“He’s Here! Now What?”

“He’s Here!  Now What?”

December 17, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11                1 Thessalonians 5:16-24                   John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

 

 

Have you ever waited for the arrival of someone that you didn’t know?  Perhaps you went to the airport to pick someone up as a favor for a friend, or perhaps you went on a blind date or to dinner and had to wait for a friend of a friend.  In either case, although you knew that they were coming, you had no idea what to expect once they arrived.

 

In the 1982 movie “Poltergeist,” after several curious, but harmless episodes in which chairs moved by themselves and the Freeling’s daughter, Carol-Ann, could hear voices coming from the static on the television set, suddenly one morning young Carol-Ann Freeling announces to the family in a sing-song voice,… “They’re here.”  And when asked just who it was that “was here” she answered, “The TV people.”  As we heard this, moviegoers immediately knew that something big was about to happen, but we had no idea what it might be.

 

This is very much the kind of message that we hear this week in scripture as we celebrate the third week of Advent, and light the Shepherd’s candle.  For eight hundred years Israel had anticipated the arrival of God’s promised messiah, but no one really knew what to expect despite all the prophecies that had been given to them such as those contained in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11.


61:1 
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

 


“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

 

Speaking in a voice that has been assumed to be that of the messiah, we hear him say, “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me” and “I the Lord, love justice.”  The messiah is described in this passage as blessed, clothed with garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness, a bridegroom, a priest, and a source of righteousness and praise from all nations.  So many things were said about the messiah that people, even the leaders of Israel and the teachers of Law had all kinds of different ideas.  Particularly in a time when Israel was under the domination of a foreign army, many thought that the messiah would be a military ruler who would raise an army and cast out the Romans.  In the years that the people of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, people thought that the messiah would be the one who would lead them to freedom and back to Israel as Moses had.

 

And so, when the angels announced the arrival of the messiah to the shepherds on a hillside outside of Bethlehem, no one really knew what to expect.  And thirty-three years later, as Jesus is about to begin his ministry, still, no one knew what to expect. As John the Baptist announces the arrival of the messiah, we hear conversations like this (John 1:6-8, 19-28):

 

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

 

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

 

John is described to us as a witness that was sent to testify to God’s people about the light so that all might believe.  And as he witnessed to the people, they asked John if he was Elijah returned to life.  The people saw John, saw his appearance, saw that he was dressed like the scriptures had described Elijah, and they recognized that he was a prophet that had been sent by god.  But John answers that he is not Elijah, but has indeed been sent by God to announce the arrival of the messiah, that he is the one that Isaiah described as “a voice of one calling in the wilderness.”  John says that “among you stands one you do not know” who is so great, that John, despite being a prophet sent by God, was not worthy of untying the messiah’s sandals.

 

John’s message to the people was much the same as the message of the Shepherds on the day of Jesus’ birth and also like the message from five year old Carol-Ann Freeling in the “Poltergeist” movie.

 

He’s here.

 

John wanted to be certain that the people understood that the messiah was not coming “someday” but that he had already arrived and lived among them just as he rules and reigns and lives among us today.

 

After hearing John’s answer, the question that the people had was much the same as the question that we should be asking ourselves as well.

 

If the messiah lives among us… now what?

 

Knowing what we know, what should we do about it?

 

And in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24), he answers that very question saying

 

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

 

Rejoice always.  Pray continually. Allow God’s Spirit to move within you instead of quenching it with your own preconceived ideas about what you think that God should be doing. Hold on to what is good; reject every kind of evil so that your body, your soul, and your spirit might be kept blameless for the day of judgement.

 

The message of Christmas, especially on the day we light the shepherd’s candle, is that the messiah has arrived and lives among us. There is no need to wonder what we should do next.

 

Through him, God calls us to be faithful.
There is no need to wonder what we should do next.

 

The messiah is here.

 

God calls us to be faithful.
That’s what’s next.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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Hatred, Faith, Restoration

“Hatred, Faith, Restoration”

August 20, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 45:1-15                      Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                                 Matthew 15:21-28

 

 

Have you ever broken anything that was valuable to you but were later able to fix it so that you were able to enjoy it for years to come?

 

I suppose that if there is any advantage to breaking things, it is in the accomplishment and gratitude we feel when they are repaired and restored to us.

 

I have to tell you that I was disappointed.

 

After beginning the story of Joseph and his captivity in Egypt, I was looking forward to working through that story with you over the span of several weeks but, unfortunately, as we follow the lectionary, they have instead chosen to skip to the end of the story.  This is still a great story, but the shift, I think, has been so abrupt, that I need to fill you in on what we missed so that you can more easily make sense of what is happening in today’s story.

 

Last week, we heard the story about how Joseph was sold into slavery because of the jealousy and hatred of his older brothers.  The only brother that we didn’t hear about was his one younger brother, Benjamin, who was almost certainly too young at that time to leave home, and was, therefore, the only innocent sibling.  After Joseph was sold into slavery, a number of horrible as well as truly wonderful things happened to him, but each one demonstrated that God was truly with him and in the end Joseph was able to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh of Egypt.  These dreams told of a great famine.  First there would be seven years of bountiful harvests, and then there would come seven more years of drought and famine.  Because even Pharaoh recognized that Joseph’s ability to interpret these dreams was supernatural, Joseph was elevated to a position of power second only to the Pharaoh himself so that he could oversee the preparations for the famine that was to come.  It was Joseph who was in charge of building great storehouses for the harvests of Egypt so that there would be food to eat during seven years of famine.  And, when the famine came, it was Joseph who was in charge of making sure that the food was distributed fairly, and that some could be sold to people who were not from Egypt.  In this capacity, Joseph sits on a throne and, meets his own brothers who have come to beg for food to feed their families back home.  But since Joseph now speaks Egyptian, and by all appearances looks to be an Egyptian, including being clean shaven rather than bearded, his brothers have no idea who he is.

 

Joseph actually set them up to appear to be thieves in order to make them return a second time with his brother Benjamin.  This caused them great fear because after losing his son Joseph, their father never allowed Benjamin to go anywhere.  And so, we rejoin the story in Genesis 45:1-15 where Joseph finally breaks down and reveals his true identity.
45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

 

Imagine how his brothers felt.  For decades Joseph’s brothers lived with the guilt and shame of what they had done.  For decades they kept this great secret from their father.  For decades they lie awake at night imagining the horrors of what might have happened to their brother, imagining how he had suffered, and imagining how he had likely died.  And then, on this day, far from home and surrounded by armed Egyptian soldiers, they meet Joseph and discover that he is the second most powerful man in the world and can end their lives, or worse, with just a few words.

 

They were so afraid that they were unable to even speak.

 

And yet, instead of terror, revenge, or murder, what Joseph has in mind is thanksgiving, reunion, restoration, and reconciliation.  Joseph’s faith has brought him to understand that God was in control all along.  Through their hatred, betrayal, and deception, God had brought Joseph to Egypt, and even through his misfortune and suffering, God had brought Joseph to a place where he could save the lives of the people of Egypt, as well as those of his entire family.

 

And then we read this story of faith in Matthew 15:21-28.

 

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

 

There are several things that we need to remember in order to better understand this story.  First, Jesus is not in Israel any longer but in what had been, at various times, Syria and Phoenicia, and is therefore known as Syro-Phoenicia.  You may remember that the region of Galilee is in the far north of Israel, and as you keep going north you come to Tyre and then to Sidon.  If you kept going, the next large city is that of Beirut, so in modern terms, Jesus is now in Lebanon.  Second, Jesus has often made it clear that his mission and ministry during his time on earth was to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  While he did, occasionally, reach out to Gentiles, the focus of his mission was always to the Jews.  And so, as this woman comes asking Jesus to heal her daughter, the disciples urge him to send her away because she is neither Jewish nor even a citizen of Israel.  Even so, she persists in calling out to Jesus for help and so Jesus points out that you wouldn’t allow your own children to go hungry because you threw their food to the dogs.  [It is important to note here, that in Greek, there is a derogatory word for dogs that was used to insult people, and this is not that word.  This word is a friendlier term that we can understand, not as an insult, but simply as a comparison between children and pets and is not likely to have been intended, or received as an insult.]  But the woman rises to Jesus’ challenge and defends herself by arguing that Jesus’ power is so great, that what she wants is no more than crumbs from the table that the children would never miss.  Her understanding allows Jesus to heal her daughter and also to compliment her for her great faith.

 

As we remember these things, what we note is that although his mission is to the Jews, Jesus still cares for people who are not.  We also note that faith in the power of God and of Jesus is not limited to the disciples or to the Jews and it is this faith that opened the door to the healing of the woman’s daughter.  With this understanding, we can see that instead of being reluctant to heal an outsider or a foreigner, Jesus welcomes the opportunity to reveal God’s grace and mercy to everyone who is willing and able to have faith in him.

 

In Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Paul explains it this way as he speaks about the “lost-ness” of the Jews:

 

11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.

 

29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

 

Paul reminds us that at one time, all of us were lost, all of us were disobedient to God and, when we came to faith in Jesus Christ, all of us received mercy and were rescued from our disobedience from its consequences.  Without our disobedience, Paul argues, we would never have needed the mercy of God and the rescue of Jesus Christ.  It is Jesus who brings rescue, restoration, and reconciliation.  It is through Jesus that we receive God’s mercy, are rescued from sin and death, and are restored to the family of God.

 

It was Joseph’s faith that allowed him to have perspective on the suffering of his life.  Rather than being angry and vengeful toward his brothers, Joseph understood that their betrayal, and his many years of slavery and suffering, was used by God to rescue all of them.  Joseph’s faith allowed him to forgive his brothers and bring about the rescue of the future nation of Israel, the reunion of his family, and the restoration and reconciliation between him and those who had betrayed him.  Without their betrayal, which was redeemed and used by God, their entire family might easily have starved, or been enslaved and absorbed into the nation of Egypt.

 

Although the Syro-Phoenician woman who pestered Jesus until he heard her cry was neither a Jew nor an Israelite, her faith allowed her to receive God’s mercy and allowed her daughter to be healed by Jesus.

 

And Paul explains that although the Jews failure to believe in Jesus has separated them from God, they have not been rejected by God.  They have instead been called by God to accept Jesus, to come to faith in him just as the Syro-Phoenician woman did, so that they can receive God’s mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration.

 

And so, we should remember two things: First, that although we all suffer, we may not immediately understand our suffering, but it is entirely possible that, like Joseph, God is using our suffering to take us to a place where we can be a blessing to others, or even to change the world.  Second, as we go out into the world and as we meet people who do not know Jesus, what we offer them is the opportunity to open the door of faith so that the understanding of God, along with his mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration, can flow freely into their lives.

 

Faith is the key that opens our lives to healing, hope, and reconciliation.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Struggle

“Struggle”

August 06, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 32:22-31                                Romans 9:1-5                                     Matthew 14:13-21

 

 

 Have you ever just sat and watched a butterfly?

 

At home we have a butterfly bush that is a favorite of humming birds and butterflies and at certain times of the year it can be crowded with flying things.  Once, at one of the zoos that we visited, we got to go through a greenhouse that was filled with butterflies.  It was an amazing experience.  Many of us have had science teachers who brought in a chrysalis and set it in an aquarium where we could watch it.  And if we were lucky, we were in school when the time came for the butterfly or moth to open the chrysalis, struggle greatly for an hour or more, climb out, and begin its new life.  But it is here when the butterfly is in the most danger, both from nature and from kindhearted humans.  While the butterfly is attempting to climb out of the chrysalis and while its wings are drying, it is nearly defenseless and utterly vulnerable to predators.  But it is also in great danger from human beings who want to be helpful because while its climb out of the chrysalis into the world is filled with struggle, if a helpful human being opens the chrysalis and lays the creature on a branch, that creature will never be a butterfly.  Its wings will never form properly, and its body will always be bloated and misshapen.  In this case, kindness has robbed the butterfly of the struggle that would have forced fluids out of its swollen body and into its wings.  Those fluids needed to come out of its body and expand its wings into their final form and the only way that they could move from one place to the other was through the struggle to squeeze out of the chrysalis and climb out into the world.  It is the struggle that completes the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, and without the struggle that miraculous transformation never happens.

 

In today’s scriptures we are reminded that much of our life, and much of our spiritual life, is filled with struggle.  But, as unpleasant as that struggle can be, it is often the vehicle that carries us from one side of transformation to the other.  We begin in Genesis 32:22-31, where we find Jacob preparing to meet his estranged brother Esau.  When they had last seen one another, Jacob had swindled Esau out of his birthright, out of his father’s blessings, and out of a third of his father’s estate and so, Jacob was afraid of what might happen at their meeting.  With that in mind we hear this:

 

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

 

As Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, he is sending his herds, his servants, and even his family ahead of him in waves, each carrying greetings and gifts in the hope that Esau will be persuaded not to kill him or take revenge in some other way.  And on this last night before their meeting, in that place, during the night, he meets… and wrestles with, God.  Jacob demands a blessing from God before they part, but in the process wrenches his hip and acquires a limp that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.  Jacob names that places, Penial, which means “face of God” because he knew that he had met God face to face, and God gives Jacob the name Israel, which in this context likely means “struggles with God.”  On the evening before he meets his brother, a meeting which might literally become a life or death fight between brothers, Jacob meets, struggles with, and is blessed by God.  For the rest of his life he limped because of this struggle, and with every step he remembered that it was this same struggle that brought him God’s blessing.

 

The Apostle Paul lived a life that was full of struggle but in Romans 9:1-5, he outlines one of his greatest frustrations saying…


9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

 

Paul was born and raised as a Jew and he had always been proud if his heritage, his religion, and his God.  As he travelled on the road to Damascus to capture and punish those people whom he believed were perverting and damaging his faith, Paul met the risen Jesus.  Paul’s life was changed in an instant and he knew that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the rescuer of God’s people.  But the joy of that knowledge came with what he described as “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart because despite his love and respect for the heritage of Israel, despite the stories and the teaching of the patriarchs, despite the covenants of God, despite the construction of and the worship in the temple, and despite the ancestry of and the genealogy of Jesus, many Jews would be lost because they did not have faith in the messiah.  Paul’s great desire was to save Israel, and he wished that he could be cursed and trade places with his people so that they could be saved… but he could not.  Paul continually struggled with the difference between his compassion and love for his people and the reality that they did not know, trust, or believe in the Messiah Jesus.

 

But it was this struggle that drove him, constantly, throughout his entire life, to preach the good news, and to use whatever energy that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

And then in Matthew 14:13-21 we read the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and we discover that there are everyday struggles in the Christian life as we try to be obedient and faithful.  We join the story, just as Jesus learns that his friend, and his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded.

 

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

Jesus is tired and he is grieving at the news he has just received.  And so he withdraws to a remote and quiet place so that he can be alone.  But the crowds follow him and as much as Jesus wants to rest, as much as he wants to grieve the loss of his friend and relative, he feels the needs of the people, has compassion on them, and cares for their needs instead of his own.  And as evening comes, the disciples realize that all these people, 5,000 men along with many of their wives and children, will need to eat and so they urge Jesus to send them away so that they can go home or buy food for themselves in nearby villages.  But instead of sending them away, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the hungry with the five small barley loaves and two fish that they found in the sack lunch of one small boy.  For the disciples this was an impossible problem.  In their eyes, they knew that one sack lunch was not nearly enough to feed a crowd of ten thousand or more people.  But Jesus sees the world differently.  Jesus never told the disciples that they should feed everyone a full meal but only that they should give the people… something.  And surprisingly, that is exactly what Jesus did.  He took what little they had, prayed over it, and shared.  Jesus shared what they had, God blessed it, and it was enough.  We are left to wonder what would have happened if the disciples had chosen to share what they had instead of complaining that they didn’t have enough.

 

The disciples of Jesus struggled with the difference between their compassion for the people in the crowd and the reality of one small sack lunch.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their generosity and the reality of their poverty.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their desire to be obedient and their willingness to trust Jesus with all that they had.  The disciples struggled because their faith was inadequate to overcome their understanding of reality.

 

As the followers of Jesus, we struggle with these same things today.  Jesus asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and the orphans, to speak for the voiceless, to be fathers to the fatherless, to love the unloved, to love mercy, and to have compassion for the people around us.  But we struggle because we don’t think we have enough.  We come to Jesus thinking that we need more, that we need more food, that we need more money, we need more time, we need to be a bigger church, we think that we simply don’t have enough.  But Jesus’ answer to our struggles is the same today as it always has been.

 

We don’t need more.

 

We just need to trust Jesus enough to share what we already have.

 

Jacob’s struggle brought him God’s blessing.

 

Paul’s struggle drove him to preach the good news, and to use all that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

Our struggle is the same as that of the disciples.  Every day we struggle because we think that we don’t have enough faith, or enough money, or enough of something else.  But Jesus reminds us that we don’t need more.

 

What we need, is to trust Jesus with what we already have.

 

And we have faith that as we struggle, like the butterfly, day by day, we are being transformed, into the people God created us to be.

 

 

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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.

 

I Can’t

“I Can’t”

July 09, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

Have you ever felt like you were in too deep?

 

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

 

We’ve all been there.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Say that with me.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“I will go,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rebekah too seems to say these same words.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It’s time that we all said..

 

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

 

 

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

 

Eternity Restored

“Eternity Restored”

May 28, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 1:6-14                           John 17:1-11                         1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

 

What does it mean to be “restored”?

 

There are some excellent clues for us in popular culture on television shows like Counting Cars, American Restoration, and to a lesser extent Fast n’ Loud, American Pickers, and Pawn Stars.  On all of these shows the viewers, at least occasionally, get to see old, damaged, and sometimes totally derelict artifacts from our history brought in and lovingly disassembled, repaired, and returned to factory new condition.  Often on these shows, it’s all about cars, but sometimes it’s also about motorcycles, bicycles, old signs, vending machines, glass domed gas pumps, and a host of other things.  Sometimes the restorations are so beautiful that they actually look better than the originals did coming off the assembly line.

 

Some years ago, Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican were restored to their former glory by art preservationists.  Centuries of soot and dirt were removed, damaged areas repaired, and the colors returned to the bright and vibrant shades they once were.  Many people were shocked by the transformation and textbooks about Michelangelo’s work had to be rewritten because the colors that he used were brighter and more “cheerful” than the art world had long believed.  What was once believed to be a painting which was deliberately dark and foreboding was in reality full of bright colors that had been hidden by centuries of accumulated soot and smoke from candles and oil lamps.

 

But what does any of that have to do with the church?

 

And the answer is… everything.

 

Let’s begin this morning by reading Acts 1:6-14, where we find the disciples of Jesus asking him a question about restoration that seems to be less than satisfying at first, but which ultimately tells us a lot.

 

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

 

Since this conversation happens after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples already understand that Jesus is not a conventional king and does not intend to raise an army, throw out the Roman legions, and rule Israel in the way that earthly kings ordinarily did.  The disciples already understand that they are not going to be rich and powerful advisors to the king.  And so they want to know when Jesus will restore Israel to greatness.  What they seek to understand from their question is simply to discover when Jesus will return to set up his eternal kingdom.

 

But Jesus replies that they don’t need to know.  What they do need to know is that God intends to give them great power through the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they can be witnesses for Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Jesus’ message is that it isn’t important for us to know when he will return, because the important thing for us to know is what we are supposed to be doing while we wait for him to return.  Although I didn’t realize that we would be talking about this exact scripture this week, this is the message that I shared with our children last week. We are to begin where we live (Jerusalem), go out to reach our neighbors (Judea), including the neighbors we don’t like very much (Samaria), and from there we are to go out to tell the story of Jesus to the entire world.

 

It is both interesting and important that the very next part of the story finds the disciples staring into the sky after Jesus ascends into heaven.  And as they stare at the sky, angels appear to tell them that since Jesus is gone, and since Jesus will eventually return, they should quit standing around staring at the sky and get to work.

 

John’s account of this same event includes a few more details saying (John 17:1-11)

 

17:1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

 

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

 

In this prayer, Jesus explains that eternal life is given to those who know God and who know Jesus Christ.  The mission of Jesus was to reveal God to the people of the world and he notes that those that follow him also obey him and understand that everything that Jesus has given to them came from God.  Finally, Jesus prays that God would protect his followers so that they might become one with each other and one with both God and Jesus.

 

But the road to one-ness and unity is not a road that is full of rainbows and unicorns where everything is painless and wonderful.  Instead, in his letter to the church in Asia Minor, Peter warns the people that life is likely to be more than a little difficult. (1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11).

 

4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 

 

5:Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

 

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

 

10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Peter explains that following the way of Jesus Christ, being his disciple, and doing the things that Jesus taught, is likely to not only be difficult, but that we will probably be insulted, suffer in various ways, and that “fiery ordeals” are likely to be more common that rare.  Our goal is not to have a perfect life that is free from pain, but to be humble enough to accept God’s guidance and protection.  Joining the cause of Jesus marks us as the enemy of evil and the enemy of God’s enemy and as such, we can fully expect to be attacked.

 

We are, after all, at war.

 

Peter advises the followers of Jesus Christ to stand your ground, to resist the attacks of the enemy and stand firm in your faith because we know that we aren’t unique and that the followers of Jesus all over the world are experiencing the same kind of problems.  I find this advice to be strikingly relevant as we live in a world that seems to continually ask us to compromise what we believe.  We are constantly asked to tone down our message because it is too harsh, too difficult, or too judgmental and it would seem that not much has changed.  It would appear that our world of the twenty-first century is not that different than Peter’s world of the first century.

 

Throughout history the believers of Jesus Christ have been attacked and asked to compromise their faith, and to “give a little.”  But Peter recommends that we do not.  Instead we should stand firm with the faith that we have been given and resist attempts to rewrite and revise Jesus into something that he wasn’t.  But to do that, we need to study the word of God so that we understand who Jesus really was and thoroughly understand what it is that he really taught.  In the end, Peter says, after we have been allowed to suffer for “a little while,” God will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast.

 

All of us are familiar with the periodic news stories about this or that Bible scholar, or this or that self-styled modern prophet, who thinks that they have finally figured out exactly when the second coming of Jesus will happen.  But the message of scripture is that none of us can possibly know.  More than that, it isn’t our job to know.  And even more than that, knowing when the return of Jesus will happen is far less important than knowing what we are supposed to be doing in the time that we have before he does.

 

We are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ and preach the Good News in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the world.  We are called endure criticism, and insults, and tests, and fiery ordeals because we fearlessly do the will of Jesus Christ and carry out his mission.  We are called to stand firm in our faith and resist the attacks of the enemy of God.  We are called to humble ourselves enough to trust him when we are afraid, to accept his guidance, his protection, and although we humans are an impatient bunch, we are called be humble enough to accept God’s timing.

 

The message of scripture is that it isn’t our job to know when, but that our focus must be kept on what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime.

 

When God is ready, Jesus will return to the earth.

 

When God is ready, Israel will be restored.

 

When God is ready, we will be rescued, made strong, firm, and steadfast, lovingly restored to the unbent, undamaged, better than factory new, perfect condition that God intended, and ushered into eternity.

 

Everything will happen when God chooses for it to happen.

 

But in the meantime… we have work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

_________
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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.

 

Building for Builders that Build

blueprint hardhat“Building for Builders that Build”

May 21, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 7:55-60

John 14:1-14

1 Peter 2:2-10

 

 

Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  But then what?

 

What has be been doing since then?

 

Have you ever planned a major event?

 

It could be anything from a backyard neighborhood barbeque, a wedding, a family vacation trip, or a great many other things.  If you have, you might begin to appreciate how much planning and preparation are required from the time you have an idea until you finish cleaning up after your big event.  Weeks, months, sometimes years of planning are required depending on the size of the event.  For example, the invasion of Europe on D-Day was anticipated much earlier than many of us appreciate.  Long before the invasion in 1944, the wheels had been set in motion to bring everything that was needed to that place and time so that it was ready when it was needed.  Consider for a moment how much planning went into the human beings that were there that day, how many months and years of recruiting, training, purchasing uniforms and other equipment went into preparing the soldiers, marines, sailors, aircrews, glider crews, and so on.

 

But let’s also take a moment to consider how they all got across the English Channel.  The ships that would be needed to invade Europe were conceived and designed as early as 1930, almost a decade and a half earlier, and construction began soon after.  By 1940 landing craft of various types were being manufactured in several countries.  In the United States alone these ships were being produced at a rate of over 1,000 ships per month.  At one point, very near the time of the invasion, the entire effort was postponed by a month or more because there were not yet enough landing craft to carry the troops needed for the invasion.

 

The planning and preparation for this one day began at least fourteen years in advance in order for all the needed people, skills, equipment, and supplies would be where they needed to be, when they needed to be there.  In that time, countless hours and untold billions of dollars were spent in factories, mines, office buildings, highways, and aboard ship by people around the world.  All that, planned and coordinated by only a handful of people and a truly global chain of command.  All that, to prepare for one war, on one continent, and especially for one day, June 6, 1944.

 

But as we consider all the planning and preparation that went into D-Day, what does that tell us about events that are even bigger?  How much did it take to build the Suez Canal?  We know that the construction of the Panama Canal was attempted at least once before the United States finally pulled it off and it still took fourteen years, in addition to the fourteen years that the French had worked on the project before that.  Between the French and the Americans, the Panama Canal cost in the neighborhood of $700 million, which if spent today, would be in the neighborhood of $17 billion.

 

So what’s the point of all this?

 

As we consider the planning and preparation of such historic endeavors, imagine for a moment what must go into preparing for the return of Jesus Christ, the judgement of the entire world, the arrival of the new Jerusalem, and the coordination and housing of billions of believers in the city of God.

 

But before we get to all of that, let’s lay out some background from Acts 7:55-60.

 

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

 

After the resurrection of Jesus, Stephen is given a vision in which he sees Jesus, in heaven, standing beside the throne of God.  The announcement of this vision, as well as the speech that he had given immediately prior, so enraged the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, that they dragged him outside and stoned him to death.  But from this, we confirm that after his departure from earth that Jesus is in heaven, and rules alongside Almighty God.

 

We also know, from his words recorded in John 14:1-14, that Jesus has work to do while he is there.

 

14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

In the time of Jesus, homes were often built by the patriarch of the family and then, as children arrived, rooms were added onto the side of the house.  When the sons were old enough to get married, they too would build a room for themselves and their new wives, attached to the family house.  And then their sons did the same.  When we hear the story about the bride lighting a lamp as she awaited her bridegroom, this is the picture that people would have had in their minds.  The bridegroom had left, returned to his father’s house, and was building a room for his future family.  When he had completed the new room, the groom would return to collect his bride and the wedding went forward.  And so, when Jesus says that he is returning to his father’s house to prepare a place for us, this is almost certainly the mental picture that people would have had.

 

Now imagine the difficulty found in that simple statement.

 

Jesus has gone to prepare rooms, in his father’s house, for the untold millions of believers throughout history.  Granted, this is the creator of the universe, but also consider the preparation that is required here on earth.  It took thousands of years to prepare people, nations, and cultures for the moment of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and the events surrounding his life, death, and resurrection.  So I can easily imagine that the same preparations for the end of the world and the second coming are no easy task that can be arranged in an instant of time.

 

But also note that Jesus says, “12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

 

God empowered Jesus to do the work of building his Kingdom.  But as Jesus returns to heaven he assigns that work to each one of us.  Think about that.  Our assignment, our task, our job, is nothing less than the job that was given to Jesus.  Our job is to reach the wanderer, rescue the perishing, feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, preach the Good News, make disciples of all nations, and build God’s kingdom.

 

Before we finish, I want to reinforce that point one more time.  In 1 Peter 2:2-10, Peter explains who we are and why we do what we do, one more time.

 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

Peter says that believers are like newborn babies that need to be fed so that they can grow.  In order to grow, they need to eat.  In order to eat, they need to be fed.  All of that seems simple, but it reminds us of several important truths.  First, we all start somewhere and where we start, we are like babies.  We’re immature, we get things wrong, we do things wrong even when we’re trying hard, and there are a lot of things that we can’t do for ourselves.  But those babies need to be fed and more mature believers are expected to help feed them while also taking responsibility to feed themselves.  A high school kid who still wants to sit on his momma’s lap and be fed with a bottle would be ridiculous, and the same is true of Christians.  Mature believers should be expected to make an effort to feed themselves and not need everything spoon-fed to them.  Each of us becomes responsible for our own maturity, and so each of us likewise becomes responsible for studying the scriptures, being fed spiritually, and continuing to grow.  Peter says that the expectation is that we would all grow up in our salvation.

 

As we come to Jesus, he takes us, as if we were living stones, and he is building us into a spiritual house.  He desires for us to be, and is building us into, a holy priesthood that can offer spiritual sacrifices to God.  Peter says that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” but he doesn’t stop there.  Peter says that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possessionso thatyou may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  We have been called to serve God and to declare to the world the praises of what he has done for us.  We are called to be witnesses, disciples, evangelists, so that we can build God’s kingdom.

 

So let’s review:

Let’s review.

 

Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

 

He learned a trade from his father Joseph and became a carpenter or a stonemason.

 

Jesus was a builder.

 

He was sent to earth by God to build God’s kingdom.

 

He ascended into heaven where he is, even now, building a place for each one of us.

 

He has called each of us to take up the task on earth that he left behind.

 

We have become the builders.

 

We are now responsible for building God’s kingdom.

 

And so Jesus is a builder, who is building buildings for builders who build.

 

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

And so, as we leave this place today I want us all to remember the task that Jesus has given to us.

 

Go out into the world, and build people, build them up, build up families, build up communities, help them to grow, help them to become mature spiritually and not just physically.  Tell people what God has done for you.  Tell people about the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

 

Go.

 

Build God’s kingdom.

 

 

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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.

 

A Resurrected Heart

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“A Resurrected Heart”

(Easter, So What? – Part 3)

May 07, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41                               Luke 24:13-35                        1 Peter 1:17-23

 

Have you ever seen the Loch Ness monster?

What about Bigfoot, a Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, or a chupacabra?

I’m going to guess not.  But even if you saw proof tonight, their existence probably wouldn’t change your life.  Their existence, or non-existence, is only of academic interest to us.

When we learn things that are interesting, but not life changing, we are intellectually stimulated; we take note of the information, think about it, file it away, and go on with our lives.

But how we react to news that has the potential to change our lives is different.

If we heard on the news that there was another terrorist attack in France, it would be of academic interest.  But if we had family or friends that lived there, we evaluate the information in a completely different way, and if a member of our family, or one of our friends was present at the time of the attack, or was the victim of the attack, our thinking would take place on an entirely different level that is far from academic.

This is exactly the difference that we witness this morning, as we read the story about the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.

13 Now that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.  And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

As we read this story we can recognize a four-step process to the thinking of the disciples.  The story begins with them already at the first step.  In that step the disciples simply know the facts about the events that they had experienced.  They knew what had happened in Jerusalem and so did everyone else.  So widespread was this knowledge that they were surprised when they met someone who didn’t seem to know what had happened.  But as they walk, Jesus walks them through the scriptures and brings them to the next level which is an academic understanding of what had happened.  Instead of merely knowing what had happened, they now understood the context of what had happened, they understood how the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion fit into the prophecies of Israel and the Messiah for whom Israel had been waiting.

But as Jesus broke bread, they arrived at step three.  Their eyes were opened, they recognized Jesus, and suddenly a connection was made between their minds and their hearts.  Suddenly, what had happened was no longer simply an academic exercise, but a deeply personal experience that made a difference in their lives.  The fourth step came immediately afterward.  Now that they knew academically, and understood in their hearts what had really happened, they also knew what had to be done about it.

What they knew was no longer something that was merely of academic interest.  What they knew was no longer held back by the dangers of traveling a road that was awash with bandits at night.  What they knew was so important, so transformative, and so life changing, that they had to immediately take action and go out into the night, regardless of the danger, to tell the other disciples, and everyone that knew Jesus, what they had seen and heard.

In Acts 2:14a, 36-41, we see the crowd moving through the same steps, but in this case, with the help of Peter’s explanation, they do so much more quickly.

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

 


36 
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

 

The people begin by knowing facts of the story.  But as Peter speaks and explains to them that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Messiah of Israel, the people were “cut to the heart.”  They immediately understand academically, and they connect deeply and personally with what has happened.  What remains, and what they do not understand, is what action that they must take because of it.  And so Peter explains that because they understand, the action they must take is that every one of them must repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus.

 

But beyond that, as we sit here today, we wonder what happens next.  Many of us have already been baptized and we might wonder why Easter is still supposed to be such a big deal.  The answer to that, at least in part, is also answered by Peter in his letter to the church in Asia Minor. (1 Peter 1:17-23)

 

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart  23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

 

Peter spells it out for the church this way: Because we belong to a God who is truly and completely impartial, we should live our lives as if our legal status is as tentative as a foreign citizen travelling in the United States with only a passport, or perhaps even without one.  We must live in “reverent fear” by appreciating what we have, but understanding that we must conform our lives to the law and, at the same time, appreciate that we might, at any moment, be called upon to return home and take nothing with us.  We know that our rescue from sin and death has been purchased at the highest possible price with nothing less than the blood of the Son of God.  It is through him, and because of him, that we believe in God and put our faith and trust in him.  We purify ourselves daily by obeying the truths that we have been taught by Jesus and through the scriptures and we obey them so that we can learn to love sincerely, so that we can learn to love one another deeply, and to love from the heart.  Peter reminds us that believing in God, and in his son Jesus, is a heart condition that requires daily attention just as much as those who have medical conditions must pay diligent, daily, attention to their diets and to taking their medication.  In our case, we must work daily to study and obey the word of God, to love one another, and to tell the world what we have learned so that they might also be rescued from death.

 

The story of Easter is far more than a fairy tale, and Jesus is much more than a mythical creature like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot.  Scripture and history tell us clearly that Jesus is real and we believe that the story is true.  But knowing the story is much more than an academic exercise. When we come to faith, we connect with the story at a deeper level and we understand with our hearts as well as with our minds.  This heart connection makes us realize that the story of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection is so important, so transformative, and so life changing, that we must take action.  We must do something with what we have learned.  Believing in Jesus is a heart condition that requires daily attention.

 

The Easter story isn’t a “one and done” kind of a story…

 

…It’s a transformative moment in history that changes us, shapes us, directs us, and calls us to take action every single day of our lives.

 

 

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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.