“He’s Here! Now What?”

“He’s Here!  Now What?”

December 17, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11                1 Thessalonians 5:16-24                   John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

 

 

Have you ever waited for the arrival of someone that you didn’t know?  Perhaps you went to the airport to pick someone up as a favor for a friend, or perhaps you went on a blind date or to dinner and had to wait for a friend of a friend.  In either case, although you knew that they were coming, you had no idea what to expect once they arrived.

 

In the 1982 movie “Poltergeist,” after several curious, but harmless episodes in which chairs moved by themselves and the Freeling’s daughter, Carol-Ann, could hear voices coming from the static on the television set, suddenly one morning young Carol-Ann Freeling announces to the family in a sing-song voice,… “They’re here.”  And when asked just who it was that “was here” she answered, “The TV people.”  As we heard this, moviegoers immediately knew that something big was about to happen, but we had no idea what it might be.

 

This is very much the kind of message that we hear this week in scripture as we celebrate the third week of Advent, and light the Shepherd’s candle.  For eight hundred years Israel had anticipated the arrival of God’s promised messiah, but no one really knew what to expect despite all the prophecies that had been given to them such as those contained in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11.


61:1 
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

 


“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

 

Speaking in a voice that has been assumed to be that of the messiah, we hear him say, “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me” and “I the Lord, love justice.”  The messiah is described in this passage as blessed, clothed with garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness, a bridegroom, a priest, and a source of righteousness and praise from all nations.  So many things were said about the messiah that people, even the leaders of Israel and the teachers of Law had all kinds of different ideas.  Particularly in a time when Israel was under the domination of a foreign army, many thought that the messiah would be a military ruler who would raise an army and cast out the Romans.  In the years that the people of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, people thought that the messiah would be the one who would lead them to freedom and back to Israel as Moses had.

 

And so, when the angels announced the arrival of the messiah to the shepherds on a hillside outside of Bethlehem, no one really knew what to expect.  And thirty-three years later, as Jesus is about to begin his ministry, still, no one knew what to expect. As John the Baptist announces the arrival of the messiah, we hear conversations like this (John 1:6-8, 19-28):

 

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

 

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

 

John is described to us as a witness that was sent to testify to God’s people about the light so that all might believe.  And as he witnessed to the people, they asked John if he was Elijah returned to life.  The people saw John, saw his appearance, saw that he was dressed like the scriptures had described Elijah, and they recognized that he was a prophet that had been sent by god.  But John answers that he is not Elijah, but has indeed been sent by God to announce the arrival of the messiah, that he is the one that Isaiah described as “a voice of one calling in the wilderness.”  John says that “among you stands one you do not know” who is so great, that John, despite being a prophet sent by God, was not worthy of untying the messiah’s sandals.

 

John’s message to the people was much the same as the message of the Shepherds on the day of Jesus’ birth and also like the message from five year old Carol-Ann Freeling in the “Poltergeist” movie.

 

He’s here.

 

John wanted to be certain that the people understood that the messiah was not coming “someday” but that he had already arrived and lived among them just as he rules and reigns and lives among us today.

 

After hearing John’s answer, the question that the people had was much the same as the question that we should be asking ourselves as well.

 

If the messiah lives among us… now what?

 

Knowing what we know, what should we do about it?

 

And in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24), he answers that very question saying

 

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

 

Rejoice always.  Pray continually. Allow God’s Spirit to move within you instead of quenching it with your own preconceived ideas about what you think that God should be doing. Hold on to what is good; reject every kind of evil so that your body, your soul, and your spirit might be kept blameless for the day of judgement.

 

The message of Christmas, especially on the day we light the shepherd’s candle, is that the messiah has arrived and lives among us. There is no need to wonder what we should do next.

 

Through him, God calls us to be faithful.
There is no need to wonder what we should do next.

 

The messiah is here.

 

God calls us to be faithful.
That’s what’s next.

 

 

 

 

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

 

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“Patience and the Promise Keeper”

“Patience and the Promise Keeper”

December 10, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 40:1-5                          2 Peter 3:8-15                         Mark 1:1-8

 

 

Have you ever received mail from a friend or relative that got lost by the post office somewhere along the way and arrived long after it had been sent?  Have you ever read stories about people who had been separated by World War Two and decades later received love letters or gifts that had been found in an attic by their grandchildren?  These sorts of things take us on journeys out of time, or displaced in time, in some way.  I also think about some of the older families in the east coast.  A friend of mine once told me a story about a friend of his who had been dating a girl in the DuPont family.  The DuPonts are the family that founded, and still own a majority share, of the international chemical conglomerate, but their family goes back to founding of our nation.  The story that I heard was that, while visiting his girlfriend, this young man was invited to help decorate the DuPont family Christmas tree, and while doing so was reminded to handle the decorations with care, because some of them had been handed down from generation to generation and dated back to the 1700’s.  As I heard it, the young man was nearly paralyzed with the fear that he might break something that was clearly irreplaceable.

 

With that in mind, now imagine that while you were unpacking such a box you found a letter from your four or five times great grand parents in which they promised an inheritance that would not only change your life, but would change the course of our nation, and lead to a world in which the leader of the United States would rule over the entire world.  That idea would be pretty hard to get your head around.  A thousand questions would swirl through your mind. How could they have known?  How would they ever be able to accomplish such a thing?  But let’s make it even harder.  Imagine that you were doing some historical research and found a letter with that same kind of bold promise, but the letter in question was so old that the English in it had to be translated before you could understand it.  Imagine that such a letter was written eight hundred years ago in the year 1217, a year in which the Crusades were being fought, Genghis Khan was conquering Persia, the Magna Carta had only just been written, and the Shogun still ruled over Japan.

 

We would think that such a promise was impossible to make or to keep and, after 800 years, had certainly been forgotten.  But that is exactly the sort of thing that we are talking about as we read the prophecies and the promises of God sent to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah.  Of course, there’s a big difference between the promises of a human being and the promises of God, but eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah wrote these words to the people of Israel in Isaiah 40:1-5:


40:1 
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 

And, far from being lost in some library somewhere, the people of Israel kept the words of Isaiah close to their hearts, taught them to their children, passed them down from generation to generation, and read them in their synagogues.  But, much like today, some people in positions of authority, and people who thought that they were “sophisticated” began to think that the words of Isaiah were no longer important or relevant while others took God at his word and had the faith to believe that, despite the long wait, God would keep his promises.  That’s why there were people like Mary and Joseph whose faith allowed them to believe that God was at work in their world and in them.  That’s why scholars from the east (perhaps in Babylon) noticed the birth of the messiah before Israel’s own scholars.  And that’s why the beginning of the book of Mark sounds so familiar to anyone who had ever heard the words of Isaiah. (Mark 1:1-8)

 

1:1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

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

 

After 800 years of waiting, God was moving in Israel.  After generations of wondering when it would happen, God’s messenger had arrived to proclaim the arrival of the messiah, savior, and rescuer of Israel.

 

God was keeping his promise.

 

But that 800 year wait seems like a long time.  In fact, 800 year doesn’t “seem” like a long time, 800 years “is” an extraordinarily long time.  And as we notice that, we cannot help but notice that it’s been almost 2000 years since Jesus rose from the dead and promised to return.  So much is different. So much has changed.  Are we wrong?  Has God forgotten?  Is God slow to keep his promises?  Or is it something else?

 

These are not uncommon questions.  In fact, these are not new questions.  In a letter to the entire church and to believers everywhere, Jesus’ disciple and close friend Peter addresses some of these very questions.

(2 Peter 3:8-15)

 

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

 

Peter reminds us that the God who spoke galaxies and stars and the entire universe into existence is not a creature that is a slave to time in the way that we are.  God sees time but experiences it, or at least thinks about it, in an entirely different way.  Perhaps simply being an immortal, eternal being makes him less constrained by, or less concerned with, the passage of time than human are.  But in any case, Peter explains that God is not slow in the way that we understand slowness.  God has made promises to his people, and God intends to keep those promises.  But since God is not only eternal and immortal, but also omniscient, or all-knowing, God has the ability to keep his promises in a way that benefits the most people.  God does not desire for anyone to die in their sin, but desires instead that everyone might repent and be saved.  Rather than rush to fulfill his promises, God chooses to be patient in order that more people might have the opportunity to be saved.

 

But Peter also reminds us that a day of destruction, the end of the world, and judgement is coming.  We therefore look forward to a new creation, a new heaven, and a new earth where the righteous will live forever.  But as we look forward, we are called to do all that we can, in Peter’s words, to “make every effort” to live righteous lives, to be as perfect as possible, so that we might “be found spotless, blameless, and at peace” with God.

 

And so, on this second Sunday of Advent, as we light the candle of Love, we remember that God is not slow to keep his promises, but instead is being patient with us.  God is taking his time to give us another chance to get it right.  God is being patient so that we might make another effort to be righteous, to be as perfect as we can be, to be more like Jesus than ever before, and to tell even more people about the Good News of Jesus so that everyone might repent and be saved.

 

It was 800 years from the time prophecies of Isaiah to their fulfillment in time of Jesus, and it’s been almost 2000 years since Jesus promised that he would return.

 

God is not slow.

 

God is giving us another chance to get it right.

 

Let’s not waste it.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Important Preparations

Christmas-tree

Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.

As we enter December, we are also entering the season of Advent.  Advent, much like the season of Lent before Easter, is meant to be a season of preparation.

But what does that mean?

Honestly, an easy way to think about it is the same way we think about preparing for many other things during this time of the year.  We know that winter is coming, and with it our usual mix of snow, ice, and cold weather.  And so, in preparation, many of us have spent time digging our winter coats, hats, mittens, scarves, and other things from the backs of closets.  We’ve stocked up on salt for the driveway and made sure that our snow shovels and snow blowers are ready to go.  Similarly, we have begun preparing our homes for Christmas by pulling our decorations out of the garage, attic, basement, crawlspace, or wherever else we’ve stored them since last year.  And we’re making plans to bake cookies, make candy, bake pies, and whatever else needs done to make us feel “ready” for the arrival of Christmas day.

Some of us, and I am one of them, need this time.  It is sometimes hard for me to feel festive at Christmas.  I drift more easily toward “humbug” than to “Ho ho ho.”  And so to prepare, I deliberately try to listen to Christmas music, and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and other classic Christmas specials that we grew up with, along with various Hallmark Christmas movies on television.

But Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.

Advent is about our heart condition.

Advent asks us to think about whether or not our hearts are ready to receive the Christ child at Christmas.  Advent asks us if we are ready to accept the greatest gift that God has ever offered to us.  And so, for four weeks, we are offered this season of preparation.  This is a time for us to consider the condition of our hearts.  To read, and to listen to the stories of scripture, to fellowship and sing with others and, just as we are preparing our homes, to prepare our hearts so that we will be truly “ready” for Christmas and the arrival of God’s greatest gift to humanity.

So consider this an invitation to the season of Advent.  Come with us on a journey together.  Let us spend time worshipping together, singing together, and studying together.  I invite you to be a part of something bigger than yourself.  Perhaps to pick up an Advent devotional and have a few moments of daily quiet time alone with God.

You wouldn’t dream of being snowed in this winter without coats and hats, shovels and salt, and a pantry full of food (with a few cookies and fudge).

You want to be prepared.

The Savior of the world is coming.  God’s greatest gift.

Please take the time to prepare your heart as well.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

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In Him… You

“In Him… You”

December 03, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 64:1-9              1 Corinthians 1:3-9                           Mark 13:24-37

 

Today we begin the season of Advent, a time of preparing ourselves, and most importantly, preparing our hearts, for the coming of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace.  Traditionally, our Advent scripture readings include passages from the prophet Isaiah because contained within his words, are prophecies that tell of the messiah that is to come.  But today, as we read Isaiah 64:1-9, we not only see the prophecies of Isaiah’s future, but also a record of the prayers of his people:

 

64:1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

 

Isaiah tells of the messiah that is to come by remembering the prayers of the past, prayers that God would come to earth once again as he did in the time of Moses, prayers that God would rescue his people from their sin, prayers that God could find a way to forgive them for all the ways that his people had offended him, and prayers that God might be able to shape them, as a potter shapes clay, into a people that were worthy of him.

 

What we might find to be interesting about this is the similarity between these words of Isaiah, and the words of Jesus that we find in Mark 13:24-37.  Here, rather than looking forward to the arrival of the baby Jesus, the messiah born in Bethlehem, we instead look forward to the second coming of Jesus, a day of judgement rather than a day of rescue and forgiveness.

 

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

 

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

 

Much like Isaiah, Jesus tells of the day that the messiah will come, but this time he describes the second coming instead of the first.  And in this prophecy, Jesus warns God’s people to be on guard, to keep watch, or to be ready.  Like Isaiah, Jesus warns the people of God that they must be worthy of the one who has called them.

 

This warning to keep watch, or to be ready, is critically important to us, not only as individuals as we face judgement, but to all of us as a church as we attempt to fulfill the mission of Jesus Christ from day-to-day.

 

Why?

 

In just a few words found in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Paul explains it this way:


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

First, Paul reminds the church that the grace of God has been given to us in the name and in the person of Jesus Christ.  Second, it is in him that you have been blessed, or enriched, with all kinds of speech and with all kinds of knowledge.  There is no spiritual gift that we are missing as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ.  We have everything that we could possibly need in order to do the work that we have been called to do for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus himself lends us the strength that we need to stand firm so that we can stand before God on judgement day and be declared blameless.  We know these things because we know that God is faithful and has called us into fellowship with his Son, Jesus.

 

But there is something else.

 

Paul also says that in God, you have been enriched in every way, you have been blessed in every way, with all kinds of speech, and with all kinds of knowledge, and in this way God confirms the message of Jesus Christ among us.  Let me repeat that.  In this way, through the use of our gifts, God confirms the message of Jesus Christ among us.  What Paul is saying is that through the faith of God’s people, and through the actions of God’s people, the truth of the message of Jesus Christ is revealed and confirmed to the world around us.

 

That is the burden that we bear as the church and as the followers of Jesus Christ.  It is through our faith, and it is through our actions, every one of us, that the truth of the message of Jesus Christ is revealed to our family, our friends, our neighbors, and to the world.

 

That is the heart of what Paul means by “In him, you…”

 

And so, as we begin this season of Advent, let us take a long look at ourselves.  Let each of us ask, “Does my faith reveal the truth of the message of Jesus to my neighbors?”  “Do my actions reveal the truth of Jesus to the world?”

 

It is in asking, and in truthfully answering, these questions that we might keep watch, prepare ourselves, and be ready for the coming of the Prince of Peace.

 

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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.

 

What “Mission” Looks Like

No matter who you are, you can make a difference.

I’m late in posting this, but I want to reflect on our church’s fall trip back to The Joy Center in Big Creek, Kentucky.  I’ve written before about why we go on these trips and we’ve made lists of what we did, but I want to have a slightly different conversation this time.  While I will talk about what we did, I want to talk more about people than about projects.

Our team was made up of representatives from two churches, Trinity and Sugarcreek United Methodist Church.   Because of the generosity of our people, and the people of Sugarcreek, we were able to accomplish a great deal.  Many of us worked on one large project, a bridge, which was even larger than The Joy Center originally estimated.  Originally, we expected to build a 23 foot footbridge, but when we arrived at the worksite and started measuring, we discovered that to stay above the water all the way across the creek, we would need a much longer bridge and the finished product, including the ramps at the end, was 43 feet long.  We also worked on a kitchen remodeling project, as well as many small projects around The Joy Center such as weeding, cleaning, reorganizing, and of course, delivering another trailer full of donated goods.

2017 Joy Center bridge2
Paul and Dennis and their new bridge

But again, that’s all about projects.  “Mission” is much more than that because a bridge, a kitchen, and these other things aren’t important by themselves.  The reason that these things are important is because of the people who need them and use them.  On our previous trips to Kentucky we met Paula who has been blind since birth.  Somewhere along the line, someone taught her to knit and Paula decided that this was the way that God had given her to be useful.  She knits constantly.  She knits prayer shawls and afghans, and over the years has knitted hundreds of prayer shawls which have been anointed, blessed, and given away as a tangible expression of God’s love to the people of their community, and to people around the world.  Last spring, the foot bridge that allowed Paula and Dennis

2017 Joy Center bridge
Standing on the old “bridge” and leaning on the new.

to cross the creek and get their mail was washed away in a flood following some torrential rains.  While Paula is blind, her husband Dennis gets out of breath walking across his yard or around their tiny house.  Without a bridge, Dennis had two choices; climb down into the creek, cross the creek on a plank that he rescued from the ruins of his old bridge, climb back up the other side, get his mail, and then do it all over again to get home, or follow the driveway past his house and past two neighbors’ houses, to the next bridge, then walk up the road that same distance, and then go back the same way.  Our bridge means that not only can Dennis get his mail, but now Paula can use it to meet her ride to the Wednesday women’s Bible Study.  Holding tightly to Dennis on her first trip across the creek, ever, she was so excited and kept saying, “It’s so long!”

We also spent a day putting up a ceiling and walls in a kitchen and dining room but again, it was the people that made that project important.  Sue has always been the caretaker of her family.  She takes in kids without parents, takes care of her siblings, in laws, and anyone else who needs help.  When her sister needed a place to stay, Sue invited her sister and her family to move in and Sue’s husband started dividing their house in two.  He built walls and started building a new kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room, but just as he got started, he suddenly died.  That left Sue with half a house and about twenty unfinished projects that she didn’t have the skills to finish.  While we didn’t have the skills or the time to finish all of them, we made a dent and made her house just a little more livable.

Something else we don’t often talk about is what we do when we aren’t working.  While a team is working, someone is often taking a break.  Depending on age, or ability, or the availability of tools and materials, someone is often resting, or waiting.  At one point while two of us ran into town (between the driving and the shopping we were gone for two or three hours) most of the team had nothing to do.  But during those times, we sit with the people, and their families, neighbors, friends, or whoever stops by, and we talk.  We talk about our lives, about their lives, we tell stories, we tell jokes, and sometimes, when it’s appropriate, we talk about church and about Jesus.

So you see, while our trips are built around projects, they aren’t really about projects… they’re about people.  Since many of the people we talked to (and even more who watched from a distance) don’t go to church, our projects were just a door that allowed us to have a conversation.  Our projects, even at The Joy Center, were a way for us to show the people of Big Creek and Clay County, Kentucky that they aren’t forgotten, that people care about them and love them, and most importantly, that Jesus loves them and has not forgotten them.

At the Joy Center, all those smaller projects reminded the staff, the volunteers, and everyone at the Big Creek Church that they aren’t forgotten and Jesus and his church still love them.  Thanks to the generosity of Goldie Bolitho and our Trinity quilters, the crafters at Big Creek Church will have enough supplies to keep them busy for months to come and they’ve hidden away enough yarn to supply Paula’s knitting for most of the next year.

Although we often talk about money or about projects, in the end, mission is always about people.

Won’t you consider being a part of what we are doing here at Trinity Church?

No matter who you are, you can make a difference.

 

 

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Half-Hearted Disaster

“Half-Hearted Disaster”

November 12, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

…our whole heart.

 

 

 

 

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

 

Forever Love

“Forever Love”

November 05, 2017

(All Saints Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The first time I laid my eyes on you I knew

We’d spend this life side by side

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

I swear that you’ll always be my

Forever love

 

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

 

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

 

You are my forever love

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

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

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

He said:

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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