Capitol Destruction

Capitol Destruction

January 24, 2021*


By Pastor John Partridge

Jonah 3:1-5, 10                      Mark 1:14-20             1 Corinthians 7:29-31

What does it mean when we say that we are in the hands of God?

Of course, we sometimes joke about being in God’s hands, or about the wrath of God, such as this exchange with the mayor of New York City in Ghostbusters where the Ghostbusters were trying to communicate the seriousness of the situation presented by the appearance of the god Zuul:

Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes…
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

And, as a comedy, it was funny.  We all laughed.  But the real wrath of God is anything but funny.

The early church father Origen of Alexandria, who lived from 184 to 253 AD., once said:

“We speak, indeed, of the wrath of God. We do not, however, assert that it indicates any passion on His part, but that it is something which is assumed in order to discipline by stern means those sinners who have committed many and grievous sins.”

Origen says God’s wrath is an unfolding of discipline directed against those people, and nations, that have committed many and grievous sins.

John Calvin expanded on that by saying, “When God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers.”

And, at the founding of our nation, George Washington shared that understanding when he urged his countrymen to build a nation that would remain in God’s good graces by saying:

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.”

It is worth pausing here to clarify that Washington wasn’t saying that our nation needed to fix something that was broken but was instead using a definition of repair that isn’t quite as common today than it was in the 1700’s.  In this sentence, Washington isn’t saying that our nation is broken, but that we needed to set a standard for government toward which wise and honest people would want to go, or one around which such people would want to rally.  It was Washington’s hope that this new nation would be, as Ronald Reagan described it, “A shining city on a hill,” and “A beacon of hope.”

But why does any of that matter?  Why is that relevant? 

It matters, because people and nations that wander far from God run the risk of falling out of God’s good graces.  In the biblical story of Jonah, we hear the story of the city of Nineveh, and the nation of Assyria which had become almost entirely evil.  And that evil caused God to warn them that, without repentance and change, he intended to destroy them.  Of course, Assyria and Israel were enemies, so Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh, but once we get past the story of Jonah’s rebellion and the incident with the whale, Jonah obeys and carries God’s message to the people of Nineveh in Jonah 3:1-5, 10 where we hear this:

3:1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Nineveh was evil, but their repentance caused God to relent and did not bring upon them the destruction that he had threatened.  At least not right away. In the end, Nineveh and Assyria returned to their wicked ways and the prophet Nahum declares that God intends to bring them to judgement, and not long afterwards, the Babylonian Empire wipes Nineveh off the face of the planet.

Oddly enough, the message carried by Jonah was almost the same message that we hear in Mark 1:14-20 as Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Rather than declare that God intended to destroy them in seven days, the message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God had come to earth just as God had promised.  The time had come for God’s people to repent of their sins, believe the good news, and follow Jesus.  And, while Jesus calls his disciples, and while many choose to follow Jesus, many in Jerusalem, and in the nation of Israel, do not.  And less than forty years later, Rome levels Jerusalem to the ground, rebuilds it as a new Roman city named Aelia Capitolina with a temple of Jupiter in the place of the Jewish temple, and legally prohibits any Jew from living in Jerusalem for the next six or seven hundred years.

But what does that mean for us in the twenty first century?

Not surprisingly, the church in Corinth was asking a very similar question two thousand years ago and Paul explained it this way in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Paul’s point, and the lesson from the previous stories of destruction, is that nothing in this world is truly permanent.  “Stuff” isn’t permanent, family isn’t permanent, even cities and nations are not permanent.  The only thing that lasts, is God.  It isn’t that we cannot enjoy the things that this world has to offer, or that we shouldn’t love and cling to our families, or that we shouldn’t have some loyalty to the nations in which we live, it’s that we should always remember that these things need to be secondary to our relationship with God and to the things that last for eternity.  If we want to be a part of something that lasts forever, we need to invest our time and our resources toward building that kingdom.  If we want our families to last forever, then we need to do things that will guide them into God’s kingdom alongside of us.  And if we want our nations to endure, then we need to do what we can to encourage our leaders, and steer them toward righteousness, so that our nations do not stray too far from God.

As we inaugurate a new president, we know that much will change.  But we also know that every president, and every other elected official, has failings and shortcomings.  None of us is perfect, and wandering from God’s path is, and always has been, entirely too easy.  That is true for each of us as individuals and it is true of governments and nations.  Nineveh repented and God spared them from destruction, until they once again wandered from the truth and did evil in the sight of God.  Even Jerusalem and Israel were not spared when they rejected Jesus and wandered too far from the truth.  God allowed his holy nation to be overcome by both the Babylonians and by the Roman Empire.  If history and scripture teach us anything, it is that must always keep God in the center of everything that we do.

Let us take this time to recommit ourselves to godliness and to prayer.  Let us remember to pray for all our elected officials.  Let us pray that God would grant them the wisdom to lead well, and to lead us to a place of justice and righteousness before God.  But let us also remember to keep the main thing, the main thing.  To keep God in the center of our lives, in the center of our families, and in the center of our loyalties. 

We are not, and never have been, divided by labels like Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or even American, Canadian, European, or African.  We are, instead, united under one banner, one nation, and one kingdom as the children of God and the followers of Jesus Christ.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/QsrfZUR0C5o

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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.



What is Your Charge Condition?

runnin-on-empty-1532397In our house we have two places that we can find batteries.  New batteries, still in their packages, are in a box under our computer printer.  These are generally all pretty good except for a few cheap ones I got for free.  Used batteries, and all our rechargeable batteries, are in the basement on our “recharging table” that I built when all our kids each had a dozen toys that used batteries.  The charging table once had three different battery chargers where we could charge everything from triple ‘A’s to ‘D’ cells and 9V rechargeables.  And, just to be sure, we also have a battery tester that can measure the charge level in all of those sizes as well as in any button cell batteries that we might use in our bathroom scales, hearing aids, or whatever else.

And while this is obvious to anyone who has ever used batteries, the reason that we need a battery tester is that you can’t know a battery’s charge condition, that is, how much charge is on (or in) a particular battery without testing it.  But we humans aren’t all that different.  We put on a good face to the world, but we keep what’s inside hidden.  We might reveal our hearts to a few people who are closest to us, but we rarely talk about our emotional energy level, or our personal “charge condition.”  There are times, as parents, as laborers, and as human beings, that life simply takes a toll on us.  Times when we seem to just keep on giving, and the world keeps on taking our energy, until we feel as if we are running on empty and have nothing left to give.

Social Distancing isn’t helping.  While it’s possible that introverts may suffer less, extroverts gain energy through personal contact, from engaging in conversation, and from just being present with other people.  But the pandemic has stolen that from us.  If we’re lucky, we are still working, but we are working from home, or our employers have instituted policies that help us keep our distance from one another.  And while that might help to keep us safe from the Coronavirus, it drains us of the emotional energy that we need to survive and thrive.

If I need a battery from our charging table, I know that the batteries that are on the charger are good ones.  Current has been trickling into them so that when we need them, and their energy, they are ready.  But the batteries that have been sitting in a box, separated from the thing that fuels them, are anybody’s guess.  But they all look the same on the outside.  You can’t tell by looking at them.

And spiritually, we are fighting that same battle.  Because of the Coronavirus, and because of social distancing, we aren’t gathering, we aren’t worshipping together, and some of us aren’t even bothering to spend time on spiritual matters at all.  Without that weekly meeting, without those human interactions, it becomes all too easy to neglect our spiritual health altogether.

And as a result, our emotional and spiritual batteries are running down.  We increasingly feel drained, weak, and empty.  And in that condition, we won’t be ready to go when we, and our full strength, is needed.  When we feel drained and empty, we are less likely to stand up for the oppressed, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to do the work of the church, or to be Jesus to the world around us.

We must fight back.

Once we pay attention to our charge condition, it becomes easier to make it a priority.  The batteries on our charging table only need a little trickle of current to be prepared.  But they need to be exposed to the current for the charger to do any good.  We need that exposure too.  We need to find ways to charge our emotional and spiritual cores.  We need to fight.  Do whatever works for you.  Arrange to call a friend for an hour one, two, or three days every week.  Plan a Zoom meeting with your family for no other reason than just to talk.  Open your Bible.  Attend Sunday school via Zoom.  Read a Psalm every morning, and one chapter of the Gospels in the evening, read a hymn, sing a song by yourself, watch a worship service on YouTube (even if it’s Tuesday).  Write notes to your friends and to people who you know are isolated and lonely. 

We are not alone.

We must fight together.

We will get through this, but if we neglect our spiritual and emotional “charge condition” we will continue to drain our batteries and run on empty.

Do it.

Pick up the phone.  Open your Bible. 

Do something.

Do whatever it takes to charge your emotional and spiritual batteries.

Because we cannot survive or thrive if we’re empty.

 

 

 


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Enemies United

unity-racial-divide“Enemies United”

December 04, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10                    Romans 15:4-13                                 Matthew 3:1-12

 

Who was your worst enemy in high school?

Are you still mad at them, or did you finally make friends with them?

Although our personal lives can be messy and we can harbor grudges for a long time, in global politics, time has a way of shifting our opinions.  Our nation was once divided into factions of north and south, but people cross back and forth so freely today that it’s almost impossible to be in a place, north or south, that doesn’t have people who were born on the other “side” of that border.  The United States and its allies fought World War Two against Italy, Germany, and Japan, but those nations are, today, some of our closest friends and allies.  We fought the cold war against the Soviet Union, but now work together every day with Russia to keep the International Space Station, a joint project, up and running.  France, England, and Spain once fought generations of bloody wars against one another but now, despite England’s vote for “Brexit,” they all live and work together as a part of the European Union.

Our scriptures for today remind us that God has sent his Son, not only to rescue us, but to heal the divisions between his people.  In Isaiah 11:1-10, God said this about the coming Messiah:

11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

The messiah will come and he will have wisdom, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord.  He will decide based on righteousness, aid the poor, strike down the wicked, and rule with righteousness and faithfulness.  And when the messiah comes, natural enemies will lay down their hostility forever.  Wolves and lambs, calves and bears, will be friends and even the lion, who is often the enemy of everyone, will become as harmless as an ox.  No longer will their hostility toward one another bring harm or destruction in God’s city.  And then Isaiah concludes with some very obvious military battle metaphors.  To those of us in the twenty first century, in a world of radios and instant communication, these may not be quite as obvious as they once were but if you’ve ever watched the history channel, or read stories about Richard the Lionheart, or even Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, these metaphors remain clear.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

The messiah will raise his banner for the people.  Before the advent of radio, armies went to war and the king, or commander, communicated with the disparate segments of his forces by using flags.  In the chaos of battle sometimes even the king had to move from place to place, and his forces could be scattered but, at some point, once a new position had been secured, the king’s banner, battle standard, or battle flag would be raised.  Everyone could see where the king was, and they would rally, warriors who had been scattered all over the battlefield would fight their way to where the king was and regroup.

This is the picture that Isaiah paints.  In that day, the messiah will raise his kingly banner, and nations from all over the world will join him and stand together.

In Romans 15:4-13, Paul reiterates this idea while both clarifying and amplifying it.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says that what had been written in the past was intended to encourage us and to teach us endurance so that we might all come to have the same attitude, or the same mindset, so that we might think like Jesus.  And even greater than that, Paul says that in having the mind of Christ, we would be able to accept one another just as Jesus has accepted each one of us.  But Paul wants to be sure that his readers understand exactly what he means and so he clarifies this with an example, Paul says that we shouldn’t just accept people who are like us, because Jesus had become a servant of both the Jews, who had received the promises of Abraham, as well as the Gentiles whom the Jews had considered to be the enemy for thousands of years.  And just to be sure that his readers really understood that this is what he meant, Paul quotes four different passages of Isaiah that remind them that God intended to invite the Gentiles, the outsiders, the enemy, into his camp alongside the Jews.

Paul concludes by saying “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This once again reminds everyone that as we trust in Jesus Christ, our hope in God should fill us with joy and peace in such measure that our hope overflows into the people, and the world, around us.

But as the time approaches for the arrival of the messiah, John appears in the desert preparing a way for him by preaching a baptism of repentance. (Matthew 3:1-12)

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John called God’s people to repent, and they came confessing their sins before God, except the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Knowing their character, and how John reacted to their presence, it appears that these church leaders did not come to repent and to confess, but instead came as a group to see where all their people were going and what all the fuss was about.  To them, John says that is isn’t enough to claim the ancestry of Abraham for your salvation before God.  Simply being a member of the family, or being a member, or even a leader of the church wasn’t enough.  What was necessary was to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  And what that means is, that real repentance looks like it made a difference in your life.  People who find real repentance live as if God, and his teaching, actually matter.  People who find real repentance produce fruit for the kingdom of God.

John ends his speech with a warning for everyone.  He says that although he has come to baptize and to issue a call for repentance, he is only preparing the way for the arrival of another.  The one who is coming is more powerful than John.  So much more powerful, that John is unworthy even to be the servant that carries his shoes.  John’s warning is that although he himself is calling for repentance, the one who is coming will come not to plant, but to harvest.  When the messiah comes to bring in the harvest, he will gather the wheat and burn the rest.

And so, as we prepare for the arrival of the Messiah at Christmas, we look forward to a day when all of God’s people are united, friends, strangers, and enemies, people of every language, and every color skin, and from every nation on earth.  We are encouraged to read the scriptures and to internalize their message so that we become like, and think like, Jesus.  We are called not only to read about Jesus, and not only to think about Jesus, but to act like Jesus.  And we are warned that failing to do so will come at a cost.

As we celebrate this season of Advent, may we all recommit ourselves to becoming more like Jesus, thinking more like Jesus, and acting more like Jesus so that on the day he raises his banner, we can stand with our brothers and sisters, from every nation of the world, at his side.

 

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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.