Because… God.

“Because… God.”

July 08, 2018*

By John Partridge

 

 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              2 Corinthians 12:2-10                       Mark 6:1-13

 

What is it that makes a human being weak or strong?

 

Weak people tend to be forgotten by history so let’s think about people in history that we would describe as strong.  Abraham Lincoln was often attacked from both sides as he guided our wounded nation through the Civil War.  Winston Churchill held the British Empire together during the darkest days of the blitz.  George Patton demanded nothing less than excellence from every person under his command and they rose to his expectations and did things that many believed to be impossible.  Often, the parents that watch over a sick child demonstrate an incredible strength.  Athletes can demonstrate incredible strength of will.

 

We say that these people are different because they have character, or strength of will, or unusual determination, or stubbornness applied in the right direction.

 

But what about the people who have done great things for the kingdom of God?

 

What is it that makes the heroes of scripture notable?  Why was David a great king and Saul a bad one?  Why was Paul great after he meet Jesus on the Damascus road but evil and misguided before that?  And why was Jesus reliably wonderful everywhere, but nearly unable to do anything at all when he visited Nazareth?

 

Let’s take these examples in historical order and begin with David.  We begin this morning with 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 where we hear a simple summary of his coronation and his life:

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

First, David was a shepherd. Then he was anointed by God’s prophet as the king of Israel, but it took many years before God’s anointing could be recognized.  In the meantime, he was a musician to the king, a warrior, a soldier, a military leader, and then he was on the run from the king, even when he was keeping the borders of Israel safe with his own militia.  Finally, David was made king over the tribes of Judah, and even later, united the twelve tribes when he was also anointed as king over the tribes of Israel.  During all that time, he remained faithful to God and grew in power.  But our scripture is clear in saying that David “became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

David didn’t become powerful because he was handsome, or virtuous, or a great warrior, or personable, or likeable, or charismatic, or determined, or stubborn, although I am certain that he was all those things.  Scripture tells us that David became powerful and did the things that he did because God was with him.

Last week we were reminded that it is God who does the doing, and we see that same theme in these scriptures today.  David wasn’t great because of chance, and David wasn’t great because of David.  David was great because… God was with him.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” But sometimes we feel paralyzed by the situations in which we find ourselves.  Other times, we allow our fear to be an excuse for our inaction.  In “The English Wife”, author Lauren Willig, says, “I don’t believe anything’s really inevitable until it happens. We just call it inevitable to make ourselves feel better about it, to excuse ourselves for not having done anything.” And Mehmet Murat ildan distills that idea further by saying, “Inaction is the worst action of human beings.”

But when we read the story of Mark 6:1-13, sorting out who is doing what, and who is doing nothing is not at all what we expect.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Although Jesus had been going throughout Israel healing the sick and performing great miracles, when he arrives in his hometown of Nazareth, he really doesn’t do much of anything.  But the reason that Jesus doesn’t do much is that the people have no faith.  They have fallen for the great lit.  They have fallen for the lie that “people like me can’t.”  That lie is just as common today as it was then.  They were thinking this way: “Since we know Jesus’ parents, and his siblings, since we watched him grow up, since we watched him learn his trade, since we grew up with him, since he is like us, and we know that people like me can’t, people like me can’t be great, then we know that he can’t be the Messiah.”  So deeply have they bought into this lie, that they were offended at him and Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.

But that didn’t stop Jesus.  It didn’t even slow him down.  He continued to preach from village to village and then he also sends out his disciples, two by two, and they go from village to village teaching, and preaching, and healing, and casting out demons.  When Jesus is faced with the lie that “people like me can’t” he turns the lie on it’s head and sends out even more ordinary people, even more “people like me,” to do the extraordinary work that he was doing.

Why?

Not because these guys were well bred, or because they had a great education from an ivy league school, and not because they had mad skills.  They didn’t have any of those things.

So, why could they do what they did?

It’s simple.

Because God… was with them.

The Apostle Paul was an amazing preacher. And Paul did come from the right kind of family, and he did have all the right connections, and he did go to all the right schools.  But when God decided to use him, God left some imperfection in him that haunted him for his entire life.

Reading from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, we hear these words:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was that blue-blood, ivy league, know the right people, kind of guy.  But when God called him, he made sure that Paul would always remember that it wasn’t any of those things, and it wasn’t Paul, that made Paul great.  Even though a lot of ink has been spilled by theologians arguing about it, we don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was.  But what we do know, is that it was enough.  Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, for him, a constant reminder that he had been sent by God, was being empowered by God, and all his success had to be attributed to God.  Whatever Paul accomplished through his own strength was pointless, but everything that he accomplished because of his weakness pointed to God.

God relishes our weaknesses because it is in our weakness that his strength becomes obvious and the world can see Jesus most clearly.  That’s why Paul said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  God seems to delight in using fishermen, and carpenters, and farmers.  He uses demon possessed people, and prostitutes, tax collectors, enemy collaborators, foreigners, lepers, and yes, God has even been known to use dead people from time to time.

Don’t ever believe the lie that people like us can’t.  Or that God can’t use people like us.

David was a shepherd.  Jesus was a Carpenter.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh.  And all of them remembered that the things they did weren’t because of them but because… God was with them.

The truth is, God delights in using people like us.  People like me.  People like you.

All we need to do, is to have faith.

Remember, people don’t do great things because they’re great.  People do great things for God’s kingdom because…

…God is with them.

We are called by God.  This church is called by God.  And every one of us needs to remember that we can do great things for the kingdom of God because…

…God is with us.

 

 

 

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at Pastor@CUMCAlliance.org.   These messages can also be found online at hhttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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Watching the Impossible

“Watching the Impossible”

July 01, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 30:9-14                       Jeremiah 18:1-6

 

Have you ever been asked to do the impossible?

 

For those of us who study history, or for those who are old enough to remember it, it is worth noting that the Polish Army has been ridiculed because at the beginning of World War Two, they attacked German tanks with cavalry.  Men on horseback would seem to be a remnant of a bygone era. While this seems ludicrous, the truth is that the Polish army had some of the best tanks and anti-tank weapons in all of Europe, including those brought to the field by Germany. But while it seems odd that Poland had mounted cavalry units in the field, we forget that every other nation involved in that great conflict did as well, including the United States who used cavalry units in the Philippines.  Poland’s cavalry were skilled infantry soldiers who each carried a rifle, a saber, and the single best anti-tank weapon available in that day. For the Poles, horses were simply a means of moving an infantry force with greater speed and flexibility.

 

From our perspective, asking soldiers on horseback to fight against tanks was asking the impossible, but the bravery and training of the Polish troops may have achieved the impossible. Although the German Army had rolled through the contested lands between Germany and Czechoslovakia without opposition, the war for Poland lasted for thirty-six days. In a single battle, between a Polish Cavalry Brigade and Germany’s 4th Panzer Division, Germany lost over 100 armored fighting vehicles and at least 50 tanks. Ultimately, the superior size of the German military overcame the resistance of the Polish army, but their defense was of major significance. The advance of the German army was slowed enough to allow the evacuation of much of the Polish army and, as a result, Polish military units fought their way from the beaches of Normandy, across Europe, into Germany, and to the surrender of her port cities.

 

Although people laugh at the ridiculousness of attacking tanks with cavalry, the reality is that the Polish Army did the impossible.

 

Today, the question I would like to ask is this: Has God ever asked you to do the impossible? What is it that God has put on your heart? How many times have you thought or felt that you ought to do something, or even that God might be leading you to do something and yet rejected the idea because it was too hard or even seemed to be impossible? I think that at one time or another, this has probably happened to all of us, but our scripture for today promises something different. (Deuteronomy 30:9-14)

 

9Then the LORD your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, 10 if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

 

In this passage, we are reminded that it is God that does the doing. It is God that commands, it is God that rejoices in our obedience and it is God that orchestrates our success. We are taught that God will bring success when we are obedient and faithful. What’s more, we are told that what we have been asked to do is not out of our reach simply because God has given us everything that we need in order to be obedient.

 

In September of 2001, along with you, I watched in horror as two commercial airliners were flown into the World Trade Center, a building that I had visited only a few years earlier. Perhaps in part because of these disturbing images, I began to reconsider the meaning of my work and of my life. Only two or three years earlier I had changed jobs in order to find work that was more tangible. With a degree in electrical engineering, I had been working at a Laboratory in Cleveland, testing gas appliances for compliance with national safety standards. There, I often felt as if we were just spinning our wheels, always doing the same thing and generating tons of paper doing it. In my new job in North Canton, we were building machines and equipment for the steel industry. It was satisfying that once every few months we could go out to the loading dock and see the end result of our work as it was shipped to its destination. Occasionally, we would also have the opportunity to travel and help with the installation. I felt challenged by my work and I was happy with what I was doing but there began to be a nagging afterthought.  I began to wonder what good I was doing. I realized that much of the equipment we were building was replacing machines that had been designed and built by engineers (like me) twenty or thirty years earlier and I came to the realization that in another twenty or thirty years all of our work would likewise be torn out, melted down, and replaced.

 

Less than six months later, I was called into my supervisor’s office and informed that my services were no longer required. There was no warning, there were no memos outlining my failures, just an abrupt termination. I really struggled with that. The way in which I was let go, and my resulting unemployment, was difficult for me but also for my family. Not only did they have to deal with our lack of income, but also with my depression, moodiness and underlying anger. I was unemployed for two years. In an economy that was good, and with a degree and a work history that was solid, I should have had no trouble finding work, but instead it seemed like I couldn’t even buy an interview. During this time, I questioned God’s will for me. I started by crying and yelling and eventually began to pray and study. I devoured books and study materials that my pastor thought might be helpful and finally began to consider the unthinkable. I grew up in the home of a United Methodist pastor. I moved three times and attended school in four school districts. For forty years, I swore that there was no way on God’s green earth that I would ever even consider being a pastor.

 

But, God had other plans.

 

Sometimes during the course of our lives, the game changes. Where we find ourselves is not where God wants us to be, and he will use whatever tools necessary to move us from where we are to where he wants us to be.  Some faithful followers are so well attuned to God that they respond to his hints, nudges, suggestions, and whisper.  But others of us are stubborn.  In our stubbornness, God sometimes finds it necessary to hit us upside the head with a 2 x 4. You need to know that this change of heart wasn’t only a big deal for just me. When we were married, Patti told me that she was glad that I was an engineer because she never wanted to be married to a doctor or a pastor. During my unemployment, Patti was involved in a Bible study in local church other than our own. Somehow, in that study, God was working on Patti’s heart. I knew that God would never call me into ministry unless he called both of us.  And one day, before I had ever hinted to Patti what God might be doing, Patti came to me and said something shocking. Patti said that God had made it clear to her that I needed to do what God wanted me to do, even if that meant answering a call to pastoral ministry. You need to understand that several years earlier, during a church revival weekend, both Patti and I had felt that God might be calling us into some kind of full-time ministry. We both felt that whatever God was calling us toward was still in the future and, we both assumed, since we headed the church missions committee, that it might somehow involve missions.

 

And so now I was contemplating the impossible. I asked my pastor if, as an engineer, I had any possibility of being admitted into seminary. With a background in mathematics and physics, I wondered if I would meet any prerequisites at all. My pastor laughed. She laughed. We knew that our pastor had gifts, and two gifts that Pastor Linda Somerville had in abundance were a sensitivity to God’s will, and an amazing ability to read and understand people. When I asked Pastor Linda about seminary and about a potential call to ministry, she told me that she had known for over a year that God was calling us into ministry but was afraid that if she said anything to us, she would mess up whatever God was trying to do.

 

After that, things seemed to begin to fall into place. I was introduced to the Provost of Ashland University by a mutual friend, applied for admission at Ashland Seminary, was accepted, started classes, and then, finally found a part-time job. Six months later I was appointed as a student pastor in the Mid-Ohio District just south of Mansfield, Ohio. A condition of being a student pastor was that I had a half-time ministry and was to attend seminary on a full-time basis, and I did. After four years of seminary I graduated in 2008. During our time at Johnsville/Steam Corners, the financial health of the church had been changing. While we hadn’t grown much in attendance, financially we managed to grow, just a little, each year. It was expected that when I graduated, we would be moved and another student would come to take my place. But instead, Johnsville and Steam Corners decided that they were able to afford a full-time pastor and asked that we stay. As a result, instead of moving after only three or four years, as many students do and as many of Johnsville pastors had, we stayed for six.

 

We then moved to Barnesville and, although we expected to say longer, for a variety of reasons, we left after only two years.  One again, God had other plans and we moved to Trinity in Perry Heights between Massillon and Canton.  And after six years, although we thought we would be staying longer, we find ourselves here, in Alliance.  As always, we believe that God has been a part of this process.

 

Of course, there is more to our story but that’s enough for today. For us, God has done the impossible and has moved the immovable. To get us where we are today, God has done miracles and changed us in ways we never thought possible.

 

Before we close I would like to share a passage from Jeremiah 18.

 

1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

In the end, we are all like clay in the hands of the potter.  If you’ve ever watched a pot being formed you will sometimes see that a small defect, a grain of sand or a small pebble, come to the surface while the clay is spinning on the wheel.  When that happens, it scars and ruins the entire piece and the only choice left is for the potter to pick up the clay, smash it into a lump, plop it back onto the wheel and start over.  Our lives are like that.  It is never fun when we are squashed and plopped down on the wheel but through it all we can know that God is lovingly and carefully shaping us into the people that he has created us to be.

Today we stand as witnesses that God is able to accomplish whatever he has put in your heart to do. We are witness to God’s faithfulness and power. We know that it is God that does the doing. We know that God brings success when we are obedient and faithful. We know that it is God that commands, it is God that rejoices in our obedience and it is God that orchestrates our success.

 

Today, as we sit in church, the question I would like to ask is this: Has God ever asked you to do the impossible?

 

What is it that God has put on your heart?

I urge you to attempt the difficult and consider the impossible… before God decides to use a 2×4 to get your attention.

 

 

 

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at Pastor@CUMCAlliance.org.   These messages can also be found online at hhttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Into the Unknown

Into the Unknown

June 03, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

[Note: This is my last Sunday at Trinity United Methodist Church in Massillon (Perry Heights), Ohio.  There will be no new messages for the next three weeks while we relocate to our new appointment at Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance, Ohio.  Your prayers for both churches, and their new pastors, are appreciated.]

1 Samuel 3:1-20                     2 Corinthians 4:5-12

 

 

In1803, President Thomas Jefferson, having secured congressional approval, sent a small expeditionary group to explore the uncharted Louisiana Purchase and points farther to the west. Jefferson called the group the Corps of Discovery. It would be led by Jefferson’s secretary, Meriwether Lewis, and Lewis’ friend, William Clark.

For four years, the Corps of Discovery would travel thousands of miles, experiencing lands, rivers and peoples that no Americans ever had before.  But on April 7, 1805, as this small group of explorers left Fort Mandan, their maps were of no use to them because everything to the west of where they stood, the maps simply said, “Unknown.”  From that point on, every river that they crossed, every trail that they followed, every mountain, and every rock, had never before been seen by white men.  They had no idea what Indian tribes lived there, or how many there might be.  And so, justifiably, when Ken Burns created a documentary about the journey of the Corps of Discovery, the title of his story became, “Into the Unknown.”

Many of us have experienced a period of our lives when we launched out into new and, at least for us, uncharted waters.  We graduated from school, moved out of our parents’ house, got a job, sometimes many miles away or even across the country from where we grew up.  And in those moments, we faced the unknown.  Some of you went with us to Kentucky to see for yourselves what you had only read about, or heard from missionaries, or from your pastor.  In your own way, you faced the unknown.  Travel is almost always like that.  You never know exactly what’s going to happen.

We see the same thing in scripture.

 

In 1 Samuel 3:1-20 God calls the prophet Samuel for the first time when he is still just a young boy and Samuel’s whole world changes.

3:1The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

Samuel had no idea what was going to happen but by trusting his mentor Eli, and by listening to, and trusting God, Samuel began a new life that would change him, and all of Israel, for decades as they walked with God together.

 

Samuel had the courage to leap into the unknown because he knew something about God that Paul describes to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 where he says:

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Paul says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  We have these ordinary looking clay pots, things that are usually full of ordinary stuff, like water, or grain, or yeast, or even wine, but instead of being ordinary, they are full of treasure.  Ordinary clay pots become extraordinary clay pots, not because the pots are different, but because the thing that fills them is different.   But just in case you missed the analogy, we are those ordinary pots.  There is nothing particularly notable about us.  But we have become filled with treasure because the Spirit of God has come to live inside of us.  We have become extraordinary, not because we are different, but because what fills us is different.  And, because God has chosen to live within us, Paul says, we are pressed, but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We live so that Jesus may be revealed in us and through us.

 

It is because of the Spirit that lives within us that we can have the courage that Samuel and Paul had, as well as all the other disciples, teachers, pastors, missionaries, mentors, friends, and so many others who have gone before us.

 

We are all, once again, launching out into a new unknown.  My family and I are going to Alliance and whatever the future may hold for us there, and all of you will enter into a new ministry with Pastor Tina and whatever new places God will lead you together.

 

May all of us, like Samuel, have the faith, and the courage to listen to the voice of God…

 

…and do his 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.

 

Forgiven. Sent. Empowered.

Forgiven. Sent. Empowered.

May 27, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 3:1-17                Isaiah 6:1-8                Romans 8:12-17

 

Have you ever played a team sport?

 

I don’t necessarily mean that you played on an official team in high school or college.  What I mean is, have you ever played a game where the participation of every single person made a difference?  Have you ever been in a serious tug-of-war when one of your team members slipped in the mud?  Have you ever played baseball when one of your outfielders was caught sleeping and an easy pop-fly dropped right next to them?  Have you ever run a relay race when one of your runners dropped the baton?  Can you imagine how it would go if the Cleveland Cavaliers had to play their next game with only four players instead of five?  When you play as a team, whether it’s sports, or at work, or in the church, doing well requires that every member of the team be an active and involved participant.

 

This is not only a good example in the physical world; it works just as well in the spiritual world.  In Isaiah 6:1-8 the prophet Isaiah is recruited into God’s team in a way that he hadn’t considered before.

 

6:1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

 

Here Isaiah sees God on his throne in heaven surrounded by angels who proclaimed his glory.  Isaiah assumed that any human being who saw God or who witnessed such wonders would die from the experience.  Isaiah knows that he is not pure enough to be in the presence of God and he believes that he isn’t good enough to serve God.  But then, one of the angels picks up a live coal from the fire at the altar of sacrifice, flies to Isaiah, and touches his lips with it saying that Isaiah’s guilt has been taken away and the price paid for his sins.  But after that, God asks, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”

 

Because Isaiah has been purified and forgiven, he is therefore sent out to carry the messages of God to the world.

 

But “I” is singular and “Us” is plural.  Is God using what we might describe as the “royal ‘we’”?  Is God referring to himself in the plural just because he can? Or is this a reference to the Trinity? Or is it because God is speaking for himself, all of the angels, and everyone on his team?

 

It’s hard to tell.  But in other scriptures we gain other insights.

 

In John 3:1-17, Jesus meets a Pharisee named Nicodemus at night and has something interesting to say about the nature of God.

 

3:1Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

 

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 

Jesus tells Nicodemus that there is more to following God than just following the rules.  The way that Jesus describes it, following God requires us to be reborn, through the Spirit, into an entirely new life.  Jesus also uses the language of reproduction again saying that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  Since this is Trinity Sunday, it is also noteworthy that Jesus, the Son of God, is talking about both God the Father and God the Spirit.  He is deliberate in naming them differently, particularly when he says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” And so this passage is yet another where we can “see” all three members of the Trinity in the same passage.  But in all of this, what Jesus is saying is that Jesus has been sent into the world, by God the Father, in order to save the world, but the agent that brings you into the kingdom of God is the Spirit of God, and it is the Spirit of God that gives us the strength to live a new life in Christ Jesus.

 

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul follows up on this idea by explaining what a new birth, and new life, through the Spirit of God would look like.  (Romans 8:12-17)

 

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 

Because we have received the Spirit of God, we now have an obligation to love according to the spirit.  When we are born of the spirit we must make every effort to put to death the desires of our fleshly body.  We have an obligation to be better than our desires.  This is why, at least in part, we are said to be born into a new life through the Spirit of God, because in that life, we begin to live differently, to act differently, to place our priorities in different places, to behave more courageously, because of, and through, the power of the spirit that lives within us.

 

Paul says that we are adopted children of God and our relationship is so close that we call God “Abba” or in English, “Papa” or “Daddy.”  And, because we are God’s children, we are heirs, with Jesus, to God’s kingdom, if we share in the sufferings of Jesus.  That is, if we do the work of the kingdom of God, completing the mission of Jesus Christ, through the Spirit of God that lives within us.  If we do that…, then we will share in the glory of God.

 

And so from the words of Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul, we find that we are forgiven by God the Father, sent by Jesus the Son of God, and empowered through the Spirit of God to purify ourselves, and to share in the mission, and in the suffering, of Jesus Christ so that together we can rescue the lost and save the world.

 

God said, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

 

From the beginning, God wanted everyone to know that this was a team effort.  It takes every member of the Trinity, every angel, every follower of Jesus, and every one of us.

 

We can’t get caught sleeping in the outfield.

 

We cannot drop the baton.

 

There can be no bench-sitters.

 

Every member of the team must be an active and involved participant.

 

Even me.

 

Even 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.

 

Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect

May 20, 2018

(Pentecost)

By John Partridge*

 

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15                   Acts 2:1-21                 Romans 8:22-27

 

 

If you are old enough, you might remember Rube Goldberg, whose drawing of amazingly complicated machines would appear in the comic pages of newspapers across the country.  These machines amused us because, although complex, they performed a simple task that would have been easier done than the effort it took to build, or even to draw, the machine.  Goldberg became so famous for this, that now, many years after his death, machines like this have been named after him.  There is an entire genre of videos of these type machines on YouTube, including a popular series of videos by a band named OK Go.

 

Have you ever watched Sesame Street?  Kermit the frog would periodically build Rube Goldberg machines on a spot that he called “What Happens Next.”  Except in the case of Kermit, these machines never worked quite right.  (We might just watch one of Kermit’s adventures during the Coffee House service.)

 

But watching these machines can remind us that actions have consequences.  The things that we do in the world do not happen in a vacuum.  What we do impacts the world, and the people, around us.  Each action has an effect, and sometimes, as we learned from Kermit the Frog, sometimes, the effects are not what we intended.

 

We begin this morning in the gospel of John where Jesus makes a promise.  And since we all know that Jesus always keeps his promises, this cause, will certainly have an effect later on.

(John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)

15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

16:4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Well before the crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples that he must go away, but when he does, he will send the Spirit of God to be with them in his absence.

 

There is a cause, and an effect.

 

Jesus says that he will send the Spirit to testify to us about Jesus, but that in return we also must testify to the world about Jesus.  Jesus promises that when he departs, he will send the Spirit of God to us and the Spirit will guide us into all the truth.

 

And just a few short weeks later, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, we read the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21 where we see Jesus keeping his promise.

2:1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Jesus promised that he would send the Spirit and he did.  And the spirit of God arrived in spectacular fashion and through the Spirit, God gave great gifts to all of the believers so that they, and the world around them had to sit up and take notice.  People were amazed that back country hicks from Galilee could possibly be speaking Parthian, Phrygian, Egyptian, Latin, Libyan, Arabic, and other languages of the far-flung Roman Empire.  Those who didn’t speak foreign languages simply thought they were drunk and babbling nonsense, but those who came from those places were amazed to hear people speaking the language of their home.  They had all heard the sound of a violent wind and had come to this place to investigate, and here they discover this amazing thing.  Surely, this must mean something.  But what?

 

And Peter steps up to explain.

 

Once again, remember that this is the same Peter that only a few weeks before had lied about even knowing Jesus.  And here, in the middle of Jerusalem, he stands up and tells everyone that, through Jesus Christ, God is at work changing the world.  Peter tells them that the Spirit of God would pour out his spirit on their sons, their daughters, the young, the old, and even on their servants so that they would receive gifts that would demonstrate to the world the power of a holy creator God so that the world might come to faith in him and be saved from sin and death.

 

But what does that mean today?

 

What does Pentecost mean a hundred generations after the people of the first century church?  And for that we find that Paul has some solid insight in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 8:22-27) where he says:

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Paul says that the world is not perfect, far from it, in fact.  The world is in such sad shape that all of creation groans over its condition.  But the gift of God’s spirit to his people is still having an effect on our daily lives.  Paul says that the gift of the spirit of God, and our faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t make our lives perfect.  We often find ourselves in pain or suffering from the circumstances in our lives and in the world around us, but the spirit of God helps us along the way.  Paul says that our spirits have already been redeemed, but our human bodies have not.  That wonderful pain-free existence that we dream of is something that will only come about when God redeems our bodies in heaven.  But Paul explains God’s spirit also gives us the gift of intercession.  Intercession means that when we find ourselves in such misery or confusion that we are unable to pray, or to even find words, when all that we can do is groan, the Spirit knows our hearts and carries the messages and the desires of our hearts directly to God on our behalf.

 

And so yes, two thousand years and over a hundred generations of humanity later, the Spirit of God is still alive and well in the people of Jesus Christ and in the world around us.  Like the cartoons that Rube Goldberg drew, and the silly machines that Kermit the Frog built, there really is a “what happens next.”  We really do feel an effect caused by the work and the mission of Jesus.

 

Jesus has sent the Spirit into the world and into each person that puts their faith in him.  As we wait for our final adoption and the redemption of our bodies, the spirit helps us in our weakness, prays for us, and intercedes for us in our pain, confusion, and hopelessness, guides us into all the truth, speaks the words of God to us, and yes, Jesus still sends us into the world to testify to the world about him so that others can be rescued from sin and death.

 

It’s all about cause and effect.

 

For over a hundred generations, the people of Jesus Christ have answered his call and told others the Good News so that they might have the hope of redemption and the power of God’s spirit.  Each of us is here because someone answered that call of God.

 

They were the cause.

 

We are the effect.

 

The spirit of Pentecost continues today just as it has for two thousand years.

 

Will you answer God’s call?

 

What effect will you have on the world, and on the people around 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.

 

Teaching the Next Generation

“Teaching the Next Generation”

May 13, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 17:6-19              Acts 1:15-17, 21-26               1 John 5:9-13

 

Last week I stopped at a body shop in Massillon to get a quote for repairing the rusty fenders on my truck.  As we concluded our conversation, the owner took the time to say goodbye to his high school or college aged son who was leaving at the end of the day.  After he did so, he told me that he was teaching this young man his trade and passing down what he had learned.  We both agreed that it was important to teach the next generation to do what we do so that someone will be around to take over for us when the day comes for us to quit.

 

Isn’t that what we remember today on Mother’s Day as well?  Aren’t we who we are, because of what our mothers taught us?  Doesn’t every good mother try to teach the next generation the skills and the lessons that she has learned over a lifetime to her children?

 

But regardless of whether you are a mother, or in the auto body trade, or a pastor, or anything else, every one of us is on a countdown clock.  Regardless of our age or health, none of us is getting younger and the time that we have on earth is limited.  And so, no matter what we do, or what we know, we are motivated, at some level, to teach the next generation what we know.  As always, every person has their own gifts and their own natural “bent” but each of us need to learn the skills and gain the knowledge that will lead us through life.

 

Not surprisingly, none of this is new.  In both the Old and in the New Testaments we see fathers training their sons in the trades that they knew.  James and John were taught to be fishermen by their father Zebedee.  Joseph taught Jesus to be a builder, and in turn, as the oldest son, Jesus probably helped to teach his trade to his younger brothers.  But Jesus had other things to teach to other people as well.  Jesus called his disciples so that he could teach them, and others came later that learned from Jesus as well as from the disciples, but near the end of his ministry, Jesus knew that his time was running out.  And as the clock ran down, Jesus was concerned about those whom he would leave behind and he prayed this prayer for them (John 17:6-19):

 

6“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

 

Jesus talks about “those whom you gave me out of the world.”  At first, we might be tempted to think that this is about the disciples, but if we take a longer view of it, we realize that Jesus is talking about all of those who God has given to him, and that means not only the disciples, but all of us.  This is a prayer for each one of us, lifted up to God, by Jesus, and in it he prays for our protection, for our sanctification, which is our purification and our journey, with God’s help, to become more Christ-like.  And Jesus also notes that just as God sent him into the world to rescue the people from sin and death, he is sending us into the world to continue and to complete the work that he began.

 

John echoes this in his letter to the churches in Asia in 1 John 5:9-13, where he says:

 

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

 

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

 

It takes him a while to get there, but John is saying that whoever accepts Jesus must also accept the teaching of Jesus, but John writes to the church in the firm belief that everyone who believes will have eternal life.  Even though John couldn’t physically be in all the churches in Asia, he knew that it was important to continue to teach the words of Jesus, to encourage those who believed, and to train the next generation.

 

In Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, the eleven remaining disciples assemble because it was important to replace the authority that was lost with the betrayal and death of Judas.  And so, they met together to do something about it.

 

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

 

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

 

The disciple felt that it was critically important for the leadership of the church, to replace the position of the twelfth apostle.  But the qualifications were that the person selected had to be someone who had been with them the whole time.  Which means, although they weren’t among the 12 original apostles, it had to be someone who came shortly afterward and was among the very earliest followers of Jesus.  But Peter uses an interesting and important phrase here.  He says that whomever was chosen “must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”  Note that he doesn’t say that he must “have been” a witness to the resurrection.  That was already determined when they required that the candidate be someone who had been “with them the whole time.”  Peter isn’t using the past tense, he’s using the future tense, and so when he says that the twelfth apostle “must become a witness with us” he is saying that their job was to reproduce, to preach, to raise up and to train the next generation so that the church would continue to grow.

 

Last week we talked about the need for Christians and for churches to reproduce, to tell the world about Jesus and to offer rescue from sin and death to those who are being lost.  But the emphasis this week reminds us that reproduction is not enough.  Our mothers, our parents didn’t stop caring for us when we were born.  They taught us to walk, to talk, to be polite, to have values, to care for other people and a host of other things.  Likewise, believing in Jesus is not enough.  If the church is to be healthy and if the church is to continue in the future as it has in the past, then we must also place an emphasis on teaching.  We must teach our children, we must teach new believers, and we must continue to teach those who have already accepted Jesus and have been in the church for many years.

 

It is our responsibility to train, and to be trained, to teach and to be taught, so that each person, and the entire church, can grow and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ.  If we fail to teach or to learn, then we end up with a church full of baby Christians, of all ages, who lack the understanding and maturity to survive the storms and struggles that life throws at us.  Without maturity, believers can’t get along with one another, or reveal Jesus to the world around us.  Without maturity, we cannot become one with each other as we have been called to do.  The unity of the church, and our ability to pull together in the same direction, grows out of our maturity, our faith, and our understanding of scripture and all of that grows out of our willingness to teach, to study, and to learn.

 

Our mothers didn’t give birth to us and stop, they had a lot more to teach us and they kept at it as long as they could put up with us.  We need to do the same for the church.

 

Let us all commit ourselves to teaching, and to learning, so that our people, and our church, can become healthy, filled with God’s spirit, and grow not only in numbers, but in our sanctification and in our Christ-likeness.

 

 

_________

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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.

 

Birth and Reproduction

“Birth and Reproduction”

May 06, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 15:9-17              Acts 10:44-48             1 John 5:1-6

 

 

Have you ever witnessed the delivery of a baby?

 

In the past, fathers paced nervously in the waiting room while mothers gave birth.  In more recent years the fathers were not only invited into the delivery room but participated in Lamaze and other birthing classes that were designed to calm the fears of parents and maybe even help the process a little.  Some families even video the whole thing.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I can think of few things that would be more embarrassing to watch later in life.  Can you imagine some parent showing that video at their child’s wedding reception?  Yikes.  Patti and I have video of Lina’s delivery, although hers is almost certainly different than most.  In Lina’s video there’s a knock at the hotel room door, Patti answers, and seconds later, she’s holding a baby.

 

Poof.

 

Just like that, we were parents.

 

But why is your pastor talking about babies and delivery videos on Sunday morning? Simply because our connection with the birth of babies, the importance that we put on such events and the emotions tied to them, are decidedly similar to an important spiritual message.  In the physical world, babies most often come into the world because two people loved one another, and the physical expression of that love allowed the creation of a new life.  But some people might be surprised to discover that our spiritual experience is really not so very different.  In John 15:9-17, Jesus says this:

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus’ entire focus is on love.  He says, my father loved me, and so I passed that love on to you.  Jesus wants us to stay in love with him and he says the way to do that, is to keep his commands, to actually do the things that he has asked his followers to do.  Jesus says that we are not his servants, because servants act out of blind obedience.  Instead, we are friends, because we have been told about the plans and the business of the one whom we follow.  Everything that God has told Jesus has been told to us.  And all of this results in our selection as people who will go and bear fruit. 

 

Bear fruit.

 

What does that mean?

It really is as simple as it sounds.  In the physical world bearing fruit is often understood to mean some sort of reproduction.  Children are referred to as being the “fruit of their parents.”  Trees, bushes and other plants bear fruit and their fruit contains the seeds necessary to raise up another generation of those same plants.  In the spiritual world, our calling is to produce new spiritual life.

 

But that still seems a little confusing.

 

Most of us understand where babies come from, but how exactly does one go about making spiritual babies?  Once again, despite our initial fear, it isn’t that difficult.  In Acts 10:44-48, we find Peter and some of his friends who have been called by God to visit in the home of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion.  This really is a big deal because a good Jew would never set foot in the home of a Gentile let alone someone who was a representative of the oppressive occupation of the nation of Israel.  But not only did God call Peter to go to such a place, something amazing happens while he is there.

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Peter answers God’s call to come to the home of a Gentile, a Roman Centurion, and preaches there.  Cornelius and his family were god-fearing people and Cornelius himself prayed regularly and gave generously to the poor.  But they did not know about Jesus and so God commanded Cornelius, in a dream, to invite Peter into his home and there Peter tells them the story of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.

 

And then, the impossible happens.

 

The Spirit of God descends upon the people gathered in that house, just as it did among the disciples at Pentecost, but this time, the people who received the filling of the Spirit were Gentiles and not Jews.  The Jewish followers of Jesus that had come with Peter were astounded.  The Gentiles were “those people.”  Good Jews weren’t supposed to associate with them.  Gentiles were generally unclean and perhaps even thought of as less than human.  Jesus’ teaching that God loved Gentiles was a radical idea that the Jews wrestled with, but this… this was truly stunning.  Here they witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles, even among their enemies, in a way that only the disciples and earliest followers of Jesus had ever seen.  There could now be no denying that Gentile followers of Jesus were loved every bit as much as his Jewish followers, their belief in Jesus was every bit as genuine, and every bit as acceptable to God, as the Jewish believers.  This was surprising, unexpected, and shocking.  And Peter realizes that he has no choice but to baptize these new believers in the name of Jesus, welcome them into the family, and teach them as much as he could over the next few days.

 

This was a seismic shift in the world of Peter and the disciples.  In that world, gods were often thought of as being local or regional.  People often would change gods when they moved to a new place.  Despite the fact that Israel’s god had always claimed to be, and was always worshipped as, the one god who created the universe and everything in it, many people still thought of God as being only the god of Israel or only the god of the Jews.  And despite Jesus often teaching that God’s love extended to the Gentiles, and despite the fact that Jesus himself had often offered grace and acceptance and even teaching to various Gentiles, this idea of local ownership persisted.  But now, these Jewish followers of Jesus, including their leader Peter, were witnesses to the outpouring of God’s spirit.  There could be no denying that God loved the Gentiles, or that the Gentiles were accepted by God as equals with the Jews, or even that people who had been thought of as their enemies, had been invited to be a part of God’s family.

 

All… really did mean… mean all.

 

Through baptism, these new believers were born into the family of God.  It didn’t happen by accident, but it happened as a result of the love that God had for them, as well as the love that Peter and the other believers had for Jesus.

 

And the result of this spiritual love is the birth of new spiritual life.

 

But once again, we end up asking ourselves, “What does this have to do with me?”

 

And once again, the Apostle John has a good answer. (1 John 5:1-6)

5:1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

John says that everyone who believes in Jesus is born of God, that’s birth.  And everyone who loves God, is God’s child.  And if we love God, then we will love God’s children by carrying out his commands.  This echoes what we have heard in the book of James where we were taught that while we are saved by faith and not by works, we expect that saved people will naturally do good works.  Similarly, John says is that while faith in Jesus Christ is what saves us, saved people will naturally do the things that God has commanded them to do.

 

John says that Jesus is different because he was born in two different ways; he was born of water, that is, as a human baby to a human mother, and he was born by blood, that is, through death and resurrection.  This uniquely qualifies Jesus to lead us, not only as a human leader, but as a spiritual one.

 

So where are we when we put these simple ideas together?

 

First, when we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are born as the spiritual children of God.

 

Second, as the children of God, we should naturally do the things that God has commanded us to do.

 

Third, Jesus has commanded us to go and bear fruit.  That might mean that Jesus wants us to display the fruits of the Spirt, such as love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, but Jesus is careful to specify that we are to not only bear fruit, but to bear fruit that lasts.  The fruits of the spirit are good, and they should indeed grow out of a life lived in devotion to God, but Jesus specifying fruit “that lasts” leads us to understand that Jesus is talking about the birth of new spiritual life.

 

Fourth, the way that we can bear fruit, the way that we can be a part of God giving birth to new spiritual life, is to obey Jesus’ command to love.  We are called to love one another, to love people who are different from us, to love the outcast, to love the disconnected, and even to love our enemies.  And, while we are loving them, in fact, because we love them, we are, like Peter, called to tell them about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

 

And when, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through you, those people come to faith in Jesus Christ, then spiritually speaking, the love between God and his people results in the birth of a new creation in Christ Jesus.

 

That is the story about the birds and the bees, the story about spiritual birth and reproduction.

 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last… (John 15:16)

 

 

 

 

 

_________

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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.