Who Owns Your Success?

“Who Owns Your Success?”

November 19, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 8:7-18             2 Corinthians 9:6-15                         Luke 17:11-19

 

 

Have you ever owned your own home?

 

The process for applying for a mortgage is intimidating but the feeling of home ownership is a pretty good one.  But unless you’ve owned your home for a long time, and made a lot of payments to the bank, we are reminded, at least once a month when our payment is due, that the real owner of our home is the bank.

 

When we have been employees, no matter how much we love our jobs and take pride in our work, and care for the facilities as if they were our very own, we are constantly reminded that they belong to someone else.

 

If you buy a new car, you have to have insurance, but if you wreck the car, the majority of the insurance money will go to the bank that owns most of the car.

 

In an episode of The Big Bang Theory (Application Deterioration), several of the characters, Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard, come up with an idea that is patentable and could make them millions of dollars.  But when they go to their employer’s legal office to ask about pursuing a patent, they get that same sort of stunning reminder.  The patent attorney declares that they

 

“Just need you to review and sign this document acknowledging that you understand the university will own 75% of the patent.

Howard: 75%?

Sheldon: That’s outrageous. This is our idea based on our research. How can you possibly justify owning a majority share?

Patent Attorney: It’s university policy.

 

Leonard: Hold on, hold on. So the three of us do all the work and only end up with 25%?

Patent Attorney: Dr. Hofstadter, this university has been paying your salaries for over ten years. Did you think we do that out of the goodness of our hearts?

Leonard: Well, until you just said that mean thing, kinda.

 

Three of the four men are reminded that because their research and knowledge grow out of work that their employer has already paid for, 75 percent of any profits belong to the employer.  Even worse, since Howard is already an employee of the Federal government, he isn’t entitled to anything at all.

 

All of these types of stories remind us that we often fool ourselves into believing that we own things that rightly belong to someone else.  We are also prone to take too much credit for work that we did as a group, or pass along too much blame to others for mistakes that we made for ourselves.  And in Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Joshua reminds the people of Israel that they must be careful not to take credit for the work that was done by someone else.

 

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

 

Joshua emphasizes that God has already given them much, and is about to give them even more.  Their blessings will be wonderful and the land will be abundantly good to them in many ways.  But they must be careful to remember that God has given all these things to them as a gift.  Joshua warns that it is all too easy to forget the giver and allow our pride to fool ourselves into believing that we did it, that “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But that, Joshua says, is a lie because it is God who gives us the ability to produce, wealth.  Ultimately, it is God who has given us everything that we have, and it is God to whom we should be grateful.

 

In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, the Apostle Paul goes a step further.  He reminds the people of God that not only should we be grateful for what we have been given, our thankfulness should be demonstrated through our generosity.


Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

 

Paul has several points that are neatly sewn together.  First, if our mission is to grow the church, then we must be generous in what we plant.  When we garden, we plant seed in proportion to the harvest that we expect in the fall, and our ministry is no different.  If our goal is to bring many people to faith in Jesus Christ, then we must plant seeds toward that end with the same generous abundance as the harvest for which we pray.  But, at the same time, our trust must remain in God as we remember that the God who provides seeds to plant and bread to eat, is the same God who will lead us toward bountiful harvests of both rescued souls and personal righteousness.  We cannot be stingy with the things that God has given to us, we must use them for our mission and ministry, and we must share what we have been given with those in need.

 

And of course, as we consider our success and the gifts that we have been given, we would be foolish to skip over the words of Jesus found in Luke 17:11-19, where we hear this:

 

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

 

Ten men begged for pity, for compassion, for help, and for healing.  They begged that the lives that had been stolen from them by their incurable disease might be given back to them.  And Jesus cures them all of an incurable disease.  And yet, of the ten, only one, and he a foreigner who would have commonly been hated and mocked, only this one man returns to Jesus to gives thanks for the invaluable gift that he had been given.

 

These words of Jesus remind us all that our lives are a gift.  As we celebrate our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday, let us never forget that our success doesn’t belong to us.  Our lives do not belong to us.  Our possessions do not belong to us.  All that we have has been given to us as a gift from God.

 

Let us give thanks to God, and may we always be generous with what we have been given so that our harvest, both for the Kingdom of God, and for our own righteousness, might be equally generous.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Half-Hearted Disaster

“Half-Hearted Disaster”

November 12, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25                       Matthew 25:1-13

 

 

There’s a tall tale about a soldier who wanted to stop the fighting during the American Civil War, and as he thought about how he could go out onto the battlefield and address both sides, he dressed in a Confederate jacket and Union Blue pants and boots.  But as he went out onto the battlefield, rather than finding welcome, he discovered that he was being shot at from both sides and quickly had to choose which side he wanted to run toward to find safety.

 

In a similar, but much more serious bit of history, we remember when Emperor Nero began a focused persecution of Christians in Rome and many of them were hunted like animals.  During that time, some people, after their arrest, were given the opportunity to recant their faith in Jesus, swear allegiance to the Emperor, and save their lives.  Some did, others refused and were burned at the stake or worse.  But history records that in some circles, the church felt that there had been a benefit to their persecution.  Despite the fear and the terror, the some people believed that the church was stronger in the end because the people whose faith was half-hearted had all left, and those that remained behind were, in their assessment, true believers.  Today we acknowledge that some people with real faith in Jesus did what they felt they needed to do to save their lives and the lives of their family, but it remains an interesting perspective and this might be something we want to keep in mind as we read our scripture this morning.  We begin in Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 as we hear Israel’s leader, Joshua, address the people and ask them which god they really want to follow.

 

24:1 Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.

Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants.

 

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves 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 household, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”

25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws.

 

Joshua tells the people that they are not able to follow God because our God is a holy and jealous god.  If the people were to forsake God and serve foreign gods then the God of Israel would bring disaster and would bring an end to them.  Choosing to follow the God of Israel was not something to be taken lightly.  One of the most powerful things is what Joshua says next: “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”  The point that Joshua makes is that the true heart of the people is what is important.  God wants to know, where your heart is and God insists that if you choose to follow him, that you follow him whole-heartedly.  Joshua warned that following God but keeping an alternative in reserve, “just in case,” was a recipe for disaster.  Not only would God not accept such half-hearted devotion, God would bring disaster upon those who did so.

 

And, just in case you were thinking that the God of the Old Testament seems harsher than the God that we see in the New Testament, Jesus doesn’t cut us any slack either.  In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus tells us this story:

 

25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

 

This story takes a little background to understand completely, but even if you don’t know the background, you should still understand the core of the story.  In the time of Jesus, much like we learned in the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph, young men would be betrothed, or contractually pledged, to be married to a young woman.  After the betrothal, the young man would generally return home with his father, continue to learn a trade, and at the same time begin building an addition on his father’s house where he would eventually bring his bride and start his own family.  And so, for a year or more, the bridegroom would be working, earning money, and building their future home.  When it was all finished, and the wedding feast prepared, only then would the bridegroom go back to the town where the bride was waiting for him.  The bride, and her friends had no idea what month, or what day, and certainly not what hour that the bridegroom would return.  Except that, one of the groom’s friends or some family member might run ahead and shout a warning that he was coming.

 

And so, although they had months, perhaps even years, to prepare and to plan, five of the bride’s friends just grabbed a handy lamp from a tabletop at home and ran out into the night to await the arrival of the bridegroom.  The other five, had planned more carefully.  They had thought about the coming of the bridegroom, and they had prepared for the eventuality that he might come in the middle of the night, that he might be delayed, or that the trip to the wedding feast might be longer than they expected, and so they had prepared in advance.  These wise young women were fully devoted to their friend the bride, and they did everything in their power to make sure that they didn’t miss her special day.

 

And Jesus says that those who were not prepared were locked out.

 

The warning in both stories is the same.  Half-hearted devotion, or half-hearted faith, half-hearted preparedness, or however you choose to name it, is an open invitation to disaster.

 

Our God is a holy God; he is a jealous God.  If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, or serve money, or power, or your own selfish desires, or in any other way serve God half-heartedly, it will be a half-hearted disaster.  God will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, even after he has been good to you.  We all need to look in the mirror from time to time and ask ourselves if we are giving all of ourselves to God or whether we are holding back something… “just in case.”

 

May we, just as the people of Israel did, rededicate our lives to God and give him…

 

…our whole heart.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Forever Love

“Forever Love”

November 05, 2017

(All Saints Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Revelation 7:9-1                     1 John 3:1-3                           Matthew 5:1-12

 

 

Being the first Sunday of November, today we celebrate All Saints Day and remember all of our friends and family that we have been lost to us.  Already we have named some of them and lit candles in their memory, but each one of us could easily name other friends and other family members that we remember, and think of, daily.  But although they are lost to us, we still remember and we still love.

 

This is not the kind of love that Meatloaf sang about in the 80’s when he wrote Paradise by the Dashboard Light where in one verse he swears that he would love his girl until the end of time, and in the next is praying for the end of time so that he can end his time with her.  When we think about genuine love, about love that lasts, or when we think about “forever love” what we are thinking about is more like the Forever Love that Gary Barlow wrote about when he sang,

 

Now I’m deep inside love and still breathing
She is holding my heart in her hand
I’m the closest I’ve been to believing
This could be love forever

 

Or maybe it’s like the Forever Love that Reba McEntire sang about when she said,

 

The first time I laid my eyes on you I knew

We’d spend this life side by side

I still feel the same though you’re so far away

I swear that you’ll always be my

Forever love

 

But I think even that falls short.  Because in the end, since our marriage vows are “to love and to cherish until death do us part” we are reminded that human love may only last as long as our lives on earth.  But there is yet another kind of love that loves more deeply, and that does last forever.

 

This is the kind of love that Christian artist Francesca Battistelli sings about in yet another song called Forever Love where she sings about God.

 

You are my forever love

From the bottom of my heart I’ll sing to You
From the depths of who I am I love You
With everything inside I’ll run to You
‘Cause all that I’ve become I owe to You

 

Whenever we use the word ‘forever’ we remember that this life is not permanent, but we should also remember that this life is not all that there is.  In the revelation of the Apostle John, he visited the throne room of God and offers us this description (Revelation 7:9-17):


9:1 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

 

In this case, “forever” really means forever and “never” really means never.  Those who are in the presence of God will never hunger or thirst, they won’t suffer as much as a hard sweat in the hot sun, and God himself will wipe away all of their tears.  Forever.

 

Although he doesn’t use the word “forever,” in Matthew 5:1-12 that is exactly what Jesus means as he speaks about the future.


5:1 
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

 

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Rejoice and be glad, because the reward for the people who have suffered for their faith, and for those who have lived a life of faith, will given to them in heaven and that, as we know, is a reward that will last forever.

 

But what does that mean for those of us who have lost our loved ones and who remain on this earth?

 

In 1 John 3:1-3, we hear these words:


3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

 

We are already the children of God.  We have already begun to live a life that will last forever but the day is coming for us when we will become much more than we already are.  This transformation has already happened for those who have gone ahead of us to eternity, they have already been given their new, perfect, and eternal bodies and they can already see Jesus in all of his glory but we know that, sooner or later, our day is coming.  But because we know what we know, we have no need to fear that day because rather than something terrible, we know that despite whatever pain we may face at the end our life on this earth, the transition, at the other side, will be wonderful beyond imagining.

 

But as we wait for that day and as we live out our lives, we are called to dedicate our lives to Jesus Christ, to live our lives as Christ himself modelled for us during his life on earth, to seek peace, pursue justice, and to pour out mercy, compassion, and love into the people and the world around us.  And as we do so, we are called to purify ourselves and live lives that honor God.

 

Although we mourn as we remember those whom we have lost, we rejoice in knowing that they are, today, perfect, holy, and unimaginably blessed in every way as they live in the presence of God.  But at the same time, we also remember our calling to be worthy of the gift that awaits us.  Let us honor God, and honor those that we have lost, by rededicating our lives to God, to his kingdom, to purity, and to all that is good.

 

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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.

 

How Will You Be Remembered?

“How Will You Be Remembered?”

October 29, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 34:1-12         1 Thessalonians 2:1-8                  Matthew 22:34-46

 

 

The story is told that while Calvin Coolidge was sometimes referred to by his opponents as the “Do nothing” president, he was still popular with many Americans.  When a reporter once asked how both of these things could be true, he responded by saying simply, “America wanted nothing done… so I done it.”  Calvin Coolidge was okay with being known as the “do nothing” president because, in his view, that is what he was elected to do.

 

But here’s a different thought.  How many of you have ever been to a funeral or visited a cemetery?

 

In both cases, we encounter the names of the deceased but when we do, that information is almost always associated with two additional pieces of information, the date of that person’s birth, and the date of their death.  Quite often there is also a dash or some other typographical marking that stands between these two dates.  As we walk through a cemetery, we generally find that we don’t know any, or at least few, of the people who have been buried there.  All that we know of them are those bits of information on their tombstone.

 

But what about that dash?

 

For those of us who are strangers, it conveys no additional information.  We don’t know what they did, who they were, what they were like, or who their friends were.  But to their friends and to their relatives, and perhaps to a few genealogists of historians, that dash means something else entirely.  For the people who knew them, or to those who studied them, that dash is a remembrance, it gives us a snippet of time in which we remember.  We remember who they were, how they lived, what they meant to us, and how they made us feel.

 

Poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

And as we bring in new members this week and as we prepare to celebrate All Saints Day next week that brings us to a question that all of us need to consider: How will you be remembered?  What is it that you want people to remember about you when the time comes to carve that dash in your tombstone?  This is important because choosing how we want to be remembered will have an enormous impact on how we choose to live our lives, it will have a significant effect on decisions that we make every single day, and it will change how we treat the people around us.

 

We begin this morning in Deuteronomy 34:1-12 where we meet Moses at the very end of his life and as we witness his death and burial, and as we watch Joshua assume leadership over the nation of Israel.


34:1 
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

 

On the surface this is a story about the death of Moses and Joshua’s succession to the leadership of Israel, but a significant part of this passage is about Moses’ dash and describes for us what the people of Israel remembered about Moses after his death.  They remembered that Moses was a “servant of the Lord.”  We are told that he remained intellectually and physically vital in his old age because “his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.”  Moses was a man “whom the Lord knew face to face,” who did “signs and wonders” as an agent of God in Egypt, and who was responsible for the freedom of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.  Moses was remembered for being the only person, ever, to display the kind of power that he did, or perform the awesome deeds that he did, or have the kind of relationship with God that he did, and he did it all in front of an entire nation.

 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 we see something similar.  In this case it isn’t about death, but as Paul reminds the church about his visit with them, he doesn’t talk about fundraising, or politics, or disagreements that they had, he focuses on the dash, on the things that he wants them to remember about him, about his ministry, and about themselves.
2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

 

Paul says that he and his companions had been treated outrageously and their ministry faced strong opposition.  But even so, their motives were pure, they didn’t use flattery to manipulate people, they weren’t greedy, their ministry wasn’t about ego or power, but instead they were innocent like children.  They cared for the church, they loved the people, and they shared not only the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they shared their lives together.

 

Paul wants the people to remember the importance of the gospel message, but he also wants them to remember that the message was delivered with compassion, tenderness, integrity, love, and lives shared with one another.  The facts were important, the gospel message was important, but so was the dash; the way that they remembered the delivery of that message and how they felt were also vitally important.

 

And finally, in Matthew 22:34-46, we encounter a story where the religious leaders of Jesus’ time once again sought to embarrass, discredit, and humiliate him.  But once again, their attempt doesn’t quite turn out the way that they expected.

 

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

 

In the time of Jesus, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were dueling political parties and each held power in a different way.  The Sadducees believed only in the oldest books of scripture and had power sharing agreements with the Roman government.  The Pharisees believed in the whole of scripture, as well as the importance of the writings of learned Rabbis and scholars.  These two groups often opposed one another both publically and privately. In our story, the Sadducees try to make Jesus look foolish, and when they fail the Pharisees, being competitive, decide that they should take a swing at it.  If they succeed where their opposition had failed, they would look good to the people and shame their opponents at the same time.

 

But when they try, they fail as miserably as the Sadducees had.  Without hesitation, Jesus handles their hardest question without getting tangled in any of the potential political or religious arguments that might have been attached to it.  Jesus demonstrates clear and precise thinking, cuts to the heart of the question and provides a direct, solid, theologically correct, and definitive answer.  But, having answered their question, Jesus has a question of his own, regarding the identity of the Messiah.  Everyone knew that the father was always superior to his sons, and a king was always superior to his heirs, and so when Jesus asked how the Messiah could be both the son and heir of the great King David, and, at the same time worshipped and called Lord by that same King David… the Pharisees are stumped.  They have no idea. In all their theological training, and all of their scholarly study, none of them had understood that the messiah would be both the son of man and the son of God.  They totally missed the idea that the messiah was to be not only a human savior, but also divine, God in human flesh.

 

And so this also adds to the dash of Jesus.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees no longer dare to ask Jesus questions or to try to trick him into looking foolish because every time they try, Jesus answers their most difficult questions and instead embarrassed them in front of the people they were trying to impress.  Jesus, even among his opponents, becomes known as quick witted, intelligent, theologically learned, politically astute, wily, and both street smart and book smart.  To his friends and followers, Jesus is remembered as someone who makes them feel safe, protected, and loved, but to his opponents he is feared and respected for his intellect and his ability to make them look, and feel, foolish.

 

Calvin Coolidge was known as the “do nothing president” but also as a skillful and honest public servant.  Moses is remembered as the rescuer of Israel, the most powerful prophet ever, and the man who had the closest relationship with God.  Paul wanted the church to remember that he was honest, that he loved them, cared for them, and taught them the truth of the gospel message.  Jesus, even among his enemies is remembered as smart, thoughtful, theologically intelligent, and a force to be reckoned with.

 

For those of us who know and love Jesus, there is little doubt about the importance of the dash between his birth and his death.

 

But what about you?

 

The choices that you make today, the choices that you make this week, and the way that you treat the people around you, shapes your dash.

 

The message that you carry with you, either a message of hope or a message of despair, is up to you.

 

You can carry with you the compassion, mercy and love of Jesus Christ and the good news of his life, death, resurrection, and rescue of the entire world, or you can allow the people around you to stumble under the guilt, fear, and other burdens that they carry.

 

What choices will you make?  How will you live your life?  How will the people around you feel when you are with them?

 

How will you be remembered?

 

 

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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.

 

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

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

You need to know the facts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So relax.

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

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

I don’t see a downside here.

 

 

The God Delusion

 

“The God Delusion”

October 15, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

Have you ever lied to yourself?

 

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

 

Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

God is not safe.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But so what?

 

What does this all mean?

 

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


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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Fear, Respect, and Posers

“Fear, Respect, and Posers”

October 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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


20:1 And God spoke all these words:

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

“You shall have no other gods before me.

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

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

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

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

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

This is our vineyard.

 

This is the fruit that we are called to produce.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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