Are You All In?

“Are You All In?”

June 25, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

…“Are you all in?”

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So to summarize, people stink, God cares.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do not be afraid.

 

God cares.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

…Are you all in?

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

 

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

 

Do the Impossible

“Do the Impossible”

June 18, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

Have you ever been asked to do the impossible?

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“There, in the tent,” he said.

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

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

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

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

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

 

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

 

And God’s question for Sarah was simple.

 

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

 

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

 

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

 

But what does that have to do with us?

 

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

 

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

We are not powerless because God lives within us.

 

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


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


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

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

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

 

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

 

All of these things are difficult.

 

Some would say that many of these things are impossible.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Go.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Go.

 

Do the impossible.

 

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

 

 

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

 

Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves

“Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves”

June 11, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Until the arrival of Jesus.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

 

 

 

 

 

* 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.

 

Can You See?

“Can You See?”

March 26, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

1 Samuel 16:1-13                   John 9:1-41                            Ephesians 5:8-14

 

What is it that you are good at?

Each of us is good at something.

With the possible exception of the very young, most people have invested enough time and effort into one or more subjects to have become reasonably good at them, and knowledgeable about them.  It might not be rocket science, but just about everyone knows a lot about something.  It might be engineering, or law, or medicine, but it might also be homeschooling, or auto repair, antique tractors, hair, jewelry, video games, coin collecting, home repair, or negotiating the convoluted steps of government grant writing.  Whatever it is that you are good at, we all recognize that there is a difference between knowing a little, knowing a lot, and being an expert.  We all know a little about filing our taxes, but if we’re smart, we know when it’s time to get our questions answered by an expert.  Many of us can do basic home repairs, but we still keep the phone number of a good plumber handy.

With that in mind, think about those times when, you, as a person who knows a little, or even a lot, about one particular subject, have had a conversation with someone who was truly an expert.  Wow.  Sometimes these experts give speeches, and we go to large arenas and concert halls just to hear them talk about the things we are interested in.  I follow Buzz Aldrin on Twitter and I read the blog written by Ben Witherington III.  Why? Because Buzz Aldrin has forgotten more about space, astronauts, and astrophysics than I can ever hope to know, and Ben Witherington has forgotten more about the New Testament scholarship and proper Greek translation than I am likely to ever learn.  When experts look at a problem, they see things that non-experts might not ever notice.  The efforts of people like me and other fans or novices are not likely to impress the experts.  What will impress the experts are not the things that might impress the rest of us and as a result, we sometimes notice that experts will make surprising choices because they can see and anticipate things that we cannot.

Not surprisingly, we see the same thing in scripture and we also see that when compared to God, even the experts are put to shame.

We begin this morning in 1 Samuel 16:1-13, where we hear the story of when God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David as the king of Israel in place of King Saul.

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.”10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

 

Throughout this story, everyone thinks and reacts only within the limits of what they know and of course, this is only natural.  We can only use the tools that we have.  We can’t use knowledge that we don’t have.  And so what we see is town elders who are afraid of God’s prophet because in the past they have witnessed him only as the bearer of bad news.  We have Jesse, the father of many sons, and the resident expert on what his children are capable of doing, who fails to call the youngest because someone has to watch the sheep, and who would imagine that the youngest would be of any value for anything that the prophet of God would want?  And finally, we have Samuel, the prophet of God, who is indisputably the expert on God, but who is utterly wrong about what God is looking for in a new king.

 

The town elders were wrong about why Samuel had come because they thought of him only as a messenger of doom.  Jesse was wrong because he assumed that David was too small and too young to be of any value.  And Samuel was wrong because he was only capable of looking at the superficial realities of how men appeared on the outside.  They were wrong because none of their expertise and knowledge came close to the expertise and knowledge of God.  Because God knows everything that is know-able, his expertise rises to levels that exceed even our imagination.  And because God’s expertise and knowledge so far exceeds our own, God sees differently than humans do.  What impresses God is not what impresses human beings, and God’s choices are often not what we would expect.

 

 

And that brings us to this week’s gospel lesson from John 9:1-41.  This is, as we noted last week, another story that is longer than usual, because it is one of the great stories of scripture.  It is the story of Jesus healing a man that had been born blind and it is a story that deserves to be read as a whole and not broken up and studied in pieces.


9:1 
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

 

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

 

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

 

The Pharisees, despite being experts in the Jewish scriptures and writings, were baffled by the healing of the blind man.  Their understanding led them to believe, just as the disciples had, that the man’s blindness, because blindness was bad, must have been a punishment from God.  And, at the same time, they had never seen, nor heard, of anyone being healed after being born blind.

 

But God’s understanding goes far beyond that of the religious experts, and Jesus explains that this blindness had not been caused by the sin of the man, nor of his parents, but that sometimes God allows bad things to happen “so that the works of God might be displayed.”  What Jesus is saying is hard for us to grasp.  But in this passage he tells us that sometimes God allows bad things to happen because, somehow, in ways that we cannot understand or comprehend, these things pave the way for something better to happen later.  Somehow, accidents, and even evil, are allowed by God because they fit into, and are a part of, the larger tapestry of God’s plan for the universe.  Now I’m not going to even try to tell you that this is much comfort when children die or when the innocent suffer.  It is impossible for us to even imagine what good could possibly be accomplished by such things.  But somehow, even in our suffering, even in our hurt, even in our disbelief, we must trust that God knows and understands more than we are capable of understanding and far more than we are even able to imagine.  Because God is all knowing, but also because God is loving, kind, and just, we must find a way to trust that these things are, somehow, a critical part of the plan of God because anything less would require us to believe that God is capricious and cruel instead of thoughtful and good.

 

But all of that brings us to the “So what?” part of the message.  What difference does knowing these things make to me?  And for that we arrive at Ephesians 5:8-14 where we hear these words:

 

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

 

Paul says that because we believe, we have stepped out of darkness and into the light of God and as such we must live and act as if we are.  We must be agents of light, goodness, righteousness and truth.  Since God is the expert in everything, we must study the word of God to discover what things are pleasing to him and which of those things we can do.  Paul says that we must not only avoid darkness and evil but we must work to make the world better, and we must fight against immorality and evil.  We must not pass through the world as if we are asleep at the wheel.  We must wake up, rise from the dead, and do those things that God has commanded because he is the expert, and our job… is to change the world.

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

* 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.

 

Proof

Miracle

Sometimes we are witnesses to proof of God’s existence.

On Sunday (March 19th) I mentioned in both my message, and children’s message, that sometimes, when we pay attention, God provides evidence of his existence through answered prayers and miracles both large and small.  We are witnesses to many “everyday” miracles like the birth of a baby, sunrises, sunsets, and spring flowers but we also see and experience other things that are scarier, bigger, and sometimes simply impossible.  Our family all remembers the near miss that we had on interstate I-70 when a tractor trailer tire bounced across the median, missed our car by only a few feet, struck the cab of the tractor trailer we were passing and absolutely destroyed the left front wheel well like an explosion.  Only the sharp eye of our son Noah and the grace of God brought us home that day instead of to a helicopter trip to a hospital in Columbus.

As I said on Sunday, just in the ten or twelve years that I have been a pastor, I have met several people who ought to be dead, people of whom the doctors said, “We can’t explain why you are alive.”

In our Johnsville church, our lay leader was a dairy farmer by named Jim McWilliams.  One Sunday morning we interrupted our worship service to lay hands on Jim and pray for his brother.  That week, Jim’s brother was as work and was asked to use a cutting torch to cut the stuck lid off of a 55 gallon steel drum.  The labels on the drum and its documentation assured everyone that the contents of the drum were inert.

They weren’t.

Somehow, the documentation was all wrong and the contents of the drum, in reality, were highly volatile.  When Jim’s brother began to cut the lid off of the drum, it exploded and he was rushed to the hospital.  During the investigation they eventually found the lid of the drum.  It had been thrown by the explosion, went through the roof of the building and was found about a half-mile away.  The next week we heard that Jim’s brother, despite standing within inches of the explosion, received only bumps, bruises and minor burns to his face and hands.  When the doctors heard what had happened, both they, and the explosion investigators from OSHA said that they couldn’t understand why he wasn’t dead.

Many of you can tell the same kinds of stories and since that sermon, some of you have shared your stories with me.

This is an invitation.

I would like to share your stories.  I can help you write them and edit them if necessary.  After they are written and edited, I will post them on my blog so that others can be blessed, uplifted, and have their faith reaffirmed through our collective, eyewitness testimony.

Please, even if you don’t think that you are a good writer, put your story on paper (or email) and share it with me.

And together, we’ll share it with the world.

The Surrender of Self

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“The Surrender of Self”

March 01, 2017

(Ash Wednesday)

By John Partridge*

 

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20             Matthew 5:21-37                 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

It happens every Sunday morning in practically every church in the United States, Canada, North America, Africa, Asia, and everywhere.  It isn’t peculiar to the United Methodist Church but happens in Baptist Churches, and Presbyterian churches, Catholic churches, independent churches and every other denominational and non-denominational church you can find.  In fact, it happens in Christian churches, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, and Buddhist temples.  This thing that happens is the offering.  At some point before, during, or after their services of worship, there will be an opportunity for the worshipers and visitors to make some contribution toward the religion, for the poor, or at least toward the upkeep of the building.  Despite the fact that there are sometimes enormous differences between us, one of the things that make us all the same is that no matter where you are, or who you worship, it costs money to maintain the property and keep the lights on.  And so, everywhere we go, even sometimes for secular events, we are asked to sacrifice a little of our hard earned cash.  It’s so ordinary that we most often don’t give it a second thought if the American Legion needs to run a raffle, or the band boosters sell candy bars.

 

But suddenly we arrive at the season of Lent, and something changes.

 

Because although we will probably still be collecting offerings on Sunday mornings during Lent, an entirely different sort of giving and surrendering becomes the central focus as we spend time preparing our hearts for the resurrection of Jesus.  That change in focus is found today in Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 where we hear these words:

 

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
    a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Through Joel, God warns his people that the day of judgement will be a day of darkness and despair.  But on the day of judgement, no one is going to be looking at your tax statements or your church giving receipts, and no one is really going to care very much how much you put in the offering plate.  God said, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”  In reading this, we understand that tearing one’s shirt, or robe, or other garment was a sign of mourning, repentance, and humility, but God declares that even these outward signs are not enough.  Instead, what God really wants, is a broken heart.  God doesn’t want us to show the world how much we’re sorry.  God doesn’t want us to make grand gestures to show him how sorry we are.  What God really wants, is for us to be genuinely sorry. What God wants, is for us to be so sorry that our hearts are broken so badly that we become changed people who live life differently.  So important is this that God wants us to declare a fast, call a sacred assembly, gather the people, and call together all of God’s people in ways that symbolize a meeting of the utmost importance, even bridegrooms and priests serving in the temple will not be excused.  Everyone is needed, because this change of heart is of utmost importance for the continued existence of God’s people and our inheritance from God.

Paul emphasizes this same level of importance in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 where he says:

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


6:1 
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul encourages us to be reconciled with God, to be forgiven through the power of Jesus Christ and to become co-workers with God, working toward the same goals and objectives as God himself.  More than that, Paul says that as servants of God we surrender ourselves, through trouble, hardship, distress, beatings, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, purity, understanding, patience, through dishonor, bad reports, and in many other ways.  Few of the things on Paul’s list are situations that we would ordinarily, on our own, seek out, but he encourages us to set aside our own desires, to surrender ourselves, in order to pursue the goals and objectives of the Kingdom of God.

And finally, in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, we hear Jesus as he challenges his followers to do good, not just for the sake of doing good, but to do good for the right reasons.

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Much of what Jesus has to say in this passage is an encouragement to have our hearts in the right place, to do good, not for the sake of doing good, and certainly not to do good because it is of benefit to us, but simply to do good for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  This is sometimes a little weird, but we are not called to be righteous so that we can go to heaven, we are called to be righteous in order to for God to be glorified.  Our motives are everything because the condition of our hearts is everything.  Our motives for everything that we do should be God’s motives.  We are called to work, to volunteer, to donate money, to live lives of purity and righteousness, even suffer and sometimes die, not because we have any expectation that our lives will be wonderful, or even that there will be some earthly benefit to us.  We simply do these things because our goals have come in line with God’s goals, our desires are becoming the same as God’s desires, and so we live our lives in ways that are of benefit to the Kingdom of God and not in ways that are necessarily of any benefit to us.

This is the call of the season of Lent, to “Rend your heart and not your garments,” to remember that the gift, the offering, that God truly desires, is not money, or time, or sacrifice, although it might look like any of those.  The gift that God truly desires is for us to surrender ourselves, to surrender our desires, and to replace them with the goals and desires of God.

These are the things that we must think upon as we prepare our hearts for Easter.

This is what it means to surrender self.

 

_________
Did you benefit from reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

* 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 Reason for Rules

“The Reason for Rules”

February 19, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18                 Matthew 5:38-48                 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Have you ever thought that there are just too many rules to remember?

 

We have rules about etiquette, culture, language, law, and religion.  There are rules and laws that govern the maintenance of our automobiles, how we drive, where we drive, what we drive, and who can ride in the car with us.  We have rules about what kind of gas we can buy, where we can buy it, and how they are allowed to sell it.  We have rules about who is allowed to drive, when they can drive, and what skills they have to have to get permission to drive.  We have rules about how the cars that we drive are made, what they look like, what safety features are required, which are allowed but not required, and even which safety features are not allowed.  We have rules about who is allowed to sell cars, how they can be sold, and who can’t sell cars and who is not allowed to sell them.  There are simply tons of rules about even the simplest things in our lives and we are prone to wonder why we have so many rules, if there is any real necessity for so many rules, and if there is a reason that we have so many of them.  But consider for a minute, what would happen if we encountered a stretch of highway where there were no rules.

 

I can assure you that in a very short amount of time, no one would want to go there.

 

What if you could drive as fast as you wanted, in any kind of vehicle you could imagine, and no one had to obey any traffic laws at all?  You could not have any expectation of road safety or regular maintenance.  The people around you might be riding bicycle, driving bulldozers, or drag racing jet powered semi-tractors.  People could be driving fast, or be parked in the middle of the highway.  Without rules, that stretch of road would be frighteningly dangerous and in a state of continuous chaos.

 

When you think about what driving would be like with no rules, we quickly realize that although there are some rules that might be questionable, there are generally good reasons that the rules exist.

 

That just seems to make sense to us, but at the same time, people ask the same sort of questions about our faith, Christianity, Judaism, and the Bible.

 

Why are there so many rules?

 

And as we read through scripture today, we discover that the answer is surprisingly simple.  We begin in Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, where we hear these words, many of which we remember as a part of the Ten Commandments:

19:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

11 “‘Do not steal.

“‘Do not lie.

“‘Do not deceive one another.

12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.

13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.

15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

Please note that this expands on the message that we heard last week.  Do not hate a brother or sister in Christ, but if you know that they are doing something wrong, neither should you simply ignore what they are doing nor cover it up.  If you knowingly ignore wrongdoing, or help to cover it up, you share the guilt of the people who are doing wrong.

18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

This list offers a slightly different slant than the Ten Commandments, but I think the most important words in this passage are found in the introduction.  God commands Moses to gather all of the people of Israel and it isn’t difficult to imagine that everyone’s first reaction, including Moses, would be to ask why.  And so God says, “Speak to the entire assembly and say to them, be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

What we almost always forget when we think about the Ten Commandments is this introduction.

Be holy, because God is holy.

God does not say that he is giving his people a list of instructions because he loves rules, or because he enjoys burdening people with lots of restrictions on their behavior.  What God says, is that he wants us to be like him, and then he gives us some examples of how we, imperfect and corrupt as we are, can do better.  God doesn’t give us rules to follow because he loves bureaucracy, but because he wants to point us in a direction that leads to life and holiness instead of suffering and death.

Imagine God’s frustration in this.  Imagine that someone comes to you, tells you that they are very sick, that they need to see a doctor, and asks for directions to the hospital.  And when you tell them how to get there, they complain bitterly that you are putting too many restrictions on their freedom and insist that they can go any direction that they want to.

Of course, that seems ridiculous, but that is exactly what it must seem like to God when we complain about there being too many rules restricting our freedom, when the entire purpose of the rules was to give us directions that would save our lives.

Jesus says something similar in Matthew 5:38-48, where we hear these words:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus says, I know that you’ve all heard about “conventional wisdom,” but the conventional wisdom is wrong.  The only way to reduce violence is not to participate in it.  Be willing to take a loss, be willing to look foolish, be willing to be disturbingly generous, even when it is costly to you.  God has done good to you and has poured out his love upon you, even before you ever met him.  It doesn’t impress anyone that your love is “just as good” as the tax collectors, or that you are “just as loving” as everyone else.  Being “just like everyone else” means that you are no different than everyone else and that your faith is no better than their lack of faith.  The followers of Jesus Christ have been called to be different; we are called to a higher standard.  Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal is to be perfect.

 

Paul emphasizes this difference in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, where he says…

 

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.


16 
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Paul says that the foundation of everything that we do is Jesus Christ.  Because the Spirit of God has taken up residence inside of us, we are the temple of God.  This weekly gathering of fellow believers is sacred because this is God’s temple.  It isn’t the building, it’s the people.  Paul also echoes Jesus in fighting against the conventional wisdom or “the standards of the age,” and reminds the church that worldly wisdom is not the same as godly wisdom, and what God teaches is often ridiculed by conventional wisdom.

So what does this all mean?

In the end, what this means is that the foundation of everything that we do is Jesus Christ.  We are called to be different because we belong to Jesus and through Jesus, we belong to God.  We are called to be holy, not because God loves rules, or because God wants to take away your freedom, but because we want to be like God, and God is holy.  We want to live, and God has given us a prescription that can lead us to health and wellness.  We are moral free agents who are absolutely free to do whatever we choose, but God is abundantly clear that our choices can either lead us to God’s blessing and life, or to suffering and death.

You wouldn’t want to even try to drive on a highway that didn’t have any rules.  It is the rules that maintain order and keep us safe.  And so whenever we hear people complaining that God has too many rules, or that the church just wants to control your life, the question that you should ask is probably similar to the one you might ask someone who criticizes you for giving them directions to the hospital.

You can do whatever you want.

Do you want to get better?

Or not?

 

 

 

_________
Did you benefit from reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

* 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.