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.

 

Advertisements

Resurrection. Then What?

“Resurrection. Then What?”

February 07, 2016

By John PartridgeU

 

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-13                      1 Corinthians 15:1-11                       Luke 5:1-11

Have you ever tried to figure out one of those Rube Goldberg machines?  If you aren’t familiar with the name “Rube Goldberg,” these contraptions are those machines that take lots of unnecessary steps to do something simple.  The beginning of the television detective show, “Elementary,” starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson begins with that sort of machine. There are many videos on the Internet that show these kinds of machines and a few really incredible ones by the musical group “OK Go.  Years ago, Kermit the Frog used to have one occasionally to talk about “what happens next” and with each step he would talk about, not surprisingly, what happens next.  Whether we are young enough to watch Sesame Street, or old enough to remember when Basil Rathbone was the definitive Sherlock Holmes, watching these sorts of things is fascinating as we all wonder how the builders think and we wonder what will happen next.

It is with this fascination that we look forward to the next book in a series, or the next sequel to our favorite movie.  And it is with this same fascination that we read other stories, including scripture, and we wonder, what happens next.  And so, even though the Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection is the highlight of the Christian year, and the climax of the Biblical narrative, we keep on reading to see what happens next until Jesus ascends into heaven, and then later, the story of Pentecost.

But then what?

When we read the Bible like a story that has a beginning, middle and end, we know that the Old Testament is the beginning and has a lot of the background and back stories that we need to understand the characters.  We understand that the Christmas story is the beginning of the Jesus story and Easter and the resurrection are the climax.  But what happens next?  Is the story over when Jesus returns to heaven?  Obviously, the disciples go out into the world and their story is in the rest of the New Testament, but what is the point?  If the whole story starts in Genesis, and Easter is the climax, then what’s the point?  We read these stories and we often wonder… what happens next?

To answer that, let’s begin once again in Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13) so we can understand the background that led to the coming of Jesus the Messiah.


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

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

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

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

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

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

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’  10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, 12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

Isaiah proclaims that Israel will be destroyed, the cities left empty, houses deserted, fields and crops burned, and even those who survive will face another round of destruction until even the forests are left with only stumps.  All of Israel is described as a desolate wasteland.

But hope remains.

Isaiah doesn’t describe the stumps of the trees as dead things as most of us would expect, but as seeds.  “The holy seed will be the stump in the land.”  Isaiah wants the people to know that the holy seed, that thing that God is doing, remains in the land.  Although the land is desolate and the people are few, God is not dead.  Instead, both the land and the people of Israel are to endure a time of dormancy.  In more modern language, Isaiah says, “Winter is coming.”  But dormancy and winter, although dreary and dark, still contain a seed of hope… the hope of spring.

And we find the spring in the coming of Jesus.  In Luke 5:1-11 we hear these words:

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

In this short story, there are several things that reveal who Jesus is.  The fishermen can see immediately that Jesus is able to see things in nature that they cannot.  They see that Jesus can see in each of them, what they could not see in themselves.  They see that God can prepare a blessing for them even though they cannot see it.  And finally, they see that Jesus’ knowledge of the world, and of them, is truly frightening.  For these men there was no doubt that the seed Isaiah spoke of had sprouted, there was no doubt that winter was over, and that the promised Messiah had come.

That was God’s story all along.  Eight hundred years before the coming of Jesus, during the life of the prophet Isaiah, God knew.  God knew that Jesus would stand by that lake; he knew that those fishermen would be there, and he knew that those fish would be where he needed them to be.

God knew.

It was a part of his story.

But where does that leave us?

How does this all lead us to what happens after the resurrection?

And so, let us turn to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where Paul is answering a very similar question.

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

At first, this may not seem to answer the question about what happens after the resurrection but it does, so bear with me for just a minute.

Paul says that the story of Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection, is what he has preached, what we have all believed, and that our belief in that story is what has saved us.  Then Paul says that this story, that Jesus died for our sins, is of first importance.

And so what happened after the resurrection of Jesus?

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the twelve disciples.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred men and women who believed in him, and then he appeared to Paul and converted him as well.

And if we go one step further, what happened next?

What did the disciples do after they saw Jesus resurrected, alive, and walking the earth?  What did the five hundred do when they heard?  What did Paul do when he heard?  And what did Paul’s church do when he told them?

They all did what Paul was doing.  They all considered that story, the birth, life, death, resurrection of Jesus to be of first importance, to be more important than anything else.  And all of them committed their lives to telling others what had happened so that they could also hear the good news and be saved.  Each generation that has heard this story has believed that it was true, and they took upon themselves that same mission.  Each generation told the next generation until now that story has come down to us.

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.  God’s story didn’t end with the resurrection.  God’s story is still being written.

“What happens next,” has been happening for two thousand years and is still happening today.

What happens next is that the story that Paul told is still the story of first importance.  The story of the Gospel message is still the most important story ever told, it is still the most important story that we know, and it is still the most important thing that we do.

What happens next is that we must still do what the disciples did, what the five hundred did, what Paul did, and what every generation since then has done.

We are no longer the people who listen; we have become the people who know the story.  And because we know the story, the story that is of first importance, it is our turn, it has become our job, our mission, to share that message of good news with anyone who hasn’t yet heard it.

That is what happens next and that is what happens after the resurrection.

The Gospel story is of first importance.

And sharing that story with others is the first, and the most important, thing that we do.

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

 ————

 

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