Belonging: A Tale of Two Kings

“Belonging: A Tale of Two Kings”

July 15, 2018*

By John Partridge

 

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19                        Ephesians 1:3-14                   Mark 6:14-29

 

Sometime between 1990 and 1991, just as the U.S. and coalition forces were building up to what would eventually be called Desert Shield, I found myself with a day off in Paris during a business trip.  Wanting to see as much of the city as possible, I bought a map at the first bookstore I found and walked from one end of the city to the other.  I saw the Eiffel Tower and the outside of the Louvre, the palace, and many other places.  But just as I was nearing the cathedral of Notre Dame, I encountered a street full of protesters carrying signs and banners speaking out against American aggression.  I wondered, if I were approached, if I should pretend to be Canadian.  In any case, I took the next right and made my away toward my destination on another street.  Although I was never in any danger, that protest was a reminder that I was far from home.  Later that afternoon, as I walked back to my hotel (in the pouring rain) I went past the US Embassy.  In that place, far from home, even without going in, I felt a renewed sense of safety.  This was a piece of home.  This was a place, where I belonged.

 

About eighteen months ago, while we were visiting Liberia, I had a similar feeling as we passed embassy row.  I never felt as if we were in any danger whatsoever in Liberia, but there, where we could see the stars and stripes flying over the embassy compound, I knew that even though I had never set foot inside, this was a place where I belonged.

 

We all have places where we belong.  We belong to families and to groups of friends, in homes, in schools, in businesses, and hopefully here in this church.  But there is another, far more important, place of belonging that we should know and should never forget.

 

We begin this morning with a story from the life of King David.  The Ark of the Covenant had been stolen by the Philistines and had been kept by them for many years, but wherever they kept it, it brought plague and pestilence.  Eventually the Philistines determined to get rid of it, and although the story is a long one, eventually David determines to bring the ark to the tabernacle in Jerusalem.  This is where we join the story in 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19.

6:1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.

12 So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

David’s wife, Michal, watched David entering the city and she did not like what she saw.  David was dancing before God with everything that he had.  I suspect that this was not a gentle ballet, but far more energetic like hip-hop, or boogie-woogie, or maybe slam dancing.  There was dancing, and music, and shouting and David gave gifts to everyone in the entire crowd.  And Michal was unhappy with her husband, the king, because his behavior was too passionate and too improper.  David had left his ego behind.  He was so full of joy before God that he poured out his love in ways that she thought made him look foolish and did not conform with how she thought royalty should look or act.  But David knew that the ark of the Lord was a symbol of God’s presence among his people.  For David, they were literally welcoming God into their city and inviting him to live among his people and share life with them.  There could be no better reason to throw an ecstatic, knock-down, drag-out, celebration, and David gave it everything that he had.

But in comparison, let’s look at what I’d like to call, the Nightmare on Herod Street.  This happens immediately after the passage that we read last week in Mark 6:14-29, in which Jesus had been teaching, and performing miracles, and then sent his disciples out, and they also were teaching, and healing, and casting out demons.

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

For precisely the opposite reasons that David angered his wife, Herod gets in a real mess and it costs John his life.  While David’s joy and passion for God allowed him to leave his ego behind, Herod is so focused on physical pleasure, desire, and lust, that he drools over his niece and offers her, in front of a roomful of people he wanted to impress, “anything she wanted.”  Even though her answer was unexpected, and even though it was something that Herod didn’t want to do, Herod had painted himself into a corner.  He allowed his passions for flesh and power to control him, and now his ego and his embarrassment compel him to follow through so that he can save face.

The difference between these two kings, the difference between these two men, can be seen fundamentally as the difference between the two kingdoms to which they belong.  While David belongs to the kingdom of God, Herod’s loyalties are exclusively and unrepentantly dedicated to the kingdom of the flesh.  While David loves God, Herod loves only himself.  While David is passionate about pleasing God, Herod’s passions are all about money, and sex, and power.  While David’s worship of God allows him to leave his ego behind as he expresses his joy at the arrival of God in Jerusalem, while David is willing to look foolish before men so that he can bring honor to God, Herod is willing to take an innocent life, the life of a man that he knew to be righteous and holy, because his ego demanded it.

So, what does this have to do with us?

Everything.

Three thousand years after David and two thousand years after Herod, we are still divided by our loyalties to these same two kingdoms.  We are constantly pulled back and forth between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of flesh and we struggle to know where we belong. But in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminds us that we need not be confused. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

There are several repeated ideas in this passage.  You are blessed by God.  You are not an accident.  God knew you before the creation of time.  God chose you.  God predestined you, which we understand to mean that God knew, before the creation of time, that you would accept his invitation. God has not only invited you to be a part of his kingdom, he has adopted you, and not just adopted, but “adopted to sonship.”  That means that we are adopted and given full and complete legal rights as if we were genetically, and biologically, born into his family.  Even though we were born two thousand years after Jesus, Paul tells us that we were included in the kingdom of Jesus Christ as soon as we heard the message of truth and the gospel of salvation.  When you believed, God marked you, indelibly and permanently, as his own.  The Spirit of God is a down payment, a deposit, earnest money, guaranteeing our inheritance until we finally arrive in the kingdom to which we belong.

You see, although we have never set foot inside the walls of the fortress of God, it is, absolutely the place where we belong. It is our home.  It is the place where we will meet our extended family and everyone else who has been adopted as brothers and sister of Jesus Christ.  This is the place that God has prepared for us.

But we are constantly pulled between these two kingdoms.  Just like Herod, we feel the pull of the kingdom of flesh, calling us to a life of ego, self, lust, violence and death.  But, like David, we also hear the invitation of God.

The way of Herod leads to death.

But the way of David leads to life eternal.

To which kingdom will you belong?

 

 

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at Pastor@CUMCAlliance.org.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
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Birth and Reproduction

“Birth and Reproduction”

May 06, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 15:9-17              Acts 10:44-48             1 John 5:1-6

 

 

Have you ever witnessed the delivery of a baby?

 

In the past, fathers paced nervously in the waiting room while mothers gave birth.  In more recent years the fathers were not only invited into the delivery room but participated in Lamaze and other birthing classes that were designed to calm the fears of parents and maybe even help the process a little.  Some families even video the whole thing.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I can think of few things that would be more embarrassing to watch later in life.  Can you imagine some parent showing that video at their child’s wedding reception?  Yikes.  Patti and I have video of Lina’s delivery, although hers is almost certainly different than most.  In Lina’s video there’s a knock at the hotel room door, Patti answers, and seconds later, she’s holding a baby.

 

Poof.

 

Just like that, we were parents.

 

But why is your pastor talking about babies and delivery videos on Sunday morning? Simply because our connection with the birth of babies, the importance that we put on such events and the emotions tied to them, are decidedly similar to an important spiritual message.  In the physical world, babies most often come into the world because two people loved one another, and the physical expression of that love allowed the creation of a new life.  But some people might be surprised to discover that our spiritual experience is really not so very different.  In John 15:9-17, Jesus says this:

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus’ entire focus is on love.  He says, my father loved me, and so I passed that love on to you.  Jesus wants us to stay in love with him and he says the way to do that, is to keep his commands, to actually do the things that he has asked his followers to do.  Jesus says that we are not his servants, because servants act out of blind obedience.  Instead, we are friends, because we have been told about the plans and the business of the one whom we follow.  Everything that God has told Jesus has been told to us.  And all of this results in our selection as people who will go and bear fruit. 

 

Bear fruit.

 

What does that mean?

It really is as simple as it sounds.  In the physical world bearing fruit is often understood to mean some sort of reproduction.  Children are referred to as being the “fruit of their parents.”  Trees, bushes and other plants bear fruit and their fruit contains the seeds necessary to raise up another generation of those same plants.  In the spiritual world, our calling is to produce new spiritual life.

 

But that still seems a little confusing.

 

Most of us understand where babies come from, but how exactly does one go about making spiritual babies?  Once again, despite our initial fear, it isn’t that difficult.  In Acts 10:44-48, we find Peter and some of his friends who have been called by God to visit in the home of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion.  This really is a big deal because a good Jew would never set foot in the home of a Gentile let alone someone who was a representative of the oppressive occupation of the nation of Israel.  But not only did God call Peter to go to such a place, something amazing happens while he is there.

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Peter answers God’s call to come to the home of a Gentile, a Roman Centurion, and preaches there.  Cornelius and his family were god-fearing people and Cornelius himself prayed regularly and gave generously to the poor.  But they did not know about Jesus and so God commanded Cornelius, in a dream, to invite Peter into his home and there Peter tells them the story of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.

 

And then, the impossible happens.

 

The Spirit of God descends upon the people gathered in that house, just as it did among the disciples at Pentecost, but this time, the people who received the filling of the Spirit were Gentiles and not Jews.  The Jewish followers of Jesus that had come with Peter were astounded.  The Gentiles were “those people.”  Good Jews weren’t supposed to associate with them.  Gentiles were generally unclean and perhaps even thought of as less than human.  Jesus’ teaching that God loved Gentiles was a radical idea that the Jews wrestled with, but this… this was truly stunning.  Here they witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles, even among their enemies, in a way that only the disciples and earliest followers of Jesus had ever seen.  There could now be no denying that Gentile followers of Jesus were loved every bit as much as his Jewish followers, their belief in Jesus was every bit as genuine, and every bit as acceptable to God, as the Jewish believers.  This was surprising, unexpected, and shocking.  And Peter realizes that he has no choice but to baptize these new believers in the name of Jesus, welcome them into the family, and teach them as much as he could over the next few days.

 

This was a seismic shift in the world of Peter and the disciples.  In that world, gods were often thought of as being local or regional.  People often would change gods when they moved to a new place.  Despite the fact that Israel’s god had always claimed to be, and was always worshipped as, the one god who created the universe and everything in it, many people still thought of God as being only the god of Israel or only the god of the Jews.  And despite Jesus often teaching that God’s love extended to the Gentiles, and despite the fact that Jesus himself had often offered grace and acceptance and even teaching to various Gentiles, this idea of local ownership persisted.  But now, these Jewish followers of Jesus, including their leader Peter, were witnesses to the outpouring of God’s spirit.  There could be no denying that God loved the Gentiles, or that the Gentiles were accepted by God as equals with the Jews, or even that people who had been thought of as their enemies, had been invited to be a part of God’s family.

 

All… really did mean… mean all.

 

Through baptism, these new believers were born into the family of God.  It didn’t happen by accident, but it happened as a result of the love that God had for them, as well as the love that Peter and the other believers had for Jesus.

 

And the result of this spiritual love is the birth of new spiritual life.

 

But once again, we end up asking ourselves, “What does this have to do with me?”

 

And once again, the Apostle John has a good answer. (1 John 5:1-6)

5:1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

John says that everyone who believes in Jesus is born of God, that’s birth.  And everyone who loves God, is God’s child.  And if we love God, then we will love God’s children by carrying out his commands.  This echoes what we have heard in the book of James where we were taught that while we are saved by faith and not by works, we expect that saved people will naturally do good works.  Similarly, John says is that while faith in Jesus Christ is what saves us, saved people will naturally do the things that God has commanded them to do.

 

John says that Jesus is different because he was born in two different ways; he was born of water, that is, as a human baby to a human mother, and he was born by blood, that is, through death and resurrection.  This uniquely qualifies Jesus to lead us, not only as a human leader, but as a spiritual one.

 

So where are we when we put these simple ideas together?

 

First, when we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are born as the spiritual children of God.

 

Second, as the children of God, we should naturally do the things that God has commanded us to do.

 

Third, Jesus has commanded us to go and bear fruit.  That might mean that Jesus wants us to display the fruits of the Spirt, such as love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, but Jesus is careful to specify that we are to not only bear fruit, but to bear fruit that lasts.  The fruits of the spirit are good, and they should indeed grow out of a life lived in devotion to God, but Jesus specifying fruit “that lasts” leads us to understand that Jesus is talking about the birth of new spiritual life.

 

Fourth, the way that we can bear fruit, the way that we can be a part of God giving birth to new spiritual life, is to obey Jesus’ command to love.  We are called to love one another, to love people who are different from us, to love the outcast, to love the disconnected, and even to love our enemies.  And, while we are loving them, in fact, because we love them, we are, like Peter, called to tell them about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

 

And when, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through you, those people come to faith in Jesus Christ, then spiritually speaking, the love between God and his people results in the birth of a new creation in Christ Jesus.

 

That is the story about the birds and the bees, the story about spiritual birth and reproduction.

 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last… (John 15:16)

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Ghosts and Transformation

“Ghosts and Transformation”

April 22, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Luke 24:36b-48         Acts 3:12-19               1 John 3:1-7

 

 

Have you seen all the paranormal shows on television?  It isn’t just funny movies like “Ghostbusters” anymore, there’s “Ghost Hunters,” “Paranormal Lockdown,” “Ghost Adventures,” “The Dead Files” and something like sixty others that are either currently on television or older series that are sometimes rebroadcast.  With varying degrees of seriousness, these shows describe, or investigate, the activities of supernatural, non-spiritual, beings.  More simply, ghosts.  These ghost hunters or paranormal investigators do not even consider the possibility that the disturbances they are searching for might well be the same sorts of creatures described in the Bible, but in any case there are some things that haven’t changed.

 

In two thousand years of history, there are some things that everyone seems to know about ghosts.  1) Ghosts can pass through walls and locked doors.  2) Ghosts are not bound by the laws of physics as we understand them.  By that I mean that not only can they pass through walls and locked doors, but that they can fly, swim, walk on water, and other things that living people cannot do.  3) Ghosts are generally quiet but can also occasionally communicate with the living.  4) Ghosts are not solid so you cannot shake hands with one and they have been known to pass right through a living person as well as solid objects.  And 5) because ghosts are not solid, they generally can’t move solid objects and certainly can’t eat or drink.

 

Do why does any of this matter?

 

It matters, because there were several moments when Jesus’ disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost, and each time it scared the snot out of them.  You may remember that when the disciples first saw Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a storm, they were frightened because they thought that he was a ghost.  Jesus had to call out to them, calm the storm, and explain that it was really Jesus.  And as we continue reading the Easter story, our first scripture also finds the disciples, shortly after listening to the story told by the men who had returned from Emmaus.  The disciples are afraid because, once again, they think they’ve seen a ghost.   (Luke 24:36b-48)

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

This clearly one of the best arguments that Jesus simply appeared, rather than knocking and being let in through the front door.  Jesus was supposed to be dead, but there he was and the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost.  Jesus shows them his hands, and his feet and lets them touch him.  But just to be sure, he asks for something to eat, is given a piece of fish, and eats it in front of them.  Since everyone knows that ghosts can’t eat solid food, Jesus is obviously trying to calm their fears and convince them that he is not a ghost before he begins teaching.  And once he begins his teaching, he explains from scripture why the Messiah had to suffer, die, be buried, and rise from the dead after three days.  Jesus then explains that because he has done this, the next step will be theirs.  Jesus declares that the news of repentance and forgiveness of sins must be preached to every nation, and that soon he would be sending them out to tell the world.

 

But not yet.

 

For now, Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending them a gift and that they need to stay in Jerusalem for a little longer until it arrives.  While they wait, Peter and the others travel to the temple daily to pray.  And one day, after the events of Pentecost, on the way to the temple, Peter heals a lame beggar that had spent years of his life begging at the same gate to the city.  After he is healed, he is seen running, and jumping, and praising God in the temple courts and that attracts a crowd.  People recognize the beggar that they have often walked past and they wonder if this could be the same man. (Acts 3:12-19)

 

12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 1

 

Remember, that just a month or so before, Peter and the other disciples had met Jesus while they were together in a house in which they had closed the windows and locked the doors.  They were living in fear.  They feared being discovered.  They feared being arrested.  They feared death.  They were afraid of ghosts.  They were afraid that Jesus was a ghost.  And Jesus had to keep telling them, “Peace be with you.”  A month or so earlier, Jesus could not communicate with the disciples without repeatedly telling them not to be afraid.  But now, together they walk boldly to the temple, Peter heals a lame beggar sitting at the gate to the city, and then stands up and witnesses and preaches to the gathering crowd about the risen Jesus.

 

In the span of a month to a month and a half, the disciples have been completely transformed.  Where they were quiet and afraid, they are now bold, courageous, loud, and in-your-face.  Where they had been afraid to be associated with Jesus, now they are proclaiming it in the center of the temple mount.  So dramatic is the change in the disciples, that one could easily say that they are hardly the same men.  The difference is both stark and dramatic.

 

This is not the change that you would expect if they had seen a ghost.

 

People who see ghosts tend to be more afraid, not less.

 

But meeting the risen Jesus has had quite the opposite effect.  Seeing Jesus, or rather, meeting Jesus, has transformed the disciples from a gaggle of frightened fisherman and businessmen into fearless and passionate witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.

 

For the disciples, meeting the risen Jesus was a transformational experience.  Their lives were fundamentally and demonstrably changed.  How they acted, what they did, and even where they did it, was dramatically different after the resurrection than before it.

 

But what does that mean for us?

 

We didn’t have the opportunity to walk with, and learn from, Jesus for three years.  Most of us haven’t been to seminary, or to bible college.  So what does it mean for us to follow Jesus and to be his disciples?

 

In what scholars think is probably a letter to churches in Asia, the Apostle John wrote these words:

(1 John 3:1-7)

3:1See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

At first that may not seem to answer our question, but if we look a little deeper, we can find what we were looking for.  First, John reminds us how much God loved us and how much of his love he “lavishly” poured out on us so that we could be called the children of God.  God loved us so much that he stepped down from his throne in heaven, came down to earth, became a human being, suffered alongside of us, and then was tortured, hung on a cross, and died in our place all so that we could be forgiven by, and reconciled to, God.  When we put our trust in Jesus we know that we will one day be like him and live with him in his father’s house in heaven.

 

But John also says that “All who have this hope, purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  John also says, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”  And finally, John says, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”   Each of these statements tells us something about who we should be and what we should be doing.

 

John knows what it means to have his life transformed by meeting the risen Jesus.

 

And that’s exactly what he’s describing for the rest of us.

 

Everyone who comes to faith in Jesus begins to pursue purity.  They do not immediately become pure, but begin to work at purifying themselves because our desire is to become more like Jesus.  John also says that if we have seen the risen Jesus or if we even know Jesus, then we will do everything we can to stop sinning.  We want to do what is right, because Jesus has done, and is doing, what is right.  What John is describing for us, is nothing less than the total transformation of our lives.  Meeting the risen Jesus has always been, and remains still, nothing short of a transformational experience.  Once we meet Jesus, we want to become like him and we begin to do whatever we can to do so.

 

Two thousand years ago, the disciples at first thought they were seeing a ghost.

 

But ghosts don’t transform lives.

 

Only a living and resurrected Jesus does that.

 

Two thousand years later, the risen Jesus is still transforming lives.

 

Jesus is transforming lives in this church today.

 

Have you met my Jesus?

 

If you haven’t, I’d love to talk to you.

 

Maybe today is the day, that your life begins to change.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

What Will You Do With Freedom?

“What Will You Do With Freedom?”

February 04, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 40:21-31                              Mark 1:29-39                         1 Corinthians 9:16-23

 

 

Have you ever heard of a man named Blanche Bruce?

 

Bruce was born in 1841 to Polly Bruce, a domestic slave, and her master Pettis Perkinson, a white plantation laborer.  As a slave, Blanche Bruce’s upbringing was comparatively privileged.  His father raised him alongside his legitimate half-brother and allowed him to be educated with him by their private tutor.  As he reached adulthood, his father legally freed him so that he could pursue an apprenticeship, but when the Civil War broke out many freed slaves were being returned to slavery and Bruce fled to Kansas.

 

At this point in our story, it’s worth noting that Blanche Bruce wasn’t the only slave, or freed slave, to escape from slavery.  Many people did.  But what makes Blanche Bruce worth remembering isn’t that he was a freed slave or an escaped slave, but what he did with his freedom once he had it.

 

In Kansas, he worked as a school teacher, and when he later moved to Mississippi he arrived there with only 75 cents to his name.  Even so, it only took a few years before he was successful as both a land speculator and as a planter.  His intellect, personality, and charisma also made him a rising star in the Mississippi Republican Party and as such, he became a sheriff, a tax collector, and the superintendent of education in his county.  In 1874 he was elected to the United States Senate by the Mississippi legislature and he became the second black senator in U.S. history and the first to serve an entire six-year term.  As senator, he defended black Civil War veterans, fought segregation, and spoke out for the rights of Chinese immigrants and Native Americans.  After his term as senator, Bruce later served as the register of the US Treasury and thus the first African American to have his signature appear on our nation’s paper currency.

 

While that’s all very impressive, the reason that I’m telling you the story of Blanche Bruce is that, as we read the lessons of scripture, we find that we need to be asking ourselves one of the same questions that he did.  We begin this morning with these words from the prophet Isaiah contained in Isaiah 40:21-31.

 

21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

 

There are two key points that Isaiah emphasizes in this passage and those same two points underlie everything that we do as followers of God, as Christians, and as a church.  First, God is uniquely powerful.  Our God is the creator of the universe and everything that exists and there is none like him or even remotely close to him.  Second, God is with us.  Our God chooses to care about, and to care for his followers.  Moreover, God chooses to work through his followers for the benefit of the entire world in a way that no other idol, god, or religion does.  We can choose to live our lives without God, but we are strongest with him when we choose to follow him and when we invite God to work with us and through us.

 

But what does that look like?

 

In Mark 1:29-39, we see Jesus ministering in Peter’s hometown, but even at the height of his popularity and when the demand for his ministry was at its highest, he left.

 

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

 

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

 

Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and then the entire town gathered at the door of the house and Jesus healed diseases, and cast out demons from the people who had come.  But early the next morning, even though more people were coming and everyone was looking for him, Jesus slips out of town to pray and doesn’t go back.

 

But why?

 

I made this point a week or two ago and I need to make it again today.  Jesus was the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, and he literally had the freedom to do anything that he wanted to do.  But the question that he asked himself was the same as the one that Blanche Bruce must have asked himself after he escaped to Kansas.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Jesus explains to his disciples that he had been sent by God, not to minister only to one town, but to travel from town to town and carry the message of God to as many people as possible in all of Galilee and in all of Israel.  Jesus had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, but with that freedom, he chose to do what God had called him to do.

 

Paul wrestled with this question as well and talks about it at some length in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 where he says:

 

16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

 

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 

Paul had a number of things to say and all of them are worth noting as we search for answers.  First, Paul explains that he really can’t boast, or even take much credit, for the things that he does because he is compelled, by God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But more than that, Paul says that he would suffer if he did not do what God had called him to do.  Second, Paul makes sure that his readers understand that he is a citizen of Rome, and as such, is absolutely free to do whatever he wants to do that is permissible under the law.  He is a slave to no one and in addition, Paul knows that he has been made free from sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But, with this freedom, he has chosen to do whatever he can to win souls for the kingdom of God.  Paul is free to do as he pleases, but he will go anywhere, and do almost anything, to rescue the lost.  He is fully committed to the goal of winning souls for Jesus Christ.  And finally,  Paul reminds the people of the church that no matter how committed we are, and no matter how devoted we are, or how much effort we expend, we won’t win every time or every person, but by doing all that we can, we will win some.

 

And this is where we return to Blanche Bruce.

 

As he fled Virginia and travelled toward Kansas, he knew that he could safely live there as a free man.  But remember the question that he had to ask himself along the way.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Today we must each ask ourselves that same question.  Isaiah reminds us that God is not only uniquely powerful, but that our God chooses to care about us.  God is free to do as he pleases, but chooses to work through his people to rescue the lost and to save the world.  Jesus made that same choice.  As a member of the Trinity, Jesus was free to do whatever he wanted, but he chose to do only the will of God.  Paul emphasizes that, as a Roman citizen he had a lot of rights under the law.  He was free to do whatever he wanted within the law.  Paul chose to answer the call of God and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with everything that he had at his disposal.  He would go anywhere, do anything, and become whatever he needed to become in order to save as many souls as he possibly could.  Paul understood that he wouldn’t win every single time, but that, with every effort, he would win sometimes.

 

And so, today we are faced with that same question.  We live in of one of the strongest nations on earth.  We are citizens of the greatest empire that has ever existed on the face of the earth.  Much of the world can only dream of things that most of us take completely for granted.  The poorest among us have things that more than half of the world will never have.  We have many basic rights that are guaranteed by the founding documents of our nation and we brag about the freedoms that we enjoy as a nation.

 

But the question we need to answer is the same as the one faced by Blanche Bruce, by the Apostle Paul, and by Jesus Christ.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)

“Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)”

January 28, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 18:15-20           1 Corinthians 8:1-13              Mark 1:21-28

Everywhere you go, there are leaders and followers.  In the military the division between leaders and followers can sometimes be painfully obvious and at others far less so.  Officers are the designated leaders, and enlisted soldiers are the designated followers, but even though their differences are obvious, this description is grossly oversimplified.  Every officer has another officer of higher rank over them, and the same is true among enlisted troops.  In the end, every leader is also a follower and every follower is also a leader.

The same is true in our local church.  We have a handful of people who chair the committees that help to run our church, but everyone who serves on those committees, even if they think of themselves as followers, are themselves leaders of our church.

But this morning, as we study scripture, we’re going to discover that leadership goes much farther down into the “ranks” of Jesus’ followers than we might expect.  We begin in Deuteronomy 18:15-20, where we hear this:

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

In the time of Moses, The people of Israel were afraid to hear from God directly and so, God promised to send prophets that would speak for him and the people were expected to listen to the prophets and obey the instructions that God sent.  But, at the same time, the prophets were bound to only speak the words of God and not to add instructions or commands that God had not sent.

But then came Jesus.

After all of the prophets, and after all of the teachers, priests, and theologians that lived in Israel throughout the centuries, Jesus was different.  While Jesus honored the commands of God as God required, Jesus did more.  (Mark 1:21-28)

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Jesus did things that only the greatest of God’s prophets had done… and more.

And Jesus interpreted the laws of God in ways that went far beyond what any of the teachers of the law had ever done.  Jesus taught, not as someone who was attempting to interpret what the prophets had said, but as someone who absolutely knew what God wanted and what God had intended.  Jesus wasn’t a follower of God, Jesus was God.  Jesus could do miracles because the Spirit of God lived within him.  For these reasons, Jesus taught with the authority of a true leader.  He was there when God gave instructions to the prophets and he knew what God meant.  And so, as Jesus taught, he wasn’t really interpreting what he thought God meant, but instead was simply explaining the truth and the facts that he knew.

Jesus was different.

Even the demons and evil spirits knew who he was and obeyed him.

Jesus had authority.  Jesus was a leader.

But what does that mean for all of us?

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Paul says this…

8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

At first, this may not sound like it has anything to do with leadership, but stay with me for a minute.  Paul says that we cannot have any gods other that the one God, God the Father, and only one Lord, who is Jesus Christ who created all that is and who gives us life. But Paul also speaks of a dispute between strong believers, and weak believers in a particular issue of his time that related to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Stronger believers had taken hold of the understanding of our God being the only god and not simply the strongest among a selection of other gods that the people had always known.  Strong believers understood that food that had been sacrificed to idols was no different than ordinary food.  For them, there was nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols.

But other believers had not made all of these connections.  For them, food that had been sacrificed to idols was tainted.  For them, eating such food felt like they were worshipping someone other than God and by doing so they themselves were defiled and corrupted in the eyes of God.  Seeing the strong believers eating food that had been sacrificed to idols made them doubt their faith.  It made them wonder if it wasn’t okay to worship more than one god.  It made them wonder if the strong believers, the leaders perhaps of their church community, were worshipping more than one god.

Even though Paul understands that there was absolutely nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, he knew that doing so endangered the faith of newer, or weaker, believers.  And so Paul’s instructions were that the people who were stronger, or more knowledgeable, were to live their lives as an example to the weaker ones.  They were to deliberately live in such a way that supported and strengthened the faith of others in their community of faith even if that meant not exercising their rights to do things that they knew were permissible to do.

And that’s where we intersect with our lives today.  Paul understood that the people who were more knowledgeable, because of their knowledge, but also simply because of their membership in the church body, were leaders.  What one person in the church did or did not do was an example to other people in the church, and their actions could either strengthen, or weaken the faith of others.  But if that is true, then we can also understand that this applies to people in our families and in our communities, who are outside of the church and who might not have any faith at all.  The things that we do, and the things that we do not do, can either draw people toward faith in God and in Jesus Christ, or they can push people away.  Today, eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols is not an issue that we deal with, but there are other, more modern issues that do.  Our complaining, or our gossiping, or our use of alcohol, or our ownership of firearms, might all be reasons that other believers today might struggle with their faith as well as others.

Jesus was God in human flesh.  He was the ultimate leader.  He could easily have done a great many things that he chose not to do.  Instead he followed the rules that God had laid down for the prophets.  Jesus taught with authority, but he did not teach anything that contradicted earlier teachings of God.  Everything that Jesus did was intended to draw people toward God and toward faith in God.  Today, all of our leaders have this same calling.  As we follow God, we must live our lives, and perform our ministries in such a way that our faith, and our lives, does not damage the faith of fellow believers or push unbelievers farther away from faith.  But since all of us have knowledge of God, and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and since all of us have faith in him, then every one of us fall under Paul’s instructions because every one of us, regardless of how strong or how weak our faith might be, have a stronger faith than someone else inside, or outside, the church.

You see, in this way, all of us are leaders.

All of us are called to live our lives as an example to others so that their faith is strengthened and not weakened.  Even if that means we must voluntarily surrender rights that we know we have and stop doing things that we know are perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God.

You see, Jesus was not a follower.  But because we follow him, and because we too are filled by the Spirit of God, we are not just followers of Jesus.  All of us are the spiritual leaders of everyone who is less mature, or who has less knowledge than we do.

We are all followers.  But we are also all leaders.

And we need to live our lives as an example to others so that they will be drawn closer to Jesus and pushed farther away.

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print 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.

 

A Bigger Baptism

“A Bigger Baptism”

January 21, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 1:1-5                         Mark 1:4-11                           Acts 19:1-7

 

 

As you probably know by now, I am a fan of science fiction and franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek.  In the Star Trek original series, as well as in the Next Generation, we would occasionally see a technologically advanced civilization with starships encounter a far more primitive one.  The Federation of Planets had rules about such encounters.  There were rules because if a primitive society would see Starfleet crew members using their technology they would attribute those abilities to magic or believe that the members of Star Fleet were gods.  Starfleet understood that just the act of seeing something could change the course of history forever.  Simply knowing that something was possible could change the direction of science and culture forever.

 

Now, imagine with me a world where fire fighters were stuck in the previous century.  No new technology has been developed for a hundred years.  There are no fire trucks, or hoses, or pressurized fire hydrants, or internal building sprinkling systems.  In this world, the world of firefighting is essentially one of prevention and rescue.  Buildings would have buckets of sand that could be used to fight fires and possibly some sort of bucket brigade, but the primary role of a firefighter in the event of a major fire was to try to rescue those unfortunate souls who were still inside the building or otherwise endangered by the fire.

 

This seems ridiculous to us because while fire prevention and rescue are important roles of a fire fighter, we understand that fighting the fire itself with water and whatever tools we can place at their disposal, is a critical and vital part of what firefighters do.  Firefighting is bigger than simply working at prevention and rescue.  With that in mind, we begin this morning by reading from Genesis 1:1-5, where we hear these words:
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

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

 

While this passage is probably familiar to all of us, I want to point out that in it we see two persons of the Trinity.  In verse one, we hear “In the beginning God…” and in verse two, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  Similarly, as we read the story of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River in Mark 1:4-11, we see in it all three persons of the Trinity.

 

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

 

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

 

As Jesus (who is the Son) comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends from heaven like a dove, and the voice of God the Father declares his love for Jesus and declares that he is pleased with his Son.  I know that understanding the Trinity can sometimes be difficult, but it is because of passages like these that we know that it is real and we are compelled to wrestle with it.

 

But then in Acts 19:1-7, the Apostle Paul meets some disciples of Jesus who knew about God, who knew about Jesus, and who knew about baptism, but were missing a vital piece of the puzzle.


19:1 
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

 

The believers and disciples that Paul met in Ephesus had been baptized by John, but they had not heard the Good News of Jesus Christ or at least had not heard all of it.  Perhaps they had not heard the story about Jesus’ death and resurrection.  All they knew was what John had preached, that you had to repent of your sins.  They were missing a vital piece of the puzzle.  It was as if they were trying to fight fires without a knowledge of water, or without fire trucks, hoses, pumps, and pressurized water systems.  They had been baptized by John the Baptist as a symbol of their repentance from sin, but they had never been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and they had never received the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps like a primitive society that had been exposed to advanced technology, simply knowing that things could be different, changed the course of their lives forever.  Knowing about Jesus, and knowing about a bigger baptism, they were filled with the Spirit, spoke in foreign languages they had never learned, and were given the gift of prophecy.

 

What these believers had known was true but their knowledge was missing a critical and vital component.  Yes, baptism is about repenting from our sins.  And yes, baptism is an outward sign that for us, takes the place of circumcision.  But while those things are both true, these things alone are missing a critical and vital component and that is the participation of the Spirit of God in our baptism.  Ever since the day of Pentecost, whenever we are baptized we invite the Holy Spirit to descend upon us, fill us, work within us and through us to do the work of Jesus Christ in our world.  John’s baptism was big, and it was important, but this is the bigger baptism.

 

Being filled with the Spirit of God is life changing.  It is such a powerful thing that simply knowing about it can change the lives and the futures of others.  And so, unlike the officers and crew of a starship in Star Trek, we must not hide ourselves from people who haven’t heard the good news of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Instead, we must do all that we can to tell as many people as we can so that lives can be changed, people can hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, be baptized themselves, and receive the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

 

You have it within your power to change the course of history forever.

 

All that you have to do is to trust God and share what you know with the people around you.

 

What you have within you is life altering, world changing stuff because it is fueled and powered by nothing less than the Spirit of the holy creator God.

 

We can’t hide out in the church.

 

We musts go out from this place… and change the world.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Foreigners or Family?

“Foreigners or Family?”

January 07, 2018

(Epiphany)

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Ephesians 3:1-12                               Matthew 2:1-12

 

 

Since this is the beginning of a new year, let’s take a moment to be introspective.  Let’s take a look deep inside of ourselves. Over the past month or so we’ve discussed the idea of “us” and “them” a few times and we’re going to touch on that one more time today as well.  And so, the question I want you to consider is this: who in your life is “the other?”  Perhaps if you are a college educated person with college educated parents, “the other” is a person who works a blue collar job for an hourly wage.  But if you are a blue collar, union member from a long line of union members, then maybe “the other” is someone who wears a tie to work every day in some high rise building downtown, or in New York or some other big city.  Maybe “the other” person is a CEO, or a multimillionaire, whose job, and entire lifestyle is really more than you can even imagine.  Or maybe your life has been mostly comfortable and “the other” is a homeless person who is so unlike you, and unlike your life’ experiences, that you can’t even imagine how they got there or what it must be like to call a little spot under a bridge “home.”  Many of our families have been living on this continent for so long that we have no idea what it’s like to be someone who was born somewhere else and immigrated here or who has moved here temporarily on a work visa.  In many places that I have lived, and I imagine that this area isn’t terribly different, I knew people who had never left the county they were born in, and quite a few who had never been anywhere outside the state of Ohio.  For them, “the other” can often be people who travel or almost anyone who has come here from Texas, or California, or somewhere else, especially those who have come here from another country.

 

Think about who “the other” might be for you.  Who is it whose life, and whose life experiences, are so vastly different that yours, that you have a hard time understanding the things that they do, how they act, the choices that they make, the things that they like and dislike, and who they are as a person?

 

Who is it that is so different from you that you can barely imagine having a conversation with them, let alone consider the possibility that one day you might be friends?

 

Got it?

 

Now, keep that person in mind as we consider our scriptures for today, which is Epiphany, the day that we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men.

 

We begin once again by reading from the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60:1-6 where we hear these words…


60:1
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

 

Isaiah writes of a time, in the future, when God’s messiah would come and the entire world would rejoice, bring gifts, and bring praise and worship to God.  From our side of history, we take this for granted, but in the time of Isaiah, and up until the coming of Jesus, Israel was God’s chosen people.  God had made a covenant with Abraham and it was only his family that had a relationship with God.  In order for other people, or other nations to worship Israel’s god, they had to come to Israel and to her temple, and worship there.  In order for them to follow God and to have a relationship with him, they would have to be circumcised (at least the men, obviously) and become practicing Jews, but in order to be a practicing Jew, it was necessary to make occasional visits to the temple to make sacrifices and to celebrate holy days.  While people from other nations occasionally came to faith in Israel’s god and converted to Judaism, it was fairly rare.  For the most part, the people of Israel considered foreigners to be “the other.”  Israel was “us” and everyone else was “them.”  Hundred of years had passed since women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba had converted to Judaism, but even though they belonged to the genealogy of King David, they were still referred to as Gentile women.  Gentiles and foreigners were always “the other.”

 

This is one reason that Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that breaks with tradition and includes five women (women were rarely, if ever included in official genealogies), three of whom were foreigners and Gentiles.  From the beginning, Matthew makes sure that his reader understands that the thing that God is doing is not limited to men, or even limited to the nation of Israel.  And then we come to Matthew 2:1-12, where we hear about the coming of the Wise Men.


2:1 
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

A great deal can be said about the coming of the Magi, but for today it is enough to point out that this is exactly the beginning of what Isaiah was talking about.  Foreigners, Gentiles, people who were clearly “the other” came to Israel from a distant country rejoicing, bringing gifts, and bringing praise and worship to God.  Just as Isaiah had said, “the other” was being invited in.  Two weeks ago, I talked about outsiders who were invited in.  These were people like the shepherds, people who technically belonged but who, for the most part, lived on the fringes of society.  But the Magi are an entirely different class of outsiders.  These aren’t people from the family of Abraham who had taken a bad path, or who smelled bad, or who were cast aside because they were poor, or even because they were unclean, the Magi were totally outside.  The Magi were never a part of God’s covenant.

 

They… were never… us.

 

Until now.

 

In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul explains just how dramatically, and earth-shatteringly radical and important this really was.


3:1 
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

 

Paul’s message is that with the coming of Jesus, the Gentiles are now not only welcomed into the Temple, but are adopted into God’s family as co-heirs with Israel, members of one body, one church, and one people.

 

For almost everyone in Israel and Judea, everyone who was Jewish, and everyone who worshipped Israel’s God, the Gentiles, more than anyone else, had been considered to be “the other.”  While shepherds, prostitutes, and even those that collaborated with the enemy like tax collectors, and half breeds like the Samaritans, were considered to be aliens and outsiders, they at least had some connection, however distant, to the family of Abraham.  But the Gentiles were the ultimate outsiders.  They were completely outside the family of Abraham.  They weren’t Jewish at all.  They had never belonged.  As much as Israel admired King David and King Solomon, and even though they looked forward to a King that would come from David’s royal family, they still considered women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba to be Gentiles and outsiders.  Despite converting to Judaism, despite marrying into the family, despite worshipping Israel’s god, and despite being the matriarchs of one of Israel’s greatest families, they were still thought to be “the other” because they were foreigners.

 

But both Matthew and Paul are very clear that the coming of Jesus changed all that.

 

With the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, there is no longer anyone whom we can consider to be “the other.”

 

The most ‘other’ outsiders that existed had not only been invited in, they had been adopted as brothers and sisters.  And not only were they adopted, they were included as equal in God’s inheritance, co-heirs with God’s chosen people.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, there is no longer anyone that we can think of as “the other.”  Not the rich, not the poor, not the educated or the uneducated, not city people, not country people, not blue collar or white collar, union or non-union, well to do or homeless, and not American, immigrant, or foreigner.

 

There are no longer outsiders.

 

There is no longer anyone that we can call foreigners.

 

There is only…  family.

 

And Paul says that, as the church, God has given us the mission to make sure that everyone hears the story of Jesus, and feels like family in the church.

 

In this New Year, let us resolve to be that kind of a church.

 

 

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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.