Heroes

SpacewalkThere was one moment. It wasn’t scripted, it wasn’t planned, and it wasn’t a part of the program or on anyone’s agenda. But for those of us who were paying attention… it was powerful. Many of you know that I just got back from a weekend technical conference with the National Association of Rocketry that was held at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  As an engineer, and as a geek, I had a great time learning all kinds of detailed, specific, stuff about rockets that would bore the snot out of a lot of other people. In any case, because this year is the 60 anniversary of NASA and the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, this year’s conference not only included tours of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, we invited engineers, technicians and astronauts from the space program to come and talk to us.  And, after our evening banquet at the close of the conference, a panel of NASA astronauts shared memories and stories about their lives and their careers. Sadly, due to my hearing loss, and a big room filled with echoes, I only heard 10 or 20 percent of what was said.  But I didn’t miss one of the most powerful moments… …because there weren’t any words. You see, three of the astronauts on the panel were pilots or technical specialists that had made one, or several, flights aboard the Space Shuttle, but one gentleman, Colonel Al Crews, was from another generation.  He was one of the guys who was training during the Apollo era, and who was an X-20 Dyna-Soar pilot (a space plane 20 years before the dynasoarshuttle) before that program was cancelled.  He was then transferred to work on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory project, which was planned to be a space station based on the Gemini launch vehicle (thirty years before the ISS).  But that program was also cancelled before it flew.  But even though Al Crews never flew, his hard work and dedication (and that of many people like him) made it possible to build the space shuttle, and an orbiting space station, and many other things that we take for granted. But after all the jokes, and shared memories, and stories were over, something happened. On the stage, were four men who, to many of us, as engineers, as rocketry hobbyists, as Americans, and as human beings, were heroes.  We all watched the Space Shuttle launches on television, and we wished that we were them.  We cheered their successes and we wept over their failures.  But when the evening’s program was over, something powerful happened. And a lot of people probably didn’t even notice. As the program ended, and everyone in the audience applauded, the astronauts nodded and accepted our thanks.  Eventually, they stood up to leave the stage, and as they did so, every one of those heroes made sure that they found their way over to Al Crews and shook his hand. Saturn VThey knew that they would not have lived the lives they had, or done the things that they had done, without men like Al Crews.  Just as we looked up to them, it was obvious that they all looked up to him. And so, at the end of the day, if you were watching, there was a powerful message. Even heroes, have heroes. Al Crews never walked on the moon, he never even made it to orbit, but his dedication, his reliable, predictable, daily effort, sustained over an entire career, made it possible for another generation of heroes to inspire others. We may not walk on the moon, but each of us can be a hero to somebody. What are you doing to inspire others?  What actions are you taking?  What reliable, predictable, daily effort are you making, to make it possible for others to go places you can only dream about? Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Whose giant will you be?      

 

 

 

 


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Pastor’s Report – Charge Conference 2018

Every fall, our church has a “Charge conference” in which we present our slate of officers for the next year and next year’s proposed budget, we also vote on staff salaries, and turn in paperwork that is intended to satisfy our District Superintendent, Bishop, Annual Conference, the IRS, and other end of year housekeeping.  As a part of that, I am asked to submit a “pastor’s report” outlining our activities for the year and my expectations for next year.  It’s a lot like the “What I did last summer” reports that we wrote in the fall as school children.  In any event, I wanted to share that report with you, so what follows is the report that I turned in at Charge conference last month.


 

Pastor’s Report

Charge Conference 2018

Having arrived at Christ UMC only three months ago, I really don’t have a lot to reflect upon.  But I can, at least, share my observations.  Christ Church is a busy church with almost constant activity.  We are deeply involved in the community at many levels, from our association with Habitat for Humanity, Men’s Challenge, and the Alliance of Churches, which have office space on our first floor, to our participation in local food pantries and “flight pack” food programs for school children, to the professional involvement of our members in the Chamber of Commerce, the Lion’s Club, and other organizations.  Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts meet here, are strongly supported and our own youth group, though small, has the deep and enthusiastic support of every member regardless of age.  Not only does Christ Church host the weekly community dinner (which is averaging well over 100 people, and often 150), our church isn’t content to simply feed people, it is active in teaching life skills, such as cooking, so that many of those same people can become more independent and self-sufficient.

We have also found, that the people of Christ Church are not just supportive of local outreach efforts but are incredibly supportive of missions nationally and internationally.  Two members of our church volunteered for our planned mission to Kentucky when we had only just arrived here, and they had hardly done more than met me.  There were several others who expressed a sincere interest in going with us but who had scheduling conflicts that prevented it.  I have no doubt that we will be successful in returning to Kentucky with another team at least once next year, and we are exploring the possibility of doing so cooperatively with the chaplain at the University of Mount Union.  What’s more, since we arrived in Alliance and at Christ UMC so close to our planned mission trip to Liberia with the East Ohio Conference’s Farmer to Farmer mission, Patti and I understood that our ability to do fundraising would be limited.  But what we found, was a church family who had already sent their lay leader to Sierra Leone, who was so incredibly supportive of our trip that they repeatedly asked us to do informational presentations, and who raised more support for our trip than we imagined possible even if we had done more extensive fundraising.

As if these things weren’t enough, despite everything that Christ Church and its people are doing, their passion, compassion, and enthusiasm are regularly causing them to ask, “What more can we do?”  As such, this year Christ Church is taking over the Thanksgiving meal that had formerly been spearheaded by the United Church of Christ.  Since last year’s project distributed approximately 1,500 meals, this is an enormous undertaking, but the evidence is that Christ Church, and our Alliance community, are rising to the challenge.

So, even though I have only been at Christ Church for a few months, several things seem clear.  First, although the people of Christ Church sometimes seem a little weary, their enthusiasm, faith, compassion, and heart for Jesus fill them with an enthusiasm that other churches might envy.  Second, as we see with people, and with churches everywhere, although there is a fondness for doing things that “we have always done,” the people of Christ Church are unafraid, open, and even eager, to try new things.  Third, it is apparent from conversations in our community, that Christ Church is viewed by the people in and around Alliance in a very positive way.

Taken together, these things, and others, tell me that God isn’t done with Christ Church yet.  There is much to be done, and the people of Christ Church are interested, and ready, to discover what God is calling us to do next.  I am sure that, working together, we can find a way for Christ Church to be healthy, vital, and vibrant as we make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of Alliance, Ohio… and the world.

Transitions

change aheadChange.

As much as we sometimes say otherwise, most of us struggle with change.

And we know that in just a few weeks, we all have to figure out how to deal with some big changes.  My family is already packing boxes and donating other things as we prepare to move into a new house and prepare to attend a new church, find a new mechanic, a new grocery store, a new favorite gas station, and on and on it goes.  Thankfully, at least this time we don’t need to worry quite so much about changing school districts.

Here at Trinity, your changes will be somewhat less, but I know that there are a few of you who really struggle with far smaller changes.  More than one person has confided in me that they are uncertain about having a female pastor.  I understand that Trinity Church has never had a female pastor and that many of you haven’t either.  But I was in your shoes once and as folks have shared their concerns with me, that is the story that I’ve been telling them.  Since I’ve heard about those kinds of concerns more than once, I thought that I should share that story with all of you.

Back in the mid to late 1990’s Patti and I were still attending the church in South Akron where we met and where we were married.  This was the church where my father had been the pastor in the early 1980’s and that’s how I had begun my membership there.  After several more male pastors had succeeded by father, the bishop and the cabinet announced that our next pastor would be female.  There were many concerns expressed throughout the church.  It was nearly a shockwave of concern.  Some of the leading families in the church were known to be very conservative and at least one of the patriarchs of those families was rumored to be openly racist.  People thought at a woman simply would not be welcome as a leader of the church and many feared that her appointment would divide the church and that whole families would quit together.

But they were willing to give the new pastor a chance.

And, as far as I know, not one person left the church.  Because you see, although Pastor Linda was a woman (obviously), she was found to be more conservative in many things, than several of the male pastors that had been at our church.  She didn’t come to our church with an axe to grind or anything and more than that, she did something else.

She loved us.

Linda just loved on the entire congregation and many (okay, all) of the old curmudgeons that we worried wouldn’t like her, fell in love with Linda too.  In the end, Pastor Linda stayed at that church longer than any other pastor in the history of the church.

There were changes that we had to adapt to though.  Some because we had a female pastor, others because every pastor has their own unique personality, and still others because Pastor Linda’s husband, Pastor Mike, was appointed to a church across town.  Where we had grown accustomed to the pastor’s family attending our church, Linda’s didn’t.  Pastor Mike rarely ever came to our church.  I think I saw him two or three times in five or six years other than when we visited them in their home.  When Mike and Linda’s kids were in town, they most often attended Mike’s church, if at all.  It wasn’t what I expected.  It was different.

But different isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different.

For many of the same reasons, you will find that things here at Trinity will be different.  Tina is going to be good at different things than I am, she might not be good at some of the things that I was, she’s going to like, and dislike, different things, she might run meetings differently, and I’m sure that there are a lot of other ways in which the two of us are different.  Only one of those things is our gender.  And after our experience with Pastor Linda, as well as seminary classmates, and other colleagues, I no longer even consider that to be an issue at all.

Different isn’t bad.  It’s just different.

In the last six years, our family has fallen in love with Trinity Church and many of the people in it.  You can be sure that I will be praying for all of you in the days ahead.

I hope that you will do what our church in Akron did.

Just give Tina a chance to be your pastor.

My bet is that you will fall in love with her too.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 

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‘Go’ for Launch

‘Go’ for Launch

March 25, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Mark 11:1-11                         Zechariah 9:9-10

 

How many of you have ever watched the launch of a Saturn V rocket from the Apollo program, or a Space Shuttle, an Atlas, a SpaceX Falcon 9 or any other rocket? The entire countdown can take days, and that doesn’t include all of the construction and preparation that happened before the rocket ever made it to the launch pad.  But near the end, just before the final countdown, the Launch Director takes a poll of all the stations that are monitoring the launch.  And as you listen, you can hear him name every single position, and before the launch can proceed, each of them must answer that they are ‘Go’ for launch.  If even one of them fails to answer in the affirmative, then the launch cannot proceed.  Everything must be ready.  Every detail must be exactly as it should be.

 

We understand that.  Once, during the Space Shuttle program, one station operator reported that they were not “Go” for launch and the Launch Director chose to proceed anyway.  That station operator was reporting that the temperatures at the launch pad were below the required operating temperatures of the spacecraft.  And when the launch director followed the instructions of his superiors and ignored the “No Go” from that station operator, he doomed the entire crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

 

Rockets are powerful and dangerous.  Millions, even billions of dollars of investment and years, sometimes decades of work are on the line.  If even one thing goes wrong, everything the teams have worked for could be ruined.  There is no room for error.

 

But that is exactly what we witness as we read the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in

Mark 11:1-11.  God has been preparing humanity for this moment for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of years.  Lives, governments, nations, and even empires had been pulled, prodded, guided, lifted up, brought down, created, and destroyed, to bring everything into readiness for what we now call Holy Week.  And in this passage of scripture, we can see Jesus checking off the last boxes of the launch poll.

 

11:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!” [Hosanna means “save us”]

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

 

Jesus sends two disciples ahead to acquire a donkey with which to ride upon during his entrance into the holy city of Jerusalem and tells them that if anyone asks why they are taking it, to simply tell them that “the Lord needs it” and will return it shortly.  That phrase, “The Lord needs it” can also be translated as “The master has need of it” but in either case we are left with only two options.  Either Jesus had somehow, made arrangements in advance for that donkey to be there and the disciples simply needed to arrive and confirm that they were picking it up for him, or Jesus knew that the donkey was there, and that this answer would satisfy those witnesses, all while he was still miles away from that place.  But whichever possibility you think is true, it enables Jesus to arrive in the city in the same manner that the kings of Israel had done throughout history and also allows him to check off another item on that pre-launch checklist.  We know that many of the things that Jesus did were a fulfillment of the prophecies contained in the Old Testament, and this is no exception.  I think that you will find that this passage from Zechariah 9:9-10 will sound remarkably similar to the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem

 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

 

The people along the road knew who Jesus was.  They had heard of the things that he had done.  They had witnessed his miracles.  They had listened to him preach.  But they were expecting a military and a political leader.  They were looking for a government that would save them instead of a God who loved them.  Today they praised him, but within the week, as they realized that Jesus had no intention of taking over the government, they would turn on him, betray him, and hand him over to the chief priests and the Roman army.

 

As Jesus enters into the city of Jerusalem, and as he, and his disciples, draw closer to the climax of the story next week at Easter, Jesus will continually fulfill the promises of God and the prophecies of the Old Testament.

 

The impossible becomes possible.

 

What was seen in visions and dreams becomes reality.

 

What was foretold as the future becomes the present.

 

God’s promise is kept.

 

Israel’s hope becomes truth.

 

The hope of future generations unfolds like a flower opening in the spring.

 

The launch poll has been completed.  All is in readiness.  All systems are “Go.”

 

There is no room for error.

 

The rescue of all humanity is beginning in 10… 9… 8…7…

 

 

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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.

 

Whose “Side” Are You On?

Two SidesI read an article that included a statement that struck me as wrong, but which, the more I thought about it,  bothered me even more.  The article was yet another story about the current clash of political ideas and in the story, one group (the name of the group is unimportant) claimed that they would win because, “God is on our side.”  It would be easy to point out how some of the group’s actions have been hurtful in ways that clearly do not reflect anything like godliness, but the more I thought about it, this is true of every single political and religious group on the planet.

We can never claim that God is on our side.

Why?

Because God doesn’t take sides.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

God is the creator, ruler, and final judge of all that is.  There is nothing we can do to persuade God to join our cause regardless of its goodness.  God does not stand with or against Republicans or Democrats. God does not join forces with churches, or synagogues, or mosques.  God does not play favorites with social movements.

God is so much bigger than humanity, or anything that humanity perceives, that God’s very existence defines good and evil.  When we stand with God we join the forces of good and when our positions oppose God’s will we have, by definition, become agents of evil.

There are only two sides.

As followers of God and followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to abandon the idea that God will take our “side” or join our cause, and realize instead that we must join God’s side.  The positions of the Republican party sometimes align with God’s will and sometimes their positions stand against God’s will.  The same is true of the Democrat party, and the Libertarian party, and the Socialist party. The same is true of the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church, and the Catholic Church, a well as the Mormons, those of the Jewish faith, Muslims, and even ISIS.  The same is true of those advocating for, and against, LBGT rights, environmentalists, and every other group that encourage us to join their cause by claiming that God is on their side.

He isn’t.

God isn’t a “joiner.”  God doesn’t join our “sides.”

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

Our affiliation with a political party, or a social movement, or even a particular denomination or religion does not define us as godly.  We are only godly, we are only good, when we do the will of God.  Political parties, and social movements, and even churches and religions are only on God’s side when they do the will of God.  If we truly want to be on God’s side, we can stand with those groups when they are godly.

But we must stand against them when they are not.

Long ago, as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, they had to make a choice.  They had to choose whether they were going to follow God or the gods of Egypt that they had left behind.  Joshua pressed them for an answer saying, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

In our modern world far removed from the children of Israel, and in a time when our political, social, and religious worlds are so polarized, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider what Joshua might ask us today.  Would his words to us sound like this?

Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of the political parties, or the gods of the social movements, or the gods disguised as religion.  But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

There are only two sides.

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

Whose side are you on?

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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.

 

The Invasion Expands

“The Invasion Expands”

(Epiphany)

January 01, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Isaiah 60:1-6                             Matthew 2:1-12                                  Ephesians 3:1-12

 Many of you were there, or were reading the newspapers, during World War Two.  For a time, as the Nazi war machine drove across Europe, it seemed as if there was nothing that could stop it.  But then, after years of planning, after building hundreds of ships, thousands of airplanes, and training enormous numbers of troops and ferrying them all to England, came D-day and the Allied invasion of Europe.  No one knew if they would be successful, but the beachhead was secured and the long fight back across Europe began.  But already, even before the Normandy invasion had begun, more invasions were being planned.  In short succession, the Allies would invade North Africa, and then Sicily, and then bring forces into southern Europe through Italy.  This expansion of the war forced the Axis to fight on multiple fronts and further divided their forces.  It was a plan that was both risky and bold.  The allies, particularly with the participation of the United States, had resources of both men and material that they could afford to spend while the German army did not.  In the end, this expansion was a key part of the allied victory.

 But why do I recite this story today on the day that we celebrate Epiphany?

 The answer is simple, in scripture, the events that we remember at Epiphany, with the coming of the wise men, are incredibly similar to the Allied invasions that we saw in Europe.  But let’s back up for a moment.  The birth of Jesus as a human child, God wrapping himself in human flesh, is a decisive moment in both history and scripture.  That moment has often been described as God’s invasion of the Earth, a beachhead landing in a small town in the hill region of Israel.  From that point, God’s people would carry the Good News of Jesus’ coming, his life, his sacrifice, and of our rescue from sin and death.  But in the story of the wise men, the invasion expands.  This widening invasion was not a surprise, or at least it shouldn’t have been, because just as Isaiah prophesied about the coming of the messiah, he also told of how the messiah would expand his kingdom.  (Isaiah 60:1-6)

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

The story of God’s covenant with Abraham, as well as that of Moses and the Exodus, and nearly all of the Old Testament, is a story of God’s special relationship with the people of Israel.  But here, Isaiah declares that one day, with the coming of the messiah, other nations from all over the known world would join them.

And in a story that sounds as if it is almost a mirror to the prophecy of Isaiah, we hear these words in Matthew 2:1-12.

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Beyond representing the fulfillment of Isiah’s prophecy regarding the messiah, the coming of the wise men represents a significant shift in the way that God chooses to deal with the affairs of humanity.  Beginning with Abraham, God chose to become involved, to make a commitment to and a covenant with, one family.  Among all the people on the earth, God chose to build one special relationship with one people, in one place.  But with the prophecy of Isaiah, and then the coming of the wise men, God expands his invasion.  No longer does God choose to limit himself to one nation or one people.  The doors are thrown open and God invites people from all over the world, foreigners from far away, Gentiles, people who do not follow the laws and the rules laid down for Israel.  The wise men, scholars and governmental ambassadors, who travelled from Arabia, or Persia, possibly from what we would now call Saudi Arabia, or Yemen, or Iraq, or Iran, and quite possibly knowing of the prophecies of Daniel, they follow the star, and come to Bethlehem to worship the new king of Israel.

These were not Jews.  They were not children of Abraham that had gotten lost, immigrated abroad, or somehow misplaced.  These were non-Jews, unbelievers, truly Gentiles by every definition.  And the invasion expands as God begins landings, not only in Israel, but all over the world.  As the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on that first dark Christmas night, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

And then, after the Gospel accounts of Jesus life, which also included several tantalizing hints of God’s ministry to the Gentiles, then comes Paul, a Pharisee and a dedicated persecutor of the Jewish followers of Jesus, who has a dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus.  After that time, Paul becomes a missionary of Jesus Christ but in contrast with James, John, and the other disciples, Paul is called to minister to the Gentiles.  Once again, the invasion expands.  In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul says this:

3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Paul says that in former generations the mystery of God was known only to the Jews, but with the coming of Jesus Christ, God has not only been made known to the entire world, but the Gentiles have become heirs of God’s kingdom, adopted as sons and daughters alongside of Abraham, Moses, and the people of Israel.  Paul proclaims that not only has he been called as a missionary to carry this good news, but that it is God’s intention, “through the church” for God’s wisdom to be made known to the Gentiles and thus to the entire world.

And so, as we celebrate Epiphany and the coming of the Wise Men we recognize that this marks a significant expansion of God’s invasion of the earth as well as being the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.  The worship of the wise men symbolizes the beginning of God’s ministry, outreach, and rescue of the Gentiles… our adoption, our inclusion into God’s family alongside the people of Israel.

But Paul reminds us that this, like the invasion of North Africa, was only the beginning of a long and difficult battle.  For two thousand years the message of Jesus, the Good News of our salvation and rescue, has spread around the world, but that work is not yet finished.  Many people have never heard the stories of Jesus.  Many have never known that Jesus sacrificed his life in order to rescue them.  Many of our family members, neighbors and friends do not know that Jesus has invited them to live forever in paradise.  Although we, as Gentiles, have heard the Good News and belong to God’s family, our work is not done.  God’s intention, God’s plan, is that all these people will hear of his message through the church.

 And so, in the end, the message of Epiphany and the arrival of the wise men, reminds us that we still have work to do.

 

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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.