Are You All In?

“Are You All In?”

June 25, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

…“Are you all in?”

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So to summarize, people stink, God cares.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do not be afraid.

 

God cares.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

…Are you all in?

 

 

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

 

Called Over the Top

crazy

Be Outrageous. Be stupid.

Jesus said so.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Seriously.

If you were here, I mentioned this on Sunday, but it’s worth saying again.  In Matthew (5:38-48) Jesus makes a series of statements that often begin with “You have heard it said, but…” in which he tells his listeners that the conventional wisdom, the ordinary assumptions of daily life, were just plain wrong.  Everyone assumed that the best defense against violence was to fight back, taking an eye for an eye, but Jesus says that the only way to reduce violence is to refuse to participate in it, to “turn the other cheek.”

Most of us have heard that before, but that was just the beginning.  He also says that” if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”  This is extraordinary.  In our litigious, twenty-first century society most of us make two errors in reading this.  First, we incorrectly assume that Jesus means for us to give a shirt to someone who won a lawsuit, but that isn’t it at all.  Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you…” so his instruction is to do an end run around the legal system, call it a loss, and just give it to them.  Our second mistake comes from our relative wealth and our expectation of the same on the Biblical story.   But Jesus was talking to people who lived in an entirely different world, most of them probably only owned one coat.  And so, Jesus’ instruction to “hand over your coat” is not only one of generosity, but one that is over-the-top, crazy, and disturbingly generous.  This is generosity that expensive and costly, and not just giving that is comfortable and comes from our excess.

Jesus continues, saying “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, go with them two.”  And, while this seems relatively straightforward, most of us still don’t understand the root of his comment.  As I understand the history of it, under Roman occupation, one of the standing rules that the occupied nation lived under, was that if any Roman soldier asked, any citizen had to accompany them for one mile and carry their pack, or whatever else they demanded you to carry.  So remembering that most people really resented the presence of the Roman soldiers in the first place, Jesus is saying that you need treat your enemies and the people you despise, and here it is again, with… disturbing generosity.

Why should we do all this?

Jesus answered that by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  We are called to behave in these strange, unfamiliar, and unpopular ways because these are the things that God does.  This is how God behaves.  And if we have any desire to be associated with him, to be called “children of God” then we probably ought to act like God does.

But going this far still wasn’t enough.  Jesus pounds the point several more times to make sure that we really begin to understand just how crazy we’re supposed to be.  Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  That’s pretty plain, but if you need a modern translation, here it is.

It doesn’t impress anyone that your love is “just as good” as the tax collectors, or that you are “just as loving” as everyone else.  Being “just like everyone else” means that you are no different than everyone else and that your faith is no better than their lack of faith.  The followers of Jesus Christ have been called to be different; we are called to a higher standard.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So get out there.  Go out into your neighborhoods, and your places of business.  Be willing to take a loss.  Go out into the world and be extravagantly, disturbingly, generous even when it is costly to you.  Be so generous that people think you’re crazy.  Be nice.  But be so nice that everyone thinks that you must be crazy… or stupid… or both.  Be friendly and outgoing.  Be loving.  But your friendliness and your love should be so over the top that it gets people talking about you.

Be outrageous.

Be stupid.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Remember our goal isn’t to blend in; our goal is to stand out.

Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal… is to be perfect.

 

 

 

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Finding Peace On Earth

earth-rise“Finding Peace On Earth”

December 24, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                        Titus 2:11-14                             Luke 2:1-20

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
 Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

2:1 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

MEDITATION:

Imagine with me the world to which the prophet Isaiah spoke.  Isaiah wrote from the land of Judah at a time when the Assyrian Empire was growing stronger by the day.  He watched as Judah’s King Ahaz, rather than stand together with Syria and the northern tribes of Israel, allied himself with the Assyrians instead.  Despite Isaiah’s warning to the contrary, Ahaz aided the Assyrians in conquering their neighbors and brothers in Israel.  Everyone could see the handwriting on the wall.  Everyone knew that, eventually, the Assyrians would come for them as well and, although it wouldn’t happen for more than a hundred years, Isaiah wrote about the eventual conquest of Judah, the captivity of both Israel and Judah in Babylon, the rise of power of Cyrus the Persian, and the return of the Jews to Israel and Judah after seventy years of captivity, as well as the Messiah that was to come.

Although these were dark days, Isaiah wrote about the light that was coming that would dispel the darkness.  Although the people were oppressed, Isaiah wrote about the freedom that would come.  Although they were surrounded by armies and warfare and bloodshed, Isaiah wrote about a child who would be the Prince of Peace.  Isaiah proclaimed that a day was coming when a rescuer would come from God who would have the authority to bring about endless peace and he would establish his kingdom not with force and oppression, but with justice and righteousness.

More than seven hundred years later, in a land occupied by foreign armies, and to a people who were also well acquainted with violence, oppression, warfare, and bloodshed,  angels appear in the skies over a band of shepherds and declare that the day prophecied by Isaiah had finally come.  “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Two thousand years later, we still remember that night and we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity, and yet, much like the people in the time of Isaiah, and in the time of the shepherds, we too are a people who are all too familiar with violence, oppression, warfare and bloodshed.  And we still look forward to the day when the boots of our soldiers and all of their bloodstained uniforms will be thrown into the fire.  We look forward to the end of darkness, and oppression, and death.  We look forward to the day when there will be endless peace and Jesus Christ will rule over all the earth with justice and righteousness.

But while we wait, we must also remember the instructions contained in the words of the prophet Titus who said (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

While we wait for the return of Jesus we have work to do.  Amid the chaos of the world in which we live, we are to pursue purity, and live lives that are self-controlled, righteous, and godly.  Jesus came, and surrendered his life, so that we could be rescued from sin and death, and to be transformed into a people who are passionate about doing good.

And so, while we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, and while we look forward to the return of Jesus Christ, until that time, his work falls to us.  Until Jesus sits on the throne and brings peace and justice to the world, we are called by God to do whatever we can to bring godliness, justice, righteousness, purity, and yes, peace, into the world in which we live.

I admit it’s a big job.  It’s huge.  It’s enormous.

But it is possible.

With.        God’s.        Help.

 

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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.

Should We Cancel Christmas?

cancelledOver the past month I have read a number of discussions regarding how churches are dealing with Christmas.  Some churches, for reasons of their own, are cancelling services on Sunday the 25th because it is Christmas Day.  This happens every few years and I am always a little mystified as to why churches would be closed.  To my way of thinking, Christmas is a great moment of celebration for the church, second only to our celebration of resurrection at Easter (which is always on a Sunday morning).  I can’t imagine missing the opportunity for the church to celebrate that moment together.

Many churches celebrate a Christmas Mass or have a Christmas worship service every year.  Many more have a special celebration of Christmas Eve that ends at midnight so that they can ring in the Christmas morning.  I suppose that it is only a matter of convenience that more of us don’t do the same.  And so I don’t really understand the thought process that goes into cancelling church on this amazing day of celebration.  I understand that many of our volunteers as well as many members of our congregations will be celebrating Christmas morning with their families.  But many of them have that conflict every year during our celebration of Christmas Eve.   Before I was called into the ministry, our own family often skipped Christmas Eve services in order to be with our family as they celebrated.  That never stopped any of our churches from holding Christmas Eve services and I really don’t see the difference with a Christmas Day Sunday.

In on recent conversation on a friend’s Facebook page, the discussion on this subject became a little heated with some folk throwing out words like “pathetic” and others claiming that the logistics of holding services without some of their key volunteers was too complex.  In any case, here is what I posted:

Wow. There’s no need for any of us to get so riled up. I don’t know any of you, or your experience in the church, or what you churches are, or have been, like. But from where I sit, there just really isn’t a good reason to cancel church for anything, on any Sunday, that isn’t safety related. Fire, break in, smoke damage, ice, those things, though unusual and thankfully fairly uncommon, are reasons to cancel church. I’ve had to cancel our services when the parking lot was so ice covered it was more suitable as a skating rink and we genuinely feared that the only way to keep our octogenarians off of it was to cancel.

Now I admit that I have also been witness to some enormous gaps in understanding between tiny churches, medium sized churches, and all the way up to mega churches. I don’t pretend to understand the logistics needed for churches that worship thousands each Sunday, but I’ve led worship in places where 30 was a decent week and others where 2 or 3 hundred was the goal for Christmas Eve.

That said, from my point of view, I and my staff work every Sunday, every week, including the biggest holiday of the year, Easter Sunday. Working on Sunday’s and holidays is, and should be, expected for church staff just as it is for nurses and a great many others. It’s a bit of an occupational hazard. Volunteers are something else of course. I expect that some of our usual folk won’t come on Christmas Eve every year because they’ll be with family. I assume the same will be true of Christmas Day. And so, while I can’t imagine NOT having a service on Christmas Day, I do expect there to be some difference in scale. Not as many folks will come, not as many volunteers will come, no one will likely want to come as early or stay as long as long. So we’ll work around that. If there aren’t nursery workers, the nursery will be closed. We probably won’t have Sunday school, or the second of our two worship services. We took a poll several weeks ago, and virtually all of them said they’d prefer to come to the early service and go home.

I’ve had Christmas Eve services in a blizzard where we barely had twenty people, and at that, only because half of them came from a single family for the baby baptism. This Wednesday we tried celebrating a Blue Christmas, which was new for us, and we didn’t do a good job of getting the word out.

Four people came.

My pianist, Janet, and I had worship with them anyway.

And so yes, we’ll be open on Christmas morning for anyone that wants to come. If its hundreds, hallelujah. And if it’s four or five, God bless ’em we’ll have church. It might be small and cozy, and it might lack an accoutrement or two, but we’ll worship the Lord together regardless.

And yes, as always, I’ll be at Trinity Church on Christmas Sunday morning at 9:30 am and we’ll have church for as many, or as few, as can make it.

Wherever you are, however you choose to celebrate, may you all have a very Merry Christmas as we all, together, celebrate the birth of the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.

When There Are No Words

blue-christmas1“When There Are No Words”

Blue Christmas Service

December 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

This isn’t really a Christmas story.  But it is a story about how God met me at a time when I had no idea what to do next.

In 2001 I was working for Lectrotherm, a company near the Akron-Canton airport that manufactured, and remanufactured, induction melting equipment for the molten metals industry.  We made furnaces that melted steel for companies like Navistar, John Deere, and other companies in the Fortune 500 as well as tiny little places that you’ve never heard of.  I was an electrical engineer doing work that I liked and I thought I had a career that would keep me interested and well employed until retirement.  But one day I was called into the boss’s office where I met with him and with the director of Human Resources, and was given an hour to clean out my office and leave the building.  My termination was totally unexpected.  They attempted to say that it was performance related, but since I hadn’t had an employee review in over 18 months, and that one was more than satisfactory, they really didn’t have a reason at all.  Only much later did I find that I was only the first of many, as the company struggled with financial problems that would ultimately end in its bankruptcy.

I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under me.  I had no idea what to do next.  I remember sitting on our front porch trying to pray and finding nothing to say.  I couldn’t form sentences.  There were no words.  And so I just sat on the steps and groaned and cried out to God.

Sometimes we don’t have words.  And that’s okay because God understands our thoughts anyway.  In Exodus 2:23-24, we hear a story of how God heard the groans of his people:

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

And in Judges 2:18 we hear: Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.

God hears our prayers, even when all that comes out of our mouths are groans and weeping.

For me, what followed was two years of unemployment.  As I looked for a job in what was supposed to be a good economy and a solid job market, I had nothing.  Hardly a nibble and only one or two unsuccessful interviews.  But, at the same time, with the help of my pastor I was exploring something different.

I wondered why.

I was active in my church.  We gave.  We volunteered.  We had leadership positions in the church.  And still, nothing.  I wondered why I lost my job, why I was unemployed, why I couldn’t find work, why God had allowed this to happen.  And God didn’t give me any easy answers.  And so, I began to read scripture as I had never done before.  I read books that my pastor recommended, and I struggled to discover, not only why I was unemployed, but if, somewhere in my pain, God had a bigger plan.  I wondered if God had allowed this to happen because he wanted to tell me something, or because he wanted me to change directions, and if so, where, and to what.

The answers weren’t easy.  My prayers sometimes seemed to go nowhere.

Job once felt as if his prayer to heaven just bounced off.  In Job 37:17-19 we hear these words:

17 You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind,
18 can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?

19 “Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.

For Job it felt as if the skies were as hard as a mirror of cast bronze and his prayers just bounced off.  And even if they got through, he had no idea what he would say to God or how to make his case.

But we know that God heard him anyway, even when if felt like he didn’t.  We know that behind the scenes, God knew Job’s character, that God knew the future, and that God had a plan.  It took a long time, but eventually Job began to see a small part of God’s plan and, over time, God restored to Job all the things that had been taken from him.  For me, after a lot of time, and prayer, and pain, and confusion, and struggle, it began to seem as if God had a new plan for my life.  And as I began to explore that possibility, things began to get better; it seemed less and less like I was swimming upstream fighting the current and began to feel, more and more like I was going with the flow, and a part of God’s plan.  That exploration has led me here, as a pastor and no longer as an engineer.  I am certain that, for now, this is where God has led me, but I am still keenly aware that this might not be permanent.  At some point, should God have a new and different plan for my life, someday I could pivot and start doing something else.

My life has been nothing like Job’s, but I learned a lesson that was similar to something that Job saw.  Even when it seemed that God was far away, even when I had no words, even when everything seemed to be confused and senseless, even then God was a part of my life.  Even then God had a plan and a purpose and was taking me, leading me somewhere.

No matter where you are in your journey, I hope that you will hear me when I say that I am confident that the same is true for you.  Regardless of your pain and confusion, regardless of who, or what you wrote on your star today, God knows where you are.  God hears your groaning.  God has a plan.  God is working in you, on you, and through you to transform you into the person that he desires for you to become and he is leading you to a new place, and possibly to a new mission.

My prayer is that you will hold tight to Jesus, that you will trust him with your journey, even when the journey is hard and even when there are no words and your prayers are only groans.

 

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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.

Enemies United

unity-racial-divide“Enemies United”

December 04, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10                    Romans 15:4-13                                 Matthew 3:1-12

 

Who was your worst enemy in high school?

Are you still mad at them, or did you finally make friends with them?

Although our personal lives can be messy and we can harbor grudges for a long time, in global politics, time has a way of shifting our opinions.  Our nation was once divided into factions of north and south, but people cross back and forth so freely today that it’s almost impossible to be in a place, north or south, that doesn’t have people who were born on the other “side” of that border.  The United States and its allies fought World War Two against Italy, Germany, and Japan, but those nations are, today, some of our closest friends and allies.  We fought the cold war against the Soviet Union, but now work together every day with Russia to keep the International Space Station, a joint project, up and running.  France, England, and Spain once fought generations of bloody wars against one another but now, despite England’s vote for “Brexit,” they all live and work together as a part of the European Union.

Our scriptures for today remind us that God has sent his Son, not only to rescue us, but to heal the divisions between his people.  In Isaiah 11:1-10, God said this about the coming Messiah:

11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

The messiah will come and he will have wisdom, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord.  He will decide based on righteousness, aid the poor, strike down the wicked, and rule with righteousness and faithfulness.  And when the messiah comes, natural enemies will lay down their hostility forever.  Wolves and lambs, calves and bears, will be friends and even the lion, who is often the enemy of everyone, will become as harmless as an ox.  No longer will their hostility toward one another bring harm or destruction in God’s city.  And then Isaiah concludes with some very obvious military battle metaphors.  To those of us in the twenty first century, in a world of radios and instant communication, these may not be quite as obvious as they once were but if you’ve ever watched the history channel, or read stories about Richard the Lionheart, or even Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, these metaphors remain clear.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

The messiah will raise his banner for the people.  Before the advent of radio, armies went to war and the king, or commander, communicated with the disparate segments of his forces by using flags.  In the chaos of battle sometimes even the king had to move from place to place, and his forces could be scattered but, at some point, once a new position had been secured, the king’s banner, battle standard, or battle flag would be raised.  Everyone could see where the king was, and they would rally, warriors who had been scattered all over the battlefield would fight their way to where the king was and regroup.

This is the picture that Isaiah paints.  In that day, the messiah will raise his kingly banner, and nations from all over the world will join him and stand together.

In Romans 15:4-13, Paul reiterates this idea while both clarifying and amplifying it.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says that what had been written in the past was intended to encourage us and to teach us endurance so that we might all come to have the same attitude, or the same mindset, so that we might think like Jesus.  And even greater than that, Paul says that in having the mind of Christ, we would be able to accept one another just as Jesus has accepted each one of us.  But Paul wants to be sure that his readers understand exactly what he means and so he clarifies this with an example, Paul says that we shouldn’t just accept people who are like us, because Jesus had become a servant of both the Jews, who had received the promises of Abraham, as well as the Gentiles whom the Jews had considered to be the enemy for thousands of years.  And just to be sure that his readers really understood that this is what he meant, Paul quotes four different passages of Isaiah that remind them that God intended to invite the Gentiles, the outsiders, the enemy, into his camp alongside the Jews.

Paul concludes by saying “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This once again reminds everyone that as we trust in Jesus Christ, our hope in God should fill us with joy and peace in such measure that our hope overflows into the people, and the world, around us.

But as the time approaches for the arrival of the messiah, John appears in the desert preparing a way for him by preaching a baptism of repentance. (Matthew 3:1-12)

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John called God’s people to repent, and they came confessing their sins before God, except the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Knowing their character, and how John reacted to their presence, it appears that these church leaders did not come to repent and to confess, but instead came as a group to see where all their people were going and what all the fuss was about.  To them, John says that is isn’t enough to claim the ancestry of Abraham for your salvation before God.  Simply being a member of the family, or being a member, or even a leader of the church wasn’t enough.  What was necessary was to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  And what that means is, that real repentance looks like it made a difference in your life.  People who find real repentance live as if God, and his teaching, actually matter.  People who find real repentance produce fruit for the kingdom of God.

John ends his speech with a warning for everyone.  He says that although he has come to baptize and to issue a call for repentance, he is only preparing the way for the arrival of another.  The one who is coming is more powerful than John.  So much more powerful, that John is unworthy even to be the servant that carries his shoes.  John’s warning is that although he himself is calling for repentance, the one who is coming will come not to plant, but to harvest.  When the messiah comes to bring in the harvest, he will gather the wheat and burn the rest.

And so, as we prepare for the arrival of the Messiah at Christmas, we look forward to a day when all of God’s people are united, friends, strangers, and enemies, people of every language, and every color skin, and from every nation on earth.  We are encouraged to read the scriptures and to internalize their message so that we become like, and think like, Jesus.  We are called not only to read about Jesus, and not only to think about Jesus, but to act like Jesus.  And we are warned that failing to do so will come at a cost.

As we celebrate this season of Advent, may we all recommit ourselves to becoming more like Jesus, thinking more like Jesus, and acting more like Jesus so that on the day he raises his banner, we can stand with our brothers and sisters, from every nation of the world, at his side.

 

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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.

Season Meets Reason

cow

“Season Meets Reason”

November 27, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

 

Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5                        Romans 13:11-14                               Matthew 24:36-44

The other day, Patti and I were traveling along the freeway when traffic suddenly came to a complete stop.  We immediately wondered what had happened because normally, even in the worst of construction zones, traffic keeps moving at least a little.  But this time we stopped dead and we were there long enough that I put the car in park.  As we sat there, we guessed that it might have been an accident and, sure enough, once we started moving again we saw two cars, a tractor trailer, and a police car all blocking the right lane.  Thankfully, even though there was a baby seat in one of the cars, everyone seemed to be okay.

As simple as it was, this common experience reminds us of the ripple effects of human events.  Traffic backs up because there was an accident.  Railroad gates drop because there is, somewhere down the line, an oncoming train.  One event causes another, and sometimes those ripples cascade far into the future.  We live here in North America because men like Amerigo Vespucci, Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Jacques Cartier, Hernando de Soto, John Cabot, and many others dared to cross the Atlantic and explore the New World.  What they did changed the world, and the ripples caused by their actions continue to impact our lives today.

And so, as we celebrate Advent, and begin the season of Christmas, we often talk about Jesus being the “reason for the season.”  We recognize that a huge part of our entire world has set aside time, religious or not, to celebrate this particular season of the year and we know that a ripple that enduring has to have had a cause.  But what we often miss, is that the reason for Christmas started long before the birth of Jesus, and the ripples caused by those events continue into the future, and impact our lives, far more than we appreciate.

We begin this morning by reading the words of the prophet Isaiah who lived nearly eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus. (Isaiah 2:1-5)

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Generations before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah proclaims that a day will come when God himself will live in Jerusalem, rule over the earth, and judge disputes between nations.  In those days, weapons of war will be reshaped into instruments of agriculture, and the world will finally know peace.

Isaiah not only saw the coming of the Messiah that we celebrate at Christmas, but also the messiah’s ultimate rule and reign to which we still look forward.  The ripple in time that we celebrate at Christmas did not begin with Jesus, and in fact did not begin with Isaiah.  What we remember when we read Isaiah is that the birth of the Messiah was God’s plan from the beginning of time itself.  All of creation was leading up to that moment, and continues to look forward to the ultimate conclusion of God’s story.

We all know the Christmas story.  We will spend plenty of time in the coming weeks remembering the stories about angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and wise men from the East.  But while remembering the characters is important, we must also take time to remember that such a pivotal event in human history didn’t happen by accident.  The birth of Jesus, God’s Messiah, Savior, and rescuer of all humanity, happened for a reason.

In Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus tells the disciples about the day of his return.

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus reminds his followers, that his birth, life, death and resurrection were just the beginning.  Just as God’s people had looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah for thousands of years, we now look forward to his ultimate return.  And as we look forward, Jesus warns us to be prepared, to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus’ warning is two-fold.  First, we must keep watch for his coming and second, that we must be prepared for his arrival at all times because he will come when we do not expect him.  But what does it mean to “be prepared” for his arrival?  Honestly, it’s the same message that God has been telling his people since the very beginning.  In Romans 13:11-14, Paul puts it this way:


11 
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul reminds us that “being ready” is all about the way that we live our lives every day.  If we believe that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem, and we believe that his purpose for coming to earth was to live, die, and rise from the grave to pay the debt for our forgiveness, then our belief must not just be an abstract idea that we carry around in our heads, but a belief that is lived out every minute of every day.

The coming of Jesus was an event that sent ripples through time and that event was a part of God’s plan that began with creation itself.  While we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, we love to decorate our houses, our churches, shopping centers, and office cubicles, but if we fail to decorate our lives by living the way that Jesus taught, then all the trees, all the presents, all the worship services, and all the other trappings of Christmas are no better than wrapping tinsel around a cow pie.

At Christmas, it is vital for us to remember the reason for our celebration.

Jesus did not come to earth so that we could buy presents and decorate trees.

Jesus came to earth to transform lives.

Jesus came to transform my life.

Jesus came to transform your life.

And so, the best way that we can “decorate” for Christmas is to live every day of the year as if Jesus was real, as if we knew for certain that he was coming back tomorrow.

The best gift of Christmas is for each of us to actually do the things that Jesus taught us to do.

God’s gift to the world at Christmas wasn’t just a baby in a manger.

God’s gift to the world is a world full of followers who live like Jesus everyday.

 

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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.