I Can’t

“I Can’t”

July 09, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

Have you ever felt like you were in too deep?

 

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

 

We’ve all been there.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Say that with me.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“I will go,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rebekah too seems to say these same words.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It’s time that we all said..

 

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

 

 

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

 

Finding Peace On Earth

earth-rise“Finding Peace On Earth”

December 24, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                        Titus 2:11-14                             Luke 2:1-20

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
 Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

2:1 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

MEDITATION:

Imagine with me the world to which the prophet Isaiah spoke.  Isaiah wrote from the land of Judah at a time when the Assyrian Empire was growing stronger by the day.  He watched as Judah’s King Ahaz, rather than stand together with Syria and the northern tribes of Israel, allied himself with the Assyrians instead.  Despite Isaiah’s warning to the contrary, Ahaz aided the Assyrians in conquering their neighbors and brothers in Israel.  Everyone could see the handwriting on the wall.  Everyone knew that, eventually, the Assyrians would come for them as well and, although it wouldn’t happen for more than a hundred years, Isaiah wrote about the eventual conquest of Judah, the captivity of both Israel and Judah in Babylon, the rise of power of Cyrus the Persian, and the return of the Jews to Israel and Judah after seventy years of captivity, as well as the Messiah that was to come.

Although these were dark days, Isaiah wrote about the light that was coming that would dispel the darkness.  Although the people were oppressed, Isaiah wrote about the freedom that would come.  Although they were surrounded by armies and warfare and bloodshed, Isaiah wrote about a child who would be the Prince of Peace.  Isaiah proclaimed that a day was coming when a rescuer would come from God who would have the authority to bring about endless peace and he would establish his kingdom not with force and oppression, but with justice and righteousness.

More than seven hundred years later, in a land occupied by foreign armies, and to a people who were also well acquainted with violence, oppression, warfare, and bloodshed,  angels appear in the skies over a band of shepherds and declare that the day prophecied by Isaiah had finally come.  “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Two thousand years later, we still remember that night and we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity, and yet, much like the people in the time of Isaiah, and in the time of the shepherds, we too are a people who are all too familiar with violence, oppression, warfare and bloodshed.  And we still look forward to the day when the boots of our soldiers and all of their bloodstained uniforms will be thrown into the fire.  We look forward to the end of darkness, and oppression, and death.  We look forward to the day when there will be endless peace and Jesus Christ will rule over all the earth with justice and righteousness.

But while we wait, we must also remember the instructions contained in the words of the prophet Titus who said (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

While we wait for the return of Jesus we have work to do.  Amid the chaos of the world in which we live, we are to pursue purity, and live lives that are self-controlled, righteous, and godly.  Jesus came, and surrendered his life, so that we could be rescued from sin and death, and to be transformed into a people who are passionate about doing good.

And so, while we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, and while we look forward to the return of Jesus Christ, until that time, his work falls to us.  Until Jesus sits on the throne and brings peace and justice to the world, we are called by God to do whatever we can to bring godliness, justice, righteousness, purity, and yes, peace, into the world in which we live.

I admit it’s a big job.  It’s huge.  It’s enormous.

But it is possible.

With.        God’s.        Help.

 

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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.

Season Meets Reason

cow

“Season Meets Reason”

November 27, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

 

Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5                        Romans 13:11-14                               Matthew 24:36-44

The other day, Patti and I were traveling along the freeway when traffic suddenly came to a complete stop.  We immediately wondered what had happened because normally, even in the worst of construction zones, traffic keeps moving at least a little.  But this time we stopped dead and we were there long enough that I put the car in park.  As we sat there, we guessed that it might have been an accident and, sure enough, once we started moving again we saw two cars, a tractor trailer, and a police car all blocking the right lane.  Thankfully, even though there was a baby seat in one of the cars, everyone seemed to be okay.

As simple as it was, this common experience reminds us of the ripple effects of human events.  Traffic backs up because there was an accident.  Railroad gates drop because there is, somewhere down the line, an oncoming train.  One event causes another, and sometimes those ripples cascade far into the future.  We live here in North America because men like Amerigo Vespucci, Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Jacques Cartier, Hernando de Soto, John Cabot, and many others dared to cross the Atlantic and explore the New World.  What they did changed the world, and the ripples caused by their actions continue to impact our lives today.

And so, as we celebrate Advent, and begin the season of Christmas, we often talk about Jesus being the “reason for the season.”  We recognize that a huge part of our entire world has set aside time, religious or not, to celebrate this particular season of the year and we know that a ripple that enduring has to have had a cause.  But what we often miss, is that the reason for Christmas started long before the birth of Jesus, and the ripples caused by those events continue into the future, and impact our lives, far more than we appreciate.

We begin this morning by reading the words of the prophet Isaiah who lived nearly eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus. (Isaiah 2:1-5)

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Generations before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah proclaims that a day will come when God himself will live in Jerusalem, rule over the earth, and judge disputes between nations.  In those days, weapons of war will be reshaped into instruments of agriculture, and the world will finally know peace.

Isaiah not only saw the coming of the Messiah that we celebrate at Christmas, but also the messiah’s ultimate rule and reign to which we still look forward.  The ripple in time that we celebrate at Christmas did not begin with Jesus, and in fact did not begin with Isaiah.  What we remember when we read Isaiah is that the birth of the Messiah was God’s plan from the beginning of time itself.  All of creation was leading up to that moment, and continues to look forward to the ultimate conclusion of God’s story.

We all know the Christmas story.  We will spend plenty of time in the coming weeks remembering the stories about angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and wise men from the East.  But while remembering the characters is important, we must also take time to remember that such a pivotal event in human history didn’t happen by accident.  The birth of Jesus, God’s Messiah, Savior, and rescuer of all humanity, happened for a reason.

In Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus tells the disciples about the day of his return.

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus reminds his followers, that his birth, life, death and resurrection were just the beginning.  Just as God’s people had looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah for thousands of years, we now look forward to his ultimate return.  And as we look forward, Jesus warns us to be prepared, to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus’ warning is two-fold.  First, we must keep watch for his coming and second, that we must be prepared for his arrival at all times because he will come when we do not expect him.  But what does it mean to “be prepared” for his arrival?  Honestly, it’s the same message that God has been telling his people since the very beginning.  In Romans 13:11-14, Paul puts it this way:


11 
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul reminds us that “being ready” is all about the way that we live our lives every day.  If we believe that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem, and we believe that his purpose for coming to earth was to live, die, and rise from the grave to pay the debt for our forgiveness, then our belief must not just be an abstract idea that we carry around in our heads, but a belief that is lived out every minute of every day.

The coming of Jesus was an event that sent ripples through time and that event was a part of God’s plan that began with creation itself.  While we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, we love to decorate our houses, our churches, shopping centers, and office cubicles, but if we fail to decorate our lives by living the way that Jesus taught, then all the trees, all the presents, all the worship services, and all the other trappings of Christmas are no better than wrapping tinsel around a cow pie.

At Christmas, it is vital for us to remember the reason for our celebration.

Jesus did not come to earth so that we could buy presents and decorate trees.

Jesus came to earth to transform lives.

Jesus came to transform my life.

Jesus came to transform your life.

And so, the best way that we can “decorate” for Christmas is to live every day of the year as if Jesus was real, as if we knew for certain that he was coming back tomorrow.

The best gift of Christmas is for each of us to actually do the things that Jesus taught us to do.

God’s gift to the world at Christmas wasn’t just a baby in a manger.

God’s gift to the world is a world full of followers who live like Jesus everyday.

 

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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.

The World Stinks but…

protestor-shot-wilth-rubber-bullets“The World Stinks but…”

October 30, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4                 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 Luke 19:1-10

 

It doesn’t take a genius to know that our world seems to be seriously messed up.

This week we continued to watch the train wreck that is our presidential election (and there really is no need to elaborate on that) but we also saw two dramatically different legal rulings that both seem to twist the meaning of the word “justice” in directions that seem difficult to understand.  First, a group of ranchers and other folks who, by force, took over and occupied a federal game preserve in Oregon, and then threatened federal law enforcement officers have been acquitted of nearly all charges that the government brought against them.  And second, on nearly the same day, the courts ruled against the American Indian tribes who are peacefully protesting a pipeline that will cross through sacred burial sites and under a river that provides all of their drinking water.  As a result, many of the protesters are being arrested, beaten, attacked by dogs, and even shot despite being on private property that lies on a reservation that is recognized by our government as a sovereign nation.  Almost every day it seems like we hear news stories about out justice system not working the way that it should or even in ways that seem unjust altogether.

And whenever we see and hear these things we pray that such misfortune will not fall upon us.

And as bad as things sometimes are here at home, we read stories about the inhumanity of ISIS, the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and other places, and our conclusion is obvious.

Sometimes, the world stinks.

Not surprisingly, this situation isn’t new.  Sometime around 600 BC the prophet Habakkuk complained to God.  This was not just a private prayer, but probably an expression of the thoughts and feelings of many of God’s people in Judah.  The world seemed broken, unfair, and unjust and God seemed to be unconcerned and uncaring because he did nothing about it.  (Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4)

1:1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.


2:1 
I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.

Habakkuk cries out to God that the world is unfair but, at the same time, says that he will remain on his watch; he will stay at his post and be faithful, until he hears an answer from God.  And when God’s answer comes, God agrees that the world is messed up.  The enemy thinks a lot of himself and the desires of the enemy are unjust but relief is coming.  God is already planning his response to the injustice that Habakkuk and his people are complaining about.  But until God’s judgement arrives, the righteous are called to be patient and remain faithful.

And in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Paul reminds us, much like Habakkuk’s message, that God does not always rescue us from difficult circumstances.  But in those times when God does not rescue us right away, there are still things that we can learn.

Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

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

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First of all, in both Habakkuk and in Thessalonians, we find that despite hard times, we should never give up talking to God.  Keep the lines of communication open.  Keep praying.  But, at the same time, as we struggle our way through the hard times, we can learn perseverance and strengthen our faith through the persecutions and trials that we endure.

But more than that, when we read Luke 19:1-10, we also begin to understand that our trials and suffering should probably teach us to be compassionate toward others as they experience their own.

19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Although nearly all of us are familiar with the story of Zacchaeus, we often don’t think of the story in terms of trials, empathy and compassion but that is a key part of Jesus’ message.  Just at the moment when people start to complain that Jesus, a respected teacher, has stooped to associate, and even eat, in the home of a tax collector and sinner, Jesus reminds them that as bad as he is, Zacchaeus is still a child of God and a part of God’s covenant with Israel.  Jesus concluded by reminding everyone that his mission on earth was to seek and to save the lost.

We really should wrestle with that more than we do.

Jesus is criticized for visiting in the home of a known scoundrel, cheat, and rip-off artist.  Tax collectors had a contract with Rome that authorized them to collect the taxes that Rome levied, and so that Rome didn’t have to pay salaries, they were allowed to collect extra to pay themselves.  How much extra, was often not defined.  They were essentially given a license to steal as much as the market would bear and their theft was enforced by the swords of Rome’s occupying army.  Tax collectors were outcasts from Jewish society because they were considered to be traitors to their people and to their nation.  But Jesus’s response to his critics is to remind them that he came to rescue the lost.

Think about that and consider the context, the time, and the place of what he said.

What Jesus is saying is that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go to the lake.

By saying what he said, and by reframing the argument, Jesus argues that it should be obvious that he should do this.  It is like criticizing the Coast Guard for getting their boats wet and risking their lives by going out to sea in a storm.

Jesus essentially says:

You can’t save the drowning if you don’t go out in the storm.

It seems so obvious when we understand it that in this context.  Jesus’ mission was to seek and to save the lost.  His compassion for their suffering and trials, past, present and future, without God, drove him to go to the places where the lost lived.  To invite himself into their homes, if necessary, so that he could pull them back into the boat and save them for eternity.  What’s challenging to us is that we have inherited Jesus’ calling.  The mission to seek and to save the lost became the mission of the church when Jesus ascended into heaven… his mission, is our mission.

But we are not just driven to obedience out of a sense of duty.

God understands that out world is broken.  God understands injustice, unfairness, suffering, struggle, persecution and trial.  But God’s message to us is twofold.  First, we must understand that our God is a god of justice.  Wrongs will be made right.  The guilty will be punished.  Injustice will be set right.  But although it will happen in God’s time, it might not happen right away.  Second, as we endure hardship and trial, God expects us to learn to have empathy and compassion for others as they experience similar circumstances.  Our trials should make us sensitive to the trials of others and compassionate for those who do not have the comfort and understanding that is to be found in our faith in Jesus Christ.

Because of that, we should be learning to be more like Jesus: To love others, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to rescue the lost by whatever means necessary.  Jesus went into the homes of scoundrels and ate with them; he was widely criticized by people in his church for associating with sinners, rebels, fanatics, and prostitutes.  But that criticism never slowed him down because it was absolutely necessary to accomplish his mission.

You can’t catch fish if you don’t go to the lake.

You can’t save the drowning if you don’t go out into the storm.

We are called to be fishers of men and rescuers of the lost.

Each and every one of us should live our lives so that we are criticized for our compassion.

 

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Trust and Leverage

leverage

“A Scoundrel’s Lesson: Trust and Leverage”

September 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 16:1-13                     1 Timothy 2:1-7        

 

As we watch the current election process and listen to the daily news, we are regularly bombarded with examples of how not to do things  We constantly hear about new ways to rip people off, or business people, banks, or corporations who managed to defraud their customers and one another.  And while it is tempting to shake our heads, moan about how evil the world has become, and assume that God’s people have nothing to learn from such schemes, we would often be mistaken.  While we should never condone such practices, there are often lessons that we can learn from even the most misguided pursuits.  In Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a parable about an unscrupulous, rip-off artist that was fired from a management position in a rich man’s organization.

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The manager in the story was not a good manager.  He was accused of wasting his employer’s money or belongings, or both.  Perhaps he was helping himself to some of them, or perhaps he had just made a few bad investment decisions that caused his employer’s portfolio to suffer.  But in either case, we learn pretty quickly that he was dishonest.  The confusing part of the story is that the both the employer and Jesus have something good to say about him.  Clearly, Jesus describes the man as dishonest, and we know that Jesus is not encouraging anyone to be dishonest, so what is he saying.  The scoundrel is commended because he is shrewd.  He may be dishonest, but the guy knows how to get things done.  Knowing that he was going to lose his job anyway, he used his employer’s wealth to buy him friends that would be indebted to him and who could give him a place to live and food to eat while he tried to figure out where to go and what to do next.

While Jesus isn’t encouraging his followers to be dishonest, what he does say is that we ought to be shrewd.  That simply means that we ought to do better at using the things that we have, and the people that we know, and leveraging them to do kingdom work and to bring people into God’s kingdom.  Jesus goes on to talk about how trust is earned.  We’ve all experienced that and we understand it in the short term here on earth.  Most of us realize that you wouldn’t hire a person that steals money from his employer to be your new treasurer.  But Jesus says that the stakes are even higher because the trust that you earn on earth now, determines how much God trusts you, both on earth, and in eternity.

The way Jesus spells it out, either you can be trusted, or you can’t.  God has given us things to manage, much as the man in the story.  We have been given health, wealth, time, friendships, and other resources and God is interested in how we use all of these things to grow his kingdom.  According to Jesus, in God’s eyes if you can’t be trusted here on earth, then God doesn’t trust you either.  And, if you can’t be trusted, then God will not give you things that you otherwise might have had.  In that sense, God is much like an investment advisor who is rearranging his portfolio.  Those investments (that would be us) that do well are places where God will invest more.  But if those investments aren’t doing that much, then God will invest what he has somewhere else.

And just in case we have forgotten why this is important, let’s read Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Jesus Christ is the mediator, between every human being and the perfect, immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing God.  Jesus gave his life in order to secure the ransom and rescue of every single human being that has ever lived.  And Jesus did that, because he wants all people, every single one of us, to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

In telling the story about the unscrupulous manager, Jesus was emphasizing two important points.  First, his followers, although called to be honest and truthful, should be more like that manager and use every means at our disposal to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, to help people come to a knowledge of the truth, and to rescue as many people as possible.  And second, Jesus watches each of us to see how well we do with what we have been given, to see how effective we are as managers.  While your employer may watch to see how you help his company to make money, God watches to see how trustworthy we are in using the things that he has given to us to make disciples of all people, and of all nations.

May we all live our lives in such a way that we might be found to be faithful, prudent, wise, and yes, even shrewd, in using our resources to rescue the lost and grow the kingdom of God.

 

 

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Rescued… from What?

“Rescued from What?”

September 11, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 15:1-10                     1 Timothy 1:12-17                             Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

 

On October 14th, 1987 the attention of the entire nation, and much of the civilized world, became focused on one small backyard in Midland, Texas.  An 18 month old girl, Jessica McClure Morales, was playing in the backyard when she fell into a well casing and became trapped in a pipe only 8 inches in diameter, but 22 feet below the ground’s surface.  News organizations from around the world made “Baby Jessica” a household word as rescuers worked non-stop for the next 58 hours to return baby Jessica to her parents.

And most of us are old enough to remember the confusion surrounding the events of September 11th fifteen years ago today.  As the day progressed, we weren’t sure at all who might need to be rescued, or what it might be that we all might need rescuing from.  Both then and now, it evokes powerful emotions when we encounter those moments when the rescuers are in need of rescuing.  But in times of terror, natural disasters, and even as we live a life of faith, we know that sometimes happens.

As we attend church, and as believers in Jesus Christ we often talk about rescue and salvation but we aren’t always clear about the things from which people should be rescued nor about what rescue really means.

During the rescue of Baby Jessica, no one doubted what it was that she was being rescued from.  A baby 22 feet below ground that is stuck in a pipe is in big trouble and, without immediate help, will soon die from starvation, exposure, dehydration, or any number of other things.  But the people with whom we work every day, or the children that go to school with our children, or the curious folks who occasionally wander in to churches, do not seem to be in any immediate danger.  For many of them, and perhaps for some of you, our continued emphasis on “being saved” or “being rescued” seems more than a little curious and requires some explanation.

Hopefully, today’s message will provide some help.

We begin in Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 where we hear God pronounce judgement against the people of Jerusalem for abandoning him and doing evil.

11 At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; 12 a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them.”


22 
“My people are fools;
they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
they know not how to do good.”

23 I looked at the earth,
and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
and their light was gone.
24 I looked at the mountains,
and they were quaking;
all the hills were swaying.
25 I looked, and there were no people;
every bird in the sky had flown away.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
all its towns lay in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 This is what the Lord says:

“The whole land will be ruined,
though I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore the earth will mourn
and the heavens above grow dark,
because I have spoken and will not relent,
I have decided and will not turn back.”

God says that the future of Jerusalem is a future filled with drought, destruction, desolation, doom, and death.

This is not a glowing, fun-filled chapter of the Bible and, while it is specific to a particular people from a particular chapter in the distant past, it paints us a stark picture of what can be expected when we abandon God.  Granted, there are a great many people who live out their entire lives without coming to faith in Jesus Christ and, from all outward appearances, seem to do just fine, even thrive, in doing so.  But scripture reminds us that there is more to our existence than the life that we are currently experiencing.  And while we aren’t exactly crystal clear about what it will be like, life, according to scripture, continues on past our earthly death.  And so although the darkness, doom, and despair that Jeremiah describes may have been initially intended for the people of Jerusalem, we would be well served to take note of what eventually lies in store for people who abandon God.

And so the next question we ask is this: What does “rescue” look like?

And for that let’s continue by reading from Paul’s first letter to his friend Timothy (1 Timothy 1:12-17).

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Paul says that even though he blasphemed God, persecuted Christians, and was a violent man, God showed him mercy because he had done all those things out of ignorance and unbelief.  And so, being a man who had literally become an enemy of God, and yet found mercy, forgiveness, and grace, Paul summarizes our rescue (and his) this way: Jesus came into the world with the sole purpose of saving and rescuing the very people who had turned their backs on God even those people who had declared war on God and upon God’s people.  Because of Jesus Christ, God showed mercy to Paul so that the world could see a display of God’s patience and know that everyone who chooses to believe in Jesus can still be saved from destruction, desolation, doom, and death and receive the gift of life eternal in God’s house.

And then in Luke 15:1-10, we have another example, but this time from the life of Jesus himself.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus is rebuked by the authorities and leaders of the church because he dared to show hospitality to the outcasts of their society.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, and others, despite the fact that virtually all of them came from Jewish families and would have, in modern language, “identified” as Jewish, the church leaders labelled all of them as sinners.  For the Pharisees, it was acceptable to meet with “those” people when you went about your daily business in the marketplace because society, government, or culture demanded it, but at home… that was different.  Sharing a meal with people, actually showing them hospitality and compassion, that was something that good people only did with other good people.  Jesus was disrupting the status quo and defying the desires of the church leaders, by showing love to people that the church had decided were no longer lovable.

And so, in answer to the complaints of the Pharisees, Jesus tells everyone three parables, two of which we heard today and the third is the parable of the prodigal son.  In telling these parables, Jesus paints a picture of what it really means to be rescued and makes it excruciatingly clear that every one of the people in the room, sinners or not, have great value, and that God will stop at nothing to get them back.  For Jesus, being lost can be thought of as a sheep that has wandered away from the flock, or a coin that fell out of a wallet, or a child that disowned their family.  In that sense, “rescue” or “salvation” means being brought back in to the flock, returning to where you belong and to where you are valued, and being brought back into the family where you were, are, and always will be valued and loved regardless of what you have done in the past.

Baby Jessica had to be rescued from certain death so that she could be returned to her family where she was loved and valued.

As followers of Jesus Christ, when we talk about people who are in need of rescue or who “need to be saved” what we really mean is that these people, regardless of how healthy, happy and prosperous they might look, are separated from God and ultimately face a future of destruction, desolation, doom, and death.

But the followers of Jesus Christ cannot condemn people who are in need of rescue because Jesus’ single mission on earth was to save and rescue the people who had turned their backs on God even those people who had declared war on God and upon God’s people.

Real rescue means that the followers of Jesus must treat these “lost” people the way that Jesus did, with forgiveness, mercy, and respect.  Real rescue means inviting the lost to rejoin God’s family. Real rescue means that the people who are rescued have the opportunity to experience God’s transformational compassion and love.

If we are to be the agents of real rescue, then we must be prepared to treat everyone as people who are truly loved and valued.

God will stop at nothing to get them back.

And we shouldn’t either.

 

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Cost of (Dis)Obedience

“The Cost of (Dis)Obedience”

September 04, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 14:25-33                   Philemon 1-21                            Jeremiah 18:1-11

 

Did you happen to hear anything about Colin Kaepernick this week?

You would almost have to be a hermit not to.

This week, the internet blew up when Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand during the National Anthem.  As usual, everyone immediately chose sides.  One side said that he was a traitor to his nation and the other called him a hero for calling attention to the important problem of racial injustice.  But, as I have often said, the truth is really somewhere in the middle.  The truth is that our Constitution guarantees everyone, including Colin Kaepernick, the right to free speech, even when that speech isn’t very popular.  The truth is that the veterans that many people claimed to be disrespected by his refusal to stand, served, fought, shed blood, and died to protect his right to do what he did.  On the other hand, the truth is that our nation really does have a problem with racial injustice and, as long and as hard as we’ve been working at it, some of those problems haven’t really gotten much better in several decades.

But as we consider these things, we must also recognize that sometimes there is a time and a place for exercising our rights.  We have a right to free speech, but it is likely unwise for someone to make a speech about Black Lives Matter at a Ku Klux Klan rally.  We might have the right to keep and bear arms, but there are certain neighborhoods where walking down the street carrying a rifle is probably unwise.  Wisdom tells us that sometimes just because we have the right to do something, and just because we can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should do that particular thing.

Recent reports say that the San Francisco 49ers football organization, because of this particular incident, as well as a laundry list of other problems, will most likely terminate their contract with Colin Kaepernick.  Likewise, the companies that pay Mr. Kaepernick to endorse their products are considering their options.  It seems likely, that such a talented young man, armed with a multimillion dollar salary, and given such a significant presence on the public stage, could likely have found a better way to accomplish his goals.  As an example, one commentator pointed to LeBron James who grew up in challenging environment and who knows a thing or two about racial injustice.  But instead of making one grand gesture that would alienate his fans, and people all over the country, instead chose to use his wealth to offer full scholarships to college to 2,300 kids who are growing up in neighborhoods similar to his and who, most likely, suffer from the kinds of racial injustice that  Colin Kaepernick was protesting.  Assuming that each of these scholarships covers a four year degree program, this amounts to over $87 million dollars of Mr. James’ personal wealth.

Which of these actions, do you suppose, will the have the most positive impact?

But what does this have to do with scripture?

Simply put, actions have consequences.

Ask anyone who has found themselves on the wrong side of the law, or even a high school kid with a detention slip in their hand, and they will probably agree that there is a cost to disobedience.

But we also look no further than to the flag draped coffins that return home from battlefields halfway around the world to remember that there is sometimes also a cost to obedience.

Finding our way between what we can do and what we should do, and counting the cost of our decisions, is a daily act that requires wisdom, prayer and discernment.

We begin this morning by reading from Jeremiah 18:1-11, where God once again threatens the destruction of his own people.  But in this case, their reaction is more than a little surprising.

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. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ 12 But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’”

God calls to Jeremiah and sends him to the potter’s house to witness an ordinary event that becomes one of scripture’s most spectacular visual aids.  God says that the pot he is making is going bad, and so he intends to simply destroy it and start over.  But although God sends Jeremiah to relay this proclamation of doom to the people of Israel, and even though they still have a chance to turn from their wickedness, God knows that they will not.  The reaction of the people, upon hearing of God’s condemnation, is simply, “Okay, go ahead.  We’re just too stubborn to change.”  And so, in the end, Israel is condemned not only for their sin, but for stubbornly refusing to change.

Actions have consequences.

And then in the book of Philemon we see the same principle illustrated in an entirely different direction.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

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

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

Onesimus was an escaped slave that belonged to Philemon.  By law, he could have been killed for fleeing his master but, having met Paul, he came to faith in Jesus Christ and became a new person.  He was changed mentally as well as spiritually and became convicted that in order to do what was right, he had to return to his master and face the consequences of his actions even though that might result in beatings, torture, or death.  Paul, having grown quite fond of Onesimus, writes a glowing letter of recommendation to Philemon in the hope that he will not only be merciful, but that he will release Onesimus from his slavery entirely.

Onesimus was an escaped slave but had become a new creation in Jesus Christ.

Philemon was a slave owner but also a believer in Jesus Christ and owed a debt to Paul for the introduction.

We don’t know for sure the result of their reunion but we know this:

Actions have consequences.

And then in Luke 14:25-33, Jesus lays out a hard truth about the wisdom of making choices.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Jesus points out that whenever we make important and potentially expensive choices, we are wise to consider how much those choices are going to cost.  Colin Kaepernick’s actions will likely be costly and we don’t know whether or not he considered the possibilities before he acted.  The actions of the nation of Israel were costly, and when they were given a chance to change their mind, they were doomed by their stubbornness.  Philemon became convinced and convicted that he had to do what was right no matter the cost.  And Jesus warns us to consider the enormous cost of following him.

Finding our way between what we can do and what we should do, and counting the cost of our decisions, is a daily act that requires wisdom, prayer and discernment.

In order to follow Jesus we must put him first, and put absolutely everything else, and everyone else, after him.

If we can’t do that, Jesus says, then we really aren’t his disciples at all.

This is a hard truth but…

…actions have consequences.

What will you choose?

 

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.