You Do Not Grieve Alone

Reflections for A Celebration of Memories

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral and Cremation Service

 

Let’s be honest with each other.  In a perfect world, all of us would have something else to do today.  But it is precisely because this isn’t a perfect world that we’re struggling.  We’re here because someone that means something to us is missing this Christmas.  Four years ago, our family buried my father just before Thanksgiving and this summer we unexpectedly lost my second oldest brother, Dean.  But all of us are here because the world we live in is, obviously, not perfect.  But even in an imperfect world, those of us who are struggling can come together and struggle together.  In a lot of ways, struggling together can be a like a club for lonely people.  When lonely people come together, they become just a little bit less lonely.  Loneliness shared weighs us down just a little bit less.  In the same way, people who grieve together, and share their grief with one another, discover that their burden has grown a little lighter, the room has become a little less dark, and the future filled with just a little more hope.

And so, I’m glad to be here with you, I’m glad that you could be here with me, and I hope that together we can shine some light into a dark corner of our lives. 

I want to share a couple of stories with you this evening.  The first begins with an American hero who served in both WW2 and in the Korean conflict, flying 100 combat missions in six months’ time, and earning the distinguished flying cross and the Air Medal with an oak leaf cluster before eventually becoming a NASA test pilot, Mercury and Gemini astronaut, and was ultimately killed in the Apollo 1 fire during launch testing.  Of course, I’m talking about Gus Grissom, but that’s not the story that I want to focus on.  Instead, I want to think about the widow of Gus Grissom, Betty Moore Grissom.  But the funny thing is, I really can’t tell you a lot about her.  I spent a considerable amount of time searching for information about what Betty did and how she lived after Gus’ death, but other than her obituary and a few comments about Gus’ infidelity, the only thing that anyone seems to remember about Betty is that she raised her two sons, got them through school at  Gus’ alma mater, Perdue University, and that she successfully sued the manufacturer of the capsule that was responsible for the Apollo 1 fire.  It’s quite possible that Betty got stuck but it might just be that she preferred to live her life in private.  From what we know, Betty still raised two sons, kept watch over Gus’ legacy, and did what she could to make sure that people remembered the good that Gus had done.  You see, when someone once asked Betty why she stayed with Gus even though everyone knew he had girlfriends on the side, she basically said, “I knew he loved me most.” 

Just last year, only months before she passed away, Betty made one last trip to the annual memorial for the Apollo 1 astronauts.  You see, after the fire and the ensuing investigation, some of the launch pad was torn down, but much of it was left intact, and officially classified as “Abandoned in place” as a memorial to the three men who died there.  And every year, family, friends, guests, astronauts, NASA officials, and a few others visit the brass marker there, remember the legacy of those men, and honor their lives.

So, what’s my point in all of this?

Even if Betty Grissom got stuck in her grief, she knew two things.  First, although Gus Grissom was human and had flaws, although he was far from perfect, Betty chose to remember the good.  Betty Grissom never focused on the pain, but instead focused on Gus’ legacy, his memory, and on raising two sons that would make him proud.  NASA, as an organization, did something very similar.  Although NASA had disagreements and arguments with both Gus and with Betty, some very public, NASA didn’t focus on that, instead they chose to focus on moving forward into a brighter future while remembering the legacy of the Apollo 1 astronauts and their contributions to the program.

Honestly, this is healthy, and we do this all the time.

We remember that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, we remember that nearly half of the delegates to the first Constitutional Convention were slave owners, and we remember that Winston Churchill was a racist.  But those aren’t the things that we dwell on.  Instead, we choose to remember their legacies and their positive contributions to history.

We honor their lives and remember the good.  We shouldn’t forget that our loved ones were flawed, but we choose to remember the best of them and keep alive the memories of the good that they did, the legacy that they left, and the reasons that we loved them.

Let’s take a break for minute.

Here’s what I want you to do.

Close your eyes and remember.  Remember the people that you’ve lost.  Picture them in your mind.

What did they do, what action did they take, what words did they say, that told you that they loved you?

What did they do that allowed you to experience joy?

What did they do that made you laugh?

What did they do that inspired you, or encouraged you, to become a better person?

If you had 30 seconds to tell me who and what they were, what words would you use?

Remember their love, remember their passion, their forgiveness, their laughter, remember those things that make their memories shine and which make your heart warm.

Scripture tells us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.  Our loved ones are watching and they don’t want us to get stuck.

You can open your eyes now.

But that isn’t all that there is.  There’s another message that we need to remember, and for that I want to tell you the story of Elisabeth Elliot.  Some of you may have heard of her, but the odds are that many of you haven’t.  Back in 1956, Elisabeth Elliot’s husband, Jim, along with five other missionaries, made contact with the Huaorani people in the jungles of eastern Ecuador.  While they had spent months exchanging gifts and building trust between them, at one meeting along the river, tribesmen attacked the five missionaries and killed all five men. 

Elisabeth Elliot was faced with a choice.  She could, along with several of the other widows and their families, take her daughter and return home to the United States or, she could stay and do what she could.  Despite the urgings of her family and many of her friends back home, she chose to stay.  Two years later, Elisabeth and her daughter Valerie moved into the Huaorani village with the same men who had killed her husband and she eventually befriended them.  In 1969 she remarried, in 1974 she became an adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, about the same time, she also worked as a consultant on the project to write the New International Version of the bible, and from 1988 to 2001 she could be heard across the country on her syndicated radio show, “Gateway to Joy.” If that wasn’t enough, in 1957, Elisabeth Elliot wrote a book, “Through Gates of Splendor” about their missionary journey and her husband’s killing, and over the course of her life followed that up by writing more than twenty more books, as well as making book tours and public speaking engagements all over the world until her death in 2015 at the age of 88.

So why am I telling you all this?  Why should we care about the widow of a missionary who died in 1958?

Because Elisabeth Elliot knew something important.

Elisabeth Elliot knew that despite her loss, and despite the trauma that she had suffered, that her work wasn’t finished, that there was more that God intended for her to do with her life.  It wasn’t always easy.  When I heard her radio show, I remember her telling someone who was experiencing grief and loss that during some of the hardest times of her life, when it she didn’t know how she could go on, she remembered a piece of advice that had been given to her.  She remembered to “Do the next thing.”  Don’t stop.  Don’t get stuck.  Do something.  Do the next thing.  In fact, so important was this piece of advice, that Elisabeth Elliot often quoted a poem about it entitled, not surprisingly, “Do The Next Thing.”

 

Do The Next Thing

(a poem quoted by Elisabeth Elliot)

 

At an old English Parsonage down by the sea,

there came in the twilight a message to me.

Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven,

that, as it seems to me, teaching from heaven.

And all through the hours the quiet words ring,

like a low inspiration, “Do the next thing.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,

many a doubt hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from heaven,

time, opportunity, guidance are given.

Fear not tomorrow, child of the King,

trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.

 

Do it immediately, do it with prayer,

Do it reliantly, casting all care.

Do it with reverence, tracing his hand,

Who placed it before thee with earnest command.

Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,

Leave all resulting, do the next thing.

 

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,

working or suffering be thy demeanor,

in His dear presence, the rest of His calm,

the light of His countenance, be thy psalm.

Do the next thing.

 

Sometimes, in the midst of our grief, all that we can manage is to… do the next thing, to survive.  But the thing that the life of Elisabeth Elliot should teach every one of us is that as long as we draw breath, our life isn’t over.  Our grief isn’t the end. We cannot get stuck and wallow in our grief. 

Do the next thing. 

And keep on doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next…

God has plans for you, your family has need of you, your life still has purpose, there are still things for you to do.  Yes, we should honor the memories of the ones that we have lost, but we don’t honor them by getting stuck.  We also need to explore and to discover what’s next.  What does God, what does life, have in store for us?  Regardless of the past, regardless of our grief or our suffering, we hold in our hands the keys to our future and it is never too late to begin writing the next chapter. 

You are the hero of the story that you are writing every day by living your life.  The next chapter of your life has not yet been written.  Don’t you dare write a story about a hero who got stuck and stayed at home and never did anything interesting ever again.  Don’t write a story about a hero who got stuck.  Discover, explore, become who you were made to be tomorrow.  Imagine who you could be, imagine what the hero of your story would do, imagine what your legacy could be, imagine what you would like to be remembered for.  Get out there, travel, explore, write books, tell stories, paint pictures, dance, live life, invest yourself in others, and don’t forget… to love.

Merry Christmas.

 

 


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Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print r electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/.All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

God Speaks. Who Hears?

“God Speaks.  Who Hears?”

February 11, 2018

(Transfiguration Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

2 Kings 2:1-12                        2 Corinthians 4:3-6                Mark 9:2-9

How many of you have your cell phones with you this morning?

How many of you spoke to someone on the phone, or texted, or emailed, or used your phone to communicate with another human being in the last 24 hours?

How many of you listened to the radio or watched television, or used the internet, or read a newspaper or even a book?

That’s probably almost everyone.

Today, communication is easy and fast.  We think nothing of exchanging messages with people halfway around the world when even a few decades ago, that was still a big deal.  As recently as World War Two, the Pentagon would be reading and interpreting information that was days or even weeks old but today can often watch events on the other side of the planet live from cameras on a spy satellite in orbit and from cameras mounted on soldiers’ helmets.  Communication today is so quick, so easy, and so commonplace, that we rarely give it a second thought.

Unless we start talking about God… and then everyone panics.

Atheists think the idea of talking to God is silly, unbelievers doubt that God talks to humans and even believers often think that our prayers are only a one-way thing.  We pray, God hears, and that’s the end of it.  Many Christian think that God might have occasionally spoken to a tiny number of select individuals, but when the prophets of the Old Testament died off, that was that.  But as we read through today’s scriptures, we might be surprised to find that that isn’t the case at all.  We begin in 2 Kings 2:1-12 where we hear the story of Elijah being carried into heaven…

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

I’ve read this story plenty of times before, but as I read through this for today’s message, there were a couple things that struck me.  First and foremost among these were the repeated references to groups of people that are referred to as “the company of the prophets.”  Like many of you, I have read about Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, and other prophets who have books of the Bible named after them, but other than those few, I often thought that there weren’t many others.  In this passage, I allowed myself to think that this was sort of allegorical, or just a way of telling the story, or perhaps that these men were employed by the prophets or by the church in some way.  But as we read a little closer, we are forced to think differently.

There are at least two large groups of these men, there are the company of prophets in Bethel, and another at Jericho and fifty of these men watch from the far side of the river as Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan.  From the text, it would even seem as if fifty is only a portion of those referred to as “the company of prophets at Jericho.”  And so, from this passage we see that there were a large number of those who were referred to as prophets of God.  What’s more, these men are not simply employees of the church because, in each case, well before Elijah and Elisha arrive, they already know why they are travelling together and that God has told them that this would be Elijah’s last day on earth.  All of these men, or at least many of them, know the future because they have heard it from God himself, and even though none of them had had written books of the bible, there were hundreds of them.

Next, we hear the story of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9 and, although we’ve heard this story plenty of times before, as we think about this idea of hearing from God, we might just see something we haven’t noticed before.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Jesus is transfigured into something that is much different than his normal, earthly appearance and is likely more similar to how Jesus would appear in heaven.  And alongside of Jesus there appears two other men whom, we are told, are Elijah and Moses.  But before any introductions can be made, Peter already knows who they are.  Since these men lived and died hundreds and even thousands of years before Peter was ever born, there is no possible way that he could have known them.  Without photography, or video, or even pencil sketches, there is no way that Peter had seen so much as an artistic drawing of what they had looked like.  And yet, it would seem that at the instant they appear, Jesus’ three disciples know who these men are and they know that the voice that they have heard is that of God himself.

How did they know?

How did they know if Jesus didn’t tell them?

Maybe Jesus did tell them and it didn’t get written down in the story that was handed down to us.

Or is it possible that Peter, James, and John, at that moment, were given a revelation from God?

Before you decide, let’s take a look at one more passage of scripture this morning and read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Paul says that the message of God is hidden by the god of this age, or rather, the ruler of the earth and its culture, whom we know is the enemy of our God and that is, Satan.  Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the evidence that is right in front of them and so they cannot see the truth of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.  But if that is true, and it must be, then doesn’t that mean that believers in Jesus Christ are themselves hearing and seeing messages from God?  Paul says that God has “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

At the very least, this means that when we read, and when we hear, the Gospel message, we are in fact hearing from God.  And whenever we share the message of the Gospel with others we are, in fact, sharing the words of God with them.  But I suspect that there is more to it than that because Paul says that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.”  And, while that seems simple enough, we also know that the people that Paul knew weren’t reading billboards or watching CNN.  The people that Paul describes didn’t own bibles and unbelievers wouldn’t have been standing in the synagogue or in weekly gatherings in a Christian church or home.  The only light of the gospel that unbelievers would have seen would have been the evidence of creation in the world around them, direct communication by God in some other form, or the actions of Christian believers that they knew or who lived among them.

In the time of the Old Testament, God’s prophets numbered in the hundreds and perhaps even in the thousands.  God continued to speak to his people in the time of Jesus, and continues to do so today.  Our neighbors and friends probably won’t hear God speak from a cloud, but his light shines in your hearts so that they can see God’s glory.

As we celebrate and remember this Transfiguration Sunday, let us also remember that God still speaks to us today.  God gives us the light of the knowledge of his glory displayed in the face of Christ.  God is speaking today to our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and our families, not on CNN and not on the internet, but through you.

Let your light shine.

 

_________

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

 

Proof

Miracle

Sometimes we are witnesses to proof of God’s existence.

On Sunday (March 19th) I mentioned in both my message, and children’s message, that sometimes, when we pay attention, God provides evidence of his existence through answered prayers and miracles both large and small.  We are witnesses to many “everyday” miracles like the birth of a baby, sunrises, sunsets, and spring flowers but we also see and experience other things that are scarier, bigger, and sometimes simply impossible.  Our family all remembers the near miss that we had on interstate I-70 when a tractor trailer tire bounced across the median, missed our car by only a few feet, struck the cab of the tractor trailer we were passing and absolutely destroyed the left front wheel well like an explosion.  Only the sharp eye of our son Noah and the grace of God brought us home that day instead of to a helicopter trip to a hospital in Columbus.

As I said on Sunday, just in the ten or twelve years that I have been a pastor, I have met several people who ought to be dead, people of whom the doctors said, “We can’t explain why you are alive.”

In our Johnsville church, our lay leader was a dairy farmer by named Jim McWilliams.  One Sunday morning we interrupted our worship service to lay hands on Jim and pray for his brother.  That week, Jim’s brother was as work and was asked to use a cutting torch to cut the stuck lid off of a 55 gallon steel drum.  The labels on the drum and its documentation assured everyone that the contents of the drum were inert.

They weren’t.

Somehow, the documentation was all wrong and the contents of the drum, in reality, were highly volatile.  When Jim’s brother began to cut the lid off of the drum, it exploded and he was rushed to the hospital.  During the investigation they eventually found the lid of the drum.  It had been thrown by the explosion, went through the roof of the building and was found about a half-mile away.  The next week we heard that Jim’s brother, despite standing within inches of the explosion, received only bumps, bruises and minor burns to his face and hands.  When the doctors heard what had happened, both they, and the explosion investigators from OSHA said that they couldn’t understand why he wasn’t dead.

Many of you can tell the same kinds of stories and since that sermon, some of you have shared your stories with me.

This is an invitation.

I would like to share your stories.  I can help you write them and edit them if necessary.  After they are written and edited, I will post them on my blog so that others can be blessed, uplifted, and have their faith reaffirmed through our collective, eyewitness testimony.

Please, even if you don’t think that you are a good writer, put your story on paper (or email) and share it with me.

And together, we’ll share it with the world.

A Royal Visit

A Royal Visit*

Trinity UMC      10-23-2016

I Kings 10:1-102          II Chronicles  9:1-12

Guest Post by David Hartong

Certified United Methodist Lay Servant

 

35 years ago in a Discipleship Bible Study someone asked, “Where is Sheba?”  One day I came across the Sheba story and remembered, I don’t think I ever answered that question. I found at one time two Sheba’s claimed the ‘Queen of Sheba’ found in Kings and Chronicles.  One is in Ethiopia in East Central Africa and the other is at the south of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by the Arabian and Red Seas, in present day Yemen. The Arabian Sheba was known for its spices such as mentioned in 1st Kings and on a caravan route through Israel to Egypt.  Most scholars agree that Solomon’s Queen of Sheba was from modern day Yemen. Let’s turn to 1st Kings Chapter 10, and read of her visit.

Reading 1st Kings 10:1-12 from The Message by Eugene Peterson- The Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon and his connection with the Name of GOD. She came to put his reputation to the test by asking tough questions. She made a grand and showy entrance into Jerusalem – camels loaded with spices, a huge amount of gold, and precious gems. She came to Solomon and talked about all the things that she cared about, emptying her heart to him. Solomon answered everything she put to him – nothing stumped him. When the queen of Sheba experienced for herself Solomon’s wisdom and saw with her own eyes the palace he had built, the meals that were served, the impressive array of court officials and sharply dressed waiters, the lavish crystal, and the elaborate worship with Whole-Burnt-Offerings at the steps leading up to the Temple of GOD, it took her breath away.

            She said to the king, “It’s all true! Your reputation for accomplishment and wisdom that reached all the way to my country is confirmed. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself, they didn’t exaggerate! Such wisdom and elegance – far more than I could ever have imagined. Lucky the men and women who work for you, getting to be around you every day and hear your wise words firsthand! And blessed be GOD, your God, who took such a liking to you and made you king. Clearly, GOD’s love for Israel is behind this, making you king to keep a just order and nurture a God-pleased people.”

            She then gave the king four and a half tons of gold, and also sack after sack of spices and expensive gems. There hasn’t been a cargo of spices like that since that shipload the queen of Sheba brought to King Solomon. King Solomon for his part gave the queen of Sheba all her heart’s desire – everything she asked for, on top of what he had already so generously given her. Satisfied, she returned home with her train of servants.    

Why did she come to visit Solomon? The wisdom and riches God gave Solomon were known throughout the civilized world. She was curious. Visitors would come to her court with news of Jerusalem. An envoy would report “We have been to Jerusalem.” She’d say, I’ve been hearing about Jerusalem, did you go to the Temple?” They’d say, “We sure did. It was a thrilling experience to go into that temple. We were there on one of their feast days. Wish YOU could have heard them singing their songs. And there was the altar, and there’s gold, and silver. It was beautiful and the worship was wonderful.” The queen might reply, “Yes, I’ve been hearing about that, I’d like to see it myself. Maybe one of these days I can make the trip.” Besides, Solomon controlled some of the trade route she would have used to Egypt. Perhaps she could secure a treaty or trade agreement.

Eventually, with great planning and preparation, she did go to experience Jerusalem herself. She came with questions. It was the custom to ask wise rulers questions, or riddles – what we call conundrums – tricky, clever questions to trap a person. The queen also had questions to do with the heart, questions that related to her eternal destiny because she came out of spiritual darkness. She was inspired by the temple Solomon built and the way he worshipped.

Sadly, the temple God wanted for the world was divided by the Jews. Like so many churches today, we think they belong to us, not God. We want to determine who can come in and where they may ‘sit’ in the body of Christ. The Jews set up a court of the Gentiles, a court for women, an inner court for men, and the courts for priests and the Holy of Holies. Jesus broke down the walls dividing Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor. All stand equally, before God.

When Solomon dedicated the temple he told the world it was a place where every person on earth could approach the living and true God. Hear part of Solomon’s prayer from 1 Kings 8:41-43 […forgive and go to work on us. Give what each deserves, for you know each life from the inside (you’re the only one with such inside knowledge) so that they’ll live before you in lifelong reverent and believing obedience on this land you gave our ancestors.

            And don’t forget the foreigner who is not a member of your people Israel, but has come from a far country because of your reputation. People are going to be attracted here by your great reputation, your wonder working power, who come to pray at this Temple. ]

That word went out to the ends of the earth of that day, and reached the Queen of Sheba. Our scripture started, “the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame…” First, she had to hear. The apostle Paul tells us, “So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Our story today opens at the far end of the earth with a queen who heard; then she acted on what she heard. The place God meets you is where you hear. Our responsibility is to see that all people hear of God. When we have gotten God’s Word to the ears of people, we have done what God has called us to do. Let God do His work in them, once we have made them aware of their need to seek God.    [Pause] [Repeat]

When the Queen of Sheba arrived in Jerusalem with her caravan, she attracted a great deal of attention. Just how many camels would it take to carry all the spices, jewels, and four- ½ tons of gold? At about 400 pounds per camel, the gold alone would have taken two dozen camels. With other gifts, soldiers, and provisions, it would have been a massive caravan. In this time in history, here is a woman no less, from the mysterious East. She displays great wealth in abundance. She is not a wise man, but is looking for wisdom. She had servants and soldiers of every color of skin under the sun. People lined the streets; no circus has ever attracted the attention the Queen of Sheba did, the day she arrived in Jerusalem.

The record tells us she was absolutely overwhelmed by her visit with King Solomon. The first thing that impressed her was that he was able to answer all of her questions. The second was the tremendous organization and display he had there. Thirdly, she was amazed by the way he worshipped, and the burnt altar. In the temple the King had a private entrance to the altar, but when he got there he was at the same level as everybody else. That impressed her, because down in her country, she was far above the level of the crowds. But Solomon, even with his private entrance, stood by that burnt altar; just like any other sinner stands before God. The burnt altar speaks eloquently of the cross of Christ. It’s the best picture of Christ’s cross we have in the Old Testament. The burnt offerings that impressed the queen speak of the person Christ, of who He is; and the sin offering speaks of the work of Christ- a sacrifice to take away the sins of the world.

She found, when she came to Jerusalem, that the living and true God was approached only through a sacrifice. Even a King had to come as a sinner, and stand with the lowest subjects, to receive salvation from God. God revealed to the queen that there is a righteousness, which He provides. The truth of the burnt offering was shown to her in a way she could understand. This points to Christ, and a righteousness God provides for a King, or any other sinner; that He might accept them into His presence. We all stand on the same level and all must come, and ALL CAN receive this righteousness. It is likely the Queen of Sheba came to know the living and true God, when she came to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon.

In the narratives of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom, why is this story told in more detail than most? Sheba was nearly 2000 miles from Jerusalem. This was great example of God bringing people from the uttermost parts of the world to His temple in Jerusalem. Think of the sacrifices she made to get to Jerusalem. Today you can drive to California in 3 or 4 days, you can fly there in 3 or 4 hours. On our first trip under the English Channel we went 40 miles in 20 minutes (120 mph). When we got going in France the engineer reported we were traveling at 300 kph (186 mph). There were no tracks in the desert, no Eurostar. A caravan large enough to carry 4-1/2 tons of gold, large amounts of spices and jewels, the personnel, and provisions for a trip of that magnitude – would have taken about three months each way. Camels did not come with air conditioning or adjustable seats. Would you like to ride to California in the bed of a pick-up truck? Before route 66?  Perhaps you’d prefer the comfort of a Conestoga wagon on the Oregon Trail. The Queen of Sheba sacrificed a tremendous amount of time and resources to seek Solomon, and to find God in Jerusalem.

Today God does not ask you to take a trip anywhere. You don’t have to make the long trip up to Jerusalem. You don’t even have to go across the street to find Him. It is our job to see that everyone hears the gospel. We don’t need to go around the world. Just telling everyone in the neighborhood of this church would be a good place to start. (repeat)

As I reviewed this last sentence I realized, God is telling us to support things like Perry Helping Perry. Telling the people of this neighborhood about God’s love and grace, is exactly what programs like this are all about. Supporting the Fellowship of Christian Athletes demonstrates Christian concern. God wants us all to meet Him; one at a time is a great way to introduce them. According to Matthew 12:42; Christ said, “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and look – something greater than Solomon is HERE.

There are lessons to be learned in the account of the visit of the Queen of Sheba. We need to hear of God. Faith comes from hearing and we need to act on that faith. She taught us acting on that faith may require self-sacrifice, even a long, arduous journey; not necessarily in miles, but perhaps in terms of hardships and risks. The queen not only took gifts to Solomon, but received many gifts from him in return. But the most important gift she received was a new life after worship at the altar of God. A new life for each of us is available at this altar. Seek and you shall find.

Amen

 

 

 

 

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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.

3 Steps to Change the World

“3 Steps to Change the World”
September 27, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture:   Esther 7:1-10, 9:20-22             James 5:13-20                        Mark 9:38-50

It has been quite a while since I mentioned it, probably too long, but does anyone here (besides David Hartong, who knows the inner workings of our church very well) remember the mission statement of The United Methodist Church?

I knew that it wouldn’t be many. So here it is:

The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
– Mission Statement of The United Methodist Church

So if we are United Methodists, and we are, we have signed on to team that has every intention of changing the world.

But how do we do that?

Our mission statement says that we do that by making disciples and that makes sense, but if you’ve been in the local church for even a little while, it isn’t long before you realize that making disciples isn’t always an easy thing to do.

So how do we do that?

In our scripture today, first from Esther, then Jesus, and finally James, we can see a 3-step pattern repeated that should clearly be a model for each of us, and for the local church, today. We begin at the high point of the book of Esther. The evil Haman had tricked king Xerxes into condemning to death, all of the Jews throughout the known world but neither Haman nor Xerxes realized that Xerxes own queen, Esther, was a Jew. In this confrontation, Esther exposes Haman and his evil to the king (Esther 7:1-10, 9:20-22)

7:1 So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, 2 and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”

3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. 4 For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”

5 King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

6 Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen

7 The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.

8 Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.

The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”

The king said, “Impale him on it!” 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

9:20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor. [This holiday is known as Purim]

While most of us will never be called upon to rescue our entire nation, or an entire people, we can still learn something from the way that Esther approached her problem and so that we can apply it to the smaller problems that we face. Despite the fact that she was his wife, before Esther would even approach the king she declared a time of fasting and prayer and asked everyone that she knew, to fast and pray with her as she did so. Only then would she invite the king to dinner, and only then would she make the request that would save the life and property of every Jew in the known world.

Another key step can be found in Mark 9:38-50, as Jesus explains how his followers should live their lives.

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

There is a lot there and I could probably write an entire sermon on that passage alone, but for the moment, let’s focus on Jesus’ main point that we find at the end. ” Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?”

After reading the rest of that passage and understanding that Jesus is warning his followers that they should live their lives with purity and a pursuit of perfection, then we understand that his point is the same as we often hear in James. The followers of Jesus are expected to act like Jesus. Jesus compares us to salt. If salt isn’t salty, it isn’t good for much of anything except as gravel.

If the followers of Jesus do not act like Jesus, then we really aren’t good for much of anything.

Finally, James puts all of these ideas together for us in James 5:13-20.

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

In this passage, James connects the dots for us and lays out three steps to making disciples, three steps to rescuing people who have been condemned to death (which is, after all, what we are doing when we bring people to faith in Jesus Christ), and three steps to changing the world.

First, if you are in trouble, or if you’re sick, if you have sinned, then you should pray. In this case, you are not praying for the other guy yet, you are praying for you, for your trouble, for your healing, or for your forgiveness. What James is telling us is that the first step in changing the world is to start with ourselves. Before I can change the world, I have to change me. Before you can change the world, you have to change you. Get right with God. Ask for forgiveness. Forgive those who have hurt you and, as we heard Jesus say in Mark, start acting like Christians.

As much as possible, be like Jesus.

Step two comes to us from both Esther and James and that is, simply, pray. This is where we pray for the other guy. Pray for the people that you are trying to rescue, pray for those to whom you hope to witness, pray for the people that your mission teams hope to connect with, pray for the mission and outreach of your church, pray for your neighborhood, but in all that you do, and for all of those who are in need of rescue, pray.

Finally, step three is spelled out in the simplest of terms by James, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death.” What James is saying, is that in order for the lost to be saved, in order for the dying to be rescued, someone needs to get out there and save them. Someone needs to get out there and do the rescuing. It wouldn’t do any good if the Coast Guard spent all of their time sitting in lecture halls talking about rescuing people but never actually set foot in a boat. It isn’t enough to sit in the church and pray that people would be rescued; someone needs to actually put “boots on the ground” and make the attempt. And that someone has to be those of us in the church, the followers of Jesus Christ.

So there you are. Three steps to changing the world.

First, get right with God and with others. Do the things that Jesus has taught us to do and act like Jesus teaches us to act.

Second, pray.

And third, get out there and get it done. Go out there and rescue others or at least make the attempt. Talk to people. Share Jesus with them. Tell them what Jesus has done for you and let them know that Jesus wants to get to know them, that Jesus loves them. Let them know that Jesus came so that they could be forgiven and rescued from death.

It might sound simple, but that’s all there is to it.

Because whenever you save a life…

…you change the world.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses


What does it mean to be surrounded by a “cloud” of witnesses? 
    Not long ago I was preaching on Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees in regard to the existence of life after death.  In Luke 20:27-38, Jesus reminds them that Moses called God, “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Jesus implies that it would be foolish to say such a thing in the present tense if they were not, presently, alive.  Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
The Apostle Paul described life as a sporting event in which we are called to give our best, saying,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (Hebrews 12:1)
    Paul expands on the idea of resurrection and the afterlife to remind the church that those who are alive in the next world are watching those of us who remain in this one.  Paul specifically refers to the prophets, saints, and martyrs but it isn’t difficult to imagine that this also includes all of those who have always loved us and cared for us, but who no longer remain among the living of this world.  I know that my grandmother prayed for me nearly every single day of her life and I have no reason to imagine that she has stopped doing so today.
Let me share a mental picture that I have found meaningful.  Have you ever held a newborn baby, yours, or your grandchild, niece or nephew for the very first time?  Do you remember how that made you feel?  It is a magnificent feeling.   Hold on to that feeling.  Now, imagine the moment when you first arrive in the next world, right after you have “crossed over” and passed through Saint Peter’s pearly gates, right after you’ve met Jesus face to face, or however you might image your arrival.  Now, you see, standing before you, a group of people.  Some you know, but many you do not.  In the front are your parents, lost children, and dear friends, but there are many more, perhaps hundreds, even thousands of faces that you do not know.  As you embrace your family and your friends, your father, or perhaps your grandfather, takes you by the hand and says, “There is someone here, that I have wanted you to meet for a very long time.” And he turns to a an unfamiliar face and says, “This is myfather” or “This is my grandfather.”  And then, for hours on end, they in turn introduce you to their fathers, and their wives, and their children, allof whom have known you since you were born, and have been watching you grow, and have been praying for you that Jesus would watch over you and guard your steps. 
    And the feeling that you have is the feeling of holding that newborn child in your arms, multiplied by ten thousand, or more.
    Every moment of your life that you were in trouble, every moment when you faced difficult choices, every moment when you needed prayer, all of these hundreds and thousands of friends and family who love you, were watching and praying for you.
   Think of this, when we walk outside in a heavy fog, that moment when the clouds lay upon the surface of the earth, we are not near the cloud, or next to the cloud, we are completely engulfed and surrounded by the cloud.
    This is the picture that Paul draws for us.  With every choice that we make, with every success or failure, with every crisis or ordinary day, we can imagine that this cloud of people who love us, family and friends, surround us, watch over us, and pray for us.
    Because our God is the god of the living and not the dead, we are constantly watched over by those who love us, care for us, and who are, even now, praying for us.  Paul says that because we are surrounded by this “great cloud of witnesses” we should cast aside everything that is holding us back and have the confidence to forge ahead into the unknown toward whatever God has placed in our path.  

May we all have the courage to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”