When There Are No Words

blue-christmas1“When There Are No Words”

Blue Christmas Service

December 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

This isn’t really a Christmas story.  But it is a story about how God met me at a time when I had no idea what to do next.

In 2001 I was working for Lectrotherm, a company near the Akron-Canton airport that manufactured, and remanufactured, induction melting equipment for the molten metals industry.  We made furnaces that melted steel for companies like Navistar, John Deere, and other companies in the Fortune 500 as well as tiny little places that you’ve never heard of.  I was an electrical engineer doing work that I liked and I thought I had a career that would keep me interested and well employed until retirement.  But one day I was called into the boss’s office where I met with him and with the director of Human Resources, and was given an hour to clean out my office and leave the building.  My termination was totally unexpected.  They attempted to say that it was performance related, but since I hadn’t had an employee review in over 18 months, and that one was more than satisfactory, they really didn’t have a reason at all.  Only much later did I find that I was only the first of many, as the company struggled with financial problems that would ultimately end in its bankruptcy.

I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under me.  I had no idea what to do next.  I remember sitting on our front porch trying to pray and finding nothing to say.  I couldn’t form sentences.  There were no words.  And so I just sat on the steps and groaned and cried out to God.

Sometimes we don’t have words.  And that’s okay because God understands our thoughts anyway.  In Exodus 2:23-24, we hear a story of how God heard the groans of his people:

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

And in Judges 2:18 we hear: Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.

God hears our prayers, even when all that comes out of our mouths are groans and weeping.

For me, what followed was two years of unemployment.  As I looked for a job in what was supposed to be a good economy and a solid job market, I had nothing.  Hardly a nibble and only one or two unsuccessful interviews.  But, at the same time, with the help of my pastor I was exploring something different.

I wondered why.

I was active in my church.  We gave.  We volunteered.  We had leadership positions in the church.  And still, nothing.  I wondered why I lost my job, why I was unemployed, why I couldn’t find work, why God had allowed this to happen.  And God didn’t give me any easy answers.  And so, I began to read scripture as I had never done before.  I read books that my pastor recommended, and I struggled to discover, not only why I was unemployed, but if, somewhere in my pain, God had a bigger plan.  I wondered if God had allowed this to happen because he wanted to tell me something, or because he wanted me to change directions, and if so, where, and to what.

The answers weren’t easy.  My prayers sometimes seemed to go nowhere.

Job once felt as if his prayer to heaven just bounced off.  In Job 37:17-19 we hear these words:

17 You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind,
18 can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?

19 “Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.

For Job it felt as if the skies were as hard as a mirror of cast bronze and his prayers just bounced off.  And even if they got through, he had no idea what he would say to God or how to make his case.

But we know that God heard him anyway, even when if felt like he didn’t.  We know that behind the scenes, God knew Job’s character, that God knew the future, and that God had a plan.  It took a long time, but eventually Job began to see a small part of God’s plan and, over time, God restored to Job all the things that had been taken from him.  For me, after a lot of time, and prayer, and pain, and confusion, and struggle, it began to seem as if God had a new plan for my life.  And as I began to explore that possibility, things began to get better; it seemed less and less like I was swimming upstream fighting the current and began to feel, more and more like I was going with the flow, and a part of God’s plan.  That exploration has led me here, as a pastor and no longer as an engineer.  I am certain that, for now, this is where God has led me, but I am still keenly aware that this might not be permanent.  At some point, should God have a new and different plan for my life, someday I could pivot and start doing something else.

My life has been nothing like Job’s, but I learned a lesson that was similar to something that Job saw.  Even when it seemed that God was far away, even when I had no words, even when everything seemed to be confused and senseless, even then God was a part of my life.  Even then God had a plan and a purpose and was taking me, leading me somewhere.

No matter where you are in your journey, I hope that you will hear me when I say that I am confident that the same is true for you.  Regardless of your pain and confusion, regardless of who, or what you wrote on your star today, God knows where you are.  God hears your groaning.  God has a plan.  God is working in you, on you, and through you to transform you into the person that he desires for you to become and he is leading you to a new place, and possibly to a new mission.

My prayer is that you will hold tight to Jesus, that you will trust him with your journey, even when the journey is hard and even when there are no words and your prayers are only groans.

 

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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.

Worth Waiting For

waiting“Worth Waiting For”

December 11, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 35:1-10                    James 5:7-10                          Matthew 11:2-11

I know a lot of you go out to eat after church on Sunday.  And many of you will go home to a big traditional, home cooked, Sunday dinner.

So, before I make you all too hungry, imagine with me for a minute.

Imagine that you come home today, or home after work on a weekday.  Imagine that it’s later than usual or it’s a day that you forgot your lunch.  By the time you get home, you are seriously hungry, and your stomach is making all sorts of rude noises.  And as you come into the kitchen you are given two choices:

Hot dogs now… or grilled steak, baked potatoes and all the trimmings in an hour or so.

What do you do?

But what about after dinner?  After dinner you are given another choice.  Do you want a half a candy bar that you had leftover from your snack last night… or your favorite chocolate cake, or pie, later this evening?  Nothing has been made yet so you will have to wait for several hours while someone makes it.  But then you can have it while it is still warm from the oven.

When we adopted our daughter, Lina, the process was agonizingly slow.  Appointments had to be made, fingerprints taken; there were background checks, and documents… so many documents.  There were literally dozens of forms and other documents that were required and each one had to be notarized by a local notary, then taken to Columbus so that the notary’s credentials on each document could be authenticated, and then, again, each one had to be apostilled, in which, the state authentication was, itself, authenticated.  So, with each document now having several pages of authentication stapled to it, the whole pile, weighing more than three pounds, was shipped to some governmental agency in China.  And then we waited.  For several more months.

Of course during all this time, everyone kept asking us how things were going, if we were excited, if we had heard anything.  And then, even after we were matched, we had to wait for an official invitation from the Chinese government, so that we could get travel visas, and then the scheduling, the ticketing, and the trip.  In the end, the whole process took almost exactly a year.  Not bad.  Some folks wait two, three, or even four years.  And the process that we endured two years later to bring home our sons, Noah and Jonah, was similar, although easier in some ways and harder in others.

But was it worth it?

Are you kidding me?  Our children are one of the greatest joys of our lives.

Whether it’s a great home-cooked meal, or a fantastic dessert, waiting through a pregnancy, or wading through the adoption process, or any number of other of life’s wonders, sometimes the end result is simply worth waiting for.

And this is the theme that we find winding its way through all of our scriptures today.  Sometimes, despite our frustration in waiting, the end result is something worth waiting for.

In Isaiah 35:1-10, we hear these words:

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

The desert will be glad, the wilderness will burst into bloom, the feeble will be strengthened, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, because God will come to rescue the redeemed.  And on that day they will enter the city with singing, and joy, and gladness, and all of their sorrow and tears will be no more.

Isaiah, of course, looks forward to the coming of the messiah and tells the people that although they are frustrated, their waiting will, in the end, all be worthwhile.

And then in Matthew 11:2-11, we hear the story of when even John the Baptist, the prophet of God that was called to prepare the way for the arrival of the messiah, grows frustrated by the waiting.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John sits in jail, knowing that he may not live much longer, and he has to know.  And so he sends some of his own followers to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, the one that they were expecting.  And Jesus practically quotes Isaiah.  He tells John’s disciples that they should go and tell him about the things that they have seen with their own eyes, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead live, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  How could it be anyone else?  Has anyone else, in all of human history, done anything that even came close to satisfying the requirements laid out by Isaiah?  It must be Jesus.

Jesus is indeed the one on whom Israel has been waiting for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

But then, after the stories of the New Testament, we became the ones who are waiting.  Having heard the stories of Jesus, and believing that he is the Messiah, redeemer, and rescuer of all humanity, now we live our lives and wait for his return, the judgement, the end of this world, and the beginning of a new world in eternity and perfection.  But in waiting we grow tired.  We wait but we are impatient.  But our impatience isn’t new either.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus’ brother James wrote these words to encourage believers, and not much has changed since then (James 5:7-10).

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 

 

Seeds don’t grow into crops overnight.  The harvest takes time.  The rains will come in due time.  But while we wait, we must be patient.  We must wait knowing that God remains near to us and we must not allow our frustration in waiting to boil over into the lives of others.  We must wait, but we must also remain faithful.

The message of James is very much the same as the message of Isaiah and of Jesus.

Yes, we are celebrating another Christmas.

Yes, some of us have celebrated a lot of Christmases.

Yes, those who believe in Jesus Christ have been waiting for more than two thousand years.

But the message that we receive from Isaiah, and from Jesus, and from James, is the same as it always has been.

The thing for which we wait will be better than a bountiful harvest, or an abundant rain, or streams in the desert.  The thing for which we wait outshines anything we have ever had; better than a home cooked meal, or a steak dinner, or pecan pie, or even the arrival of children or grandchildren.

Just as it was before, and always has been, the coming of Jesus Christ is simply something that is…

…worth waiting for.

 

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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.