Oh No! Girls in the Boy Scouts. Is this the End of the World?

Several of my Facebook friends have been stirred up over the news that the Boy Scouts of America would now be accepting girls into the Cub Scouts and allow girls to earn the Eagle award.  Relax folks.

You need to know the facts.

First, this isn’t new.  Remember that The Boy Scouts of America, is the United States branch of an organization that exists in over 190 countries.  The BSA itself consists of several organizations: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturing, Explorers, Sea Scouts and also the STEM Scout pilot program.  All of these, except Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts have admitted girls as young as eleven years old, since around 1971.

Second, as an international organization, the Boy Scouts have allowed girls in both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in nearly every country on the planet except for the United States and a few other countries, most of which are predominantly Muslim.  That’s why international events like the Scout Jamboree and the World Jamboree have had female participants for decades and the camps they use are already fully equipped, and staffed, to support them.

That bring us up to date as we consider the recent announcement and change to BSA policy.  Let’s take a look at what the announcement actually says:

  • Hispanic and Asian communities prefer to participate in activities as a family. Recent surveys of parents not involved with scouting showed high interest in getting their daughters signed up for programs like Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

That’s a significant motivation to be racially inclusive and, frankly to be good citizens, as well as a good idea for an organization that has been shrinking as busy families have less time to join any kind of club.  The same struggle is seen in music, sports, and theater programs at schools as well as all sorts of community groups and clubs.

  • Starting in 2018, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts. Existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls.

The control of implementing this is completely local.  If your pack doesn’t want females, or if you simply don’t have the female volunteers to properly supervise the addition of girls, then don’t.  But even if you do, the girls and the boys will belong to separate dens and will only be together at Pack meeting when all of the leaders, male and female,  are present.  And remember, Cub Scouts don’t have camp-outs unless their parents are with them, and scouts never share a tent with an adult, unless that adult is a parent.

  • BSA will also deliver a program for older girls, which is projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the Eagle Scout rank. This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families.

Read that again.  They did not say that girls will join the Boy Scouts.  What they said was that they are developing a program that will make the Eagle rank, and presumably, merit badges, etc., available to girls.  That does not say that girls will be integrated with the boys, but instead emphases that they want to “maintain the integrity of the single gender model.”  How they intend to accomplish that has yet to be explained, but there’s nothing here that seems worth getting upset about.

So relax.

I’m a pretty conservative parent of boys and a girl.  I was involved in scouting as a boy and I have been active in scouting since my boys were in grade school and joined Cub Scouts.  I attended this year’s Boy Scout Jamboree, and I saw plenty of female Venturers, as well as female international scouts.  As a chaplain, I was pretty plugged-in to the news of what was happening across the camp.  And as far as I know, there were zero problems that arose because both genders were present.

Honestly, I think that this is a good step.  It makes a premier program of leadership development available to girls who will hold important positions of responsibility in our industry, our culture and our society.  And, as described, it will take nothing away from the boys.  Why would we rob half of our children, and ourselves, of this opportunity?

I don’t see a downside here.

 

 

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The God Delusion

 

“The God Delusion”

October 15, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 32:1-14                      Philippians 4:1-9                                Matthew 22:1-14

 

 

Have you ever lied to yourself?

 

It isn’t uncommon.  We lie to ourselves so that we don’t have to struggle with the realities of a difficult truth.  We pretend that our children are not grown up, or that they aren’t doing some things that we know they are probably doing.  We pretend that our parents never had sex despite the fact that our existence is obvious evidence to the contrary.  We pretend that the sins of our favorite political candidate are not as bad as the sins of the opposition, or we tell people that we can’t do math, simply because we find it difficult.

 

Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said:

 

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

 

And this is the way that we often lie to ourselves about God.

 

In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan the Lion is the ruler of the land of Narnia and is an allegory for Jesus Christ.  In the book, we are reminded that humans often rewrite, reimagine, reinvent God into something that he isn’t.  In the one conversation, Susan, learns of Aslan from Mr. Beaver, who says…

 

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…  “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

 

And that is the first of what I am calling “God Delusions.”  Humans deceive themselves that God is safe.  A cursory reading of either the Old or the New Testaments should cure us of such a delusion.

 

God is not safe.

 

God is a jealous God.  God will not allow us to worship anything or anyone more than we worship him.  God punishes sin.  God is not safe… but he is good.

 

Another time, the children remember something else that Mr. Beaver had told them about Aslan…

 

“He’ll be coming and going” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

 

And that is, once again, a common delusion.  God is not tame and that frightens us.  And so, rather than being frightened, we pretend that God is something that he is not.

 

This is exactly what happened in Exodus 32:1-14.


32:1
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings.  Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Last week we heard that the people were terrified of God.  And so, when Moses took too long to return from the mountain they imagined the worst.  None of them would go up the mountain to look for him, and their fear began to direct their thoughts.  “God is scary” they thought.   Perhaps God has killed him.  And if God has killed Moses, then we can make new gods that aren’t so scary and we will pretend that these are the gods that brought us up out of Egypt.

 

The people of Israel were prepared to do exactly what Kierkegaard described; to believe what wasn’t true, and to refuse to believe those things that, from their own experience, they knew were, absolutely, true about God.

 

Israel wanted a god that was tame and safe, despite knowing that the God that had rescued them from slavery was neither of those things.

 

We see the same thing in the Gospel stories about Jesus as the leaders, the teachers, and the Pharisees, ignored the facts and the evidence that they had seen with their own eyes. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus sums up their behavior.


22:1 
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

 

Since we live in a republic that elects its leaders, we should remember what it is like to live under a king.  This is something that everyone in Jesus’ time would have immediately appreciated.  Whether the ruler of their country called himself King, or Caesar, or Pharaoh, there were rules and expectations that everyone knew.  In this particular case, what is important is that a royal wedding is a big deal.  They don’t happen often, sometimes only once in a lifetime, and an invitation to such an event is of utmost importance.  An invitation from the king is really less of an invitation and more of a command performance.  The only thing that should excuse you from such an event is a funeral, and then only if the funeral that you are attending is your own.

 

In Jesus’ story, the people who were invited, and who were expected to attend, didn’t have an excuse.  They totally ignored the king, and went off instead to do something that was absolutely trivial in comparison.  Not only was this simply not done, it was a terrible insult to the king, and as you might expect, insulting someone who commands armies is not a great idea, especially in a world where life had little value.  Not only did these fools ignore the king, they decide to kill the king’s messengers.  These people suffered from a delusion.  They deceived themselves into believing that the king was tame.  And so, not unexpectedly, the king kills them and burns their city to the ground.

 

Anyone listening to the story could have predicted the outcome based on their personal experiences with their kings and those of neighboring nations.  But then, the king does something unexpected.  With a wedding already planned and a banquet already prepared, the king invites everyone he can find.  We are told that the king’s messengers went out to the streets or to the street corners to invite people to the wedding banquet.  There is language here that most of us miss unless we are reading the footnotes or following along in a biblical commentary.  What we miss is that the Jews often referred to the Gentiles as “the people of the streets” or as people who lived on the streets and street corners.  And so, when we are told that the king invited people from the streets, Jesus’ listeners would have understood that the king was inviting Gentiles to the wedding banquet.

 

But so what?

 

What does this all mean?

 

In Philippians 4:1-9, Paul puts it this way:


4:1 
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

 

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

It is never safe for us to suffer from the delusion that God is safe, tame, and inconsequential.

 

You see, our God, is a god of peace.  Our god is a god of love.  Our god is a god of justice.  But much like the lion Aslan, God is neither tame nor safe … but he is good.

 

Ignoring the invitation of God, or the commands of God, is not a good idea.  It is not a good idea to sin and offend God.  Doing these things, believing that God doesn’t care, and expecting that God is powerless is delusional.

 

We must not allow ourselves to suffer from this God delusion.

 

Mr. Beaver and C.S. Lewis said it well. Our God is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.  He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.  He isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you.

 

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

Fear, Respect, and Posers

“Fear, Respect, and Posers”

October 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 20:1-20                      Philippians 3:4b-14                           Matthew 21:33-46

 

 

 This morning I want us to begin by using our imagination for a moment.  Imagine if you met someone who referred to themselves as a professional race car driver, but who never drove a car.  Imagine someone who owned a steel company but the factory that they owned never produced a single ton of steel.  Imagine someone who bragged about owning a vineyard but that vineyard never produced a single grape.  In each of these cases, you would quickly begin to doubt their credentials and would suspect that they were posers, faking their way through life trying to make themselves feel important.

 

At the same time, imagine living in a place where the police department was prohibited from making arrests, had no handcuffs, no jail, and had nothing more than balloon animals and water guns to enforce the law.  Instead of stopping criminals, the police spend their time entertaining children at birthday parties.  Obviously, they wouldn’t be much of a police department and no one would take them seriously.

 

With these ideas in mind, we return to the story of the Exodus and the people of Israel.  Today we hear the words of God as he handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses and to the people. (Exodus 20:1-20)


20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

 

I could present a sermon on each one of those, but for today I wanted to stress the last sentence.  First, Moses tells the people that they should not be afraid, but then immediately says that these commandments were given so that the people would have a “fear of God” that would keep them from sinning.  Doesn’t that sound like two conflicting ideas?  How can we be unafraid, and yet fear God?

 

The simple answer is that although these words translate the same, these two uses of the word fear, and afraid, are used to express two curiously different ideas.  When Moses says “Do not be afraid” that is exactly what he means.  He is telling the people that they needn’t run from God, that they do not need to keep their distance from God, and that simply being in the presence of God is not a life threatening situation in which they must worry, from moment to moment, that God will strike them dead with a thought, a look, or a bolt of lightning.

 

On the other hand, God has given these commandments, and has revealed his presence on earth, so that we might be prevented from continuing in our sin.  As I noted in my earlier example, imagine what would happen if everyone knew that the people charged with law enforcement were prevented from, and totally incapable of, enforcing the law.  In that case, law breakers would have free reign to do whatever they wanted, and even decent people would be sorely tempted to do things they shouldn’t do.  How many people would follow the speed limit if it were announced that the State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officers would no longer patrol the interstate highways or give out tickets?  In this case, what Moses is saying is that God is real, God is powerful beyond imagination, but that God is a good god who loves you beyond measure.  At the same time, there is a list of things that humans do that offend God and we would be wise to avoid doing them.  When they are functioning correctly and when our relationship with the police department is the way it’s supposed to be, we are not afraid to meet a police officer on the street.  We know that they are there to protect us and to keep us safe.  But we also have a healthy respect for them and for what they do, and their presence reminds us that it is wise for us to obey the law.  This deep, abiding, and healthy respect for the presence of God is what Moses describes as “the fear of God.”  We need not be afraid of him, or fear to be in his presence, but we should be stopped in our tracks by the thought of offending him and breaking his laws.

 

God’s intent is not to destroy us, but to prevent us from violating his law and thus bring harm to ourselves.

 

By the time of Paul, the commandments and the laws of God had been elevated in status by people, like the Pharisees, to become an object of worship.  The laws became so important that they became idols that distracted people away from the will of God instead of pointing toward the will of God.  And, before his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was one of those people.  But afterward, Paul understood the law in an entirely different way.  In Philippians 3:4b-14 he described his new understanding this way:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Paul had spent his life learning the rules, following the rules, respecting the rules, teaching the rules and then enforcing the rules.  The rules were his life’s mission.  And then, after his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul says that he considers everything that he ever did to be garbage, filth, because he now understood that following the rules can never make us good enough, but that we can only become pure because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He now understood that we can never, on our own, be good enough, but we must continually work to get better, to become worthy of the gift that we have been given by Jesus.

 

But how do we know when we are doing the right thing?  If following a bunch of rules isn’t good enough, then how do we know when we are following Jesus the way that Jesus desires for us to follow him?  And for that, at least in part, we can turn to Matthew 21:33-46, where Jesus tells his disciples what we now call the parable of the landowner.

 

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

 

Once again, this entire parable was told as a criticism of the leadership of Israel and of Israel’s religious leaders.  They were, in opinion of Jesus, leadership posers.  They were standing in front of the people telling them what to do and how to do it, but they weren’t doing any of the right things themselves.  They were the race car drivers who never drove a single race, steel makers who never produced a single pound of steel, and vineyard owners who never produced a single grape.  Jesus said that the measuring stick to measure a race car driver was to watch him, or her race.  We judge steel makers by how they produce steel, and we measure vineyards by how many grapes are grown.  Likewise, Jesus says, the leaders of the church, and the church itself, are measured by the fruit that they produce.  You can talk about rules all you want, you can talk about churchy stuff all you want, but in the end, the important thing is to measure how many lives have been changed because of what you are doing.

 

Although the Ten Commandments are of obvious importance, the question has never been about how well we follow them, but about why we follow them, and about the results that we get from doing so. Our calling is to follow the law, not because that’s the most important thing, but because we want to be obedient in order to express our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.  We cannot be posers who pretend to do the work of God in order to make ourselves feel better.  We must measure our success by the people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the lives that have been changed, and the souls that have been drawn closer to God.

 

This is our vineyard.

 

This is the fruit that we are called to produce.

 

And Jesus warns us that if we fail, he will move us out and bring in someone else who will.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

This is Proof

“This is Proof”

October 01, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 17:1-7                        Philippians 2:1-13                              Matthew 21:23-32

 

 

Have you ever know someone who was a big talker but not much of a do-er?

 

In Texas they joke about people who are “All hat, and no cattle.”  They talk big, they wear cowboy boots and wear a big hat, but they couldn’t tell a dairy cow from a beef cow if their life depended on it.  We respect people more, and their message is more effective, if they believe in what they are doing and prove it by investing their time, and their money, in their projects.

 

Although I’ve talked about him before, Elon Musk, the founder of Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, believed that a private company could build rockets, and launch satellites into orbit cheaper and more efficiently than the federal government and the existing system of government contractors.  So strongly did he believe in this idea, that he invested more than half of the fortune he had made as an executive at PayPal when it was sold to EBay, over $100 million of his own money, and started SpaceX to prove it.

 

In an entirely different vein, I once watched a documentary about monks (I don’t recall if they were Catholic or Orthodox) who so firmly believed in alleviating the suffering of the desperately poor, that they didn’t just operate a mission to support such a neighborhood, they rented apartments in the same buildings as the poor did, and lived among them in the same crime stricken, gang plagued neighborhood.  It’s one thing to ‘helicopter’ in help, and it’s something else entirely to prove it by becoming one with those who suffer.

 

These are the kinds of stories that I want you to have in mind as we begin our scripture reading from Exodus 17:1-7 where we find the people of Israel, still complaining, this time about water…


17:1
The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah [which means quarrelling] and Meribah [which means testing] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

Here we see two entirely different responses to the same experience.  The people see the desert and they feel their thirst and they respond with frustration and fear.  But Moses sees the world differently.  He sees the same desert and he feels the same thirst, but his response is a quiet confidence that God sees, that God knows what they need, and that God intends to handle it.  Moreover, when God’s solution of going out in front a thousands of people and smacking a rock with a stick, sounds almost totally ridiculous, Moses doesn’t hesitate.  Instead of seeing the world and responding to it, out of fear and frustration, Moses sees the world through a lens of faith in the God that has already done so much.  Even when God tells Moses that the solution to their problem is to collect the leaders of the nation, and go out and smack a rock with a stick, Moses answers not only with the faith and confidence that God will do it, he backs it up with action.  Moses goes out, gathers up the leaders of Israel, and smacks a rock with a stick.  And, in the middle of the desert, water comes flooding out of the rock so that all of the people, and their livestock, have enough to drink.

 

Moses had enough faith to risk looking ridiculous and smacks a rock with a stick in front of the leaders of Israel and thousands of people.

 

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he outlines ways that the church, and its people, can live out, and demonstrate their faith. (Philippians 2:1-13)


2:1 
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

 

First of all, Paul asks the church to be of the same mindset as Jesus Christ.  Jesus was the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, and was a witness to the creation of the world, and yet, when God commanded him to give up his royal status, to clothe himself in frail and mortal humanity, Jesus responded out of humility and obedience.  Jesus valued faithfulness and obedience as being greater considerations than position and power.  Paul encourages the people to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” which means to treat Jesus Christ, and what he has done for us, with trust, faith, and with deep and abiding respect.  Paul says that God works in you so that he can accomplish his goals.

 

And finally we come to Matthew 21:23-32 where Jesus exposes a key failing of the Pharisees.

 

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

 

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

 

The first part of this story illustrates the thinking of the Pharisees.  They did not have the courage of their convictions.  Their primary concern was not to get the question right, but to make sure that they didn’t look bad.  They weren’t looking for spiritual answers; they were looking for political advantage.  And once everyone sees them waffling, Jesus hits them with the parable in the second half of this story.  Jesus compares the Pharisees with the son who said that he would obey, but who stayed home and didn’t do anything.  Even worse, he compares tax collectors and prostitutes to the son who at first appeared to be disobedient, but later repented and did what his father had asked.  That’s really where we feel the twist of the knife in the story.  The Pharisees were the church leaders.  They were the political leaders.  They were the guys who led the people and told them what to do and how to live.  They were the ones who had a strict moral code with hundred of rules to insure that they appeared to be godly.  And they were the ones who held themselves up as examples of godliness that others should follow. And yet, Jesus smears them by saying that they are not righteous, that they are not doing what God has asked them to do, and that they did not repent and change their ways when John the Baptist showed them how disobedient they really were.  Even worse, Jesus tells them that tax collectors and prostitutes, people who were some of the worse scum that the Pharisees could imagine, were entering the kingdom of God ahead of these men who believed themselves to be super saints, models of perfections, and paragons of virtue.

 

But this is a hard story for all of us.  In Christianity, particularly in Protestant Christianity, we often say that we are saved by faith and not by works.  And that’s true… but.  Just as we saw last year when we studied the book of James, this parable of Jesus reminds us of an uncomfortable truth, and that is that genuine faith will be reflected in our actions and in our obedience to God.  It was, after all the son who said “no” to his father, who turned out to be the faithful one.  Although we are saved by faith, our salvation is revealed through our actions and through our obedience to God.

 

A Christian simply cannot be “all hat and no cattle.”

 

We, like Elon Musk, must put our money where our mouth is.  We must, like those monks living in the inner city, live lives that reflect our true beliefs.  We may not sell our homes and move into the inner city, but the way that we spend our money, the way that we spend our time, that way that we use our talents and abilities, and the way that we live, every day, should be a visible demonstration of our obedience to God.

 

Our actions are the proof of our salvation.

 

 

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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.

 

Unmet Expectations

“Unmet Expectations”

September 24, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 16:1-15              Philippians 1:21-30                     Matthew 20:1-16

 

 

Have you ever made a choice and been disappointed with the way that things turned out?

 

Sure you have.

 

We’ve all bought something that turned out to be much less than was advertised, or that broke when it was almost new.  I have a belt clip that holds my cell phone.  After almost a year of good service, it broke.  The good news is that it was still under warranty and the company gave me a new one.  And that one broke only a week after I got it.

 

The Cleveland Browns seem to have a real knack for disappointing draft picks.  The Canton Repository recently ran an article whose title included the phrase “Seven straight years of broken first rounds” and if you enter “Browns” and “Draft Picks” in your internet search engine, you will find lists with titles like “12 worst first round draft picks” and “Brown’s long, sad history of failed draft picks.” As we have all experienced, sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way that we expected and sometimes our choices don’t lead us to the future that we thought they would, or our progress in that direction seems to be much slower than we expected it to be.

 

That is exactly where we find the people of Israel in the story of the Exodus as we rejoin them in Exodus 16:1-15.  Israel has escaped captivity, fled across the desert, been pursued by the Egyptian army, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and watched some of Egypt’s most elite soldiers drown as God returned the sea to its place.  But then, boredom strikes.  The journey to the Promised Land was not a short one and to many people it was taking too long.  They were too hot.  They didn’t have as much food as they thought they would have.  Things weren’t going the way they expected, as fast as they had expected them to go.  And so, as people will do, they began to complain…

 

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 

 

In that passage, we hear the word “grumble,” “grumbled,” or “grumbling” at least seven times.  Since a Jewish month is either 29 or 30 days, depending on exactly when they started, we know that the people of Israel were traveling for between a month, to a month and a half.  And after all of that travelling, they found themselves in a desert.  Undoubtedly, people who were accustomed to herding sheep and goats for a living would be distressed at living in the wilderness and having a hard time finding food for their flocks.  Likewise, people who were accustomed to being fed by the Egyptians were painfully unfamiliar with having to forage for food and they probably didn’t care much for living in tents, if there were any, and sleeping out under the stars for more than a month.  But if you remember, the important point that we heard after the events at the Red Sea was that the people of Israel “put their trust in God.”

 

Clearly, the people of Israel have some unmet expectations.  Life isn’t turning out the way they thought it would.

 

But all of this impatience and complaining doesn’t look like trust.

 

And we see something very similar in a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-16.

 

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

It is helpful for us, some two thousand years later, to understand that a denarius was the accepted rate of pay for approximately one day’s worth of work.  Naturally, an employer could pay more or less than that based on his or her generosity or upon the skill and experience of the employee.  Today, our minimum wage is a bit over $8 per hour so for a full day of ten to twelve hours someone would make in the neighborhood of $100.  With that in mind, let’s think about the story.  The employer has a need for short-term employees to bring in his harvest and so, probably at dawn, he goes to the public square where people who want to work gather and where employees and employers often meet.  There, he hires everyone that he can find and agrees to pay them $100 for the day.  He does the same at 9 o’clock, again at noon, again at three, and still again, even at five when the day was nearly over.  As the sun begins to set everyone lines up behind the paymaster and expects to be paid but the land owner has them line up in reverse order of the way that they were hired to that the guys who only worked a few hours are at the head of the line.  These men, despite being hired at the end of the work day, are paid $100 and the guys that worked since sunrise begin to expect that they are going to be paid very well since they worked ten times as much, but when their turn comes they get… $100.

 

And again the word that we hear is “grumble”.

 

Clearly, they have unmet expectations.

 

Life didn’t turn out the way that they expected.  And they are angry.

 

But the owner explains that he paid them exactly the wage that they all agreed upon.  They worked for a day and got paid a day’s wages.  The landowner explains that if he chooses to be generous to the people who worked for less than a day, he has done nothing wrong and has still kept his word to the people who worked all day.

 

And so, before we finish, let’s take a look at Philippians 1:21-30, where Paul says…

 

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

 

What Paul is saying, is that as long as we live, we do so because God has a purpose for us and work for us to do.  But in all things, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to behave in a way that is worthy of the Gospel that we have been given.  We must strive to stay together, to stand together, and work together, without being frightened of those who oppose the mission of Jesus Christ and the work that we are doing on his behalf.  But along the way, Paul warns us that we are likely to suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ.  We are not immune from struggle and pain simply because we have chosen to follow Jesus.

 

Even though we follow Jesus, life might not turn out like we expect it to.  Life might be harder than we thought it would be.  We might have more pain, and more suffering, and more discomfort than we thought we would have.

 

We will most likely have some unmet expectations.

But impatience and complaining doesn’t look like trust.

 

And crowds of people grumbling about their God’s generosity don’t either.

 

Paul said, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

 

Even if life doesn’t turn out like we thought it would…

 

Even if we have unmet expectations

 

God still expects us to act as if we are grateful for the things that he has done for us.

 

God has given us everything that he promised that he would.  And even if we sometimes feel like we have the luck of a Cleveland Browns draft pick…

 

We are called to behave like people who are worthy of the gifts that we have been given.

 

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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.

 

Pay What You Owe!

 

Pay What You Owe!

September 17, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 14:19-31                    Romans 14:1-12                                 Matthew 18:21-35

 

 

How many of you have ever seen the 1976 movie, “Rocky” starring Sylvester Stallone?

 

We might be missing some of our younger friends, but I would think that by now, most of us have seen it, if not in movie theaters, then on television or on Netflix, or video, or something.

 

In any case, at the beginning of the movie, we learn that Rocky is a down on his luck, amateur boxer and to emphasize just how far down he is, we see that he makes extra money as a collection agent for a local loan shark.  The trouble is, he is too nice and gets in trouble for not breaking someone’s thumbs as he was told to do.  That is typical of how loan sharks have appeared in movies and television for years.  When you fall behind in your payments to a loan shark, some big thug pays you a visit and reminds you, often violently and painfully, that you are expected to pay what you owe.

 

And if you think about it, that’s something of a common theme in our lives.  We get letters from the bank, and the utility company, and the department store, and the credit card company, the Internal Revenue Service, and all sorts of other places every month that urgently remind us, just as forcefully and only slightly less threateningly, that we are expected to pay what we owe.

 

When people do things for us, whether they loan us money, or mow our grass, shovel our snow, they expect to be paid in return.  We expect the same when we work for others.  Not many of us would show up at work if our boss told us that there was no money to pay us.  But that brings us back to the story of the people of Israel in the land of Egypt.  Today we rejoin their story after they have fled their captivity, but now, having been pursued by the chariots of the army of Egypt, find themselves trapped between the swords and spears of the Egyptians, and the Red Sea. (Exodus 14:19-31)

 

19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

 

All along, the god of Abraham has been a god of miracles.  He introduced himself to Moses by appearing in a burning bush, gave Moses a staff that turned into a snake so that he could re-introduce himself to the Pharaoh as a person of power, then brought about ten plagues to afflict Egypt until Pharaoh finally consented to allow the Israelites to leave, and finally leads and protects the Israelites with a pillar of cloud and fire.  And now, when it seems that hope is lost and the Egyptian army will either kill them or return them to their captivity, God creates a dry pathway through the sea through which the Israelites cross safely and in which every single Egyptian soldier dies.

 

God has done all these things, and yet he still promises more.  God still intends to keep his promises and lead Israel into the Promised Land where Israel can become a great nation and rule over themselves.  And in exchange for all of these miracles and the display of all of this power, what is it that God wants in return?  What will be required when God asks Israel to pay what they owe?

 

Nothing.

 

God’s generosity toward Israel is a gift and comes not from a desire to be repaid, but from the love that he has toward his people and the honor that God has in keeping the promises that he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The only thing that God gets in return for his generosity… is trust.

 

“And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

 

But God does want something in return for his goodness.  In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus explains.

 

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold [ten thousand talents – about 20 years’ wages for a laborers wages] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

 

The story of the Exodus told us that the people of Israel put their trust in God, and Jesus is clear that a part of trusting God is forgiving others in the same measure that we have been forgiven by God.  The debt that God has paid on our behalf is astronomically more than we could ever repay and while God does not send thugs to threaten us to pay what we owe, he does insist that our forgiveness flow down to the people we live with and work with every day.  So important is this principle, that Jesus warns us that failing to forgive others and treating them harshly, will cause God to judge us with the same measure and lack of forgiveness with which we treat others.

 

Finally we come to Romans 14:1-12, where we find Paul’s explanation of how we are to honor God.


14:1 
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

 

We are called to accept those people whose faith is not as strong as ours or whose understanding of scripture, at least in non-essential theology, leads them to a somewhat different interpretation than ours.  In Paul’s time, particularly because most meat was sold by butchers who cut, and resold, meat that had been sacrificed to idols, some Christians felt that it was a sin to eat meat.  Others felt that since idols weren’t real, that the meat was not “tainted” in any way and was acceptable to eat.  Paul’s advice was that these two groups should respect one another and not treat one another with contempt.  This idea of contempt and respect is important and it comes up again later in this same passage.

 

Paul also addresses the issue of which day should be a holy day because believers had come to worship on different days.  Just as Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and a few others worship on Saturday, while most Protestant churches worship on Sunday, and Catholic churches often have worship on both days.  Paul points out that what is important is that both groups are, in their own way, attempting to honor God.  In fact, the same thing applies to the people that were arguing over meat, each group was, in their own way, doing their best to honor God in the way that they understood scripture.

 

And this is where Paul returns to that idea of contempt and respect, but here he asks why people judge one another.  This is a little puzzling because only last week we heard Paul say that we should take someone aside if we see them falling in to sin, but here he tells us that we should not judge a brother or sister in Christ.  How can we understand how these two ideas are not in conflict?  If we look closely, Paul associates judgement with contempt and he is also careful to note that these arguments were over what he calls “disputable matters.”  In that regard, it is important for us to distinguish between judgement and discernment, and also between sin, and disputable matters.  Paul wants to be sure that the followers of Jesus do not fall into sin and that we do the things that God has called us to do and avoid those things that God has called sin.  At the same time, Paul understands that not every dispute is critically important theologically.  We are called to be discerning over which disagreements are simply disagreements, and which are clear matters of God’s instruction.  In Paul’s time, some believers thought that eating meat was a sin and others didn’t, while some believed that worshiping on one particular day of the week was critical, while others didn’t.  Today we have similar disagreements between fellow believers.  Methodists believe that everyone should be invited to share at the communion table, while Catholics do not.  We believe that it is possible to turn you back on God and lose your salvation while our Baptist friends do not.  We believe that each individual has the free will to choose whether they will follow Jesus or not, and our Calvinist friends would describe that choice as predestined by God.  The followers of Jesus Christ have many theological disagreements over things that Paul might describe as “disputable matters” or that John Wesley might have described as “non-essentials,” but although we disagree, we are not to judge one another in such a way that we treat one another with contempt.

 

In the end, Paul reminds us that each of us will eventually stand before God and give an account of our lives.  And although we may disagree on how it is to be done, we must all do the best that we can to bring honor to God and to follow his commands.  We must all do the best that we can to treat one another with respect even when we disagree about what things are, and are not, important.  And all of these things are important because God has done so much for us that we can never hope to repay our debt.

 

God is not a loan shark that will send Rocky Balboa or some other thug to insist that you should “Pay what you owe.”

 

But what God wants in return is for us to forgive others and show mercy in the same measure that God has forgiven us and has been merciful toward us.

 

What God wants is for us to trust him enough to live as if scripture matters.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Whose “Side” Are You On?

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

We can never claim that God is on our side.

Why?

Because God doesn’t take sides.

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

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

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

There are only two sides.

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

He isn’t.

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

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

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

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

But we must stand against them when they are not.

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

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

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

There are only two sides.

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

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

Whose side are you on?

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