Purpose. Words. Action.

“Purpose. Words. Action.”

August 26, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43                      John 6:56-69              Ephesians 6:10-20

Have you ever gone on a vacation?

Or, have you ever turned a corner in a part of town that you don’t visit often, and discover that there’s a new building that you’ve never seen before?

Often, for both vacations and construction, as well as almost everything else, things seem to happen suddenly, almost magically.  We even talk about it that way.  We say things like, “We’re going to disappear for the weekend.” Or, “We just took off for a quick holiday.”  But, even something as simple as a weekend getaway doesn’t “just happen.”  We had the idea that we might want to do that, we coordinate schedules, we take time off of work, kennel the dogs, get a cat-sitter, we plan where we’re going, make reservations, pack suitcases, get the car serviced, or at least buy gas, and only after all of that do we “disappear for the weekend.”

Getting from point A to point B takes planning and preparation.

But it also takes purpose.  Before you go on a vacation or build a building, you must have a reason to do so.  It might simply be that you’re tired and need a break, but something made you decide.  You had something in mind as a goal even if your only goal was to relax.  A new building is, from the very beginning, designed with a specific goal in mind and, as a result, a church looks very different than an office building, or a factory, or a doctor’s office.  This idea is so common, that we have an expression for it, “Form follows function.”

The church is no different.  And so, when we read the story about the construction of the temple that Solomon built to honor God, we discover not only the purpose for which the temple was built, but also the purpose that God has for his people and for his church.  (1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43)

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

I think that it’s worth noting that God promises Solomon that his descendants will continue to sit on the throne and be blessed by God only if they are careful in all that they do and walk faithfully with God as David did.  We must be careful in what we draw from this because none of us are likely to be descendants of King David and this promise is therefore not directly aimed at us, but all the same, as a general guideline, this tells us a lot about how God might choose to disburse his blessings upon his people.  We cannot reasonably expect that God will bless what we do, if we are not careful in what we do and walk faithfully with God.

But even more importantly, I think, is that after Solomon prays that God’s name will “be here” in that place, he prays that God would hear the prayers of the foreigners who have come from far away because they had heard of the greatness of Israel’s God.  Solomon prays that God would answer the prayers of the foreigner so that…, and here I need to interrupt myself.  Whenever we encounter words such as “so that” or “therefore” we need to sit up and pay attention because those words signal a conclusion that summarizes everything that came before.  And so, having built a great temple for the God of Israel, and having prayed that God would be present in it, and that God would answer the prayers of his people as well as the prayers of foreigners from far away, Solomon declared that the reason for all of it, is so that all the people of the earth would know God in the same way that the people of Israel knew God and that they would know that the temple that Solomon had built was a place where God was present.  Solomon wants the world to know that this is not Solomon’s temple, but that it is God’s Temple.

Fast forward three thousand years and that same purpose is easily transferable to us.  The purpose of this church, and of this people, is that all the people around us would know God the way that we know God and that everyone who encounters us would know that this is a place of prayer where they can meet God and experience his presence.

The purpose of the church has not changed.

Having established the purpose of the church, let’s return to the story of Jesus as he explains the idea of sharing his flesh and his blood in John 6:56-69.

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”  And if you remember, last week we learned that John described Jesus by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  And from that we understand Jesus’ references to flesh and blood to be a connection not only to his bodily sacrifice, but to the words that he said and the things that he taught.  Jesus emphasizes this in the passage that we just read when he said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”  We see this again when Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life.”

Even Jesus’ own disciples knew that this was a difficult teaching.  We must feed on the word of God to sustain our spiritual lives, just as we must eat food for our physical bodies to survive.  Jesus has the words of eternal life.  We must always keep this in mind as we set out to be the church and to save the world.  We cannot save the lost, or rescue the hurting, or be a lighthouse of hope, or even truly feed the hungry or clothe the naked unless we share with them the words and the Good News of Jesus.  What good would it be to save physical lives and, at the same time, make no attempt to rescue them for eternity?

But what else?

We know the purpose of the church, and we know that we need to consume the word of God and we know that we need to be about the business of saving the world by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and his words, with them.

But what else?

And again, Paul has something to say about that, this time in his letter to the church in Ephesus. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Paul emphasizes that our choice is more than just sharing or not sharing, and even more urgent than just reading the word or not reading it.  Paul explains that this isn’t the same as choosing between a stop at Sunoco or a stop at BP for fuel.  This is not a picnic, or even a friendly competition.  When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are thrust into the middle of an all-out war.  There can be no casual observers because once we put on the uniform, we have taken sides.  As followers of Jesus, we are identified as such and become the enemies of his enemies.  For our own self-defense, and for the protection of our families, friends, and fellow believers, we must arm ourselves for the fight that rages around us.  Paul urges us to put on the armor of faith, defend ourselves from the enemy, and fight against him with everything that we have within us.  Stand your ground against evil, stand for truth, be righteous and stand for righteousness, be ready, spread peace, have faith and arm yourself with the Spirit of God.  At the same time, pray for your leaders, pray for your pastor, pray for our missionaries, pray for one another, and pray for all of those whom we might reach with the message of God’s rescue.  All of these have already been identified as the enemies of Satan, all of them will fall under the attack of his armies, and all of them are in need of God’s protection.  Your prayers, for yourself, and for others, is needed, necessary, and helpful in the fight against evil and for the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ.

In short, if we know the purpose of the church, and if we are fed with the words of Jesus Christ, we must also know that stopping there simply isn’t good enough.  There is work to do.  We are at war.  And every single soldier is needed for the battle.

Let us encourage one another.

Let us pray for one another.

Let us ready ourselves.

We are at war.

We must take action.

Let’s fight to make a difference.

 

 

 

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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.

Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect

May 20, 2018

(Pentecost)

By John Partridge*

 

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15                   Acts 2:1-21                 Romans 8:22-27

 

 

If you are old enough, you might remember Rube Goldberg, whose drawing of amazingly complicated machines would appear in the comic pages of newspapers across the country.  These machines amused us because, although complex, they performed a simple task that would have been easier done than the effort it took to build, or even to draw, the machine.  Goldberg became so famous for this, that now, many years after his death, machines like this have been named after him.  There is an entire genre of videos of these type machines on YouTube, including a popular series of videos by a band named OK Go.

 

Have you ever watched Sesame Street?  Kermit the frog would periodically build Rube Goldberg machines on a spot that he called “What Happens Next.”  Except in the case of Kermit, these machines never worked quite right.  (We might just watch one of Kermit’s adventures during the Coffee House service.)

 

But watching these machines can remind us that actions have consequences.  The things that we do in the world do not happen in a vacuum.  What we do impacts the world, and the people, around us.  Each action has an effect, and sometimes, as we learned from Kermit the Frog, sometimes, the effects are not what we intended.

 

We begin this morning in the gospel of John where Jesus makes a promise.  And since we all know that Jesus always keeps his promises, this cause, will certainly have an effect later on.

(John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)

15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

16:4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

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

Well before the crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples that he must go away, but when he does, he will send the Spirit of God to be with them in his absence.

 

There is a cause, and an effect.

 

Jesus says that he will send the Spirit to testify to us about Jesus, but that in return we also must testify to the world about Jesus.  Jesus promises that when he departs, he will send the Spirit of God to us and the Spirit will guide us into all the truth.

 

And just a few short weeks later, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, we read the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21 where we see Jesus keeping his promise.

2:1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

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. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Jesus promised that he would send the Spirit and he did.  And the spirit of God arrived in spectacular fashion and through the Spirit, God gave great gifts to all of the believers so that they, and the world around them had to sit up and take notice.  People were amazed that back country hicks from Galilee could possibly be speaking Parthian, Phrygian, Egyptian, Latin, Libyan, Arabic, and other languages of the far-flung Roman Empire.  Those who didn’t speak foreign languages simply thought they were drunk and babbling nonsense, but those who came from those places were amazed to hear people speaking the language of their home.  They had all heard the sound of a violent wind and had come to this place to investigate, and here they discover this amazing thing.  Surely, this must mean something.  But what?

 

And Peter steps up to explain.

 

Once again, remember that this is the same Peter that only a few weeks before had lied about even knowing Jesus.  And here, in the middle of Jerusalem, he stands up and tells everyone that, through Jesus Christ, God is at work changing the world.  Peter tells them that the Spirit of God would pour out his spirit on their sons, their daughters, the young, the old, and even on their servants so that they would receive gifts that would demonstrate to the world the power of a holy creator God so that the world might come to faith in him and be saved from sin and death.

 

But what does that mean today?

 

What does Pentecost mean a hundred generations after the people of the first century church?  And for that we find that Paul has some solid insight in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 8:22-27) where he says:

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Paul says that the world is not perfect, far from it, in fact.  The world is in such sad shape that all of creation groans over its condition.  But the gift of God’s spirit to his people is still having an effect on our daily lives.  Paul says that the gift of the spirit of God, and our faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t make our lives perfect.  We often find ourselves in pain or suffering from the circumstances in our lives and in the world around us, but the spirit of God helps us along the way.  Paul says that our spirits have already been redeemed, but our human bodies have not.  That wonderful pain-free existence that we dream of is something that will only come about when God redeems our bodies in heaven.  But Paul explains God’s spirit also gives us the gift of intercession.  Intercession means that when we find ourselves in such misery or confusion that we are unable to pray, or to even find words, when all that we can do is groan, the Spirit knows our hearts and carries the messages and the desires of our hearts directly to God on our behalf.

 

And so yes, two thousand years and over a hundred generations of humanity later, the Spirit of God is still alive and well in the people of Jesus Christ and in the world around us.  Like the cartoons that Rube Goldberg drew, and the silly machines that Kermit the Frog built, there really is a “what happens next.”  We really do feel an effect caused by the work and the mission of Jesus.

 

Jesus has sent the Spirit into the world and into each person that puts their faith in him.  As we wait for our final adoption and the redemption of our bodies, the spirit helps us in our weakness, prays for us, and intercedes for us in our pain, confusion, and hopelessness, guides us into all the truth, speaks the words of God to us, and yes, Jesus still sends us into the world to testify to the world about him so that others can be rescued from sin and death.

 

It’s all about cause and effect.

 

For over a hundred generations, the people of Jesus Christ have answered his call and told others the Good News so that they might have the hope of redemption and the power of God’s spirit.  Each of us is here because someone answered that call of God.

 

They were the cause.

 

We are the effect.

 

The spirit of Pentecost continues today just as it has for two thousand years.

 

Will you answer God’s call?

 

What effect will you have on the world, and on the people around you?

 

 

 

 

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

 

Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)

“Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)”

January 28, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 18:15-20           1 Corinthians 8:1-13              Mark 1:21-28

Everywhere you go, there are leaders and followers.  In the military the division between leaders and followers can sometimes be painfully obvious and at others far less so.  Officers are the designated leaders, and enlisted soldiers are the designated followers, but even though their differences are obvious, this description is grossly oversimplified.  Every officer has another officer of higher rank over them, and the same is true among enlisted troops.  In the end, every leader is also a follower and every follower is also a leader.

The same is true in our local church.  We have a handful of people who chair the committees that help to run our church, but everyone who serves on those committees, even if they think of themselves as followers, are themselves leaders of our church.

But this morning, as we study scripture, we’re going to discover that leadership goes much farther down into the “ranks” of Jesus’ followers than we might expect.  We begin in Deuteronomy 18:15-20, where we hear this:

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

In the time of Moses, The people of Israel were afraid to hear from God directly and so, God promised to send prophets that would speak for him and the people were expected to listen to the prophets and obey the instructions that God sent.  But, at the same time, the prophets were bound to only speak the words of God and not to add instructions or commands that God had not sent.

But then came Jesus.

After all of the prophets, and after all of the teachers, priests, and theologians that lived in Israel throughout the centuries, Jesus was different.  While Jesus honored the commands of God as God required, Jesus did more.  (Mark 1:21-28)

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Jesus did things that only the greatest of God’s prophets had done… and more.

And Jesus interpreted the laws of God in ways that went far beyond what any of the teachers of the law had ever done.  Jesus taught, not as someone who was attempting to interpret what the prophets had said, but as someone who absolutely knew what God wanted and what God had intended.  Jesus wasn’t a follower of God, Jesus was God.  Jesus could do miracles because the Spirit of God lived within him.  For these reasons, Jesus taught with the authority of a true leader.  He was there when God gave instructions to the prophets and he knew what God meant.  And so, as Jesus taught, he wasn’t really interpreting what he thought God meant, but instead was simply explaining the truth and the facts that he knew.

Jesus was different.

Even the demons and evil spirits knew who he was and obeyed him.

Jesus had authority.  Jesus was a leader.

But what does that mean for all of us?

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Paul says this…

8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

At first, this may not sound like it has anything to do with leadership, but stay with me for a minute.  Paul says that we cannot have any gods other that the one God, God the Father, and only one Lord, who is Jesus Christ who created all that is and who gives us life. But Paul also speaks of a dispute between strong believers, and weak believers in a particular issue of his time that related to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Stronger believers had taken hold of the understanding of our God being the only god and not simply the strongest among a selection of other gods that the people had always known.  Strong believers understood that food that had been sacrificed to idols was no different than ordinary food.  For them, there was nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols.

But other believers had not made all of these connections.  For them, food that had been sacrificed to idols was tainted.  For them, eating such food felt like they were worshipping someone other than God and by doing so they themselves were defiled and corrupted in the eyes of God.  Seeing the strong believers eating food that had been sacrificed to idols made them doubt their faith.  It made them wonder if it wasn’t okay to worship more than one god.  It made them wonder if the strong believers, the leaders perhaps of their church community, were worshipping more than one god.

Even though Paul understands that there was absolutely nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, he knew that doing so endangered the faith of newer, or weaker, believers.  And so Paul’s instructions were that the people who were stronger, or more knowledgeable, were to live their lives as an example to the weaker ones.  They were to deliberately live in such a way that supported and strengthened the faith of others in their community of faith even if that meant not exercising their rights to do things that they knew were permissible to do.

And that’s where we intersect with our lives today.  Paul understood that the people who were more knowledgeable, because of their knowledge, but also simply because of their membership in the church body, were leaders.  What one person in the church did or did not do was an example to other people in the church, and their actions could either strengthen, or weaken the faith of others.  But if that is true, then we can also understand that this applies to people in our families and in our communities, who are outside of the church and who might not have any faith at all.  The things that we do, and the things that we do not do, can either draw people toward faith in God and in Jesus Christ, or they can push people away.  Today, eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols is not an issue that we deal with, but there are other, more modern issues that do.  Our complaining, or our gossiping, or our use of alcohol, or our ownership of firearms, might all be reasons that other believers today might struggle with their faith as well as others.

Jesus was God in human flesh.  He was the ultimate leader.  He could easily have done a great many things that he chose not to do.  Instead he followed the rules that God had laid down for the prophets.  Jesus taught with authority, but he did not teach anything that contradicted earlier teachings of God.  Everything that Jesus did was intended to draw people toward God and toward faith in God.  Today, all of our leaders have this same calling.  As we follow God, we must live our lives, and perform our ministries in such a way that our faith, and our lives, does not damage the faith of fellow believers or push unbelievers farther away from faith.  But since all of us have knowledge of God, and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and since all of us have faith in him, then every one of us fall under Paul’s instructions because every one of us, regardless of how strong or how weak our faith might be, have a stronger faith than someone else inside, or outside, the church.

You see, in this way, all of us are leaders.

All of us are called to live our lives as an example to others so that their faith is strengthened and not weakened.  Even if that means we must voluntarily surrender rights that we know we have and stop doing things that we know are perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God.

You see, Jesus was not a follower.  But because we follow him, and because we too are filled by the Spirit of God, we are not just followers of Jesus.  All of us are the spiritual leaders of everyone who is less mature, or who has less knowledge than we do.

We are all followers.  But we are also all leaders.

And we need to live our lives as an example to others so that they will be drawn closer to Jesus and pushed farther away.

 

 

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

 

What “Mission” Looks Like

No matter who you are, you can make a difference.

I’m late in posting this, but I want to reflect on our church’s fall trip back to The Joy Center in Big Creek, Kentucky.  I’ve written before about why we go on these trips and we’ve made lists of what we did, but I want to have a slightly different conversation this time.  While I will talk about what we did, I want to talk more about people than about projects.

Our team was made up of representatives from two churches, Trinity and Sugarcreek United Methodist Church.   Because of the generosity of our people, and the people of Sugarcreek, we were able to accomplish a great deal.  Many of us worked on one large project, a bridge, which was even larger than The Joy Center originally estimated.  Originally, we expected to build a 23 foot footbridge, but when we arrived at the worksite and started measuring, we discovered that to stay above the water all the way across the creek, we would need a much longer bridge and the finished product, including the ramps at the end, was 43 feet long.  We also worked on a kitchen remodeling project, as well as many small projects around The Joy Center such as weeding, cleaning, reorganizing, and of course, delivering another trailer full of donated goods.

2017 Joy Center bridge2
Paul and Dennis and their new bridge

But again, that’s all about projects.  “Mission” is much more than that because a bridge, a kitchen, and these other things aren’t important by themselves.  The reason that these things are important is because of the people who need them and use them.  On our previous trips to Kentucky we met Paula who has been blind since birth.  Somewhere along the line, someone taught her to knit and Paula decided that this was the way that God had given her to be useful.  She knits constantly.  She knits prayer shawls and afghans, and over the years has knitted hundreds of prayer shawls which have been anointed, blessed, and given away as a tangible expression of God’s love to the people of their community, and to people around the world.  Last spring, the foot bridge that allowed Paula and Dennis

2017 Joy Center bridge
Standing on the old “bridge” and leaning on the new.

to cross the creek and get their mail was washed away in a flood following some torrential rains.  While Paula is blind, her husband Dennis gets out of breath walking across his yard or around their tiny house.  Without a bridge, Dennis had two choices; climb down into the creek, cross the creek on a plank that he rescued from the ruins of his old bridge, climb back up the other side, get his mail, and then do it all over again to get home, or follow the driveway past his house and past two neighbors’ houses, to the next bridge, then walk up the road that same distance, and then go back the same way.  Our bridge means that not only can Dennis get his mail, but now Paula can use it to meet her ride to the Wednesday women’s Bible Study.  Holding tightly to Dennis on her first trip across the creek, ever, she was so excited and kept saying, “It’s so long!”

We also spent a day putting up a ceiling and walls in a kitchen and dining room but again, it was the people that made that project important.  Sue has always been the caretaker of her family.  She takes in kids without parents, takes care of her siblings, in laws, and anyone else who needs help.  When her sister needed a place to stay, Sue invited her sister and her family to move in and Sue’s husband started dividing their house in two.  He built walls and started building a new kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room, but just as he got started, he suddenly died.  That left Sue with half a house and about twenty unfinished projects that she didn’t have the skills to finish.  While we didn’t have the skills or the time to finish all of them, we made a dent and made her house just a little more livable.

Something else we don’t often talk about is what we do when we aren’t working.  While a team is working, someone is often taking a break.  Depending on age, or ability, or the availability of tools and materials, someone is often resting, or waiting.  At one point while two of us ran into town (between the driving and the shopping we were gone for two or three hours) most of the team had nothing to do.  But during those times, we sit with the people, and their families, neighbors, friends, or whoever stops by, and we talk.  We talk about our lives, about their lives, we tell stories, we tell jokes, and sometimes, when it’s appropriate, we talk about church and about Jesus.

So you see, while our trips are built around projects, they aren’t really about projects… they’re about people.  Since many of the people we talked to (and even more who watched from a distance) don’t go to church, our projects were just a door that allowed us to have a conversation.  Our projects, even at The Joy Center, were a way for us to show the people of Big Creek and Clay County, Kentucky that they aren’t forgotten, that people care about them and love them, and most importantly, that Jesus loves them and has not forgotten them.

At the Joy Center, all those smaller projects reminded the staff, the volunteers, and everyone at the Big Creek Church that they aren’t forgotten and Jesus and his church still love them.  Thanks to the generosity of Goldie Bolitho and our Trinity quilters, the crafters at Big Creek Church will have enough supplies to keep them busy for months to come and they’ve hidden away enough yarn to supply Paula’s knitting for most of the next year.

Although we often talk about money or about projects, in the end, mission is always about people.

Won’t you consider being a part of what we are doing here at Trinity Church?

No matter who you are, you can make a difference.

 

 

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Do The Homeless Really Need Help?

Processed by: Helicon Filter;In one of the hobby forums that I visit, a member recently asked this question: Are homeless people scam artists, or do they really need help?  He went on to say that he was completely against giving handouts to people at freeway ramps because he felt that these people were “either dope addicts or scam artists who actually make a living doing this and put on a facade and play on people’s emotions.”  He felt that homeless people were in that situation because of the choices that they made, and because they were too lazy to get off their butts and get a job.

While I am not an expert on homelessness, I have learned a lot in the last few years and have met a few of them as they came to the doors of our church looking for help.  So, what follows is a part of what I posted in reply.

For what it’s worth, I come into contact with homeless people on a fairly regular basis and I have friends who minister to that population of people pretty much daily. The answer to your question “Are they scam artists or really need help?” is “Yes.” There are some, for the most part a pretty small minority who are “gaming the system” but the majority really do need help. Quite a few “move through” homelessness and move on to a more stable life but many are trapped there for a variety of reasons. A frightening percentage is there because of mental illness of one sort or another, and they are very hard to help. Almost all types of residential treatment facilities have been closed so there simply is no “place” where they can receive the kind of care that they really need. Despite their illnesses, most of them are fiercely independent and don’t want to move in with their adult children, relatives, or accept long-term charity. While some of us struggle to see the difference between begging and accepting the charity of their own family, for them the differences are important.

It’s also important to remember that something like 2 out of 3 households in the United States are only two paychecks from homelessness so it doesn’t always take a lot the completely shift someone’s life onto an entirely different track. I’ve met folks who suddenly became homeless because of domestic abuse, house fires, divorce, death of a spouse or significant other, and abandonment. In many of these cases, they found themselves with no belongings, no identification, no money, no transportation, no vital medications, nothing. Some of them are eligible for VA benefits or welfare but in order to collect those benefits you have to have a permanent mailing address, which is the one thing that homeless people obviously *don’t* have.

It really is heartbreaking.

This is real.

Many are disabled, but a great many of them work, often as day laborers, some at regular jobs, even in semi-skilled fields like concrete and various construction trades. Many are single, but there are also a whole lot of families with school age children.

I’ve met several people who were daily making a difficult choice.

Imagine:

It costs $45 per day for a cheap motel because you don’t have enough money to pay for a month, or even a week at a time.

You work, but only make minimum wage (at best) so after taxes you get about $60 per day.

You can get some benefits if you can prove your identity, but through one circumstance or another (again, house fire, etc.) you don’t have any.

You can go to the courthouse, get a copy of your birth certificate, and use that to get a new driver’s license.

But the courthouse wants $65 to make you a copy and the BMV wants another $50.

Add to that the cost of the bus to courthouse, and basically losing a day’s wages while you wait in line.

So, do you get your ID, sleep under the stars or under a bridge, skip eating for two days, and risk losing your job, or do you go to work and spend all your money on food and a place to sleep?

These are the choices that many homeless people have to make every day. I’ve met them, sat with them, and shared stories with them over coffee.

To prevent abuse, and those who are really good at “gaming the system,” our church limits how much aid we can give one person and so our guidelines allow me to offer them a meal at a local restaurant, or a tank of gas, or a box of food (enough for a week or two), or one night’s lodging. I’ve had many people tell me to my face, “I’ll take the room for the night. I can stand being hungry, but I really need a place to sleep tonight.”

I’ve also met people who needed a place to stay even though they told me that they had family (even parents) who lived in the same neighborhood as the motel where we put them up. I can only imagine what sort of emotional, drug, alcohol, or psychological problems led to them not being welcome in their own parent’s home but it happens more often than you think.

So are there scammers? Sure.

Are most of them scammers? No, I don’t think so.

Do they really need help? Yes.

But what they really need is for all of us to be more vocal to our elected representatives at all levels to create systems that don’t trap people at the bottom, systems that make access to aid programs, many of which the homeless qualify for, easier, and to make access to basic identifying documents (like birth certificates) more affordable and accessible to people who are literally choosing between getting an ID and eating.

By all means, if you are unsure, then don’t give money to panhandlers. The people next to the freeway are often, but not always, the people gaming the system. Unless you work with them, it’s hard to know who’s who. But there is a significant population of people who really need help.

If you want to be a part of the solution, I encourage you to volunteer at a food pantry, or a clothes closet, or any one of many church and civic organizations that work with the needy and the homeless.  If you make it a regular thing (and not just show up once) you will begin to build relationships with them. It takes time. They’ve been burnt by the government, by charities, and lots of people who want to use them for their own purposes. They’ve been taken advantage of so many times that they are slow to trust, but if you take the time to really get to know them, and they learn that you are there because you really care about them, they might just share their story with you.

And it’ll probably break your heart.

 

 

 

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Building for Builders that Build

blueprint hardhat“Building for Builders that Build”

May 21, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 7:55-60

John 14:1-14

1 Peter 2:2-10

 

 

Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  But then what?

 

What has be been doing since then?

 

Have you ever planned a major event?

 

It could be anything from a backyard neighborhood barbeque, a wedding, a family vacation trip, or a great many other things.  If you have, you might begin to appreciate how much planning and preparation are required from the time you have an idea until you finish cleaning up after your big event.  Weeks, months, sometimes years of planning are required depending on the size of the event.  For example, the invasion of Europe on D-Day was anticipated much earlier than many of us appreciate.  Long before the invasion in 1944, the wheels had been set in motion to bring everything that was needed to that place and time so that it was ready when it was needed.  Consider for a moment how much planning went into the human beings that were there that day, how many months and years of recruiting, training, purchasing uniforms and other equipment went into preparing the soldiers, marines, sailors, aircrews, glider crews, and so on.

 

But let’s also take a moment to consider how they all got across the English Channel.  The ships that would be needed to invade Europe were conceived and designed as early as 1930, almost a decade and a half earlier, and construction began soon after.  By 1940 landing craft of various types were being manufactured in several countries.  In the United States alone these ships were being produced at a rate of over 1,000 ships per month.  At one point, very near the time of the invasion, the entire effort was postponed by a month or more because there were not yet enough landing craft to carry the troops needed for the invasion.

 

The planning and preparation for this one day began at least fourteen years in advance in order for all the needed people, skills, equipment, and supplies would be where they needed to be, when they needed to be there.  In that time, countless hours and untold billions of dollars were spent in factories, mines, office buildings, highways, and aboard ship by people around the world.  All that, planned and coordinated by only a handful of people and a truly global chain of command.  All that, to prepare for one war, on one continent, and especially for one day, June 6, 1944.

 

But as we consider all the planning and preparation that went into D-Day, what does that tell us about events that are even bigger?  How much did it take to build the Suez Canal?  We know that the construction of the Panama Canal was attempted at least once before the United States finally pulled it off and it still took fourteen years, in addition to the fourteen years that the French had worked on the project before that.  Between the French and the Americans, the Panama Canal cost in the neighborhood of $700 million, which if spent today, would be in the neighborhood of $17 billion.

 

So what’s the point of all this?

 

As we consider the planning and preparation of such historic endeavors, imagine for a moment what must go into preparing for the return of Jesus Christ, the judgement of the entire world, the arrival of the new Jerusalem, and the coordination and housing of billions of believers in the city of God.

 

But before we get to all of that, let’s lay out some background from Acts 7:55-60.

 

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

 

After the resurrection of Jesus, Stephen is given a vision in which he sees Jesus, in heaven, standing beside the throne of God.  The announcement of this vision, as well as the speech that he had given immediately prior, so enraged the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, that they dragged him outside and stoned him to death.  But from this, we confirm that after his departure from earth that Jesus is in heaven, and rules alongside Almighty God.

 

We also know, from his words recorded in John 14:1-14, that Jesus has work to do while he is there.

 

14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

In the time of Jesus, homes were often built by the patriarch of the family and then, as children arrived, rooms were added onto the side of the house.  When the sons were old enough to get married, they too would build a room for themselves and their new wives, attached to the family house.  And then their sons did the same.  When we hear the story about the bride lighting a lamp as she awaited her bridegroom, this is the picture that people would have had in their minds.  The bridegroom had left, returned to his father’s house, and was building a room for his future family.  When he had completed the new room, the groom would return to collect his bride and the wedding went forward.  And so, when Jesus says that he is returning to his father’s house to prepare a place for us, this is almost certainly the mental picture that people would have had.

 

Now imagine the difficulty found in that simple statement.

 

Jesus has gone to prepare rooms, in his father’s house, for the untold millions of believers throughout history.  Granted, this is the creator of the universe, but also consider the preparation that is required here on earth.  It took thousands of years to prepare people, nations, and cultures for the moment of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and the events surrounding his life, death, and resurrection.  So I can easily imagine that the same preparations for the end of the world and the second coming are no easy task that can be arranged in an instant of time.

 

But also note that Jesus says, “12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

 

God empowered Jesus to do the work of building his Kingdom.  But as Jesus returns to heaven he assigns that work to each one of us.  Think about that.  Our assignment, our task, our job, is nothing less than the job that was given to Jesus.  Our job is to reach the wanderer, rescue the perishing, feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, preach the Good News, make disciples of all nations, and build God’s kingdom.

 

Before we finish, I want to reinforce that point one more time.  In 1 Peter 2:2-10, Peter explains who we are and why we do what we do, one more time.

 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

Peter says that believers are like newborn babies that need to be fed so that they can grow.  In order to grow, they need to eat.  In order to eat, they need to be fed.  All of that seems simple, but it reminds us of several important truths.  First, we all start somewhere and where we start, we are like babies.  We’re immature, we get things wrong, we do things wrong even when we’re trying hard, and there are a lot of things that we can’t do for ourselves.  But those babies need to be fed and more mature believers are expected to help feed them while also taking responsibility to feed themselves.  A high school kid who still wants to sit on his momma’s lap and be fed with a bottle would be ridiculous, and the same is true of Christians.  Mature believers should be expected to make an effort to feed themselves and not need everything spoon-fed to them.  Each of us becomes responsible for our own maturity, and so each of us likewise becomes responsible for studying the scriptures, being fed spiritually, and continuing to grow.  Peter says that the expectation is that we would all grow up in our salvation.

 

As we come to Jesus, he takes us, as if we were living stones, and he is building us into a spiritual house.  He desires for us to be, and is building us into, a holy priesthood that can offer spiritual sacrifices to God.  Peter says that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” but he doesn’t stop there.  Peter says that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possessionso thatyou may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  We have been called to serve God and to declare to the world the praises of what he has done for us.  We are called to be witnesses, disciples, evangelists, so that we can build God’s kingdom.

 

So let’s review:

Let’s review.

 

Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

 

He learned a trade from his father Joseph and became a carpenter or a stonemason.

 

Jesus was a builder.

 

He was sent to earth by God to build God’s kingdom.

 

He ascended into heaven where he is, even now, building a place for each one of us.

 

He has called each of us to take up the task on earth that he left behind.

 

We have become the builders.

 

We are now responsible for building God’s kingdom.

 

And so Jesus is a builder, who is building buildings for builders who build.

 

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

And so, as we leave this place today I want us all to remember the task that Jesus has given to us.

 

Go out into the world, and build people, build them up, build up families, build up communities, help them to grow, help them to become mature spiritually and not just physically.  Tell people what God has done for you.  Tell people about the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

 

Go.

 

Build God’s kingdom.

 

 

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

 

Can You See?

“Can You See?”

March 26, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

1 Samuel 16:1-13                   John 9:1-41                            Ephesians 5:8-14

 

What is it that you are good at?

Each of us is good at something.

With the possible exception of the very young, most people have invested enough time and effort into one or more subjects to have become reasonably good at them, and knowledgeable about them.  It might not be rocket science, but just about everyone knows a lot about something.  It might be engineering, or law, or medicine, but it might also be homeschooling, or auto repair, antique tractors, hair, jewelry, video games, coin collecting, home repair, or negotiating the convoluted steps of government grant writing.  Whatever it is that you are good at, we all recognize that there is a difference between knowing a little, knowing a lot, and being an expert.  We all know a little about filing our taxes, but if we’re smart, we know when it’s time to get our questions answered by an expert.  Many of us can do basic home repairs, but we still keep the phone number of a good plumber handy.

With that in mind, think about those times when, you, as a person who knows a little, or even a lot, about one particular subject, have had a conversation with someone who was truly an expert.  Wow.  Sometimes these experts give speeches, and we go to large arenas and concert halls just to hear them talk about the things we are interested in.  I follow Buzz Aldrin on Twitter and I read the blog written by Ben Witherington III.  Why? Because Buzz Aldrin has forgotten more about space, astronauts, and astrophysics than I can ever hope to know, and Ben Witherington has forgotten more about the New Testament scholarship and proper Greek translation than I am likely to ever learn.  When experts look at a problem, they see things that non-experts might not ever notice.  The efforts of people like me and other fans or novices are not likely to impress the experts.  What will impress the experts are not the things that might impress the rest of us and as a result, we sometimes notice that experts will make surprising choices because they can see and anticipate things that we cannot.

Not surprisingly, we see the same thing in scripture and we also see that when compared to God, even the experts are put to shame.

We begin this morning in 1 Samuel 16:1-13, where we hear the story of when God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David as the king of Israel in place of King Saul.

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.

 

Throughout this story, everyone thinks and reacts only within the limits of what they know and of course, this is only natural.  We can only use the tools that we have.  We can’t use knowledge that we don’t have.  And so what we see is town elders who are afraid of God’s prophet because in the past they have witnessed him only as the bearer of bad news.  We have Jesse, the father of many sons, and the resident expert on what his children are capable of doing, who fails to call the youngest because someone has to watch the sheep, and who would imagine that the youngest would be of any value for anything that the prophet of God would want?  And finally, we have Samuel, the prophet of God, who is indisputably the expert on God, but who is utterly wrong about what God is looking for in a new king.

 

The town elders were wrong about why Samuel had come because they thought of him only as a messenger of doom.  Jesse was wrong because he assumed that David was too small and too young to be of any value.  And Samuel was wrong because he was only capable of looking at the superficial realities of how men appeared on the outside.  They were wrong because none of their expertise and knowledge came close to the expertise and knowledge of God.  Because God knows everything that is know-able, his expertise rises to levels that exceed even our imagination.  And because God’s expertise and knowledge so far exceeds our own, God sees differently than humans do.  What impresses God is not what impresses human beings, and God’s choices are often not what we would expect.

 

 

And that brings us to this week’s gospel lesson from John 9:1-41.  This is, as we noted last week, another story that is longer than usual, because it is one of the great stories of scripture.  It is the story of Jesus healing a man that had been born blind and it is a story that deserves to be read as a whole and not broken up and studied in pieces.


9:1 
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

 

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

 

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

 

The Pharisees, despite being experts in the Jewish scriptures and writings, were baffled by the healing of the blind man.  Their understanding led them to believe, just as the disciples had, that the man’s blindness, because blindness was bad, must have been a punishment from God.  And, at the same time, they had never seen, nor heard, of anyone being healed after being born blind.

 

But God’s understanding goes far beyond that of the religious experts, and Jesus explains that this blindness had not been caused by the sin of the man, nor of his parents, but that sometimes God allows bad things to happen “so that the works of God might be displayed.”  What Jesus is saying is hard for us to grasp.  But in this passage he tells us that sometimes God allows bad things to happen because, somehow, in ways that we cannot understand or comprehend, these things pave the way for something better to happen later.  Somehow, accidents, and even evil, are allowed by God because they fit into, and are a part of, the larger tapestry of God’s plan for the universe.  Now I’m not going to even try to tell you that this is much comfort when children die or when the innocent suffer.  It is impossible for us to even imagine what good could possibly be accomplished by such things.  But somehow, even in our suffering, even in our hurt, even in our disbelief, we must trust that God knows and understands more than we are capable of understanding and far more than we are even able to imagine.  Because God is all knowing, but also because God is loving, kind, and just, we must find a way to trust that these things are, somehow, a critical part of the plan of God because anything less would require us to believe that God is capricious and cruel instead of thoughtful and good.

 

But all of that brings us to the “So what?” part of the message.  What difference does knowing these things make to me?  And for that we arrive at Ephesians 5:8-14 where we hear these words:

 

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

 

Paul says that because we believe, we have stepped out of darkness and into the light of God and as such we must live and act as if we are.  We must be agents of light, goodness, righteousness and truth.  Since God is the expert in everything, we must study the word of God to discover what things are pleasing to him and which of those things we can do.  Paul says that we must not only avoid darkness and evil but we must work to make the world better, and we must fight against immorality and evil.  We must not pass through the world as if we are asleep at the wheel.  We must wake up, rise from the dead, and do those things that God has commanded because he is the expert, and our job… is to change the world.

 

 

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