we tell children who can’t swim, not to go in the deep end of the pool.  Without Mom, or Dad, or another strong swimmer, going in the deep end alone will not end well.  And that is the core of what God is saying.  It isn’t mean, it’s just the truth.

 

And that’s the same thing that is going on in Matthew 5:21-37 as Jesus interprets scripture as it applies to several common cultural standards and everyday human interactions.  Jesus said,

 

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

 

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

 

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

 

The things that he said here, are the kind of things that made the Pharisees, the Sadducees and other leaders of Israel want Jesus to go away… forever.  Jesus starts with something that everyone can agree on, “anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.”  That isn’t the least bit controversial, but then Jesus says that if you call someone a fool, or use an Aramaic term of contempt like “Raca” which, in English could be understood as something like when Yosemite Sam calls Bugs Bunny an “Idjit” and is certainly similar to many of the insults that we see online being traded between Democrats and Republicans, then Jesus says that using these terms to insult people puts us in danger of condemnation and hell.  This matter is so serious that Jesus recommends meeting with your friends and reconciling with them before you walk into church and make an offering to God and settle your disputes before they go to court.

 

That’s hard.  And like us, the people who heard it had a hard time accepting it.  Surely God was more forgiving, loving, and tolerant than that, wasn’t he?  But then, rather than backing off, Jesus turns up the hear another notch by talking about adultery.  Jesus says that just looking at a person of the opposite sex lustfully qualifies as adultery and earns the condemnation of God.  Worse yet, Jesus continues to throw coal on the fire by taking up the issue of divorce.  At the time, much like today, divorce was relatively common.  We know, historically, that the rabbis of the day accepted that divorce was normal but argued between themselves over what offense was needed to justify it.  All agreed that infidelity qualified, but virtually all of them said that offenses far less serious were enough and some rabbis taught that something as minor as burning breakfast was enough to qualify.  But Jesus’s evaluation was far stricter than any of the rabbis of the day.  When Jesus steps into the middle of this argument, he says that nothing short of infidelity was acceptable.  That meant that Jesus was labelling nearly everyone who had been divorced, or who had married a divorced person, which had to be a sizable percentage of the population, including some of the church leadership, as adulterers. 

 

This didn’t win Jesus any friends, and it was language like this that made the leaders of the church want Jesus dead.  In our twenty-first century world, the people on social media would be screaming that Jesus was an inflexible, unloving, unforgiving, ultra-conservative hater.

 

Except that we know he wasn’t.  So how are we to make sense of all that?

 

Ultimately, it’s the same as what we saw in Deuteronomy.

 

Jesus doesn’t warn us about God’s condemnation because he is mean, or unloving but because he knows how high God’s standards and expectations really are.  He doesn’t speak this way because he hates us, but because he, of all people, understands the truth.  It’s just like a lifeguard telling us that there are dangerous riptides and it isn’t safe to go in the water.  The lifeguard doesn’t hate you.  He is aware that you travelled a long distance to be there and had high hopes for a pleasant swim in the ocean.  But he hopes that despite your disappointment in not being able to swim at the beach, the truth will save your life. 

 

The truth might hurt, but it isn’t meant to be hurtful.

 

People got upset when Jesus said that they were murderers, adulterers and sinners.  They were hurt and angry, and some of them decided that they wanted him dead.  But Jesus didn’t say those things to hurt them.  Jesus said those things to save them and hoped that, rather than watering down the word of God and deciding that sin wasn’t really sin, if people were equipped with a better understanding of God’s high standards, they also understand their need for forgiveness and their need for a savior.

 

Jesus says that we should be so dedicated to the truth, that we should not ever need to swear an oath by God, or by heaven, or on the Bible, or on your mother, or even on the hair of your own head.  You should be so committed to the truth that everyone knows that ‘yes’ means yes and ‘no’ mean no.

 

But we aren’t just called to tell the truth, we are called to be mature disciples of the truth and that means something about how we tell the truth.  In Ephesians 4:15, Paul says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  While we are called to be disciples of, and bearers of, God’s truth, as mature disciples, we must learn to communicate that truth as lovingly as we possibly can.  Not only is that one of the great challenges of Christianity in the twenty-first century, it is often something that Christians are often bad at doing.  In fact, I think that is one of the principle things that has led to the current division in our United Methodist denomination.  Although many of us disagree on what the truth is, I don’t think that’s the problem.  The church has survived disagreements for millennia.  The problem is that somewhere along the line, both sides seem to have abandoned any attempt to speak the truth in a truly loving way.  Regardless of our interpretation of scripture, if we abandon love, no one will ever listen to the message of truth that we carry.

 

No matter how hard it was to hear, and no matter how angry it might have made some of his listeners, Jesus never abandoned the truth, and he never stopped telling the truth to the people around him.  No matter how upset people might get, the lifeguard is not going to stop warning people about the riptides that can kill them.  Jesus knew how dangerous sin really is, and he never stopped warning people about their need for forgiveness.  But, at the same time, Jesus never stopped showing genuine love and concern for the people around him. 

 

Jesus always told the truth, but he told the truth as lovingly as possible.

 

And we must do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

The God of Fools

The God of Fools

February 02, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Micah 6:1-8                            Matthew 5:1-12                                 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

 

 

Do you believe in Global Warming?

 

I’m not looking to start an argument, but this is a common sort of discussion going on in our culture that can help us to understand a biblical principle, as well as one of the more difficult teachings of the Apostle Paul. 

 

Let me explain.  If a person is unconvinced that Global Warming, or Global Climate Change, or at least Anthropogenic Global Warming (which is the belief that not only is the climate changing, but that human activity is primarily at fault) then that unconvinced person looks at all the hysteria and handwringing by those who are convinced, and he (or she) believes that they are all fools.  Conversely, those who have been convinced that these ideas are true, believes that anyone who remains unconvinced, or skeptical, is a “climate denier” or, in other words, a fool.

 

It is this modern blindness to the opinion of others that helps us to understand that same principle applied in the world of theology.  But, before we get to that, let’s begin by looking at a lawsuit brought by God, against the people of God who claim to be his worshippers and followers.  We find this language of lawsuits, witnesses, and courtrooms in Micah 6:1-8, where we hear these words:

 

6:1 Listen to what the Lord says:

“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.

“Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.

“My people, what have I done to you?
    How have I burdened you? Answer me.
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

 

Using legal language that would have been familiar to the people of the ancient world, God declares that he is taking them to court to lodge charges against them.  In that accusation, God presents examples and evidence of his faithfulness to his people and in doing so, suggests that he is charging them with unfaithfulness.  But, if God believes that his people are disobedient and unfaithful, even when they appear to be following the laws of Moses, bringing sacrifices, and worshipping in the Temple in Jerusalem, then what is it that God wants from them?  In fact, Micah, speaking for God, asks that question three times saying, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?” and then later asking, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?” and finally wondering, “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

 

But in the end, the answer is simple.  Micah says, God “has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

 

Although the people of Israel were going through the motions of worship, and although from outward appearances they seemed to keep the commands of God, they had forgotten the underlying principles of justice, mercy, and humility and those were the things that God really wanted from them, and what he had modelled for them, in the first place.

 

And, seven hundred or so years later, when Jesus stands up to preach a sermon that we now remember as the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, we hear that same message of justice, mercy, and humility.

 

5:1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

 

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Here, we run into the same problem that the people of the Old Testament had.  While the principle that we heard in Micah, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” sounds entirely reasonable, the application, as described by Jesus, is a lot more difficult.  If Jesus is to be believed, and since we are his followers and name ourselves after him, we certainly should, then we really need to wrestle with some of this teaching.

 

Blessed are those who mourn, sounds wonderful, but from there on, they get harder.  In the world in which Jesus lived, and in ours twenty centuries later, the meek don’t typically inherit anything.  The humble and the meek usually get run over by the bold selfish narcissists.  In the business world, the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness seem to get trampled by the people who hunger and thirst for money, pleasure, and power.   While our culture gives lip service to mercy, we can rarely find it in politics or commerce, and acts of mercy get handed off to institutions of charity and religion.  And, while peacemakers can occasionally get some good press, it is the warmongers who are more commonly found in the halls of government, wield all the influence, and make all the money.  And by golly, you would be hard pressed to find anyone at all who would welcome persecution, insults, or false accusations, let alone rejoice in them.

 

In the end, what Jesus is preaching, and what God wants from us, is to live a life that is entirely contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom.  And that, leads us to what Paul is trying to communicate as he writes to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, where he says:

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

 

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

 

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

 

26Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

 

In an age of enlightenment and widespread higher education, and in a world where people of faith are regularly accused of being “anti-science” or even “anti-education,” passages like this can be frustratingly difficult to understand.  What are we supposed to think when we hear phrases like “the message of the cross is foolishness” and “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”?  Are we supposed to understand that God really wants his followers to be foolish and stupid?

 

Of course not.

 

Remember that scripture has an entire genre that we refer to as the Wisdom books.  Five books of the Old Testament, including Psalms and Proverbs, and two books of the Apocrypha are all parts of the wisdom literature that was handed down to us by the people of Israel.  The writer of Psalms declares that wisdom was present with God at the creation of the universe, and Matthew declares that the wisdom of Jesus was greater than the wisdom of Solomon.  So clearly, God does not intend for his followers to be stupid.  Instead, in the passage that we just read, the point that Paul is trying to make can seen more clearly where he said, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  Let me repeat that.  “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  God is so smart, that even if God were to have a “senior moment” or “brain freeze,” or some other moment of stupidity, God’s version of stupid is still smarter than any human intelligence and God’s weakness is still stronger than any human strength.

 

But, with that in mind, if we understand that God is smart, and that God wants us to be smart, and we understand that God is wise, and wants us to be wise, then how are we to make sense of phrases like “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” and, “the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”?

 

We make sense of it all by remembering that what Jesus preached on the Mount of Beatitudes.  What God wants from us, is a wisdom that is often contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom.  If we live the way that God wants us to live, our lives will often be lived in ways that are contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom.  That doesn’t mean that education is bad, or that Christians are “anti-science,” or that God prefers uneducated rubes as his followers.

 

We begin to see God’s meaning as we walk through the Beatitudes.  It means that we set aside our inborn selfishness enough to care about the poor and to comfort those who mourn.  It means that we are called to remember mercy when the rest of the world is demanding blood and violence.  It means that we find value in, and expend our efforts toward, seeking purity and virtue instead of the pleasures and vices that the world believes to be normal.  It means that, wherever possible, whether we are on the playground, the battleground, or the corporate boardroom, we seek peace instead of conflict even when peace might come at some personal price to us in dollars, time, or popularity.  And it means that we understand that if we live the way that Jesus has called us to live, that we will often be unpopular, insulted, persecuted, have false rumors, gossip, and other accusations brought against us but we also remember that God’s prophets were always treated this way, and so was Jesus.

 

In the end, if we truly want to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, then we must accept that God’s wisdom is not the same as the wisdom of the world, that what God wants is not the same as what the world wants, and that what God considers to be good, is not always the same as what the world thinks is good.  If we want to live the way that God wants us to live, we must understand that the world will think of us as foolish and stupid.

 

I’m okay with that.

 

And I hope that you are okay with that.

 

If we are to be fools, may we at least be God’s fools.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Juggling Justice and Gentleness

Juggling Justice and Gentleness

January 12, 2020*

Baptism of Jesus

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

Have you ever been caught watching a juggler who is so good that you just can’t stop watching?  Sure, there are the average “good” jugglers who can get you to watch for a few minutes.  They’re fun to watch in a parade as the go by, or for a moment as you pause on the midway at the fair for a few minutes.  But every once in a while, there’s that one juggler who is so good that every time you think you’re starting to lose interest, they change their act and suck you right back in again.  Some years ago, there was a guy that would show up in television occasionally, and I’m pretty sure that he even made an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show, but he billed himself as the guy who could juggle anything.  He would start his act by juggling, balls, and then juggling pins, then bowling pins, then pieces of silk, feathers (which is pretty tricky), but then he’d mix in knives, swords, things that were on fire, chainsaws and even bowling balls, and finally he’d finish by juggling all those weird things at the same time.  Sure, it takes talent to juggle feathers, or bowling balls, or chainsaws, but in his closing act, he would juggle a feather, a chainsaw, a sword, and a bowling ball all at the same time.  That was impressive to watch. 

But, when we listen to his instructions and commands of God, sometimes it seems like that is the kind of thing that God is asking us to do.

We find this kind of juggling in the words of Isaiah found in Isaiah 42:1-9

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

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

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

 

God says that his Spirit would enter into the messiah so that he could bring justice to the nations but, that in doing so, he would not shout, cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  His coming, and his work, would be so gentle that he would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.  But despite his gentleness, he will not falter, or be discouraged, until he establishes justice on the earth and brings hope to his people.

 

To most of us, I think that description sounds both wonderful and just a bit confusing.  We are familiar with justice from watching our law enforcement and legal systems, but much of the justice that we see, as hard as they try, often involves the use of brute strength and a lack of subtlety that clearly does not make us think of things like gentleness, tenderness, and hope.  I’m not saying that members of law enforcement and the legal system are brutes and bullies, or that they aren’t trying to do the very best that they can do, but we all know that circumstances, and the way in which our laws are written, sometimes leave them with few other options.  In the end, trying to bring justice and gentleness at the same time seems as difficult an exercise as juggling feathers and bowling balls.

 

But that was precisely what the messiah would be sent to do, and we begin to see how Jesus threads the needle a little bit as he begins his ministry in the story of his baptism contained in Matthew 3:13-17.

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

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

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

It’s important we notice that John knows that Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized.  Jesus was the messiah, the one who was sent to bring righteousness and indeed, to be righteousness, so John knows that Jesus ought to be the one who baptizes him, not the other way around.  But Jesus explains that although he doesn’t need to be baptized for forgiveness, or to be symbolically purified, he needs to be baptized because that was what the scriptures said would happen, and that was what tradition and proper religious practices required.  Jesus is balancing, juggling if you will, both who he is, as well as who everyone expected him to be.  And in that moment, God recognizes that he is pleased with what Jesus is doing.

 

And, as we read through the gospels, we often see that Jesus is regularly juggling who he is with the mission to which he was called.  Jesus is constantly juggling the fulfillment of scripture, with the forwarding of his mission, with opposing those who are bent on destroying him, while at the same time offering gentleness and hope to those who have already been wounded by life, by God’s people, and even by the church.  And in many ways, that same juggling act, that same struggle for balance, has been passed on to us.  In Acts 10:34-43, Luke records Peter’s speech where we hear these words:

 

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

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

 

Peter reminds the crowd that they all know what Jesus had done, they had all either seen him or heard the stories about him and many of those gathered had done both.  But because they were the witnesses, because they had seen Jesus with their own eyes, because they had heard him preach, and because they had seen his miracles, they were also obligated to do something about it.  Because they were witnesses, Jesus commanded his followers to preach about Jesus to those who hadn’t heard and who hadn’t seen.   

 

Peter also reminds them that the prophets had promised that people would receive forgiveness of sins through the name of the messiah, Jesus.  But telling others about Jesus’ forgiveness of sins is a part of the juggling act and where we struggle to find balance.  Why? Because God appointed Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead, and because Jesus is the righteous judge, and because people receive forgiveness in the name of Jesus, and because the possibility of forgiveness is often the only thing that offers hope, all of these things must be found together.  We cannot tell the story about forgiveness and hope if we are unforgiving.  No one will listen to stories about a loving Jesus if we are unloving nor will anyone believe the promise of justice if we are not a people of gentleness.

 

No doubt you have all seen people of faith who, with the best of intentions, have attempted to tell the stories of Jesus and to be his witnesses while, at the same time, saying mean, angry, and hurtful things.  It is almost impossible to hear a message from anyone who is hurting you or attacking you.  Instead, we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to learn the art of balance.  We must juggle justice and gentleness, truth and compassion, so that the world around us can hear Jesus’ message of forgiveness and hope.

 

Sometimes that’s going to feel a lot like juggling feathers and bowling balls at the same time, but as hard as it might be, that is the mission to which Jesus has called us.  We are called to be witnesses and to be loving.

 

We must seek truth and compassion.  Forgiveness and hope.  Justice and gentleness. 

 

 

 

 


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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.