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.

 

Eulogy and Obituary for Lann L. Ford

Eulogy for Lann N. Ford

December 29, 2016

by Rev. John Partridge

 

With my arrival here at Trinity Church five years ago, I came into the middle of everyone’s lives and clearly the middle of Lann and Larry’s difficult story.  When I arrived, Lann had already been fighting for several years, had already retired, and was already staying mostly at home.  Everyone knows that part of the story so there isn’t any need for me to say much more except that even at that late date, there were things that I learned from Lann Ford.  But before we talk about that, let’s go back to the beginning.

Lann N. Huntsman was born November 5th, 1955 as the fifth child (there would eventually be eight) and second daughter of Robert and Dorothy Huntsman.  From the beginning, it was obvious that Lann was her own person.  She had a plan, and she didn’t care if other people, even her parents had different expectations.  She was a good student, but more than that, she had a plan.  She didn’t just go to school, she wanted to get an education and there were certain pieces, certain bits of education that she wanted, and she made sure that she got them.  She was in speech, and in plays, and she deliberately designed and used her high school career to prepare her for college and the things that she wanted out of life in general.  She knew that she wanted to go to college, even though no one else in her family had gone and even though college education wasn’t something that her parents thought was important for girls.  It didn’t matter.  She pushed and she pushed and she went anyway.  More than that, she worked to earn her own money to pay for it.

Lann knew that she wanted to be an elementary school special education teacher but when Bard was ready to start school, he wasn’t too sure what he wanted to do or what he would be good at.  But at registration, Lann knew exactly what he should do, and she took him by the hand and got him signed up.  Not only that, she got him a job to help pay for it, and Bard told me that Lann basically got him through his first two years of school at Kent Stark.  The two of them always scheduled their classes so that they could have time to eat lunch together every day.  Lann excelled in education, both as a student and as a teacher, and on the day that she graduated, she was the first in her family to earn a college degree.

After graduation, Lann worked in Massillon, and at Reedurban, and several others before landing at St. Joan of Arc, although even then, technically, she worked for Perry Local Schools.  Lann Ford was a teacher through and through.  She was selfless.  Her students were “her” kids, she loved her kids, she was their teacher, their friend, and their greatest advocate.

I mentioned earlier that Lann disagreed with her parents on the subject of education, but despite their disagreement, she loved her family and she was still daddy’s little girl.  She knew how to use tools, but not on a car.  She never touched a car.   There was always dad or a brother to do that for her, and she was fine with that even though all of the cars that she drove were always beaters.  Lann never owned a nice car until Larry bought one for her.

This reminds me, Larry and Lann met because Lann was dating Larry’s friend Paul Vaccani.  But they broke up, and when they did, Larry was waiting and stepped right in.  It must have gone well, because they were married in 1980 outside of the North Canton Civic Center.  It had rained all day and stopped just in time for the wedding.  Next door, there was a girls’ softball game being played, but the coaches stopped the game during the ceremony so that they wouldn’t be too disruptive.  In 1983 Dara arrived and then Dustin in 1986.  As much as Lann loved her students, she loved her family more.  She was very family oriented and attended everything that her kids were in, she never missed a game or an event even when she had to get there in a wheelchair.  And Lann was a great supporter and fan of her husband too.  When Larry was awarded Teacher of the Year at Claymont, nearly all of Larry’s acceptance speech was about how Lann was responsible and why she was the reason that he was good at what he did.

I asked the family to tell me about vacations that they took together and no one could really pinpoint any one big trip or talk about an annual camping trip or anything.  They remembered that Lann really loved Utah, and she loved to plan parties, but nothing else really stood out.  Even so, vacations were about family.  Since Larry and Lann were both teachers they had the summer off, but the impression that I got was that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, ‘ya know?  Dara and Dustin were just as busy and as driven as Lann and they had plans for the summer, and so Larry and Lann would spend the summer doing whatever their kids were doing.  Lann just loved being around family.

Of course, not going away on a big vacation trip meant that the summer often turned into a “stay-cation.”  Especially since Lann loved keep busy, there was always something to do in the house, to the house, or around the house.  One summer they tore up all the carpet, sanded, and refinished the hardwood floors underneath… in the whole house.  Another summer they sided the garage, and so on.

As we met together, there were things that I heard from her family that I had heard many times before from many other people, and things that I had learned for myself.  Lann Ford was a ball of energy and was always cheerful.  She never seemed to have a bad day.  Whenever she met someone, it was as if she had always known them.  She liked to talk, genuinely cared about people, and never held a grudge.  She was always happy and always thought of herself as a dancer.  She danced on her toes from the time she was a little girl and she loved gymnastics.

Lann was first diagnosed with Multi-System Atrophy in 2004 and took disability retirement in 2007 but through it all, she always handled her disability with calm, humility, and grace. When I first met her, Lann was already in a wheelchair, had difficulty speaking and was already transitioning to using her spelling board.  It was hard for us to communicate and between her soft voice and my hearing loss, it was impossible without another person to listen and repeat what she had said.  But even then, she just smiled and did the best that she could.  Lann Ford had every reason to be frustrated and angry from time to time.  Everyone would have understood if she occasionally yelled at God and lashed out at people… but she never did.

I’m not sure that I would be able to do what she did if I was confronted with the sort of challenges that she faced.  But that was the strength of her character.  This was the woman who, even in high school, knew what she wanted to do, where she wanted to go, and what she needed to be doing to get there.  This was the woman who determined to go to college even though no one from her family had done it before, even though her parents didn’t think that it was important, and even though she had to find ways to pay for it herself.  This was the woman who came to every event that her children participated in, was her husband’s greatest supporter, encourager, and cheerleader, and who challenged her employers, or administrators, or the system if she needed to so that she could advocate for her students.  Lann Ford must be one of the strongest women that I have ever known.  From the very beginning, she was determined to live life on her terms and she refused to allow her disability to change that.  Lann refused to allow her disease to change who she was no matter what.

My friends, if any of us have learned anything at all from Lann Ford, it’s this: If any of us can be half as brave, half as strong, half as determined, half as kind, half as compassionate, half as caring, and half as happy as she was, we will change the world.  I am certain of this because every one of us is here today because Lann Ford inspired us or changed us in some way, and every one of us that is here can name five more people who aren’t here for whom she did the same thing.  As we leave this place, the best way for us to honor Lann is for us to be for our families, our friends, our coworkers, and the people around us, the kind of a person, the kind of a blessing, that Lann was for us.

—————

Lann liked the words from Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, as well as the song, Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds which used that scripture as the basis for the lyrics.  We aren’t able to play the song for you today, but listen to these words recorded for us by King Solomon:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain have the workers from their toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. 14 I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.

————–

lann-fordObituary

Lann N. Ford

November 4, 1955 – December 24, 2016
Resided in Canton, OH

 

Lann N. (Huntsman) Ford, 61, passed away December 24, 2016 following an extended illness. She was born November 4, 1955 in Canton to the late Robert and Dorothy (Tyrell) Huntsman.

Lann was a 1974 graduate of Perry High School. She was an elementary L.D. teacher for Perry Local Schools until she took disability retirement in 2007. Lann loved her work and was a devoted advocate for her L.D. students. Lann was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Perry Heights.

Lann was preceded in death by her parents. She is survived by her husband of 36 years, Larry K. Ford; daughter, Dara; son, Dustin and daughter-in-law, Megan; siblings, Lee Huntsman, Brent Huntsman, Brad Huntsman, Lynn Fay, Laynn Vaccani, Bard Huntsman, and Brett Huntsman; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Calling hours will be held in Reed Funeral Home Canton Chapel on Wednesday, December 28 from 6-8pm. Funeral service will be held in Trinity United Methodist Church (3757 Lincoln Way East Massillon, Ohio 44646) on Thursday, December 29 at 10am with Pastor John Partridge officiating. Interment will follow at Richville Cemetery. In Lieu of flowers family suggests donations to Trinity United Methodist Church in Perry Heights.

Blessed Are Those Who Weep

“Blessed Are Those Who Weep”

(Seeing the Invisible)

November 06, 2016

(All Saints Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18            Ephesians 1:11-23                             Luke 6:20-31

 

I saw a story this week about an 18 year old that got a birthday letter from her long dead mother.  Apparently, as she was dying, her mother had the chance to write down some things that she wanted her daughter to know, but they were words of wisdom that she knew she wouldn’t live long enough to share.  So, she put pen to paper and began to write down the things that she wanted her daughter to know as she approached adulthood, graduated from high school, and headed for college.  It’s the sort of message that is bound to make an impression.

We wonder what it would be like to be on the receiving end of that sort of message.

But imagine.

If you could send a message to your 16 year old self, what would you say?

We might tell our younger selves to avoid some of our poor choices, or reaffirm some of our best ones.  We might tell them to eat better, or exercise more because of the pain we experienced or the heart attacks we survived.

But, imagine that you could go back in time.  Imagine you could walk into FDR’s, or Harry Truman’s Oval Office and tell them what the future held.  Imagine you could tell the American Indians what lay ahead of them as the Europeans began to land on their shores.  Imagine that you could talk to Amelia Earhart before she left on her attempt to circumnavigate the world, or Abraham Lincoln before he went to Ford’s Theater, or the Donner Party before they left on their journey west.

What would you tell them?  What would you tell them if you had to compact your message into one or two sentences?

Even more difficult, what would you tell George Washington about the Civil War that lay one hundred years in the future?  This is the challenge presented by many of the Old Testament prophets.  They could see what was to come, but in many cases what they saw was generations in the future.  What they saw was sometimes difficult to understand but the message that they carried, although often short on details, emphasized the most important pieces.

In Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, God’s prophet, who is living in captivity in Babylon, is given a vision of Israel, hundreds of years in the future.  And while it isn’t specific enough to build armies, or develop battle plans, or to change the course of history, it is enough to carry a message of hope to God’s people.

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’

The future that Daniel saw would bring four great beasts which would arise.  Simply by his describing them as beasts implies that they were both large and frightening.  And when he asked who or what they were, he was told that these were great kings, with great empires, that would arise over the earth.

If that alone was the end of the prophecy, everyone would have reason to be afraid and to fear the future.  But Daniel is also told that despite the rise of these great kings, God’s people will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever.  Despite Babylon, despite Persia, despite Rome, despite the rise of human empires and kings, God rules over all the earth and the people of God will prevail in the end.

In a moment when Israel’s best days would seem to be behind them, God proclaims that the future will be better.

In the same way, during a time when Christians and Jews were not in the mainstream of society and even outcasts in some ways because of their belief in only one god, and also a time when increasing pressure from society and government was suggesting that open persecution may not be far away, Paul writes a message of hope.  In this case, instead foretelling the future, Paul explains what the coming of Jesus Christ means to the future. (Ephesians 1:11-23)

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Paul says that you were included, you were chosen, to be a part of God’s eternal kingdom at the moment that you believed.  As proof, Paul says that the Holy Spirit was given to us as a deposit in order to demonstrate God’s goodwill and intent to fulfill his promise.  Just as we make a deposit on a large purchase in order to seal the contract and to demonstrate our intent to complete that purchase, God has given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment to demonstrate his commitment to fulfill his promise.  Paul continues by saying that he is praying for three things, 1) that you may know how rock solid, how trustworthy, the future will be, 2) that you may understand how wonderful and how glorious our future will be, and 3) that you might know how powerfully God watches over us.

In a moment when the future seems dark, God says that it’s really better than anything you could have imagined.

And then in Luke 6:20-31, Jesus says this:

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

As crowds gather to hear him speak, Jesus tells them that the world is not as it appears.  The poor will inherit the kingdom of God, the hungry will be satisfied, those who weep will laugh, and when people hate you, or insult you, or reject you, or say that the good things you do are evil, in all those times, you are, in God’s reality, blessed and not cursed.

In the day when the world tells you that you should be sad, rejoice instead because you know that your reward in the kingdom of heaven, is enormous.

But Jesus also warns that those who are well off must be careful because their world is not as it appears either.  When you are rich, or comfortable, or well fed, or surrounded by laughter, you may well be setting up a future that you will weep over.

The path that we must follow into the future, whether we are rich or poor, hungry or well fed, weeping or laughing, hated or loved, is exactly the same. The path that we are to follow into the future is not a path of despair, but a path of hope.  Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you.  Give to those who steal from you.  Give to everyone who asks and do for others the things you would like others to do for you.

The way forward, the path that we are to follow into the future has always been a path of hope and a path of compassion.

In a moment when Israel’s best days would seem to be behind them, God proclaims that the future will be better.

In a moment when the future seems dark, God says that it’s really better than anything you could have imagined.

This is a message for All Saints Day as we remember those that we have lost, but also, perhaps, a message for all of us as we approach one of the ugliest, and gloomiest, presidential elections in history.  The message of Daniel, and Paul, and Jesus is that the world has never been quite as it appears because in the end, God wins.

Scripture invites us to see the invisible, to see that in reality, God owns the future.

To see that everyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ and believed in him is greatly loved by God and the promise of our future has been backed by the deposit of God’s Holy Spirit.

To see that those believers that we have loved have already moved forward into God’s future, and that same future awaits the rest of us.

To see that it doesn’t matter if our nation’s best days sometimes seem to be behind us.    It doesn’t matter if the future seems dark.  It doesn’t matter if our present is unpleasant.  What matters is that God owns the future.

And Jesus tells us that the path from where we are to where God wants us to go is a path on which we must show love, compassion, and generosity to everyone…

…even those who don’t deserve it.

 

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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.

Sight, Vision, or Understanding?

“Sight, Vision, or Understanding?”

April 10, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: John 21:1-14                      Acts 9:1-20                            

 

Have you ever sent your kids, or your spouse, to get something for you, or gone to look for your car keys and even though everyone might have looked, more than once, they didn’t see it.  Somehow, after looking three or four times, in exactly the same place, you find it.  Being able to see doesn’t always mean that you can perceive and understand what is there.  At the same time, sometimes what we see is deceptive and even though we thought we saw something, what we saw isn’t what we thought that we saw.  Are you confused yet?

Here’s an example: During World War Two, during the preparations for the invasion at Normandy, the Allied forces did their very best to convince the German military that they intended to land at Calais and not at Normandy.  Toward that end, soldiers were allowed to be captured, so that fake invasion plans could accidently, on purpose, fall into enemy hands.  In addition, in the south of England, directly across the English Channel from Calais, a gigantic invasion force was assembled so that planes from the German Luftwaffe flying overhead would report on their numbers and activity.  The problem was, almost none of it was real.  The Allied armies had constructed hundred of tanks, trucks and other vehicles out of lumber and others that were inflatable rubber balloons.  Only a handful of real vehicles were in that place, with just a dozen or so troops who drove the real vehicles, and towed the fake ones from place to place so that it appeared as if there were massive troop movements.  The German pilots that flew overhead gave consistent, firsthand, eyewitness testimony that they had seen an active invasion force, but what they had seen, was not really what they saw.

Now, let’s add another layer to your confusion and that involves vision.  Sometimes we see things that aren’t there, but what we see is very real.  Sometimes this is a vision sent by God, but more often it is a gift that comes from the skills, abilities, and intelligence that God gives to us.  And once again, I can explain this best with an example.  I once read of a real estate agent that made a lot of money selling vacant land for development when other realtors were having difficulty selling parcels in the same area.  Later, in an interview, he was asked how he had done it and the solution was both brilliant and simple.  In all of the developments where he was selling land, the parcels were brand new.  Although the land had been cleared, streets paved, utilities installed and grass planted, there was nothing else there.  When people came to see the land, all they saw was a vacant lot.  But once he got a listing, this particular realtor would go out, plant a few trees and a little shrubbery, and then, when he was showing the land he would point to them and say, “Can’t you see it?  Here by this shrubbery is the front deck, and here by these others is the garage and the back door, and over here, in a few years when they grow, you can put the kids’ swing set under these trees for shade.”  For a hundred dollars in shrubbery and a couple scrawny saplings, he pulled in thousands of dollars in commission. The key to his sales was that he stopped selling people what they could see, and started selling a vision for the future.

And finally, one more word must consider this morning is “understanding.”  Just because we see something, doesn’t mean that we understand what we see.  And a great example for this comes from our space program.  How many of you remember watching the very first Space Shuttle, the Enterprise, fly atop NASA’s 747 carrier and then be released in the first glide test?  After the successful completion of the glide test and a few other important tests that were conducted on the Enterprise, she was retired and the production of the fleet of Shuttles that would launch into space was begun.  But many people, including me, wondered why the Enterprise never flew.  Especially after the Challenger disaster, when a replacement orbiter had to be constructed, we wondered again why the Enterprise wasn’t pressed into service.  After all, we had all seen the Enterprise.  She looked like all the other shuttles, so why didn’t they just use it?  But the reality is that sometimes there are huge differences between seeing and understanding.  In this case, the Enterprise was so incredibly different from the other orbiters, both inside and out, that it was cheaper and faster to build a new Space Shuttle from scratch than to try to refit the Enterprise and make it flightworthy.  The difference between what we all thought we saw and the truth is knowledge and understanding.

In our scripture lessons this morning we see all three of these elements, and what we see, and how we see it, as well as how we understand it, make all the difference.  We begin with John 21:1-14, where Jesus appears to the disciples.

21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

And so, Jesus appears to his disciples, they see him but they have no understanding.  I would bet that when, after fishing all night long and catching nothing, they were more than reluctant to do something silly and obvious like fishing from the other side of the boat.  But I would also bet that, when they suddenly found their nets filled to bursting with fish that something within them began to wonder who the man on shore might have been.  And then, after they dragged their catch to shore, they find that a fire is already prepared and a fish dinner already cooked.  It was then that seeing began to drift toward understanding.

In Acts 9:1-20, we hear a different, yet similar, story.

9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

As Paul travels to Damascus on a mission to find, arrest, and imprison the followers of Jesus Christ, he is blinded on the road by a light from heaven and hears a voice asking “Why do you persecute me?”  In this story Paul sees the light, but no one else does even though they can hear the voice.  And then Ananias hears God in a vision.  I admit, that sounds a little strange because we usually think of visions being something that you see and not something that you hear, but we don’t know if Ananias saw anything or just heard it.  Either way, Ananias met God and knew what God wanted him to do, because of the vision that God gave to him.

And Paul, even though he was blinded, was also given two types of vision.  First, he was given his sight but now Paul also understands that Jesus is the Son of God.  Paul not only sees the truth, he begins to understand what it means.

These are all gifts from God.

The first gift is seeing what is there. This is the gift of seeing people instead of numbers and hearts instead of money, politics or clothing.

Second is the gift of seeing what your eyes cannot.  This is the gift of seeing not only what is, but what might be, seeing what the future holds, and seeing what God wants us to do, and who God wants us to become.

And third, is the gift of understanding which is the gift of knowing, not just what the Bible says but what it means and how God intends to change us.  Understanding is the gift of not only knowing that Jesus was a real person, but that Jesus really rose from the dead, that he is, the creator of all that is, the Lamb of God, and the savior and rescuer of all humanity.

My prayer is that God would bless every one of us with all three of these: sight, vision and understanding.

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Vision: Fantasy or Reality?

“Vision: Fantasy or Reality?”

March 20, 2016

(Palm Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture:

Luke 19:28-40                  

John 12:12-16

 

Do you remember the games that you played when you were a little kid?

In particular, do you remember playing “pretend?”

When we played pretend, reality didn’t matter.  We could be anything we wanted.  Even though we were only six years old, we could be doctors, or firefighters, or superheroes, or anything else.  But we always knew that we were just playing a game and that we weren’t really superheroes.

As adults, we know that there are people whose brains sometimes don’t work the way that they should and they get their “pretend” or their fantasy world mixed up with the real world.  When this happens there are several mental illnesses that might be involved including paranoia, delusional behavior, psychotic behavior and others.  But, at the same time, most all of us play a lesser version of these same delusions and in doing so we appear to be perfectly normal.

What happens to most people occurs when they deal with what is called “cognitive dissonance.”  Cognitive dissonance can be a good thing because it is one of the principle mechanisms through which we learn.  Cognitive dissonance happens whenever we learn something new that disagrees with what we thought that we knew.  For example, if we thought that the Earth’s moon was just a short distance, say a few thousand miles, from the International Space Station, and then we learn that it is, in fact, more than three hundred thousand miles away, so far that all of the planets in the solar system would fit between the earth and the moon, our brain becomes remarkably uncomfortable.  That discomfort, which is caused my hearing new information, is called cognitive dissonance. The brain, like the rest of us, dislikes being uncomfortable and must do something to ease its discomfort.  The only two choices that the brain has are to ignore the new facts and “pretend” that the old idea is correct or, to reject the old information and establish new neural pathways to remember that the new facts are true.

This is how we learn.

This is also how we sift through new information to sort out truth from fables, fantasies, and wild Internet gossip.  We reject what we believe to be false and remember what we believe to be true.

But as adults, we often find that new information, even if it’s true, to be so uncomfortable that we choose instead to continue to believe false information even though we have been shown genuine facts that prove otherwise.

Otherwise sane adults do it all the time.

For an example of what I am talking about, you don’t have to look any further than the people you know who are talking about their favorite presidential candidate.  The same stories could be told about every single one of them.  The people that like a particular candidate, once they have chosen that person as their favorite, are likely to remember everything that makes them look good, and totally ignore genuine facts that make them look bad.  I have seen entire articles written in recent weeks that describe how people believe that real, documented events, never happened simply because their favorite candidate, or their campaign, said that it never happened.

This is the adult version of playing pretend.  Honestly, it borders on being delusional, but this is the power of cognitive dissonance.  We deliberately blind ourselves to the facts, because they make us uncomfortable.

So, as long-winded as that was, what does it have to do with Palm Sunday?

And the answer is, everything.  Let’s begin by reading Luke 19:28-40.

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

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

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

This passage begins by establishing that Jesus knows the truth.  More importantly, Jesus demonstrates that he knows things that ordinary mortals cannot, and should not, possibly know.  Jesus knew what was happening in a place far outside of his vision and he knew what would happen in the future.  Jesus knew that a colt would be in the village before they went there.  He knew that someone was likely to stop his friends from taking it, and he knew precisely what answer would satisfy them.  And so, as I said, we have begun by establishing from the beginning, that Jesus knew the truth and understood reality better than anyone on the face of the earth.

Having established that, we then meet the Pharisees who urge Jesus to compel his disciples, and the people along the road, to shut up.  The Pharisees have heard all the same stories about Jesus that the crowd has heard.  We know that the Pharisees have been personally present many times when Jesus taught and even when he performed miracles.  They personally interviewed people who had been miraculously healed.

They absolutely knew the facts…

…And then chose to completely ignore them because the truth made them uncomfortable.

Before we go on, let’s also read this same story as it was recorded by the Apostle John. (John 12:12-16)

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!” [Hosanna means “Save Us!”]

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

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

In the world of the New Testament, Rome was the super power.  The Roman army kept the peace and the Pharisees and the Sadducees had a deal to share political and religious power with the Roman government.  But a big part of that deal was an understanding that the Pharisees and the Sadducees would help the Romans to keep the peace.

And now, suddenly, Jesus enters the city riding on a colt just as the prophets had promised the king of Israel one day would.  And as Jesus enters the city, crowds of people are shouting “Hosanna.”  There were crowds of people crying out for Jesus to save them, and by doing so they were essentially declaring that Jesus was their Savior, and quite possibly, their future king.

So again, remember that the Pharisees had the same information that everyone else had, and much of what they knew they had witnessed firsthand.  Based on this information, the disciples, the crowd, and the Pharisees each crafted a version of reality that made them comfortable.  The disciples, to varying degrees, as well as the people in the crowd, believed that Jesus was the conquering, messiah king who would rise up, overthrow the Roman occupation, and set his people free.  Based on exactly the same information, the Pharisees believed that Jesus was going to upset the applecart, cause a riot, anger the Roman soldiers, force them to beat down a growing insurrection by force and, at the same time, find someone other than the Pharisees and the Sadducees with whom to share power.  Based on these preconceptions, the reality crafted by the Pharisees, was that Jesus was not the Messiah, not the king, but was dangerous radical who would upset the status quo and needed to be quieted… by whatever means necessary.

All of them were wrong.

With the exception of Jesus, everyone there believed a fantasy.  They all looked at the same set of facts and each of them sees what they want to see.  Each of them created a version of reality that made them comfortable.  They were all, in varying degrees, playing pretend.  Each of them, in their own way, were completely delusional… and they didn’t even know it.

Jesus alone understood the truth.

Although John reminds us that the disciples would eventually, after the resurrection, understand the truth, Jesus alone sees reality as it truly is.

Jesus understands that he is indeed Israel’s Messiah, the creator of the universe, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.  Jesus understands that this moment, proclaimed by God and the prophets, was so important that if the crowd refused to recognize him, the rocks along the side of the road would be compelled to do it for them.  But Jesus also understood that although it was not yet time for him to come into the city as a conquering king, the time had come for him to be the Lamb of God, the sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of his people.

And so today, on this Palm Sunday, as we remember the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, let us also remember how easily we can ignore the facts and create false realities for ourselves.  Sometimes as we read stories about who Jesus is, or about what Jesus did, or about the things that Jesus taught us to do, these things make us uncomfortable.  They don’t fit with our version of reality.  And so we have to choose whether or not we will accept Jesus’ reality.  We have to choose whether or not we really want to believe because, if we do, we might just have to change how we live.

Cognitive dissonance makes us uncomfortable and so we have a choice to make.

Our choice is to believe the truth, to learn from it, to change our neural pathways and therefore to change who we are, what we believe, and how we act, or, we can choose to ignore the facts, play pretend, and create our own version of reality that allows us to be comfortable… and wrong.

We have two choices.  We can choose to believe a fantasy, or we can choose to believe reality.

There are two realities that you can choose.

  • The reality of Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the universe, Savior, redeemer, the sacrifice and forgiveness of sins, the King of kings, Lord of lords, and author of all that is?

Or

  • the reality that you create for your own comfort.

Which reality will you choose?

 

 

* 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.

Visions of Home

“Visions of Home”
July 19, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture:

2 Samuel 7:1-14

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Over the years I have made a number of friends who were born in other countries. Some of them were in the United States for a limited time and others had come here to become American citizens and to make a new life. In either case, when they told stories of home, it was much, much different than simply reading stories about that place from a book. When these people told stories, the descriptions were alive with details of sights, sounds, smells, family and friends. When you heard their stories, you could feel the connection that they had, that their heart had, with a place called home. You can hear it in the voice of someone who was born in the south when they talk about the smell of magnolias in the springtime, or when fans talk about the baseball stadiums where they saw their first game. Their voices change and suddenly the story isn’t just a story, it comes alive, because in it, are visions of home.

This morning we are going to read three very different stories, stories which, at first, don’t seem to have a lot in common, but which, in the end, all include these very sorts of visions… visions of home.

We begin in 2 Samuel 7:1-14, where we find King David, resting in his newly constructed palace reflecting on the fact that the Arc of the Covenant was still kept in the Tabernacle, the tent, that Moses had made in the desert a thousand years earlier. Granted, it was a nice tent, and undoubtedly well maintained, but something still didn’t seem right about it…

7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

4 But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son.

This is a great story and we can draw a lot of lessons from it, but today we’re looking behind it just a little bit. Today we are listening for that change of voice, that vision of home, and some insight into the nature of God. And in that sense, there are a couple of things that I heard. First, God says that he was never really concerned about where, on earth, that he lived. He never commanded that he live in a gold-plated palace. Being a nomad, wandering from place to place, never bothered him. Second, God promises that God is the one who is the ultimate builder. He is the one who is building the kingdom; he is the one who made David a king, and he is the one who is building our future. Third, God tells David that despite all the great things that he has done, he is not the one that God has chosen to build his house. In another passage of scripture God insists that because David is a man of blood, because he was a warrior, he is not to be the one who builds God’s house. Instead, God will choose David’s son, Solomon, who was a man of peace.

In Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, we hear this story that, at first sounds completely unrelated.

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

At first this seems pretty random. At least until we start looking for those visions of home, and then we realize something about Jesus’ personality. Even when they were worn out and dog tired from all the time that they had already spent ministering to other people and caring for their needs, even when they were so tired that Jesus said, “Let’s get out of here for a while and take a break,” even then they still did more ministry.

Why?

Even when they had every right to take break and get some rest, Jesus kept on teaching crowds of people and healing as many as could be brought to him.

Why?

Because, our scripture tells us, Jesus had compassion. Jesus cared about people. Jesus cared about their suffering. Jesus cared what they knew and how they thought. Jesus cared so much that his own comfort, even his own rest and his own sleep, were put aside until they could be taken care of. And that is a vision of home. It tells us something about how Jesus thought and felt, and it tells us something about his father and the things that are important to God. It tells us a little about what God’s home must be like. If Jesus cared so much about people who live here on earth, how much more must God care about the people in his own house?

Finally we arrive at Ephesians 2:11-22. Here again, this passage of scripture, appears to be a random selection that has nothing at all to do with the first two, but again we need to listen for that tone of voice that gives us a vision of home.

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Paul is talking about Jesus. How Jesus came, not to bring peace, but to be peace. Jesus came to bring hostile groups together, to bring people together, and to make peace, not only between groups of people, not only on earth, but to bring peace between human beings and God. Not only to bring people together, but to bring human beings and God together.

Paul says that, because of Jesus, we are no longer strangers to God. We are no longer strangers and foreigners regardless of our differences, regardless of the color of our skin, and regardless of our nationality. And if that is what Jesus was doing on earth, just imagine what that means in his own house.

And so, even though you won’t find a chapter of the Bible that tells you all about heaven, if we look carefully, we can find, behind scriptures like these, glimpses and hints of what Jesus’ home must be like.

From these short passages we found that God is building his kingdom, not in a gold plated palace, but in the lives and hearts of human being beings. God is also building our future, he is moving us to places we need to go and bringing people into our lives that we need to meet so that we can have the life that God intends. God is a god of peace. Even though he loved David and called him a man after God’s own heart, he wanted the world to see that the builder of God’s house had to be a man of peace and not a man of war and blood. And that was a foreshadowing, a preview, of the Messiah that was to come. Jesus was not a man of war but a man of peace, a savior who not only brought peace into the world; he came into the world to be peace, to bring people together, and to bring peace between humanity and God. Jesus was a man who was so filled with compassion that he set aside his own needs to bring comfort and healing to others.

In all of these passages, and in many others, we see glimpses of God’s character and clues to what we will find in heaven. Jesus has invited everyone to come; all are welcome regardless of the color of your skin, or nationality, or personality or anything else. We are invited to a house so filled with compassion that there will no longer be suffering or pain or death, a place where there will be no strangers nor will we be strangers to God.

These are just a few of the things we can find in scripture when we read carefully.

These are examples of how we can begin to live our lives here and now, lives filled with peace, love and compassion toward others, even when they appear different and strange to us.

These are images of the future.

Visions of home.

Faith and Power

Faith and Power

June 28, 2015

By John Partridge

Scripture: Mark 5:21-43

    Last week, we read the story about David and his battle with Goliath and we remembered that even though David was just a boy, and even though Goliath was twice his size, well armored, experienced, battle hardened, and incredibly strong, the battle itself was not about swords, armor and brute strength. David understood that and he wanted to be sure that everyone else did too. David knew that the real battle was not between Goliath’s strength and David’s inexperience, but between the physical strength of Goliath, backed up by the power of the armies of the Philistines, against the faith of David and the power and strength of his God, the creator of the universe and all that is.

It was never even close.

Because David understood, and because his faith allowed him to see what others could not, he had the courage to do what others, others who were older, stronger, and more experienced, were afraid to even try.

In Mark 5:21-43, we hear two stories that reveal the true strength of Jesus, but also the power that was revealed in the faith of others.

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

While Jesus was on earth, he was fully (100%) human but, at the same time, fully (100%) God in human flesh. We have trouble with that. In our world, that math doesn’t work. In the physical world that we inhabit, you can’t be 200 percent of anything but God is more than a physical thing. God is a spiritual being and so, in God’s math, Jesus could be, and was, 100% human in the physical world but also 100% divine in the spiritual world. We don’t really understand how that works, and we wrestle with it, but we know that it is true.

Jesus is on the way to see a sick little girl, when a woman who has suffered for years with a chronic illness, pushes through the crowd to see him. She can’t quite reach him but she believes that Jesus’ power is great enough that all she has to do is to touch his clothing. And so she reaches through the crowd, through a tangle of arms and legs and shoulders, and touches the edge of his jacket. Immediately, she is healed, and even before she realizes that she is better, Jesus knows that the power of God has flowed through him and into her. What Jesus doesn’t know, is who she is.

This is one of those puzzles where we struggle with Jesus’ divinity. How did Jesus know that she had been healed but not know who she was. We really don’t know. But Jesus was human. He knew, he felt, God’s power flow through him, but in the press of the crowd, he couldn’t tell who had been on the receiving end. Since the woman had reached through the crowd, she might have already been several rows back from where Jesus was. But she had been healed just the same. Jesus didn’t see her, or pray over her, or recite some religious incantation, God had done all the work, through Jesus, simply because of the strength of the faith of this courageous woman.

Later, in the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus tells Jairus to ignore the people who have given up. The entire household gave up because they know that the girl is dead and that a healer is of no use. But Jesus is no ordinary healer. Jesus tells Jairus not to be afraid, but only to believe. The girl is restored to life, not only because Jesus wielded great power (which he did), but because Jairus had faith.

When we remember that Jesus was fully human, we begin to see the real power in these stories. The power did not reside only in Jesus, but in the faith of those who were healed. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead because of Jairus’ faith. Jesus didn’t even know that the sick woman was in need of healing but she was healed because of the power and strength of her faith. David was able to defeat Goliath because he was the only one who had the faith to trust that God was able.

More often than not, we do not witness the power of God because, like Saul and his army, we lack the faith to trust that God can do it.

Our regular and fervent prayer must be for God to grow our faith so that Jesus Christ can do his work through us.

Learning to See (Part 2 – The World)

Learning to See (Part 2 – The World)
June 21, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: 1 Samuel 17: 1-11, 20-24, 32-49 Mark Mark 4:35-41 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

You may not have heard of Franz Harary, but you have probably seen his work. Franz Harary designed all of the illusions that were used on Michael Jackson’s 1984 Victory tour, the 1989 Super Bowl, and he has levitated the Taj Mahal, and made both the Sphinx and the Space Shuttle disappear. In addition to Mr. Harary, most of us have seen Siegfried and Roy make lions and tigers disappear and practically everyone remembers watching David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear.

Although these folks, and people like them, are often called magicians, many of them insist that they be referred to as illusionists, which is a more accurate description. What these men and women do is not magic, but an illusion designed to make you see what isn’t there, not see what is there, and in general make their audience believe that they saw something that they really didn’t see.

Last week we discussed how we live in two worlds at the same time, a physical world and a spiritual world. Although we live in these two worlds, we cannot always see everything that exists in the spiritual world regardless of the reality of those things. It isn’t that they are an illusion, but that we are unable to see everything that exists in our reality. In 1 Samuel 17 we discover that David, even though he was too young to fight in the army, was able to see what others could not. (1 Samuel 17:1-11, 20-24, 32-49)

Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah.

They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.

4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. [about 9’9’] 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels[125 lb.]; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. [15 lb.] His shield bearer went ahead of him.

8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

While this is happening, David, being too young to go to battle, is at home watching the sheep but his father sends him to the front with food for his brothers and a gift for their commander.

20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

Everyone, that is, except David. David is furious that Goliath is making all sorts of threats and insults against God and his people and so despite being too young to be in the army, he goes to King Saul and volunteers to fight the giant.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

In last week’s scripture lesson we learned that God saw people differently than we do, but here we see that God sees the world differently than we do, and that God’s people can learn to see the world, to see reality, like it really is. To the world, and to most of Israel’s army, Goliath looked unbeatable. He was over nine feet tall in a day when we know average men were rarely much over five feet tall. What the soldiers saw was a giant who was almost twice their size, wearing armor that weighed nearly as much as they did, and carrying a spear whose head weighed as much as two gallons of water. At first that might not sound like much, but if you want to try this out, remember that a spear is usually at least as tall as the man that carries it. So take a stick that’s as tall as you are, tie two gallons of water at the end of it (feel free to use a big rock or a bowling ball), grab the stick in the middle and try to throw it. I doubt that you will throw it very far. Goliath must have been huge.

Everyone could easily see that defeating him looked impossible.

But David wasn’t looking with eyes that saw only one world. David saw this world through the lens of another, spiritual world. When everyone else looked at Goliath they saw a giant. What David saw was a man who, although far larger (probably every bit of twice as large) than David, but who was much, much smaller than David’s God. With God’s help, David, despite his youth, had already defeated a lion and bear, both of which were much larger than he was, and so David knew that, with God’s help, Goliath would be no different.

Because David knew and trusted God, he saw the entire world in a different way.

Jesus teaches the disciples this same lesson in Mark 4:35-41.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

To the disciples, the storm, a completely natural phenomenon, was totally outside of their control. Everyone knows that the weather does whatever it will do and human beings don’t have much of anything to say about it. But that is only a part of the complete reality. Jesus sees the unseen. Jesus sees the spiritual part of a natural world, and by seeing the spiritual world, Jesus understood reality in a different way. In seeing the complete reality, the reality of the natural world and the reality of the spiritual world, Jesus knew that the natural world answered to God. The lesson that Jesus teaches the disciples is that through faith, with God’s help, we are able to do things that would otherwise seem to be naturally impossible.

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Paul explains that they did whatever they could to be good servants of God and some of the things that they did seem to be, at first, odd and not at all what most people would do to be a good servant.

Paul says that they through “great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

The list that Paul presents doesn’t make much sense unless we realize that there is more to the world than just the natural, physical world that we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch with our senses. But when we are able to see and understand the world that is unseen, we are able to do far more, with God’s help, than might be expected by people who can only see and understand the natural world.

We have seen this kind of vision in the horrible shooting in Charlotte this week. Although the entire nation is horrified at this kind of hatred and violence, and rightly so, the families of those who were murdered have been gracious and forgiving with one of them, publicly forgiving their sister’s murderer all because they know that this reality is not all that there is. They know that death is not the end that it appears to be and they know that although their loved ones have been taken from them, they will once again, be reunited.

The world we live in is not an illusion and neither is the spiritual world.

We live in two worlds and, apart from God, we can only see one of them. But with faith, devotion, study, and with God’s help, we can learn to see, feel, and experience the whole world, the real reality, in a new and powerful way.