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.

 

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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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Unexpected Acts of Love

“Unexpected Acts of Love”

September 10, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 12:1-14                      Romans 13:8-14                                 Matthew 18:15-20

 

How many of you own jewelry of one kind or another?

 

Most of us do.

 

Some of it is elaborate, ornate, and expensive, while some of the things that we use to adorn ourselves are simple, plastic, and cheap.  I have a cross that’s made of wood and bit of yarn.  I’ve seen others that came out of a vending machine at the grocery store for a quarter.  But regardless of their cost, many of the things that we wear include symbols that have meaning. And one of the odd things about the stories of the Bible are the times in which things that are ordinarily gruesome, terrible, and frightening are redeemed and transformed into symbols of something else entirely.  The cross is the most well-known example. With few, if any, exceptions the cross is among the most painful, gruesome, and horrific ways of dying. Merely the threat of crucifixion was enough to bring about the stubborn obedience of entire nations to Roman rule and law.  The cross was, absolutely, a clear and profoundly terrifying symbol of pain, suffering, and terror.  Few of us would wear a necklace with an electric chair, or a guillotine, or a gallows around our necks.  But the death of Jesus Christ transforms the meaning of the cross into a symbol of faith, hope, and love.

 

Somehow, in the wisdom of God, this symbol of horror becomes instead a symbol of something else entirely, and this one act of suffering and death is revealed to be a completely unexpected act of love.

 

As we continue reading the story of Moses and the people of Israel in Exodus 12:1-14, we see another well-known example of this.

 

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. 

 

Darkness, frogs, lice, locusts, blood, and even death are sent to plague Egypt and while all of these things are terrible, they become for the nation of Israel, symbols of hope and signs that remind us, even today, of God’s faithfulness. And in this passage we see the slaughter of year-old lambs and goats and their blood being painted on the doorframes of houses.  In any other context, painting houses with blood would be offensive, threatening, disgusting, and terrible.  Today, the perpetrators would likely be charged with a hate crime, but in this particular case, the blood of these slain animals becomes a mark of the faith of God’s people and a symbol of God’s love that endures for thousands of years.

 

More than that, the plagues of Egypt themselves, including the death of every firstborn, while haunting and terrible, are not signs of God’s hatred of Egypt or a suggestion that God is somehow evil, but instead are symbols of God’s love even for Pharaoh and the people of Egypt.  Over and over again, God demonstrates his power and authority, granting second chance after second chance, in an attempt to bring about their repentance.  God could have just as easily started with the destruction of Egypt but, in his mercy, provides advance warnings through Moses, and repeated non-lethal demonstrations of his sovereignty so that even the Egyptians might accept him and be saved.

 

And even though we might struggle with elements that seem to be negative and difficult, we see something similar as we read Matthew 18:15-20.

 

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

 

None of us like conflict and confrontation, and what Jesus tells us to do is exactly that.  When we see a follower of Jesus Christ that is falling into sin, we are called to go to them and point out their error.  The intent of this confrontation is not to be angry, or vindictive, or to gloat over their sin, but to call them to repentance in a way that is loving so that they can be restored to the body of Christ.  The first effort is totally private and done in such a way that, should they see their error, no one else would need to know.  You saw it, pointed it out to them, and if they recognize it, repent, and change, then it’s all over and done.  The second attempt is nearly as private, but lets the fallen person know that others in the community are aware of what they have done, and they are given a second chance to repent and stop doing whatever it is that they have done.  And still there is a third chance given where the sin is made known to the entire community of faith and still there is time to repent and to be restored.  But should that fail, then the fallen can be expelled from the church.  All along, the goal is never about confrontation, or humiliation, or ruining reputations, but the goal is always to be caring and loving, and to bring about repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration.

 

Paul sums up the commands of God in a wonderful way in Romans 13:8-14 where he says…

 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

 

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

 

Paul’s summary of the law of God is one of the simplest to remember in all of scripture. “Whoever loves, has fulfilled the law.” Boom.  That’s it.  Every commandment of God can be summarized with this one simple statement because “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Although they are important, there’s no need for us to get all wrapped up in trying to remember rules and laws because, in the end, all of them are accomplished if we love one another and seek the best interests of others.

 

What is unexpected, when we look at the examples that we read earlier, is how often the loving thing, done in the best interests of others, can sometimes appear to be quite the opposite.  Our children thought that we were terrible parents when we said ‘No” to their requests for candy before dinner or caffeinated soda before bed.  Our teens were furious with us when we grounded them for breaking the rules or refused to allow them to go out with their friends the night before a big test.  Darkness, lice, locusts, boils, and death certainly don’t seem to be the acts of a loving God, and yet, all of these were an attempt to draw people, both Israelite and Egyptian, into the kingdom of God.  Confrontation, accusation, humiliation, and even excommunication do not seem like loving acts, but the goal, in every case, is to bring about restoration and reconciliation.

 

To a toddler, a swat across the hands does not seem to be a loving act, but to the adult who stopped curious fingers from touching a hot stove, that mild act of violence was understood to be a loving rescue.

 

Sometimes love is unexpectedly painful.

 

Jesus sought to do what was best for all of us at the expense of his own comfort and even at the expense of his life.

 

And our calling is to pursue what is in the best interests of others even when it might seem, on the surface, to be something less than loving.

 

“Whoever loves, has fulfilled the law.”

 

We may find that love is expressed in some unexpected ways.

 

But love must always come first.

 

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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.

 

Who Am I?

“Who Am I?”

September 03, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 3:1-15                        Romans 12:9-21                                 Matthew 16:21-28

 

 

It’s sometime hard to figure out what’s “real” and what’s not.

 

When we meet someone we want to know who they really are, and this becomes even more important when we want to do business with them, or… if they want to marry your daughter.

 

Many of us have been the victim of an unscrupulous mechanic, or had to fire a contractor that didn’t live up to our expectations, or worried about who our children were dating because we weren’t sure that they were the people they seemed to be.

 

In the age of social media, it’s all to easy to pretend that your life is more perfect than it is, or to claim that you go to church, or that you went to a certain school, or to fabricate all sorts of impressive things.  But our curiosity about the people that we meet isn’t anything new.  People have wanted to know the truth about the people that they meet as long as there have been people.  We want to know if we can trust them, and if so, we want to know how much we can trust them.

 

And that brings us to our scripture for today.  Four hundred years after the life of Joseph, the people of Israel still lived in Egypt, but after the passage of so much time, the Pharaoh on the throne no longer remembered the story of Joseph and what he had done for the nation of Egypt.  And once those lessons were forgotten, Pharaoh began to wonder who the Israelites really were, and if he could really trust them.  (Exodus 3:1-15)


3:1 
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I amThis is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lordthe God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.

 

The Pharaoh of Egypt doesn’t know who Israel is, and he doesn’t know Israel’s god, and he doesn’t know anything at all about the character of Joseph and so he decides that it’s too risky to trust that they won’t rise up and try to overthrow him and take control of his nation.  This decision leads him to oppress the descendants of Jacob and try to limit their ability to reproduce.  In turn, because of his oppression, God calls Moses to be his agent as he rescues his people.  But that causes Moses to doubt himself and wonder what it is that God sees in him.  Moses wonders why God would want him because he has already been thrown out of Egypt, and because he is disgraced in Egypt, because he is a wanted murderer in Egypt, a humble shepherd in Midian, and so Moses asks, “Who am I that I should go” and do this thing.

 

We all do that.  Many of us have struggled to understand who we are.  We often hear about young people you go off to “find themselves” and that’s exactly what they are doing.  They are struggling to decide who they are.  But a big part of the answer for us is the same as it was for Moses.

 

God’s simple answer is that it doesn’t matter who you are.  What matters is that the God who created the universe is going with you.

 

But Moses follows up with another pretty solid question.  Since the people have been living in Egypt for 400 years, and many of his own people have forgotten Jacob, and Joseph, as well as their god, and they are going to want to know who it is that wants to save them.

 

And God answers, tell them that “I am” has sent you.

 

Egypt’s gods always had a name and a description.  There was Ra, the sun-god, Amun, the wind god, Anubis, the god of death, Horus, the god of war, Isis, the goddess of magic and healing, Osiris, the god of the underworld, Set, the god of the desert, Sobek, the god of crocodiles and alligators, and on, and on.  But when Moses asks the God of Jacob what his name is, the only name big enough to define it are words that we can only use to describe ourselves.  What all this says, in one name, is that the only thing big enough to name God, is God himself.  God’s name is “I am.”

 

God is, all that is.

 

God’s message to the people of Israel is that it doesn’t matter who they are, and it doesn’t matter what has happened to them in the last 400 years, and it doesn’t matter how powerful Pharaoh and his armies are, and it doesn’t matter that many of them have forgotten God and don’t know how to worship him.

 

The only thing that matters is that the God who created all that is, is going with them.

 

And then, thousands of years later, as Jesus approached the time when he knew that he would die, we hear this story in Matthew 16:21-28.

 

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

 

After several years of teaching his disciples and telling crowds of people who they should be as followers of God, suddenly Jesus tries to explain to his friends who he is, by describing what he needed to do.  Jesus had to do these things because that is who he was, because that is why he came.  And when Peter tries to talk him out of it, Jesus declares that doing so is taking the side of the enemy because Jesus’ identity, who he is, is tied only to answering God’s call and doing what God wants him to do.  Jesus’ identity was built on God.

 

The only thing that mattered is going where God wanted him to go and doing what God wanted him to do.

 

And finally we come to Paul’s words for the church in Rome as they too wondered who they were. (Romans 12:9-21)

 

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

Paul reminds the church that if we are to call ourselves Christians, and allow our identity to be shaped by God, then we must be sincere.  In a time when everyone is talking about “fake news” it is far more important that we not be “fake Christians.”  We must hate evil and love good, we must serve God as much as humanly possible.  Paul lists these things, not as suggestions, but as a checklist or as a measuring stick against which to check ourselves.

 

Our world is a strange, wonderful, terrible, and sometimes terrifying place. And in these difficult times we ask ourselves, “Who am I?” and we worry about the future.

God’s simple answer is that the God who created the universe is going with us.

 

We met here today in a church and we call ourselves Christians.  We claim that our identity is built as followers of Jesus Christ.  But are we fake Christians or real ones?

 

There’s really no need for us to wonder who we are.

 

If we are real Christians, then we must go where God wants us to go, and to do what God wants us to do.

 

That is who we are.

 

Otherwise it’s all just for show, and we’re all fake Christians.

 

Who are 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.

 

When Legal is Wrong

“When Legal is Wrong”

August 27, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10                   Romans 12:1-8                                   Matthew 16:13-20

 

 

Have you ever watched your local, state, or federal government, your employer, or some big business, do something that just didn’t seem right?  Of course they assured the public that everything they were doing was perfectly legal, but regardless of its legality, it just smelled bad and people grumbled because what they were doing seemed wrong.

 

Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s right.  It is fairly common for us to open the newspaper or turn on the news and find a story about a district court, or appellate court, or even the Supreme Court overturning a law because it is unconstitutional.  But sometimes, even laws that are constitutional are still wrong.  In 1793, the federal government passed the Fugitive Slave Act as an enforcement tool of Article 4 Section 2 of the United States Constitution which required the return of runaway slaves.

 

Did you hear that?

 

The US Constitution required that fugitive slaves, even if they were found in free states, be returned to their masters.  The thing is, a great many people in northern states completely ignored this provision as well as the requirements of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Some state and local governments passed laws that prohibited their law enforcement agencies from enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.  However, by the mid 1800’s this defiance of the law on the part of many in the north caused so many slaves in border states to attempt escape, that the entire institution of slavery was close to collapse and southern slave holding states were angered at their northern neighbors’ failure to uphold the law.

 

And so, the southern states went to Congress and attempted to fix their problem.  In their eyes, the problem was that the northern states were acting in defiance of the United States Constitution and if their compliance could not be enforced, then secession would become a serious possibility.  As such, a new Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850 that would penalize government or law enforcement officials who refused to arrest runaway slaves, even those who were accused, without proof of being runaway slaves.  Further, any person who aided a runaway slave “by providing food or shelter was subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.”[1]  And, although a $1,000 fine doesn’t sound too bad, if we adjust for inflation, this becomes almost $30,000 in 2017 dollars.  Accused slaves had no right to speak for themselves in court, no proof or documentation was required, and only the word of the accuser was needed to take someone into slavery.  In fact, in this way, a great many free blacks were taken illegally into slavery simply by a slave holder, or fugitive slave hunter, claiming that they belonged to them.

 

But still, many people, even at the risk of losing their homes, their businesses, and all that they owned, refused to comply with the law.  It was not only the Underground Railroad, but many people who harbored, protected, and transported fugitive slaves, as well as free blacks, in defiance of the law because they knew that the law was unjust and wrong.

 

We have similar discussions today about a number of subjects, but this is the core of the story that we hear in Exodus 1:8 – 2:10.  We rejoin the story of the people of Israel several generations after Joseph has died, and now, no one remembers, or cares, who he was or what he did for Egypt.

 

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly.14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”


2:1 
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

 

The Egyptians are worried that there are now so many of them, the Israelites might rise up and attack.  And so, the solution that the Pharaoh decided upon was to kill every Israelite male child at the moment of his birth.  But since there wasn’t a soldier in the household of every pregnant woman, they instead commanded the midwives to do their dirty work for them.

 

And here is the heart of the story for today.  The midwives are faced with this moral and ethical dilemma: Do you obey the law, murder an innocent newborn, or disobey the law, and risk imprisonment, beating, and death?  The midwives knew that the law was unjust and wrong, and they knew that obeying the law would be immoral, unethical, and evil.  Despite the risk of significant physical and emotional harm to themselves, they lied, and disobeyed the law in order to honor God.

 

Moses’ mother was forced to make the same moral judgement because although the midwives could lie and refuse to murder newborn baby boys, eventually those baby boys would be discovered by, or be reported to, soldiers who had no moral or ethical problems with obeying the commands of the Pharaoh of Egypt.  Moses’ mother hid him for three months, but at that point it became too difficult to keep his existence a secret.  Babies make noises, and they create smells, and other evidence that people will eventually notice.  And so, Moses’ mother made a deliberate choice to disobey the law and trust God rather than take the risk of him being discovered and murdered by an Egyptian soldier.  Instead of keeping him at home, she built Moses a basket made of papyrus reeds  that was waterproof enough to act like a boat (interestingly, in ancient times, it was common for boats to be built with bundles of papyrus reeds tied together and we also find that the original language for “basket” might also be translated as “ark”).  For her, risking that Moses might be carried out to sea, or drown, or eaten by wild animals, was better than the almost certain death that he faced if she kept him at home.

 

But all of that brings us to Romans 12:1-8, where the Apostle Paul describes what living the life of a follower of God looks like.


12:1 
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

Paul says that we should live as if we were daily sacrificing ourselves to God.  Paul understood that most of us will, thankfully, never be called upon to die for the sake of God, so instead of giving our lives in one dramatic moment, we called instead to give and to live each moment that we have as a gift to God.  Instead of living our lives in the way that others in our culture do, instead of living in order to gratify our desires, we are called to be transformed by studying and learning about God, and becoming the kind of people that God wants us to be.

 

In the end, the message for today leaves us with two difficult lessons.  First, although it might be unlikely, it is possible, that we might one day be faced with the choice of obeying the law and thereby doing something that we feel is morally and ethically wrong, or disobeying that law and facing whatever consequences might befall us because of that choice.  The midwives fully understood that they might be imprisoned or killed because of the choice that they made and our disobedience will likewise force us to risk whatever punishment there is for breaking that particular law.  We don’t have the time to discuss the specifics of the various people in our modern times that have done so, but the seriousness of this matter adds compellingly to Paul’s encouragement for us to be in regular study because when it happens to you, you had better be very sure of what it is that God wants.

 

The second lesson is even harder than the first.  Whether or not we are not asked to disobey the law in some dramatic fashion, every morning we are called to sacrifice that day to God.  We are called to live that day in a way that honors God.  The old saying, “What would Jesus do?” is just a start.  Every day we should live as Jesus would ask us to live.  At the end of every day we should ask ourselves if we have represented God, as ambassadors of his kingdom, in ways that would please God.

 

This is what it means when we say that we are called to be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

 

This is what it means for us to worship God daily.

 

Are you prepared to do the will of God… every day?

 

 

 

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[1] Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugitive_Slave_Act_of_1850
U 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.

 

Hatred, Faith, Restoration

“Hatred, Faith, Restoration”

August 20, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 45:1-15                      Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                                 Matthew 15:21-28

 

 

Have you ever broken anything that was valuable to you but were later able to fix it so that you were able to enjoy it for years to come?

 

I suppose that if there is any advantage to breaking things, it is in the accomplishment and gratitude we feel when they are repaired and restored to us.

 

I have to tell you that I was disappointed.

 

After beginning the story of Joseph and his captivity in Egypt, I was looking forward to working through that story with you over the span of several weeks but, unfortunately, as we follow the lectionary, they have instead chosen to skip to the end of the story.  This is still a great story, but the shift, I think, has been so abrupt, that I need to fill you in on what we missed so that you can more easily make sense of what is happening in today’s story.

 

Last week, we heard the story about how Joseph was sold into slavery because of the jealousy and hatred of his older brothers.  The only brother that we didn’t hear about was his one younger brother, Benjamin, who was almost certainly too young at that time to leave home, and was, therefore, the only innocent sibling.  After Joseph was sold into slavery, a number of horrible as well as truly wonderful things happened to him, but each one demonstrated that God was truly with him and in the end Joseph was able to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh of Egypt.  These dreams told of a great famine.  First there would be seven years of bountiful harvests, and then there would come seven more years of drought and famine.  Because even Pharaoh recognized that Joseph’s ability to interpret these dreams was supernatural, Joseph was elevated to a position of power second only to the Pharaoh himself so that he could oversee the preparations for the famine that was to come.  It was Joseph who was in charge of building great storehouses for the harvests of Egypt so that there would be food to eat during seven years of famine.  And, when the famine came, it was Joseph who was in charge of making sure that the food was distributed fairly, and that some could be sold to people who were not from Egypt.  In this capacity, Joseph sits on a throne and, meets his own brothers who have come to beg for food to feed their families back home.  But since Joseph now speaks Egyptian, and by all appearances looks to be an Egyptian, including being clean shaven rather than bearded, his brothers have no idea who he is.

 

Joseph actually set them up to appear to be thieves in order to make them return a second time with his brother Benjamin.  This caused them great fear because after losing his son Joseph, their father never allowed Benjamin to go anywhere.  And so, we rejoin the story in Genesis 45:1-15 where Joseph finally breaks down and reveals his true identity.
45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

 

Imagine how his brothers felt.  For decades Joseph’s brothers lived with the guilt and shame of what they had done.  For decades they kept this great secret from their father.  For decades they lie awake at night imagining the horrors of what might have happened to their brother, imagining how he had suffered, and imagining how he had likely died.  And then, on this day, far from home and surrounded by armed Egyptian soldiers, they meet Joseph and discover that he is the second most powerful man in the world and can end their lives, or worse, with just a few words.

 

They were so afraid that they were unable to even speak.

 

And yet, instead of terror, revenge, or murder, what Joseph has in mind is thanksgiving, reunion, restoration, and reconciliation.  Joseph’s faith has brought him to understand that God was in control all along.  Through their hatred, betrayal, and deception, God had brought Joseph to Egypt, and even through his misfortune and suffering, God had brought Joseph to a place where he could save the lives of the people of Egypt, as well as those of his entire family.

 

And then we read this story of faith in Matthew 15:21-28.

 

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

 

There are several things that we need to remember in order to better understand this story.  First, Jesus is not in Israel any longer but in what had been, at various times, Syria and Phoenicia, and is therefore known as Syro-Phoenicia.  You may remember that the region of Galilee is in the far north of Israel, and as you keep going north you come to Tyre and then to Sidon.  If you kept going, the next large city is that of Beirut, so in modern terms, Jesus is now in Lebanon.  Second, Jesus has often made it clear that his mission and ministry during his time on earth was to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  While he did, occasionally, reach out to Gentiles, the focus of his mission was always to the Jews.  And so, as this woman comes asking Jesus to heal her daughter, the disciples urge him to send her away because she is neither Jewish nor even a citizen of Israel.  Even so, she persists in calling out to Jesus for help and so Jesus points out that you wouldn’t allow your own children to go hungry because you threw their food to the dogs.  [It is important to note here, that in Greek, there is a derogatory word for dogs that was used to insult people, and this is not that word.  This word is a friendlier term that we can understand, not as an insult, but simply as a comparison between children and pets and is not likely to have been intended, or received as an insult.]  But the woman rises to Jesus’ challenge and defends herself by arguing that Jesus’ power is so great, that what she wants is no more than crumbs from the table that the children would never miss.  Her understanding allows Jesus to heal her daughter and also to compliment her for her great faith.

 

As we remember these things, what we note is that although his mission is to the Jews, Jesus still cares for people who are not.  We also note that faith in the power of God and of Jesus is not limited to the disciples or to the Jews and it is this faith that opened the door to the healing of the woman’s daughter.  With this understanding, we can see that instead of being reluctant to heal an outsider or a foreigner, Jesus welcomes the opportunity to reveal God’s grace and mercy to everyone who is willing and able to have faith in him.

 

In Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Paul explains it this way as he speaks about the “lost-ness” of the Jews:

 

11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.

 

29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

 

Paul reminds us that at one time, all of us were lost, all of us were disobedient to God and, when we came to faith in Jesus Christ, all of us received mercy and were rescued from our disobedience from its consequences.  Without our disobedience, Paul argues, we would never have needed the mercy of God and the rescue of Jesus Christ.  It is Jesus who brings rescue, restoration, and reconciliation.  It is through Jesus that we receive God’s mercy, are rescued from sin and death, and are restored to the family of God.

 

It was Joseph’s faith that allowed him to have perspective on the suffering of his life.  Rather than being angry and vengeful toward his brothers, Joseph understood that their betrayal, and his many years of slavery and suffering, was used by God to rescue all of them.  Joseph’s faith allowed him to forgive his brothers and bring about the rescue of the future nation of Israel, the reunion of his family, and the restoration and reconciliation between him and those who had betrayed him.  Without their betrayal, which was redeemed and used by God, their entire family might easily have starved, or been enslaved and absorbed into the nation of Egypt.

 

Although the Syro-Phoenician woman who pestered Jesus until he heard her cry was neither a Jew nor an Israelite, her faith allowed her to receive God’s mercy and allowed her daughter to be healed by Jesus.

 

And Paul explains that although the Jews failure to believe in Jesus has separated them from God, they have not been rejected by God.  They have instead been called by God to accept Jesus, to come to faith in him just as the Syro-Phoenician woman did, so that they can receive God’s mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration.

 

And so, we should remember two things: First, that although we all suffer, we may not immediately understand our suffering, but it is entirely possible that, like Joseph, God is using our suffering to take us to a place where we can be a blessing to others, or even to change the world.  Second, as we go out into the world and as we meet people who do not know Jesus, what we offer them is the opportunity to open the door of faith so that the understanding of God, along with his mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration, can flow freely into their lives.

 

Faith is the key that opens our lives to healing, hope, and reconciliation.

 

 

 

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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.