Jealousy, Hate, Betrayal, and Faith

“Jealousy, Hate, Betrayal, and Faith”

August 13, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 37:1-28                      Romans 10:5-15                                 Matthew 14:22-33

 

 

Have you ever been angry?

 

Of course you have.

 

But have you ever been so angry that your passions boiled over, smothered your good sense, and caused you to behave in ways that you shouldn’t have behaved and probably later regretted?

 

Most of us, at one time or another, have done things, or at least said things, in the heat of the moment that we knew we shouldn’t do or say and that we later regretted and for which we probably had to apologize.  Some of the things that we have done may well have permanently damaged relationships in such a way that no amount of apologizing will ever make it right or repair what we once had.  Our anger, our passions, our emotions, are all God given, but if we allow them to control us they can take us places that we never wanted to go.  This contrast between emotion and good sense is a major part of the story of Jacob, his sons, and especially, his son Joseph. (Genesis 37:1-28)


37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

 

12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

 

Joseph was born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachael, who, for most of their marriage had been unable to have children while Jacob’s other wives, and their servants, had many children.  Rachael was obviously Jacob’s favorite, and so for this reason, and because she wasn’t having children, the others mocked her and made her life miserable.  And so when she finally got pregnant and had a son named Joseph, he became the favorite of Jacob’s eleven sons.  And his favoritism caused problems.

 

Because Jacob favored Joseph so much, and because he was the youngest child, his brothers were jealous of him and grew to hate him.  But when Joseph had a dream in which he saw his brothers and his entire family bow down to him, and when he shared that dream with his family, his father was annoyed with him, but his brothers just hated him even more.  And when they were far from home, and were given the chance to do away with Joseph forever, Joseph’s brothers allowed their emotions and their passions to overtake their good sense and they betrayed him, and betrayed their father, and they sold him into slavery and told their father that he was dead.

 

The power of this story is not just in the story of Joseph and how God walks with him; the power of this story also lies in the striking contrast that is drawn between Joseph and his brothers.  Although Joseph may well have been spoiled and deliberately rubbed his favored status in the face of his brothers, he is portrayed as the innocent, honest son, who is only being obedient to his father.  In this story, there is little that Joseph can do to change the course of events.  The emotions and the passions of his brothers overtake him, he is captured, stripped, thrown into an empty cistern and sold into slavery.  There is nothing that Joseph could do, his life has spun completely out of his control, and all that he had left… was faith.

 

This first part of Joseph’s story is remarkable because it sets up this enormous contrast between the powerful and the powerless.  Joseph, although the favorite, becomes completely powerless to change his own story and is at the mercy of his brothers, the slave traders, and later his Egyptian slave owners.  But what none of them can take away from Joseph… is his faith in God.  No matter what happens, Joseph remembers that God loves him, cares for him, and is ultimately in control of his life, as well as the lives of his family, his brothers, his powerful owners, and even in control over the life of the Pharaoh of Egypt.

 

In Romans 10:5-15, Paul also teaches by using contrasts.


Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

 

Paul says that living under the law is a life of always trying to do things in order to live by it and therefore, be declared righteous.  But being righteous by faith doesn’t require all the doing on our part because Jesus has already done all that needed to be done.  There is no need for us to climb up into heaven to find Jesus, or to descend into the depths of the sea, the depths of the earth, or into the depths of hell in order find Jesus because Jesus is always as near as the next spoken word, the next beat of your heart, or the next thought in your mind.  All that we need to do, is believe that Jesus is Lord and accept him in your heart, and we are given the righteousness of Jesus, and rescue from our sin, as a gift.

 

For that reason, one of the biggest contrasts of the ancient world was utterly erased.  Jews had always pointed at the Gentiles, the non-Jews, as a contrast to themselves.  The Gentiles lived differently, they did not keep the law, they were not circumcised, they did not live under the promise of God, and were not a part of God’s covenant with Israel.  For the Jews, there was no one else that they could describe as being more different.  But Paul says that there is now no difference between Jew and Gentile because all of us worship the same God and God chooses to bless everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, who puts his faith in Jesus Christ and calls on his name in the hope of salvation and rescue.

 

Where we come from doesn’t matter.  What we look like doesn’t matter.  How we worship doesn’t matter.  What we eat doesn’t matter.  Our culture doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters… is our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

And with that in mind, we come to Matthew 14:22-33, where we remember the story about Jesus walking on the water.

 

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.  Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

First, we should remember from last weeks’ message, that Jesus was tired, and grieving the loss of his cousin and friend John the Baptist but because the crowd had followed him, he never had the chance to be alone.  This time, Jesus sends the boat ahead so that if the crowds follow, they’ll follow the boat and then he goes off, by himself, to be alone and pray.  When he is finished, his friends on the boat were a considerable distance ahead, as you might expect, but had not yet arrived at their destination as they might have, because they were forced to row the boat against the wind rather that sail.  For those of you who know sailing, this was long before the invention of the jib sail, which made sailing against the wind possible.

 

What I want to point out is this: Peter walks on water.  That is totally astounding.  Peter walks on water.  But when all is said and done, Jesus summarizes the story by asking Peter why he had so little faith.  The disciples’ obvious conclusion is that Jesus is God, but we are left with a single nagging question: What are we capable of doing, if we only had enough faith?

 

What are we capable of doing, if we only had enough faith?

 

The contrasts that we see between Joseph and his brothers are given to us in a deliberate way so that we understand the difference between the brother that has faith, and the ones whose faith is not mentioned.  Joseph’s life is totally out of control until all that he has left is faith.  But his brothers, whose faith is not considered, are selfish, jealous, angry, hurtful, and hateful.

 

Joseph’s faith is not just something that makes him stronger; it is the one thing that makes his life different.

 

Paul’s lesson is that faith is the thing that pushes aside our differences and draws us all closer together.

 

And Jesus’ message is that, with faith, we are capable as individuals, and as a community, of doing far more, through our faith in Jesus Christ, than we ever imagined was possible. But we are called, not only to have faith, but to share it with others.

 

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news

 

 

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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.

 

Struggle

“Struggle”

August 06, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 32:22-31                                Romans 9:1-5                                     Matthew 14:13-21

 

 

 Have you ever just sat and watched a butterfly?

 

At home we have a butterfly bush that is a favorite of humming birds and butterflies and at certain times of the year it can be crowded with flying things.  Once, at one of the zoos that we visited, we got to go through a greenhouse that was filled with butterflies.  It was an amazing experience.  Many of us have had science teachers who brought in a chrysalis and set it in an aquarium where we could watch it.  And if we were lucky, we were in school when the time came for the butterfly or moth to open the chrysalis, struggle greatly for an hour or more, climb out, and begin its new life.  But it is here when the butterfly is in the most danger, both from nature and from kindhearted humans.  While the butterfly is attempting to climb out of the chrysalis and while its wings are drying, it is nearly defenseless and utterly vulnerable to predators.  But it is also in great danger from human beings who want to be helpful because while its climb out of the chrysalis into the world is filled with struggle, if a helpful human being opens the chrysalis and lays the creature on a branch, that creature will never be a butterfly.  Its wings will never form properly, and its body will always be bloated and misshapen.  In this case, kindness has robbed the butterfly of the struggle that would have forced fluids out of its swollen body and into its wings.  Those fluids needed to come out of its body and expand its wings into their final form and the only way that they could move from one place to the other was through the struggle to squeeze out of the chrysalis and climb out into the world.  It is the struggle that completes the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, and without the struggle that miraculous transformation never happens.

 

In today’s scriptures we are reminded that much of our life, and much of our spiritual life, is filled with struggle.  But, as unpleasant as that struggle can be, it is often the vehicle that carries us from one side of transformation to the other.  We begin in Genesis 32:22-31, where we find Jacob preparing to meet his estranged brother Esau.  When they had last seen one another, Jacob had swindled Esau out of his birthright, out of his father’s blessings, and out of a third of his father’s estate and so, Jacob was afraid of what might happen at their meeting.  With that in mind we hear this:

 

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

 

As Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, he is sending his herds, his servants, and even his family ahead of him in waves, each carrying greetings and gifts in the hope that Esau will be persuaded not to kill him or take revenge in some other way.  And on this last night before their meeting, in that place, during the night, he meets… and wrestles with, God.  Jacob demands a blessing from God before they part, but in the process wrenches his hip and acquires a limp that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.  Jacob names that places, Penial, which means “face of God” because he knew that he had met God face to face, and God gives Jacob the name Israel, which in this context likely means “struggles with God.”  On the evening before he meets his brother, a meeting which might literally become a life or death fight between brothers, Jacob meets, struggles with, and is blessed by God.  For the rest of his life he limped because of this struggle, and with every step he remembered that it was this same struggle that brought him God’s blessing.

 

The Apostle Paul lived a life that was full of struggle but in Romans 9:1-5, he outlines one of his greatest frustrations saying…


9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

 

Paul was born and raised as a Jew and he had always been proud if his heritage, his religion, and his God.  As he travelled on the road to Damascus to capture and punish those people whom he believed were perverting and damaging his faith, Paul met the risen Jesus.  Paul’s life was changed in an instant and he knew that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the rescuer of God’s people.  But the joy of that knowledge came with what he described as “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart because despite his love and respect for the heritage of Israel, despite the stories and the teaching of the patriarchs, despite the covenants of God, despite the construction of and the worship in the temple, and despite the ancestry of and the genealogy of Jesus, many Jews would be lost because they did not have faith in the messiah.  Paul’s great desire was to save Israel, and he wished that he could be cursed and trade places with his people so that they could be saved… but he could not.  Paul continually struggled with the difference between his compassion and love for his people and the reality that they did not know, trust, or believe in the Messiah Jesus.

 

But it was this struggle that drove him, constantly, throughout his entire life, to preach the good news, and to use whatever energy that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

And then in Matthew 14:13-21 we read the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and we discover that there are everyday struggles in the Christian life as we try to be obedient and faithful.  We join the story, just as Jesus learns that his friend, and his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded.

 

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

Jesus is tired and he is grieving at the news he has just received.  And so he withdraws to a remote and quiet place so that he can be alone.  But the crowds follow him and as much as Jesus wants to rest, as much as he wants to grieve the loss of his friend and relative, he feels the needs of the people, has compassion on them, and cares for their needs instead of his own.  And as evening comes, the disciples realize that all these people, 5,000 men along with many of their wives and children, will need to eat and so they urge Jesus to send them away so that they can go home or buy food for themselves in nearby villages.  But instead of sending them away, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the hungry with the five small barley loaves and two fish that they found in the sack lunch of one small boy.  For the disciples this was an impossible problem.  In their eyes, they knew that one sack lunch was not nearly enough to feed a crowd of ten thousand or more people.  But Jesus sees the world differently.  Jesus never told the disciples that they should feed everyone a full meal but only that they should give the people… something.  And surprisingly, that is exactly what Jesus did.  He took what little they had, prayed over it, and shared.  Jesus shared what they had, God blessed it, and it was enough.  We are left to wonder what would have happened if the disciples had chosen to share what they had instead of complaining that they didn’t have enough.

 

The disciples of Jesus struggled with the difference between their compassion for the people in the crowd and the reality of one small sack lunch.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their generosity and the reality of their poverty.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their desire to be obedient and their willingness to trust Jesus with all that they had.  The disciples struggled because their faith was inadequate to overcome their understanding of reality.

 

As the followers of Jesus, we struggle with these same things today.  Jesus asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and the orphans, to speak for the voiceless, to be fathers to the fatherless, to love the unloved, to love mercy, and to have compassion for the people around us.  But we struggle because we don’t think we have enough.  We come to Jesus thinking that we need more, that we need more food, that we need more money, we need more time, we need to be a bigger church, we think that we simply don’t have enough.  But Jesus’ answer to our struggles is the same today as it always has been.

 

We don’t need more.

 

We just need to trust Jesus enough to share what we already have.

 

Jacob’s struggle brought him God’s blessing.

 

Paul’s struggle drove him to preach the good news, and to use all that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

Our struggle is the same as that of the disciples.  Every day we struggle because we think that we don’t have enough faith, or enough money, or enough of something else.  But Jesus reminds us that we don’t need more.

 

What we need, is to trust Jesus with what we already have.

 

And we have faith that as we struggle, like the butterfly, day by day, we are being transformed, into the people God created us to be.

 

 

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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.

 

I Can’t

“I Can’t”

July 09, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67         Romans 7:15-25            Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

 

Have you ever felt like you were in too deep?

 

Have you ever felt like the things on your plate were too much for you?  There was too much work, the situation demanded more emotional energy than you felt like you had to offer, or in some other way, what was demanded of you was just… too much?

 

We’ve all been there.

 

We’ve been buried in schoolwork, been given too much work, taken on too much responsibility, overwhelmed with family situations, been faced with health problems that seemed to be insurmountable, and a host of other things.  At one time or another, we’ve all reached a point when we just throw up our hands, or collapse into a chair, and say to ourselves… I just can’t.

 

But for me, whenever I get to that place, one of the things that floats back in my memory, are the words of one of my mentors quite a few years ago.  These seven words are often able to put my problems back into the right perspective.

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

Say that with me.

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

In our first scripture this morning we meet Abraham’s servant, we aren’t given his name, but we are told that he is the most trusted servant that Abraham had, and the man who ran the entire household.  Abraham, by this time, was nearing the end of his life and he wants to insure that Isaac marries a woman from among his own people, and from his own faith, and not from among the Canaanite women.  And so Abraham sends his servant back to his homeland, to find a bride.

 

But here’s the thing: This servant had never been to Abraham’s homeland before.  He didn’t know anyone there.  He wasn’t exactly sure where to go.  He wasn’t exactly sure about the customs of the place or how they might have changed since Abraham left close to a hundred years earlier.  In a time long before radio, television, or even the Pony Express, there was no way to send a message ahead to tell someone that he was coming.  The mission that he had been given was almost completely impossible.  He only vaguely knows where he is going, and has almost no idea what he is going to do once he gets there.  But what follows is one of the most amazing stories of faith and answered prayer in all of scripture.  I hope that you will open your Bibles this week and read the entire story, but in the interests of time this morning we will begin after he has already met Rebekah, sits down to dinner with her family, and explains his mission to them.  (Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67)

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

 

42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’

46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So I drank, and she watered the camels also.

47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’

“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’

“Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, 48 and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. 49 Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.”

 

58 So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

59 So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

“Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands;
may your offspring possess the cities of their enemies.”

61 Then Rebekah and her attendants got ready and mounted the camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.

62 Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. 63 He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. 64 Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel 65 and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?”

“He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself.

66 Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. 67 Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

 

Abraham’s servant finds the general area where he was supposed to go, stops for a break at the well, and while there, prays to a god that he doesn’t even worship.  Since he is on a mission for Abraham, he chooses to pray to Abraham’s God and asks that, if he is to be successful, that the woman he is seeking will come to him and will answer his questions in a specific and measurable way.

 

In essence, Abraham’s servant recognizes that he simply cannot do what he has been asked to do and in his prayer he says…

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

And everything that he prayed happens only moments after he prayed.  And so what we witness is not only God answering his prayer, but God was already in the process of answering before he even began to pray.  Step by step, item by item, Rebekah says and does exactly what Abraham’s servant prayed that she would do.  Even more than that, Rebekah’s family recognizes that God has made all of this happen and they give her the opportunity to choose for herself whether or not she wants to go.  Rebekah is being asked, at a moment’s notice, to leave everything that she has known, to leave her family, her friends, her culture, and her nation.  She is being asked to travel to a country she has never seen, to marry a man she has never met, and live with a family that she knows nothing about.  But, much like Abraham, amid the confusion of the moment, she hears the call of God and consents to leave immediately to go to a new place, and join a new people, in order to do the will of God.

 

Rebekah too seems to say these same words.

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

We also note that Paul struggled with his own humanity and his inability to be as good as God wants him to be. In Romans 7:15-25 he says this:

 

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

Paul says that because his very nature is contaminated by sin, he is unable to do the good that he wants to do and often ends up doing the evil things he deliberately tried not to do.  He thought about doing good, he intended to do good, he planned to do good, but in the end he failed to do it.  At the same time he thought, intended, and planned not to do things that disappoint God, and yet, in the end, that’s exactly what he did.    Paul believes that God’s law is good, but his sin interferes with his ability to follow it. But when he cries out in his need to be rescued from himself it is God who delivers him through the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

Paul uses longer sentences, but what he is saying is this…

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

And finally, in Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus say this:

 

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

 

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

 

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

Jesus says that Israel’s leaders behaved like children.  They make up their own games and they want us to play their games by the rules that they just made up.  According to the rules they made up, no one can be good enough.  John the Baptist refused to drink alcohol or to eat with the leaders of Israel and so they said he was possessed by a demon.  Jesus came and he ate and he drank and they criticized him for drinking, eating, and making friends with outcasts.  But Jesus tells us that he knows God, that he was sent by God, and that he has come to reveal God to everyone.  Jesus invites the weary and the burdened to come to him and find rest.  Jesus calls out to the people who are tired of falling short of the expectations of others, tired of falling short of their own goals, tired of trying to do good and failing, and tired of doing the very things they were trying so very hard not to do.  To all of us who are overwhelmed and who are tempted to call ourselves a failure because of the burdens that have consumed us, Jesus calls and says, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

God knew that human beings, infected by the corruption of sin, were incapable of being “perfect enough” or even “good enough” to make it on their own.  And so he sent his son Jesus to do all the heavy lifting for us.  Jesus has done all that needed to be done.  Jesus sacrificed his own life in order to pay the debt that we owed to God.  And Jesus invites us to surrender ourselves to him and allow him to be at work in our lives, transforming us into the people that God wants us to be.

 

Isn’t it time that we stopped beating ourselves up?

 

Isn’t it time that we stopped trying, and failing, to do it all on our own?

 

Isn’t it time that we realized that we can’t be perfect?

 

It’s time that we all said..

 

…I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

 

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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.

 

Dedication Determines Destination

“Dedication Determines Destination”

July 02, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 22:1-14                      Romans 6:12-23

 

 

On July 4th, 1776, fifty-six men from 13 colonies signed the American Declaration of Independence.  Of these, nine were immigrants, two were brothers, two were cousins, and one was an orphan. The average age of a signer was 45. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at 70. The youngest was Thomas Lynch Jr. of South Carolina at 27.

 

They were merchants, businessmen, farmers, doctors, lawyers, judges, legislators, one a clergyman, and while most all were Protestant, only one was Catholic.

 

What they signed was a list of grievances against the King of England that had not been resolved and, having complained, had been made worse.  At the end of this declaration was an oath in which they swore their “support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

 

And they did.  And the cost, for many of them, was steep.

 

Seventeen signers fought in the American Revolution and the British captured five of them during the war. Richard Stockton never recovered from his incarceration at the hands of British Loyalists. He died in 1781.  Thomas McKean wrote to John Adams and said that he was “hunted like a fox by the enemy – compelled to remove my family five times in a few months.” Abraham Clark had two of his sons captured by the British during the war.  Eleven signers had their homes and property destroyed. Francis Lewis’s home was razed and his wife taken prisoner. John Hart’s farm and mills were destroyed when the British invaded New Jersey, and he died while fleeing capture. Carter Braxton and Thomas Nelson lent large sums of their personal fortunes to support the war effort but were never repaid.1 Thomas Lynch contracted swamp fever while fighting with the South Carolina militia and his illness left him sickly for the rest of his life. Seeking relief from his illness he and his wife sailed for the south of France and were lost at sea.  Joseph Hewes worked night and day and spent himself creating the new United States Navy.  His health failed and he died from overexertion.2

 

These men knew that signing the Declaration of Independence would mark them as an enemy of the king and all of England.  They didn’t make their choice of allegiance lightly.  They knew that the American colonies had chosen a destination that would carry them away from England, her king, and their empire.  But they also knew that reaching that destination would take incredible courage and dedication.  Without their dedication and sacrifice, our freedom would have been impossible.

 

This is the theme that we also see in today’s scripture readings.  We begin in Genesis 22:1-14, as we continue with the story of Abraham and Sarah.

 

22:1Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 

God, knowing full well that Abraham and Sarah had sent Ishmael and his mother out into the desert to die, or at the very least, knowing that they would never return, God asks Abraham, to take Isaac, his only son, his most prized, most loved, the son through whom God had promised to produce nations and people more numerous than the stars, and the one thing Abraham held to be more valuable than any other, even more than his own life, and to sacrifice him as a burnt offering on the top of a mountain.  This was God’s test.  God knew that Abraham loved him.  God knew that Abraham trusted him, but God still wondered if Abraham was “All in.”  To be fair, Abraham also knew what God had promised.  He knew that God had promised that Isaac would be blessed and that God would make his family into a great nation.  Abraham knew that Isaac was only the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to make Abraham’s children as numberless as the stars in the sky.  But now God wanted Abraham to take that promise to the top of a mountain and put a knife to Isaac’s neck.  We don’t know what Abraham was thinking.  Maybe he was thinking that God would relent and change his mind.  Maybe he was thinking that God would raise Isaac from the dead.  We don’t know.

 

What we know is, that in the end, Abraham did everything that God asked.  Abraham was fully prepared to end Isaac’s life if that was truly what God wanted.  Now God knew, without a shadow of a doubt that Abraham was “All in.”  There was nothing, not even this most prized, most loved, most cherished son, as well as the love of his wife (because I just don’t see Sarah being the same if Abraham had come home without Isaac), not even that would Abraham keep from God if that was what God desired.  This is the most extreme example, but this is what it looks like to give everything to God.  Especially after last week’s lesson, we know that Abraham was far from perfect.  But he was willing to give God everything that had any value to him.  God blessed Abraham, and Isaac, and their family and still does so today.

 

Abraham’s dedication determined his destination.

 

In Romans 6:12-23, Paul explains it this way:

 

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

 

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Paul’s first argument is that we are each like an instrument offered to God.  Every part of us needs to be equally dedicated to God.  To withhold a part of our lives, and to offer God less than all of ourselves, produced a gift like a guitar with missing strings, or a trumpet with one valve stuck, or a piano with some of the keys missing.

 

Next, Paul again confronts what must have been a common argument to excuse sin.  The argument was that since the sacrifice of Jesus and the grace offered by God now supersedes the Law of the Old Testament, then sin is therefore permissible.  But Paul destroys that argument by saying that human beings, by nature, will enslave themselves to something.  We are enslaved by our desires, our lusts, our passions; we are enslaved by greed, sex, power, and a host of other things.  But the gift of Jesus Christ and the grace of God allows us a choice.  We can continue to be enslaved by our sin, or we can choose to give ourselves instead to a good, just, and merciful master who will set us free from sin and make us slaves to doing right.  What’s more, when we are enslaved by our desires, the direction of our lives will lead to death but if we are enslaved to righteousness, our lives lead to eternal life.

 

Our dedication determines our destination.

 

The signers of the American Declaration of Independence knew with absolute certainty that what they were doing was an act of treason and would make them enemies of the King, of England, and the empire.  They understood that liberty and freedom for the new American colonies would come at a price and they were prepared to dedicate their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in pursuit of that goal.

 

And it was their dedication that determined the destination of our nation.

 

Abraham and Sarah spent their entire lives praying and waiting for God to fulfill his promise to give them a son, and when God gave them Isaac, he became the most treasured thing in their lives.  But when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to demonstrate his devotion and dedication Abraham was prepared to hold nothing back and give everything, even his most precious son, back to God.

 

And his dedication determined his destination.

 

That same choice falls to each one of us in our spiritual life.  Just as you cannot make beautiful music on a guitar that is missing strings, or a piano with broken keys, neither can we withhold parts of ourselves from God.  We will, by nature, drift into slavery to something but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the grace of God allow us to choose whether we want to be slaves to our own desires, or slaves to God and slaves to doing what’s right.  When God asks us if we are “All in” he isn’t just asking if we are his fans, he is asking if we, like Abraham, are willing to give God absolutely everything that has value to us.  Your willingness to be “sold out” to God is literally a choice between life and death.

 

Your dedication, determines your destination.

 

Are you… “All in?”

 

 

 

 

 

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1Note: Information from Larry James • CelebrateLove.com These are his sources: Robert Lincoln, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, with Biographical Notices of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence(Brattleboro Typographical Company, 1839); John and Katherine Bakeless, Signers of the Declaration (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969); Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989).
2 http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/declaration-of-independence-signatures.html
__________
* 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.

 

Are You All In?

“Are You All In?”

June 25, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 21:8-21                      Matthew 10:24-39                   Romans 6:1-11

 

 

Do you have a favorite NASCAR driver, football, baseball, or soccer player, or any other favorite sports figure? How committed are you to watching your favorite team?

 

Teams want you to support them financially, to buy tickets, and jerseys, and memorabilia, and they want you to cheer for them.  The Cleveland Indians have favored the phrase, “Go big, or go home.”  A few seasons back, their players were seen wearing shirts that predicted 100 wins.  But during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ run for the national championship last year, the question that fans were asked was…

 

…“Are you all in?”

 

LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers wanted to know if your support for the team was wholehearted and hot-blooded, and not just lukewarm.  And that’s a good way of thinking about the theme of today’s message and the thread that winds its way through our scripture lessons.  We begin today in Genesis 21:8-21, where we find a jealous Sarah who is so enraged by the presence of her husband’s mistress and their semi-illegitimate child, as well as the fighting and sibling rivalry between their children, that she simply wants them gone from her life.

 

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah, here’s a quick summary: Despite God’s promise that their ancestors would become a great nation as numberless as the stars in the sky, Sarah was childless.  And so, at some point, Abraham decided to help God out, and took Hagar, one of his slaves, as a mistress in order to father a child.  This was an accepted practice at that time in order to preserve wealth and the family line.  But then, as we discussed last week, long after Sarah was past the age of childbearing, God gave her a son of her own, Isaac.  But now, as if looking at her husband’s mistress every day, as well as the child that they had together, wasn’t enough, Hagar’s son was mocking Isaac.  And all of Sarah’s frustration, and rage, fear, and hope for the future exploded.  She wanted them gone.  And so Abraham packs Hagar a lunch and sends her out into the desert.

 

The core of this story is two-fold.  First of all… people stink.

 

As good, and as godly as we are told that Abraham and Sara must be, they both stink.  What they did is understandable, but still pretty horrible.  Even though we look up to Abraham and revere him as the founder of our faith, sending his own son, along with his mother, out into the desert to die is an inexcusably horrible thing to do.  But the second part of this story is that as bad as human beings stink, God doesn’t.  God cares.  Despite the fact that the blessing of God is on Isaac and it is through Isaac that God intends to bless the world, God still cares about Hagar and Ishmael.  God finds them in the desert, saves their lives, gives them water to drink, leads them out of the wilderness, blesses them both, and promises that Ishmael will also be the father of a great nation.

 

And again, if you are unfamiliar with this story, Isaac becomes the patriarch of the nation of Israel and the people known as the Jews; while Ishmael becomes the patriarch of the people we now refer to as the Arab nations.  Curiously, all of these peoples are referred to collectively, as the Semitic people.

 

So to summarize, people stink, God cares.

 

But God’s plan is to change that.  God’s intent is to transform humanity into something better.  And the coming of Jesus Christ is a huge part of that plan.  Jesus came to earth to rescue humanity from its wickedness and sin so that we could become something better.  In Romans 6:1-11, Paul puts it this way…

 

6:1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 

At the very beginning of this passage, Paul wants to eliminate the notion that Jesus’ sacrifice and the infinite grace of God might be used as an excuse to continue in our sin.  In no way, shape, or form should we excuse our error and try to justify it by claiming that we are already forgiven for it.  Instead, we must realize that our sinfulness was the cause of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, and it is our sinful nature, our “old self,” that was crucified with him.  For that reason, Paul explains, that our “old self” is already dead and, as a result, we should do everything in our power to stop sinning, to break the bonds that sin and death have over us, and act like people who have been set free from sin.

 

Jesus didn’t die to give us an excuse to keep doing the same wrong stuff we’ve been doing all along, Jesus died so that our lives could be transformed into something better.

 

In Matthew 10:24-39, we hear Jesus echo that same sentiment.

 

24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.]

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

 

Do not be afraid.

 

God cares.

 

You are worth more than many sparrows; you are of incredible value to God.

 

The followers of Jesus Christ will turn against their families and against their parents, not because they are violent or because Jesus encourages them to be violent, but because Jesus intends to completely transform their lives into something new, different, and far better than we have ever been before.  When we choose to follow Jesus, we want what he wants, we follow where he leads, we go where he goes, and we do what he calls us to do.  And in doing these things, we will leave behind the people that won’t go with us.  Families, friends, and others will turn against us because we have chosen to follow Jesus and because we are becoming something new and different than the people we once were.  As we lose our old lives, we are transformed and we discover a new life that is lived through Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus calls for us to devote ourselves to him wholeheartedly and to walk away from a lukewarm faith.  In the end, Jesus asks us a familiar question…

 

…Are you all in?

 

 

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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.

 

Do the Impossible

“Do the Impossible”

June 18, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 18:1-15                 Matthew 9:35 – 10:8                  Romans 5:1-8

 

 

Have you ever been asked to do the impossible?

 

On this Father’s Day, I suppose it’s fair to ask all of you fathers, just how intimidated you were that first time someone put a tiny baby in your arms and you realized that you were responsible for their life.  Did that seem to be a nearly impossible task at times?

 

One of the challenges facing our president and the Congress of the United States is to find a way to control spending, increase income, or in some other way, or combination of ways, to balance the budget and reduce not only our annual deficit, but to begin to repay the tens of trillions of dollars of our debt before our nation defaults on its obligations.  While some politicians might argue about the necessity of repaying our debts, most politicians, from both major parties, would likely argue that doing what I just described, as an impossible task.  Some mathematicians have already argued that it may soon be mathematically impossible to get out of the hole that we are digging for ourselves.

 

While this is obviously worrisome, many of us understand what it means to be told that something is impossible. Most of us, at one time or another have been asked to do things that were close to, if not totally impossible.  We were frustrated when our bosses asked us to do too much with too little or asked us to convince a client of something we knew they wouldn’t like.  But many of us also know of couples who have been told that they could not have children, and then did.  We know of people who were told that loved ones would not survive, and then did.  But no matter how it happened, we are all well acquainted with what it means to face an impossible task and this is the theme that we find woven throughout today’s message.  We begin with the story of Abraham and Sarah found in Genesis 18:1-15.


18:1 
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

 

Sarah is not afraid of the difficult.  When three visitors come to their encampment, Abraham sends her to get three seahs of flour and bake bread and, chances are, that when we read this we are unimpressed.  But we should be.  If we take the time to read the marginal notes in our bibles, we discover that three seahs of flour amounts to about 36 pounds and so would make at least a similar amount of bread and perhaps even considerably more after accounting for all the other ingredients.  Imagine not only making thirty six, but perhaps even fifty, loaves of bread, but mixing and kneading them, by hand, and then baking them over an open fire.  While we know that Sarah had servants and almost certainly didn’t do this alone, this was a huge job and probably took the better part of the day to accomplish.  Sarah was not intimidated by hard work or by a difficult task.  But when she hears the Angel of God say that she will bear a child, when she is already well past the age when women have children, Sarah recognizes the impossible when she hears it.  By some accounts Sarah was already almost one hundred years old, the very idea of her getting pregnant and having a baby at that age was so completely preposterous that when she heard it, she laughed at the idea.  And even though she had not laughed out loud, and even though she had kept her thoughts to herself, God knew her thoughts.

 

And God’s question for Sarah was simple.

 

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

 

Clearly, this is a rhetorical question.  Whenever anyone asks a question such as “Is anything impossible for God?” obviously we are intended to understand that the answer is “No.”

 

The God of creation, the God who spoke the universe into existence, is a god who does the impossible.

 

But what does that have to do with us?

 

What difference does it make, in my life, or in the life of the church, that we worship a god that does the impossible?

 

And in order to answer that question, let us first turn to the words of Romans 5:1-8, Paul says this:


5:1 
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

For our purposes today there are two things that I want to point out.  First, we have peace with God, through our faith in Jesus Christ, and second, that the Spirit of God has been given to us, and through him God’s love has been poured into our hearts.  I also want to take a moment to consider what Paul says in verse six as he says, “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”  Think about that.  What does he mean by saying “when we were still powerless?”  From the context of what Paul has written we can understand that we, the ungodly, were powerless at the time when Jesus gave his life to atone for our sin.  But by saying so, Paul is also communicating that we are no longer powerless, and if we are no longer powerless, then we might wonder what power we now have that we did not have before.  And the answer is one that Paul has already given to us when he said, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

 

We are no longer powerless, because the Spirit of God has been given to us and the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.

 

We are not powerless because God lives within us.

 

And with that in mind we come to Matthew 9:35 – 10:8, where we find Jesus sending his disciples out to continue the work that he had been doing.


9:35 
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”


10:1 
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

Jesus gives his disciples the authority to drive out impure spirits, to heal disease, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, to rescue the lost sheep of Israel, and to proclaim the coming of the messiah.

 

All of these things are difficult.

 

Some would say that many of these things are impossible.

 

But the followers of Jesus Christ have been given the power of the Spirit of God that lives within us and we have been given the authority of Jesus Christ to do the work that he has given us to do.

 

Not only do we worship the God of the impossible, not only is our God the god who does the impossible, but that same God has equipped us and called us to do the impossible through the power of the Spirit of God that lives within us, and through the authority of Jesus Christ that has been given to us.

 

Jesus said, “proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

 

Go.

 

Go, and be good fathers to your children and to the children that you know that don’t have a father of their own.

 

Go and heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and the orphans, preach the Good News

 

Go, and do the Jesus thing in the Jesus way.

 

Go.

 

Do the impossible.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves

“Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves”

June 11, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Genesis 1:1 – 2:4                     Matthew 28:16-20                 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

 

 

On June first of this year (2017), President Donald Trump announced that the United States would cease to participate in the Paris climate agreement that had been signed by President Obama.  Our news media has been full of stories on both sides of the issue.  Naturally, Europe and leaders from around the world were opposed to him doing such a thing, but it also seems that the primary role of the United States under the Paris Agreement was to pay for other countries to comply.  There have also been questions about whether the Paris Agreement was ever legally binding because it had twice failed to be ratified by the United States Senate as required by our Constitution.

 

I have to admit to some mixed feeling about what has been done for a variety of reasons and I find both good and bad points in the arguments of both sides.  Regardless of your position or personal feelings about the Paris Agreement, or about climate change, or environmentalism, or any number of other hot button environmental issues, there are elements of scripture that require us to take a second look at the interests of environmentalism, but which also call us to look deeply into the mirror and consider who we are and what we have done with what we have been given.

 

Let’s begin at the beginning, at the creation of the world and all that exists.  Let’s begin by reading the story of creation from Genesis 1:1 – 2:4.

 

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.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.


2:1 
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

 

First, since this is Trinity Sunday, I want to point out that it was the Spirit of God that hovered over what had not yet been created, but I also want to point out that God’s command to humanity was not to fill the earth and destroy it, but to fill the earth and subdue it.  When we subdue and animal, or even an enemy, the word subdue allows us to understand that what is subdued is not damaged, but repurposed or redirected.  Wild horses are subdued so that they can be transformed into a creature that works side by side with humans to do things together that neither could ever do alone.  Other animals are subdued so that they can be relocated away from populated areas.  But in most cases, the act of subduing is done in a deliberate way so that the animal is not harmed.  When God blesses humanity with the world that he has created, we are established as custodians and caretakers and not installed as overlords who are bent on domination and destruction.

 

But we know from the story of Adam and Eve, that our custodial care of the world quickly went disastrously wrong.  Because of their sin, human beings were suddenly thrust from a garden in which their care was custodial, into a harsh world where every moment of their existence was focused on survival.  What God saw at the end of the sixth day was “very good” but today, maybe not so much.  After the sin of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the Garden of Eden, both humanity and the planet on which they lived began a serious decline.  For thousands of years, not only did humanity struggle for survival, but we also struggled to rediscover the wonder of those early days in the garden, humanity has struggled to rediscover the kind of relationship  and the closeness that Adam and Eve had with God but we were eternally separated from God by our sinfulness.

 

Until the arrival of Jesus.

 

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the one thing that could repair our relationship with God and return us to the kind of closeness that humanity once had with God.  That return, rescue, and restoration, was such amazing news that Jesus’ final words to his disciples were about what they needed to with what they had learned.  In Matthew 28:16-20, we hear these words:

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Jesus’ instruction is to go into the world and make disciples in every nation and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As we’ve discussed before, the word, “Trinity” doesn’t appear in scripture, and isn’t invented by the church for almost a hundred years, but Jesus obviously understood the concept that God existed as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, regardless of what term you choose to describe it.  But Jesus also cautions his disciples not to teach half-heartedly or with some kind of bias, but to teach everything that Jesus had taught them.  And finally, as Jesus left, he reminded them that while he might be leaving the world physically, he would be with them always even until the end of the world.  It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Jesus’ words were intended for us just as they were for the first disciples.  Since humans only live for a few dozen years and then pass their mission on to the next generation, Jesus’ promise to remain with the disciples is clearly a message that Jesus remains with us still today.

 

But there is one more thing I want to point out.  Beyond Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, there remains one more statement of purpose from the Apostle Paul that helps us to understand why we do the things we do.  Besides simply obeying Jesus, or besides sharing because the story of Jesus, and the opportunity to repair our relationship with God, is best news ever (as that isn’t enough), Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13,

 

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

 

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

 

Paul says that we should celebrate because the story contained in the gospels truly is Good News but he also tells us that our goal should be full restoration.  Not only should we accept Jesus as our rescuer, but we should also work toward restoring who we are to the perfection that God intended.  Far too often, we are less than we could be, and less than God intended for us to be, because of our struggle with sin, and so, although we have already been forgiven, we must constantly be at work trying to move ourselves closer to God and closer to becoming the people that God created us to be.  Most of us know that we can do better.  It isn’t difficult to imagine a version of us that is better than the one that we see in the mirror.  Our mission is to try to move toward that goal.  But I also think that because God gave us intelligence, power, and authority over the planet, we are still the custodians and caretakers of the earth.  We must work toward restoring the earth, as much as humanly possible, to the perfection that it once was, and maintain it, in good condition, for future generations.

 

Perfect people would have no use for a ruined planet, and as we’ve already seen, a perfect planet could not last long if it’s filled with ruined people.

 

We need to restore our planet, and ourselves, at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.