Covenant of a Clear Conscience

“Covenant of a Clear Conscience”

February 18, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 9:8-17                                   Mark 1:9-15                           1 Peter 3:18-22

 

 

Have you ever watched the news when there is a press conference to announce the end of a particularly difficult labor negotiation?  I don’t care if it’s the steel workers, or the school board, or a Major League Baseball franchise, there is one word that you seem to hear over and over during the press conference, and that is… contract.  I usually sounds like, “We’re here today to announce that all parties have agreed to this new contract.  Negotiating this contract was difficult and although everyone didn’t get everything that they wanted, everyone was willing to compromise to reach an agreement on this contract.  Thanks to this contract, we can all get back to work and be successful together.”  Doesn’t that language sound familiar?  It does, because the repeated word, “contract” is important, and it is one that the negotiators want to emphasize.

 

In our society, a contract is something with which we are familiar.  Almost all of us have signed contracts at one time or another.  We know that those contracts are legally binding on all the parties that sign them, and that there are penalties and even fines that can be incurred if anyone fails to live up to their part of the deal.  Now kick that all up a notch and you can better understand the biblical idea of a covenant.  A covenant was not just a religious thing; it was a legal one that was often used between nations.  Like contracts, covenants usually included a list of what was expected of each party as well as a list of what terrible things would happen to anyone who failed to live up to their part of the deal. The signing of a covenant was often combined with one or several animal sacrifices as a symbol to everyone that the signing of the covenant required the shedding of blood and the breaking of that covenant would also bring about the shedding of blood or death.

 

With that in mind, then I think we can better appreciate the significance of God’s words contained in Genesis 9:8-17, where God describes his promise to Noah, to all of humanity, and to all of creation after the global flood had ended.

 

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

 

Just like those news conference we mentioned earlier, God mentions the word “covenant’ seven times in nine verses and in addition, repeatedly refers to “every living creature,” “all generations,” “never again,” and “everlasting.”  God wanted to make a point that this was a solemn promise that God intended to keep and that humanity never needed to worry about God going back on his promise.   At least from this one disaster, we were safe.

 

And then, thousands of years later, Mark records for us this story and the words of Jesus in Mark 1:9-15.

 

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

 

Jesus went to John at the Jordan River and was baptized by him.  Following his baptism, Jesus went out into the wilderness for 40 days and was tempted by Satan.  But after all of that, the message that Jesus shared with the world was that the kingdom of God had come near and that everyone should repent and believe the good news.  With the coming of Jesus, heaven is torn open and comes to earth.  Instead of heaven being a place that was far away, the kingdom of God had come to earth and lived among humanity.  God was no longer far away, but as close as your neighbor, as close as your next breath, as close as your own heart.  God was no longer confined to heaven, but entered into the hearts of those who believed.  But the baptism of Jesus also symbolized something even more important and the Apostle Peter explains that in 1 Peter 3:18-22.

 

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

 

In this passage, Peter speaks about God’s new covenant with his people, and that is the promise that comes through Jesus Christ.  Peter reminds everyone that since the days of Noah, water has been a symbol of salvation and rescue, but Noah and the ark only managed to rescue eight people.  With the coming of God’s new covenant, Jesus entered into the grave and revealed the truth to those who were imprisoned there (Note: theologians aren’t clear whether Peter was referring to the spirits of dead people who lived in the time of Noah, or if these were fallen angels who had been imprisoned by God).  But Peter makes the bigger point that baptism becomes for us a symbol of Jesus’ three days in the grave and his subsequent resurrection.

 

Baptism, Peter argues, is not about washing and cleanliness, and it isn’t even about ritual purification in the way that the Jews had traditionally done it.  Instead, baptism is a symbol that we take upon ourselves where we join with Christ in the grave (which is the water), pass through the trial that is death, and emerge from the water not only purified, but conquerors of suffering, trials and death, forgiven and resurrected to a new life in Christ Jesus.  It is because of this that we have received the new covenant of God through Jesus Christ, or what Peter calls “the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.”  Once we have received the gift of Jesus Christ and have given our lives to him, we no longer need to fear God, or worry about the sins that we have committed in the past because we are assured that we are a forgiven people who died with Christ and have left our guilt, our shame, and our sin in the grave behind us.

 

This is the gift that we have received.

 

This is the gift of the covenant of a clear conscience.

 

And so as we leave this place and move forward into the future, we are left with two tasks: First, we should rejoice and give thanks to God that we have been given such an invaluable gift.  And second, because this gift is so incredible, we must not keep it to ourselves but instead we must find ways to share this good news with our neighbors, our friends, our family, and with all the world.

 

What will you do with your gift?

 

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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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God Speaks. Who Hears?

“God Speaks.  Who Hears?”

February 11, 2018

(Transfiguration Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

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

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

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

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

That’s probably almost everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did they know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let your light shine.

 

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

 

What Will You Do With Freedom?

“What Will You Do With Freedom?”

February 04, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 40:21-31                              Mark 1:29-39                         1 Corinthians 9:16-23

 

 

Have you ever heard of a man named Blanche Bruce?

 

Bruce was born in 1841 to Polly Bruce, a domestic slave, and her master Pettis Perkinson, a white plantation laborer.  As a slave, Blanche Bruce’s upbringing was comparatively privileged.  His father raised him alongside his legitimate half-brother and allowed him to be educated with him by their private tutor.  As he reached adulthood, his father legally freed him so that he could pursue an apprenticeship, but when the Civil War broke out many freed slaves were being returned to slavery and Bruce fled to Kansas.

 

At this point in our story, it’s worth noting that Blanche Bruce wasn’t the only slave, or freed slave, to escape from slavery.  Many people did.  But what makes Blanche Bruce worth remembering isn’t that he was a freed slave or an escaped slave, but what he did with his freedom once he had it.

 

In Kansas, he worked as a school teacher, and when he later moved to Mississippi he arrived there with only 75 cents to his name.  Even so, it only took a few years before he was successful as both a land speculator and as a planter.  His intellect, personality, and charisma also made him a rising star in the Mississippi Republican Party and as such, he became a sheriff, a tax collector, and the superintendent of education in his county.  In 1874 he was elected to the United States Senate by the Mississippi legislature and he became the second black senator in U.S. history and the first to serve an entire six-year term.  As senator, he defended black Civil War veterans, fought segregation, and spoke out for the rights of Chinese immigrants and Native Americans.  After his term as senator, Bruce later served as the register of the US Treasury and thus the first African American to have his signature appear on our nation’s paper currency.

 

While that’s all very impressive, the reason that I’m telling you the story of Blanche Bruce is that, as we read the lessons of scripture, we find that we need to be asking ourselves one of the same questions that he did.  We begin this morning with these words from the prophet Isaiah contained in Isaiah 40:21-31.

 

21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

 

There are two key points that Isaiah emphasizes in this passage and those same two points underlie everything that we do as followers of God, as Christians, and as a church.  First, God is uniquely powerful.  Our God is the creator of the universe and everything that exists and there is none like him or even remotely close to him.  Second, God is with us.  Our God chooses to care about, and to care for his followers.  Moreover, God chooses to work through his followers for the benefit of the entire world in a way that no other idol, god, or religion does.  We can choose to live our lives without God, but we are strongest with him when we choose to follow him and when we invite God to work with us and through us.

 

But what does that look like?

 

In Mark 1:29-39, we see Jesus ministering in Peter’s hometown, but even at the height of his popularity and when the demand for his ministry was at its highest, he left.

 

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

 

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

 

Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and then the entire town gathered at the door of the house and Jesus healed diseases, and cast out demons from the people who had come.  But early the next morning, even though more people were coming and everyone was looking for him, Jesus slips out of town to pray and doesn’t go back.

 

But why?

 

I made this point a week or two ago and I need to make it again today.  Jesus was the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, and he literally had the freedom to do anything that he wanted to do.  But the question that he asked himself was the same as the one that Blanche Bruce must have asked himself after he escaped to Kansas.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Jesus explains to his disciples that he had been sent by God, not to minister only to one town, but to travel from town to town and carry the message of God to as many people as possible in all of Galilee and in all of Israel.  Jesus had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, but with that freedom, he chose to do what God had called him to do.

 

Paul wrestled with this question as well and talks about it at some length in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 where he says:

 

16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

 

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 

Paul had a number of things to say and all of them are worth noting as we search for answers.  First, Paul explains that he really can’t boast, or even take much credit, for the things that he does because he is compelled, by God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But more than that, Paul says that he would suffer if he did not do what God had called him to do.  Second, Paul makes sure that his readers understand that he is a citizen of Rome, and as such, is absolutely free to do whatever he wants to do that is permissible under the law.  He is a slave to no one and in addition, Paul knows that he has been made free from sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But, with this freedom, he has chosen to do whatever he can to win souls for the kingdom of God.  Paul is free to do as he pleases, but he will go anywhere, and do almost anything, to rescue the lost.  He is fully committed to the goal of winning souls for Jesus Christ.  And finally,  Paul reminds the people of the church that no matter how committed we are, and no matter how devoted we are, or how much effort we expend, we won’t win every time or every person, but by doing all that we can, we will win some.

 

And this is where we return to Blanche Bruce.

 

As he fled Virginia and travelled toward Kansas, he knew that he could safely live there as a free man.  But remember the question that he had to ask himself along the way.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Today we must each ask ourselves that same question.  Isaiah reminds us that God is not only uniquely powerful, but that our God chooses to care about us.  God is free to do as he pleases, but chooses to work through his people to rescue the lost and to save the world.  Jesus made that same choice.  As a member of the Trinity, Jesus was free to do whatever he wanted, but he chose to do only the will of God.  Paul emphasizes that, as a Roman citizen he had a lot of rights under the law.  He was free to do whatever he wanted within the law.  Paul chose to answer the call of God and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with everything that he had at his disposal.  He would go anywhere, do anything, and become whatever he needed to become in order to save as many souls as he possibly could.  Paul understood that he wouldn’t win every single time, but that, with every effort, he would win sometimes.

 

And so, today we are faced with that same question.  We live in of one of the strongest nations on earth.  We are citizens of the greatest empire that has ever existed on the face of the earth.  Much of the world can only dream of things that most of us take completely for granted.  The poorest among us have things that more than half of the world will never have.  We have many basic rights that are guaranteed by the founding documents of our nation and we brag about the freedoms that we enjoy as a nation.

 

But the question we need to answer is the same as the one faced by Blanche Bruce, by the Apostle Paul, and by Jesus Christ.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

 

 

 

_________

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Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaders Lead from the Front

George Patton

General George Patton demanded much from those under his command, but he never asked them to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself.  During the heat of battle, General Patton demanded that his troops only sleep once every two or three days, but he did that himself.  Being his driver was known to be a dangerous assignment, because George Patton was often so close to the battle that he got shot at and lost at least one Jeep to shell fire.  General George Patton led from the front and intended for his officers and men to follow his example.

This is also a repeated theme in the writings of the Apostle Paul.  Paul often says things like “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1), and “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” (Philippians 3:17).  But Paul also expected the members of the church to live their lives the same way saying, “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:7)  Our calling is not only to hear about Jesus, and read about Jesus, but, as much as possible, to live like Jesus so that others can learn from our example.

While this applies to every believer, I believe that it is especially true for those in leadership.  Just as it was in the time of the Apostles, people today still look to their leaders to model what it means to be a follower.  This is why many people are so disappointed when our heroes fall, or when our elected representatives and other government officials act in ways that we think are inappropriate.  As a pastor, I find this to be especially challenging.

While I try to be a good example of how to lead a Christian life, I know that I often fall short.  But, at the same time, because I know that others are watching, I often try to lead from the front.  While I can’t come to every event, I try to pass out food at Perry Helping Perry, bag potatoes with the Society of St. Andrew, help where I can with the Homeless Outreach Team (H.O.T.) and participate in other ministries of the church.  This is also why I go on mission trips to Kentucky and Liberia.  I realize that some of the things that I am doing may be new to you.  But I hope that when you see me doing something new, you might ask yourself if maybe God might be calling you to do something new as well.

I’m obviously not perfect, but I am trying to follow the example of Jesus Christ, and I hope you are too.  But as we follow Jesus together, please remember that just as the believers in Macedonia and Achaia were watching the example of the Thessalonians, your friends, family, and coworkers are watching your example too.  Your life may be the only Jesus that they ever see.

Will you be leading from the front?

 

 

 

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Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)

“Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)”

January 28, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 18:15-20           1 Corinthians 8:1-13              Mark 1:21-28

Everywhere you go, there are leaders and followers.  In the military the division between leaders and followers can sometimes be painfully obvious and at others far less so.  Officers are the designated leaders, and enlisted soldiers are the designated followers, but even though their differences are obvious, this description is grossly oversimplified.  Every officer has another officer of higher rank over them, and the same is true among enlisted troops.  In the end, every leader is also a follower and every follower is also a leader.

The same is true in our local church.  We have a handful of people who chair the committees that help to run our church, but everyone who serves on those committees, even if they think of themselves as followers, are themselves leaders of our church.

But this morning, as we study scripture, we’re going to discover that leadership goes much farther down into the “ranks” of Jesus’ followers than we might expect.  We begin in Deuteronomy 18:15-20, where we hear this:

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

In the time of Moses, The people of Israel were afraid to hear from God directly and so, God promised to send prophets that would speak for him and the people were expected to listen to the prophets and obey the instructions that God sent.  But, at the same time, the prophets were bound to only speak the words of God and not to add instructions or commands that God had not sent.

But then came Jesus.

After all of the prophets, and after all of the teachers, priests, and theologians that lived in Israel throughout the centuries, Jesus was different.  While Jesus honored the commands of God as God required, Jesus did more.  (Mark 1:21-28)

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Jesus did things that only the greatest of God’s prophets had done… and more.

And Jesus interpreted the laws of God in ways that went far beyond what any of the teachers of the law had ever done.  Jesus taught, not as someone who was attempting to interpret what the prophets had said, but as someone who absolutely knew what God wanted and what God had intended.  Jesus wasn’t a follower of God, Jesus was God.  Jesus could do miracles because the Spirit of God lived within him.  For these reasons, Jesus taught with the authority of a true leader.  He was there when God gave instructions to the prophets and he knew what God meant.  And so, as Jesus taught, he wasn’t really interpreting what he thought God meant, but instead was simply explaining the truth and the facts that he knew.

Jesus was different.

Even the demons and evil spirits knew who he was and obeyed him.

Jesus had authority.  Jesus was a leader.

But what does that mean for all of us?

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Paul says this…

8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

At first, this may not sound like it has anything to do with leadership, but stay with me for a minute.  Paul says that we cannot have any gods other that the one God, God the Father, and only one Lord, who is Jesus Christ who created all that is and who gives us life. But Paul also speaks of a dispute between strong believers, and weak believers in a particular issue of his time that related to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Stronger believers had taken hold of the understanding of our God being the only god and not simply the strongest among a selection of other gods that the people had always known.  Strong believers understood that food that had been sacrificed to idols was no different than ordinary food.  For them, there was nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols.

But other believers had not made all of these connections.  For them, food that had been sacrificed to idols was tainted.  For them, eating such food felt like they were worshipping someone other than God and by doing so they themselves were defiled and corrupted in the eyes of God.  Seeing the strong believers eating food that had been sacrificed to idols made them doubt their faith.  It made them wonder if it wasn’t okay to worship more than one god.  It made them wonder if the strong believers, the leaders perhaps of their church community, were worshipping more than one god.

Even though Paul understands that there was absolutely nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, he knew that doing so endangered the faith of newer, or weaker, believers.  And so Paul’s instructions were that the people who were stronger, or more knowledgeable, were to live their lives as an example to the weaker ones.  They were to deliberately live in such a way that supported and strengthened the faith of others in their community of faith even if that meant not exercising their rights to do things that they knew were permissible to do.

And that’s where we intersect with our lives today.  Paul understood that the people who were more knowledgeable, because of their knowledge, but also simply because of their membership in the church body, were leaders.  What one person in the church did or did not do was an example to other people in the church, and their actions could either strengthen, or weaken the faith of others.  But if that is true, then we can also understand that this applies to people in our families and in our communities, who are outside of the church and who might not have any faith at all.  The things that we do, and the things that we do not do, can either draw people toward faith in God and in Jesus Christ, or they can push people away.  Today, eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols is not an issue that we deal with, but there are other, more modern issues that do.  Our complaining, or our gossiping, or our use of alcohol, or our ownership of firearms, might all be reasons that other believers today might struggle with their faith as well as others.

Jesus was God in human flesh.  He was the ultimate leader.  He could easily have done a great many things that he chose not to do.  Instead he followed the rules that God had laid down for the prophets.  Jesus taught with authority, but he did not teach anything that contradicted earlier teachings of God.  Everything that Jesus did was intended to draw people toward God and toward faith in God.  Today, all of our leaders have this same calling.  As we follow God, we must live our lives, and perform our ministries in such a way that our faith, and our lives, does not damage the faith of fellow believers or push unbelievers farther away from faith.  But since all of us have knowledge of God, and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and since all of us have faith in him, then every one of us fall under Paul’s instructions because every one of us, regardless of how strong or how weak our faith might be, have a stronger faith than someone else inside, or outside, the church.

You see, in this way, all of us are leaders.

All of us are called to live our lives as an example to others so that their faith is strengthened and not weakened.  Even if that means we must voluntarily surrender rights that we know we have and stop doing things that we know are perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God.

You see, Jesus was not a follower.  But because we follow him, and because we too are filled by the Spirit of God, we are not just followers of Jesus.  All of us are the spiritual leaders of everyone who is less mature, or who has less knowledge than we do.

We are all followers.  But we are also all leaders.

And we need to live our lives as an example to others so that they will be drawn closer to Jesus and pushed farther away.

 

 

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

 

A Bigger Baptism

“A Bigger Baptism”

January 21, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 1:1-5                         Mark 1:4-11                           Acts 19:1-7

 

 

As you probably know by now, I am a fan of science fiction and franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek.  In the Star Trek original series, as well as in the Next Generation, we would occasionally see a technologically advanced civilization with starships encounter a far more primitive one.  The Federation of Planets had rules about such encounters.  There were rules because if a primitive society would see Starfleet crew members using their technology they would attribute those abilities to magic or believe that the members of Star Fleet were gods.  Starfleet understood that just the act of seeing something could change the course of history forever.  Simply knowing that something was possible could change the direction of science and culture forever.

 

Now, imagine with me a world where fire fighters were stuck in the previous century.  No new technology has been developed for a hundred years.  There are no fire trucks, or hoses, or pressurized fire hydrants, or internal building sprinkling systems.  In this world, the world of firefighting is essentially one of prevention and rescue.  Buildings would have buckets of sand that could be used to fight fires and possibly some sort of bucket brigade, but the primary role of a firefighter in the event of a major fire was to try to rescue those unfortunate souls who were still inside the building or otherwise endangered by the fire.

 

This seems ridiculous to us because while fire prevention and rescue are important roles of a fire fighter, we understand that fighting the fire itself with water and whatever tools we can place at their disposal, is a critical and vital part of what firefighters do.  Firefighting is bigger than simply working at prevention and rescue.  With that in mind, we begin this morning by reading from Genesis 1:1-5, where we hear these words:
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

 

While this passage is probably familiar to all of us, I want to point out that in it we see two persons of the Trinity.  In verse one, we hear “In the beginning God…” and in verse two, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  Similarly, as we read the story of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River in Mark 1:4-11, we see in it all three persons of the Trinity.

 

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

 

As Jesus (who is the Son) comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends from heaven like a dove, and the voice of God the Father declares his love for Jesus and declares that he is pleased with his Son.  I know that understanding the Trinity can sometimes be difficult, but it is because of passages like these that we know that it is real and we are compelled to wrestle with it.

 

But then in Acts 19:1-7, the Apostle Paul meets some disciples of Jesus who knew about God, who knew about Jesus, and who knew about baptism, but were missing a vital piece of the puzzle.


19:1 
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

 

The believers and disciples that Paul met in Ephesus had been baptized by John, but they had not heard the Good News of Jesus Christ or at least had not heard all of it.  Perhaps they had not heard the story about Jesus’ death and resurrection.  All they knew was what John had preached, that you had to repent of your sins.  They were missing a vital piece of the puzzle.  It was as if they were trying to fight fires without a knowledge of water, or without fire trucks, hoses, pumps, and pressurized water systems.  They had been baptized by John the Baptist as a symbol of their repentance from sin, but they had never been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and they had never received the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps like a primitive society that had been exposed to advanced technology, simply knowing that things could be different, changed the course of their lives forever.  Knowing about Jesus, and knowing about a bigger baptism, they were filled with the Spirit, spoke in foreign languages they had never learned, and were given the gift of prophecy.

 

What these believers had known was true but their knowledge was missing a critical and vital component.  Yes, baptism is about repenting from our sins.  And yes, baptism is an outward sign that for us, takes the place of circumcision.  But while those things are both true, these things alone are missing a critical and vital component and that is the participation of the Spirit of God in our baptism.  Ever since the day of Pentecost, whenever we are baptized we invite the Holy Spirit to descend upon us, fill us, work within us and through us to do the work of Jesus Christ in our world.  John’s baptism was big, and it was important, but this is the bigger baptism.

 

Being filled with the Spirit of God is life changing.  It is such a powerful thing that simply knowing about it can change the lives and the futures of others.  And so, unlike the officers and crew of a starship in Star Trek, we must not hide ourselves from people who haven’t heard the good news of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Instead, we must do all that we can to tell as many people as we can so that lives can be changed, people can hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, be baptized themselves, and receive the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

 

You have it within your power to change the course of history forever.

 

All that you have to do is to trust God and share what you know with the people around you.

 

What you have within you is life altering, world changing stuff because it is fueled and powered by nothing less than the Spirit of the holy creator God.

 

We can’t hide out in the church.

 

We musts go out from this place… and change the world.

 

 

 

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

 

Foreigners or Family?

“Foreigners or Family?”

January 07, 2018

(Epiphany)

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Ephesians 3:1-12                               Matthew 2:1-12

 

 

Since this is the beginning of a new year, let’s take a moment to be introspective.  Let’s take a look deep inside of ourselves. Over the past month or so we’ve discussed the idea of “us” and “them” a few times and we’re going to touch on that one more time today as well.  And so, the question I want you to consider is this: who in your life is “the other?”  Perhaps if you are a college educated person with college educated parents, “the other” is a person who works a blue collar job for an hourly wage.  But if you are a blue collar, union member from a long line of union members, then maybe “the other” is someone who wears a tie to work every day in some high rise building downtown, or in New York or some other big city.  Maybe “the other” person is a CEO, or a multimillionaire, whose job, and entire lifestyle is really more than you can even imagine.  Or maybe your life has been mostly comfortable and “the other” is a homeless person who is so unlike you, and unlike your life’ experiences, that you can’t even imagine how they got there or what it must be like to call a little spot under a bridge “home.”  Many of our families have been living on this continent for so long that we have no idea what it’s like to be someone who was born somewhere else and immigrated here or who has moved here temporarily on a work visa.  In many places that I have lived, and I imagine that this area isn’t terribly different, I knew people who had never left the county they were born in, and quite a few who had never been anywhere outside the state of Ohio.  For them, “the other” can often be people who travel or almost anyone who has come here from Texas, or California, or somewhere else, especially those who have come here from another country.

 

Think about who “the other” might be for you.  Who is it whose life, and whose life experiences, are so vastly different that yours, that you have a hard time understanding the things that they do, how they act, the choices that they make, the things that they like and dislike, and who they are as a person?

 

Who is it that is so different from you that you can barely imagine having a conversation with them, let alone consider the possibility that one day you might be friends?

 

Got it?

 

Now, keep that person in mind as we consider our scriptures for today, which is Epiphany, the day that we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men.

 

We begin once again by reading from the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60:1-6 where we hear these words…


60:1
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

 

Isaiah writes of a time, in the future, when God’s messiah would come and the entire world would rejoice, bring gifts, and bring praise and worship to God.  From our side of history, we take this for granted, but in the time of Isaiah, and up until the coming of Jesus, Israel was God’s chosen people.  God had made a covenant with Abraham and it was only his family that had a relationship with God.  In order for other people, or other nations to worship Israel’s god, they had to come to Israel and to her temple, and worship there.  In order for them to follow God and to have a relationship with him, they would have to be circumcised (at least the men, obviously) and become practicing Jews, but in order to be a practicing Jew, it was necessary to make occasional visits to the temple to make sacrifices and to celebrate holy days.  While people from other nations occasionally came to faith in Israel’s god and converted to Judaism, it was fairly rare.  For the most part, the people of Israel considered foreigners to be “the other.”  Israel was “us” and everyone else was “them.”  Hundred of years had passed since women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba had converted to Judaism, but even though they belonged to the genealogy of King David, they were still referred to as Gentile women.  Gentiles and foreigners were always “the other.”

 

This is one reason that Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that breaks with tradition and includes five women (women were rarely, if ever included in official genealogies), three of whom were foreigners and Gentiles.  From the beginning, Matthew makes sure that his reader understands that the thing that God is doing is not limited to men, or even limited to the nation of Israel.  And then we come to Matthew 2:1-12, where we hear about the coming of the Wise Men.


2:1 
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

A great deal can be said about the coming of the Magi, but for today it is enough to point out that this is exactly the beginning of what Isaiah was talking about.  Foreigners, Gentiles, people who were clearly “the other” came to Israel from a distant country rejoicing, bringing gifts, and bringing praise and worship to God.  Just as Isaiah had said, “the other” was being invited in.  Two weeks ago, I talked about outsiders who were invited in.  These were people like the shepherds, people who technically belonged but who, for the most part, lived on the fringes of society.  But the Magi are an entirely different class of outsiders.  These aren’t people from the family of Abraham who had taken a bad path, or who smelled bad, or who were cast aside because they were poor, or even because they were unclean, the Magi were totally outside.  The Magi were never a part of God’s covenant.

 

They… were never… us.

 

Until now.

 

In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul explains just how dramatically, and earth-shatteringly radical and important this really was.


3:1 
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

 

Paul’s message is that with the coming of Jesus, the Gentiles are now not only welcomed into the Temple, but are adopted into God’s family as co-heirs with Israel, members of one body, one church, and one people.

 

For almost everyone in Israel and Judea, everyone who was Jewish, and everyone who worshipped Israel’s God, the Gentiles, more than anyone else, had been considered to be “the other.”  While shepherds, prostitutes, and even those that collaborated with the enemy like tax collectors, and half breeds like the Samaritans, were considered to be aliens and outsiders, they at least had some connection, however distant, to the family of Abraham.  But the Gentiles were the ultimate outsiders.  They were completely outside the family of Abraham.  They weren’t Jewish at all.  They had never belonged.  As much as Israel admired King David and King Solomon, and even though they looked forward to a King that would come from David’s royal family, they still considered women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba to be Gentiles and outsiders.  Despite converting to Judaism, despite marrying into the family, despite worshipping Israel’s god, and despite being the matriarchs of one of Israel’s greatest families, they were still thought to be “the other” because they were foreigners.

 

But both Matthew and Paul are very clear that the coming of Jesus changed all that.

 

With the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, there is no longer anyone whom we can consider to be “the other.”

 

The most ‘other’ outsiders that existed had not only been invited in, they had been adopted as brothers and sisters.  And not only were they adopted, they were included as equal in God’s inheritance, co-heirs with God’s chosen people.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, there is no longer anyone that we can think of as “the other.”  Not the rich, not the poor, not the educated or the uneducated, not city people, not country people, not blue collar or white collar, union or non-union, well to do or homeless, and not American, immigrant, or foreigner.

 

There are no longer outsiders.

 

There is no longer anyone that we can call foreigners.

 

There is only…  family.

 

And Paul says that, as the church, God has given us the mission to make sure that everyone hears the story of Jesus, and feels like family in the church.

 

In this New Year, let us resolve to be that kind of a church.

 

 

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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.