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?

 

 

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

 

Do The Homeless Really Need Help?

Processed by: Helicon Filter;In one of the hobby forums that I visit, a member recently asked this question: Are homeless people scam artists, or do they really need help?  He went on to say that he was completely against giving handouts to people at freeway ramps because he felt that these people were “either dope addicts or scam artists who actually make a living doing this and put on a facade and play on people’s emotions.”  He felt that homeless people were in that situation because of the choices that they made, and because they were too lazy to get off their butts and get a job.

While I am not an expert on homelessness, I have learned a lot in the last few years and have met a few of them as they came to the doors of our church looking for help.  So, what follows is a part of what I posted in reply.

For what it’s worth, I come into contact with homeless people on a fairly regular basis and I have friends who minister to that population of people pretty much daily. The answer to your question “Are they scam artists or really need help?” is “Yes.” There are some, for the most part a pretty small minority who are “gaming the system” but the majority really do need help. Quite a few “move through” homelessness and move on to a more stable life but many are trapped there for a variety of reasons. A frightening percentage is there because of mental illness of one sort or another, and they are very hard to help. Almost all types of residential treatment facilities have been closed so there simply is no “place” where they can receive the kind of care that they really need. Despite their illnesses, most of them are fiercely independent and don’t want to move in with their adult children, relatives, or accept long-term charity. While some of us struggle to see the difference between begging and accepting the charity of their own family, for them the differences are important.

It’s also important to remember that something like 2 out of 3 households in the United States are only two paychecks from homelessness so it doesn’t always take a lot the completely shift someone’s life onto an entirely different track. I’ve met folks who suddenly became homeless because of domestic abuse, house fires, divorce, death of a spouse or significant other, and abandonment. In many of these cases, they found themselves with no belongings, no identification, no money, no transportation, no vital medications, nothing. Some of them are eligible for VA benefits or welfare but in order to collect those benefits you have to have a permanent mailing address, which is the one thing that homeless people obviously *don’t* have.

It really is heartbreaking.

This is real.

Many are disabled, but a great many of them work, often as day laborers, some at regular jobs, even in semi-skilled fields like concrete and various construction trades. Many are single, but there are also a whole lot of families with school age children.

I’ve met several people who were daily making a difficult choice.

Imagine:

It costs $45 per day for a cheap motel because you don’t have enough money to pay for a month, or even a week at a time.

You work, but only make minimum wage (at best) so after taxes you get about $60 per day.

You can get some benefits if you can prove your identity, but through one circumstance or another (again, house fire, etc.) you don’t have any.

You can go to the courthouse, get a copy of your birth certificate, and use that to get a new driver’s license.

But the courthouse wants $65 to make you a copy and the BMV wants another $50.

Add to that the cost of the bus to courthouse, and basically losing a day’s wages while you wait in line.

So, do you get your ID, sleep under the stars or under a bridge, skip eating for two days, and risk losing your job, or do you go to work and spend all your money on food and a place to sleep?

These are the choices that many homeless people have to make every day. I’ve met them, sat with them, and shared stories with them over coffee.

To prevent abuse, and those who are really good at “gaming the system,” our church limits how much aid we can give one person and so our guidelines allow me to offer them a meal at a local restaurant, or a tank of gas, or a box of food (enough for a week or two), or one night’s lodging. I’ve had many people tell me to my face, “I’ll take the room for the night. I can stand being hungry, but I really need a place to sleep tonight.”

I’ve also met people who needed a place to stay even though they told me that they had family (even parents) who lived in the same neighborhood as the motel where we put them up. I can only imagine what sort of emotional, drug, alcohol, or psychological problems led to them not being welcome in their own parent’s home but it happens more often than you think.

So are there scammers? Sure.

Are most of them scammers? No, I don’t think so.

Do they really need help? Yes.

But what they really need is for all of us to be more vocal to our elected representatives at all levels to create systems that don’t trap people at the bottom, systems that make access to aid programs, many of which the homeless qualify for, easier, and to make access to basic identifying documents (like birth certificates) more affordable and accessible to people who are literally choosing between getting an ID and eating.

By all means, if you are unsure, then don’t give money to panhandlers. The people next to the freeway are often, but not always, the people gaming the system. Unless you work with them, it’s hard to know who’s who. But there is a significant population of people who really need help.

If you want to be a part of the solution, I encourage you to volunteer at a food pantry, or a clothes closet, or any one of many church and civic organizations that work with the needy and the homeless.  If you make it a regular thing (and not just show up once) you will begin to build relationships with them. It takes time. They’ve been burnt by the government, by charities, and lots of people who want to use them for their own purposes. They’ve been taken advantage of so many times that they are slow to trust, but if you take the time to really get to know them, and they learn that you are there because you really care about them, they might just share their story with you.

And it’ll probably break your heart.

 

 

 

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The Value of an Invitation

Invitation

We get four or five things in the mail everyday.

Most of our mail is junk.

Almost all of the rest is bills.

Of course, we get letters from my mom who still writes on paper and uses stamps, but the rest of our friends and family communicate electronically.

But one in a blue moon we receive an invitation.  Just a handful of envelopes arrive during the course of a year to invite us to baby showers, birthday parties, weddings, etc.  Many of those are migrating to electronic media as well, but even so, the number of invitations that we receive is relatively small.  I say this because in a mailbox, physical or electronic, that is filled with junk every single day, invitations are not only not junk, they are welcome, valuable, and often become the thing that gets opened first.

We like to be invited to things.

Even if we can’t attend, the invitation makes us feel valuable.  Someone thought of us, appreciated us, and took the time, effort, and expense to ask us to share a moment of time with them.  An invitation is a sign that tells the world that we are wanted.

Our church is no different.

Many of the people at Trinity came to church, sometimes decades ago, because someone invited them to come.  So why is it that we seem reluctant to invite others?

We shouldn’t be.

Thom Rainer spent four years researching unchurched people.  One of the things that surprised him as they compiled the results was that ninety six percent of unchurched people in the United States are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church if they are invited.  Think about that.  More than nine out of ten people would be interested in attending church, of only someone would take the time to ask them and make them feel wanted.

[Note: Thom Rainer’s entire article on http://www.ChurchCentral.com, “Survey finds many unchurched would come to church if invited”  is worth reading.]

What’s more, the people of Trinity Church are proving this to themselves and the results are increasingly obvious.  In the last few weeks, I’ve heard from several people (some of whom have recently become members) that they are here because they were invited.  I have been hearing this more and more often and I want to make sure that others notice.

Recently, one family said that they came because of an invitation, from me, that I don’t even remember.  Another came a couple winters ago when I gave them one of those little business card invitations and invited them to our Christmas Eve service.  Another family was invited by Ruth and Gary Sturgill, another by Brett and Beth Huntsman, several by Ronnie and Cheryl Wendell, and another after our Easter invitation postcards were delivered to the surrounding neighborhoods were combined with personal invitations to many of our friends from Perry Helping Perry.  Just this week, Chris Jukich greeted someone at the door that she met, and invited, at our community breakfast on Saturday.  There are more examples that I know about, and even more that I am forgetting.

So here’s my point:

People tell me that they want Trinity Church to grow.  It can, and it is.  We are growing because the people at Trinity are reaching out and inviting their neighbors, friends, and family to join us.  Some, like Marla Armstrong and Jan Gash, are inviting people all the time.  In fact, many of you are doing it.  I apologize if I didn’t mention you by name.

Thank you.

Trinity Church is a special place.  The people here aren’t perfect, but we are generous and friendly and have made this into a place where people can experience community, mercy, grace, and love.

We have something to offer.  You are probably here because someone invited you and you found something that you liked.  I hope that you have been blessed because you belong here.  I believe that you have, because many of you have told me so.

I encourage you to do the same for someone else.

We are already growing because the people of Trinity Church understand the value and the importance of a simple invitation.

You can make a difference.

Help someone else to feel wanted and valued.

Help others to find a home where they can experience community, mercy, grace, and love.

Join us in being “invitational.” Tell your neighbors, family, and friends about Trinity Church.

People need a place to belong.

Invite them.

There’s more than a 9 out of 10 chance that they’ll consider it.

 

 

 

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The Surrender of Self

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“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.

 

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

 

Aim Carefully

“Aim Carefully”

February 26, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 49:8-16a                      Matthew 6:24-34                  1 Corinthians 4:1-5

During the American Civil War, as General John Sedgwick’s troops were preparing for battle, they were being harassed by Confederate snipers.  General Sedgwick argued with his men that there was no need to duck because, as he put it, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”  Seconds later, General Sedgwick was shot in the head and killed by one of those snipers.

 

If you’ve ever watched some of the television shows about military snipers or Hollywood movies like “Shooter” filmed in 2007 with Mark Wahlberg, or if you’ve ever done any shooting of your own, you will know that there are a number of factors that can come into play if you want to hit your target.  Wind, gravity, bullet spin, even the curvature of the earth can be a factor, but one thing that is absolutely essential in hitting your target is where you are aiming.  If you aren’t aiming at the target, then your chances of hitting go down tremendously.

 

I say these things because, outside of shooting with guns, there is a principle that applies here that can also be applied in other places.  The principle that I refer to is this: You hit what you aim at.  Or also the contrary, you can’t hit what you’re not aiming at.  We begin this morning in Isaiah 49:8-16a, where we hear these words from God that speak about the coming messiah and about God’s love for his people.


This is what the Lord says:

“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
and in the day of salvation I will help you;
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land
and to reassign its desolate inheritances,
to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’

“They will feed beside the roads
and find pasture on every barren hill.
10 They will neither hunger nor thirst,
nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
and lead them beside springs of water.
11 I will turn all my mountains into roads,
and my highways will be raised up.
12 See, they will come from afar—
some from the north, some from the west,
some from the region of Aswan.”

13 Shout for joy, you heavens;
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

God swears that he will keep watch over his people, that he will not give them away to anyone else, that he will make a covenant contract with them, and will restore them to the land that he had given to them.  In the end, God swears that he will never forget his people, so strong is his love for them, that it is more likely that a nursing mother would forget her baby, than it would be for God to forget his people.

 

But the warning that comes from God’s words in Isaiah is that the necessity of this promise comes out of the tendency of human beings to forget their promises and break their contracts.  God goes to great lengths to declare his love for his people and to remind the world how he always remembers and never breaks his promises, simply because Israel has regularly, and repeatedly, throughout history, broken its promises to God.

 

And then, as we move into the more modern era, in Matthew 6:24-34, we hear Jesus say this:

 

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

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Jesus reminds us that we are still prone to the same forgetfulness as the people of Israel.  We still try to split our allegiances, to cover our bases, and play both sides against the middle.  God knows that money is important, but so is food, and so is mathematics, but all of these are just tools for us to use.  The danger for us is in allowing any tool to become so dominant, that it becomes more important to us than God.  Jesus encourages us to trust God completely, to trust him with our money, to trust him with our well-being, to trust him with our health, and allow him to give us the things that he knows that we need.

 

Where we most often go wrong is in aiming for the wrong things.  If we truly want to have a relationship with God and if we truly want God to hold the most important place in our lives, then that is what we ought to be aiming for.  But when we take our eye off the ball, when we shift our aim, and we make the accumulation of money, or power, or sex, or pleasure, or something else to be the target, then our aim has drifted and we’re no longer aiming for God.  But what many of us will try to argue is that what we really want is God and money, or God and success, but what Jesus is very clear about is that we cannot aim at two things at the same time.  You are either aiming for God and a relationship with him… or you aren’t.  If you’re aiming for “God and” then you are no longer aiming for God at all.

 

In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, the Apostle Paul offers this description of how we might think of ourselves:

4:1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

 

Paul says that we are servants of Jesus Christ and people who are entrusted with the truth that has been revealed in scripture.  Because of the trust that God has placed in us, we must be faithful to him in return.  In the end, when Jesus returns to earth to judge humanity, he will shine light into the darkness and he will reveal the motives of every human heart.

 

On the one hand we have God, who has declared that his love for his people will never end and that he is constantly thinking of our well-being.  God has entrusted us with the great riches of the mysteries of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ and we will be judged by the motives of our hearts.  But on the other hand are the fickle and ever changing hearts of humanity.  We are constantly adrift, constantly tossed this way and that by the people around us, by our culture, and by our circumstances.  We are constantly tempted to put our trust in places that are not trustworthy.  We are constantly tempted to aim at the wrong things.
But God won’t share first place.

 

You just can’t aim at two things at once.

 

Aim carefully.

 

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Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

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

 

Eulogy for Lila J. Graham

Eulogy for Lila J. Graham

September 19, 2016

by Rev. John Partridge

Just a little more than a week ago, our friend Lila was doing fine.  But then she woke up in the hospital and everything started to unravel.  Every time we thought we had good news, more bad news seemed to follow.  Losing Lila was a surprise and even a shock to most of us but in addition, the events of the last week have been a startling reminder of our own mortality.  And so, as we gather together today let us not only mourn for what we have lost, but also find comfort in the knowledge that all of us who believe in him will one day be reunited in the loving arms of Jesus Christ.

Lila J. Graham was born on June 30th, 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio.  After she graduated from high school, she got work as a secretary adjutant for the United States Army ordinance office.  While at first this might have seemed to be a nice entry level job, it was also an appointment with her future.  Because, while this was happing in Cleveland, a young man named Marion Ray Graham (who always went by Ray and never by Marion) was growing up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  After his high school graduation he studied Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech and joined the ROTC which granted him a commission in the Army after graduation and assigned him to a duty station… at the Army ordinance office in Cleveland, Ohio.  After Ray and Lila met, Ray was sent to Korea in the day following the Korean Conflict and while he was gone, they corresponded regularly.  Lila’s daughters said that she had shown them stacks of letters they had exchanged while Ray was overseas.

After his return home, Ray and Lila were married on July 17, 1954.  During college, Ray had an internship with Timken and so after his service in the Army, he got a job there.  For three years the city girl and the country boy lived in Canton, but then they moved out of town to Perry Township where they stayed and raised their family for the rest of their lives.

Well, they did live in the same house for the rest of their lives, but using the word “stayed” might be a bit of an exaggeration.  You see, although their house was their home base, every year they would do a fair amount of traveling and Lila travelled more than Ray did.  Ray thought it was fine to travel to see family and so they alternated between Virginia and Cleveland at Christmas time, and every summer the family spent a week camping at Clay’s Park, and that was about it for Ray.  Lila on the other hand, loved going on an adventure.  She loved to travel and so, whenever she could, she would find a sister, or a friend, or someone, and go somewhere.  She literally travelled the world and Ray was fine with that as long as he didn’t have to go along.  But Lila did convince him to go overseas with her one time.

Lila also had other adventures closer to home.  She went out and did things with her kids and her grandkids whenever she could.  They went canoeing, visited haunted houses, and were regulars at Cedar Point’s annual Halloweekends.  Every year they visited the Yankee Peddler festival, attended the Christmas Carol at the Players Guild, and every Christmas season everybody came to Lila’s house for “Cookie Day.”  At Easter everyone colored eggs, and then followed the clues for her special treasure hunt where you might find Easter eggs, a few coins, and eventually an Easter basket.  You were never sure what you were going to find but you knew there was going to be an adventure.  There were big cookouts to attend every year too, one for fish, and another for ribs, as well as making a big deal for Mother’s Day.  And even before they started going to Halloweekend, they always had an annual outing to Cedar Point.  And, Lila being Lila (and we’ve already said that she loved adventure), she rode every ride in the park.  At age 75 she was still riding the Millennium.

And at every event, and at every adventure, Lila had a disposable camera and documented everything.  But it’s important to note that she didn’t just take pictures.  She took those pictures and kept a notebook for each of her grandchildren and carefully documented everything.

Once Ray and Lila were settled in Perry Township, Lila found work at the elementary school as a playground monitor, and then later was invited to become the “study hall lady” at Perry High School.  It was at Perry High School that Lila met Helen Bowman and the two of them have been friends ever since.  At church Lila did a little of everything.  She was the children’s choir director for 25 years, taught Sunday school classes of all ages, led Bible studies, cooked food, served on the scholarship committee, made the fun calendars for the UMW every February, organized the talent show for 15 years, and probably more things than most of us can remember.  And while they were all here, all of Lila’s kids got married at Trinity Church too.  Every Sunday, after church, the whole extended family went to Ray and Lila’s house for a big family Sunday brunch.

Lila was a big sports fan and she loved her Cleveland Browns.  Every game she would call Jeff at halftime to talk about why they were so bad this year, or why they missed that play, or wonder when they were finally going to get a decent quarterback, or whatever.  At one time or another, Lila babysat all of her grandkids two days each week and, as we have already determined, because she had the heart for adventure, there were lots of field trips.  Whenever she could, Lila spoiled her grandchildren to do death.  She was the kind of a person that could talk to anybody.  She loved to sing, she had a big heart and did things for just about everyone, she did her crossword puzzles every day, and whenever Hannah came over she loved to draw pictures and watch Rugrats (which Hannah liked but wasn’t allowed to watch at home).  Every week she went out to eat with her lunch buddies and every Saturday she went out with a group of ladies from Trinity Church.

Lila was always sending cards and letters to family and friends and wanted to make sure that everyone got mail and felt loved.  She was a beautiful woman inside and out, and if you look at her pictures, it isn’t hard to see why Ray Graham was attracted to her.  Lila was known by many of us to give the best hugs.  Whenever she saw me she made sure that I got one, and made sure that I didn’t forget.  Even during this past week, whenever I would visit her in the hospital, even when she was hooked up to a host of IV’s and had machines beeping around her, whenever she would see me Lila would throw her arms out as best she could to make sure that I gave her a hug.  Lila loved colorful things and fun things.  She has a couple ornamental, concrete deer in her front yard and at this point many of you are probably thinking that lots of people have those, but Lila’s are as different as she was.  Lila’s deer are not just your ordinary brown deer; hers are white, and green, and blue and all sorts of fun things.  And then there is her collection of animated, dancing, stuffed animals.  You know the ones, you’ve all seen them, the fish, frogs, deer, teddy bears and whatnot that sing and dance when you press the button.  Lila loved them all and, from what I’m told, owns just about all of them.  In fact, she told her family that the rabbit that sings “Some bunny loves you” was supposed to sing at her funeral.  I’m not sure if it made it here today or not.  And of course, Lila wore hats.  I’m told that Loretta Doll was the first one at Trinity to be known for wearing hats, but Lila did it too and she owned it.  There are several of us who have seen Lila out in public and almost didn’t recognize her because she wasn’t wearing a hat.

There was always a dog in Lila’s house and lately that dog has been her friend Foxy.  Foxy was always at Lila’s side except when she went to Virginia to visit Joe.  It wasn’t that Foxy couldn’t ride in the car, or that Lila wasn’t willing to take her, but it’s just that the building where Joe lives doesn’t allow animals.  And so, it came to pass that Lila’s friend Janet Miller became sort of a part owner of Foxy because Foxy would go to Janet’s house whenever Lila went to see Joe.  Naturally, even though we can all be pretty sure that Foxy was regularly spoiled by Lila, she complained that Janet spoiled Foxy even worse than she did.

As Lila began to spend time with Joe, the florist started to visit her more often.  It was nice, and it was different, because Ray had never had much use for flowers and never really bought them, but Joe like flowers and sent them often.  I’m told that the family began to notice that there was quite collection of flower vases that were accumulating in the basement, but no one really knew just how often it happened until this past week.  As people came to the house to express their condolences, the delivery driver from Pat’s Flowers stopped in too.  You see, he had come to Lila’s house so often that he and Lila had not only become acquainted, they had become friends.

Each one of us will remember something different.  We’ll remember hugs, and hats, some will remember field trips and adventures, little dogs, singing songs, her love of Jesus and her passion for his kingdom, we’ll remember adventures, and lunches, and talent shows and all sorts of things.  But the two inescapable things that every one of us will always remember is that Lila always had fun wherever she went, and that she had the remarkable ability to make everyone around know that they were truly loved.

If any of us can be half the person Lila was, we will surely be a blessing to others, because Lila was definitely a blessing to each and every one of us.

 


lila-grahamObituary

Lila J. Graham

June 30, 1933 – September 15, 2016

Lila J. Graham, 83 of Perry Township, passed away Thursday, September 15, 2016. Lila was born on June 30, 1933 in Cleveland, the daughter of the late Nelson and Edna (Osterland) Gilbert.

She worked at Richville Elementary and Perry High School retiring in 1992 after 28 years of service. She was an active member at Trinity U.M.C. where she taught Sunday School and Bible Classes, directed the Children’s Choir, and participated in U.M.W. Lila loved traveling and spending time with her family and friends.
Along with her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband, M. Ray Graham in 2007; sisters, Dorothy Ward and Edith Loescher; and brother, Clark Gilbert.

She is survived by her daughters Amanda (Jeff) Fletcher and Amy (Gary) Ciesielczyk; grandchildren, Hannah and Audrey Fletcher, and Benjamin, Victoria, and Kari Ciesielczyk; and her special friend Joe Williams.

A Celebration of Lila’s Life will be held on Monday, September 19, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. at Trinity U.M.C. in Perry Heights. The family will receive friends at the Paquelet & Arnold-Lynch Funeral Home on Sunday from 2-5 p.m. and on Monday from 10-11 a.m. at the church. In lieu of flowers donations may be to Trinity U.M.C. in Lila’s name.


Readings

Lila carried this scripture in her wallet.  It isn’t one of the more common ones that people often carry.  It isn’t about love, or hope, but then, in a way it is.  And having read it, it’s exactly the sort of thing that Lila would’ve liked so we want to share it with all of you too.

Romans 8:35-39

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

This is one of Lila’s favorite poems.  It was on a plaque in her kitchen.  And again, for anyone that knew her, I think it’s exactly Lila.

Hugs

It’s wondrous what a hug can do!

A hug can cheer you when you’re blue.

A hug can say “I love you so” or

“Gee, I hate to see you go.”

A hug delights and warms and charms,

It must be why God gave us arms!


REMEMBERING LILA – by Janet Miller

 

Lila and I became such very good friends from working together at Trinity.   We soon realized we had a great many things in common…We were both born in the same year and in the same month and also had the same middle name.   She always told me I was older than her tho as there was 28 days difference…Our history and life style seem to have run parallel in our growing up years.   We both lost our husband and after that she joined our group of Trinity friends for Saturday nights out.   It was good to have friends to enjoy a meal together.

When Lila found life lonely she got herself a little 4 legged friend called Foxy.  Naturally as soon as I saw her I knew she was a special little girl.   Lila was good enough to let me be a part of Foxy’s life as well as Lila’s.    Then a short time later Lila and Joe became the BEST of friends.   She often traveled to visit Joe in Va. so Fox would stay with me.   She always told me this pup is really spoiled when she comes back from your house.    So I always told her, Well, you get spoiled by Joe so I get to spoil Fox….Lila was a special Christian, always ready to tell you about God and ready to lead any Bible study groups or the Sunday School Class we recently started.   She was not afraid to tell you how much God loves us all and to always remember, “God is in charge”.  She was so right about that.  God could see Lila was struggling to live alone and needed help.   We will all miss our dear special friend but we know God’s love will be waiting for her in a special place.   I will forever miss my special friend and soul mate, but I will have her little Fox to remind me of her and know she will be checking to be sure I don’t spoil her pup too much.    May God bless you on your next journey Lila.

With love,

Janet Miller

Choosing Death

“Choosing Death”

August 28, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 14:1, 7-14           Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16                Jeremiah 2:4-13

 

How many of you like detective stories?

Some of us like Agatha Christie novels with Miss Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot, or we enjoy reading the exploits of Sherlock Holmes.  Some of us like watching television dramas with a detective element like NCIS, or CSI, or of course, either of the two current Sherlock Holmes dramas.  I admit that I was several years late to the party, but a year or two ago I discovered the television series “Castle” and now we watch it often and are still catching up on a lot of the older episodes.  In any case, this past week we were watching a rerun from early in the Castle series and in it a young man was killed while his friends were playing Russian roulette.  Of course they all claimed that they often did it but that no one was stupid enough to play when there were actually real bullets in the gun.  Instead, they liked to point an empty gun at one another and pull the trigger… except for one night that it wasn’t empty.  That, of course, leads to the mystery to be solved.

But I thought of that episode when I was reading today’s scriptures because of the striking parallels.  We begin this morning in Jeremiah 2:4-13, where God, through his prophet Jeremiah, brings charges against Israel for the crimes that they have committed against him.

Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob, all you clans of Israel.

This is what the Lord says:

“What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the Lord.
“And I will bring charges against your children’s children.
10 Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely;
see if there has ever been anything like this: 11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,”
declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

God says that the entire people of the nation of Israel had strayed from him, had begun to worship worthless idols, and then became worthless themselves.  They forgot the God who had given them so much and they took for granted the things that God had done for them.  And as they wandered away from the God of their forefathers, they corrupted the very things that God had given to them.  Even worse, their leaders, both religious and political, were as bad as or worse than everyone else.  Jeremiah says that the people, whose job it was to read and interpret the law, did not know God.  The leaders of the nation actively rebelled against the instructions of God and the prophets who were supposed to speak God’s words to the leaders and to the nations, began to prophecy in the name of another God altogether.

As I watched that episode of Castle, I thought, “What kind of an idiot would willingly play Russian roulette?”  To play Russian roulette is a heartbeat away from choosing death itself.  To do so would require depression, or suicidal thoughts, or some other kind of mental imbalance.  And yet, Jeremiah describes for us a time when an entire nation chose to play Russian roulette and gamble that the fun that they are having is worth death.

Let’s be clear.  No one woke up one day and decided to hate God.  There was no single moment when the nation of Israel decided to abandon the God that had blessed them, brought them out of slavery, given them their land, and had cared for them.  There was no single moment when everyone decided that suicide seemed like a great idea.  But all the same, gradually, one decision at a time, one small compromise at a time, the people of Israel picked up a gun because it looked like it might be fun, pointed it at their heads and, one poor choice at a time, began to load bullets into the chambers of the pistol.  There was no single moment when the nation of Israel suddenly decided to choose death and commit suicide, but they arrived in that place all the same, one step at a time, gradually drifting farther and farther from God until they began to represent all the things that God hated and left God with no other choice but to pull the trigger of the gun they had loaded.

But there are other choices that can be made.

In Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus warns us of a principle danger that causes many of us to make bad choices and start down the road that leads to death.

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

This simple parable of Jesus can be applied far more broadly than our occasional invitations to fancy dinners.  The message in Jesus’ story is that when we allow pride to lead us, trouble inevitably follows, even in something as simple as where we sit for dinner.  Instead of allowing our pride to lead us, make your choices humbly instead.  Or, even better, instead of using what we have to make ourselves look good in front of other people who can afford their own dinner, use what we have to help people who cannot help themselves.  Jesus’ message is that one key to staying close to God is to make choices that are guided by humility rather than pride.

But what else is there?

How can we avoid making the sort of bad decisions that lead us away from God?

In Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Paul says this:

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Paul makes us a shopping list of things to help us make good choices.  Of course, this isn’t all that there is, but if we can remember this much, it’s a good start.

Love one another, show hospitality to people that you don’t know, remember those who are in prison, those who have been mistreated, and people who cannot speak for themselves.  Honor marriage, even if that marriage isn’t yours and even if you aren’t married yourself.  Keep yourselves sexually pure.  Don’t ever allow money to become the most important thing in your life but instead, be content with what you have.

These things, Paul says, will help us to stay close to God and make choices that will help prevent drift.

But that isn’t all.

Remember your leaders who taught you about the word of God.  Consider their examples, both good and bad.  Learn from what they taught you, but also learn from their mistakes as well as their successes. Paul says that we should continually sacrifice our time to offer God praises.  Paul knows that it takes time and effort to come together as followers of Jesus Christ to worship and praise God and he calls this time and effort a sacrifice that we offer to God.

And finally, do good and share with others.  Paul describes both of these things as sacrifices as well. Doing good isn’t always easy and it isn’t always free.  Doing good costs us time and effort and money and so does sharing what we have with others.  Doing good and sharing with others can be costly, but these are ways that we can offer sacrifices to God regardless of how much money we have.

None of these things are complicated.  None of them are terribly difficult.  But every single one of them is a place in our lives where it is remarkably easy to become selfish.  Every single one of these things can be blind spots for us that allow us to make compromises, small choices, baby steps, that lead us away from God.

Drift.

Israel didn’t wake up one morning and choose death.  They didn’t suddenly decide to rebel against the God that had rescued them and everything that he had ever taught them.  Israel never made a conscious choice to put a loaded gun to their head.  But bit by bit, step by step, one compromise after another, one selfish choice after another, they did exactly that.

Our prayer is that we do not do the same.

Let us not choose death.

Instead, let us remember the things that we have been taught by Jesus, by Paul, and by others, so that we might stay close to God and not drift away, one small compromise at a time.

 

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