Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves

“Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves”

June 11, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Genesis 1:1 – 2:4                     Matthew 28:16-20                 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

 

 

On June first of this year (2017), President Donald Trump announced that the United States would cease to participate in the Paris climate agreement that had been signed by President Obama.  Our news media has been full of stories on both sides of the issue.  Naturally, Europe and leaders from around the world were opposed to him doing such a thing, but it also seems that the primary role of the United States under the Paris Agreement was to pay for other countries to comply.  There have also been questions about whether the Paris Agreement was ever legally binding because it had twice failed to be ratified by the United States Senate as required by our Constitution.

 

I have to admit to some mixed feeling about what has been done for a variety of reasons and I find both good and bad points in the arguments of both sides.  Regardless of your position or personal feelings about the Paris Agreement, or about climate change, or environmentalism, or any number of other hot button environmental issues, there are elements of scripture that require us to take a second look at the interests of environmentalism, but which also call us to look deeply into the mirror and consider who we are and what we have done with what we have been given.

 

Let’s begin at the beginning, at the creation of the world and all that exists.  Let’s begin by reading the story of creation from Genesis 1:1 – 2:4.

 

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

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

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.


2:1 
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

 

First, since this is Trinity Sunday, I want to point out that it was the Spirit of God that hovered over what had not yet been created, but I also want to point out that God’s command to humanity was not to fill the earth and destroy it, but to fill the earth and subdue it.  When we subdue and animal, or even an enemy, the word subdue allows us to understand that what is subdued is not damaged, but repurposed or redirected.  Wild horses are subdued so that they can be transformed into a creature that works side by side with humans to do things together that neither could ever do alone.  Other animals are subdued so that they can be relocated away from populated areas.  But in most cases, the act of subduing is done in a deliberate way so that the animal is not harmed.  When God blesses humanity with the world that he has created, we are established as custodians and caretakers and not installed as overlords who are bent on domination and destruction.

 

But we know from the story of Adam and Eve, that our custodial care of the world quickly went disastrously wrong.  Because of their sin, human beings were suddenly thrust from a garden in which their care was custodial, into a harsh world where every moment of their existence was focused on survival.  What God saw at the end of the sixth day was “very good” but today, maybe not so much.  After the sin of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the Garden of Eden, both humanity and the planet on which they lived began a serious decline.  For thousands of years, not only did humanity struggle for survival, but we also struggled to rediscover the wonder of those early days in the garden, humanity has struggled to rediscover the kind of relationship  and the closeness that Adam and Eve had with God but we were eternally separated from God by our sinfulness.

 

Until the arrival of Jesus.

 

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the one thing that could repair our relationship with God and return us to the kind of closeness that humanity once had with God.  That return, rescue, and restoration, was such amazing news that Jesus’ final words to his disciples were about what they needed to with what they had learned.  In Matthew 28:16-20, we hear these words:

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Jesus’ instruction is to go into the world and make disciples in every nation and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As we’ve discussed before, the word, “Trinity” doesn’t appear in scripture, and isn’t invented by the church for almost a hundred years, but Jesus obviously understood the concept that God existed as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, regardless of what term you choose to describe it.  But Jesus also cautions his disciples not to teach half-heartedly or with some kind of bias, but to teach everything that Jesus had taught them.  And finally, as Jesus left, he reminded them that while he might be leaving the world physically, he would be with them always even until the end of the world.  It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Jesus’ words were intended for us just as they were for the first disciples.  Since humans only live for a few dozen years and then pass their mission on to the next generation, Jesus’ promise to remain with the disciples is clearly a message that Jesus remains with us still today.

 

But there is one more thing I want to point out.  Beyond Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, there remains one more statement of purpose from the Apostle Paul that helps us to understand why we do the things we do.  Besides simply obeying Jesus, or besides sharing because the story of Jesus, and the opportunity to repair our relationship with God, is best news ever (as that isn’t enough), Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13,

 

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

 

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

 

Paul says that we should celebrate because the story contained in the gospels truly is Good News but he also tells us that our goal should be full restoration.  Not only should we accept Jesus as our rescuer, but we should also work toward restoring who we are to the perfection that God intended.  Far too often, we are less than we could be, and less than God intended for us to be, because of our struggle with sin, and so, although we have already been forgiven, we must constantly be at work trying to move ourselves closer to God and closer to becoming the people that God created us to be.  Most of us know that we can do better.  It isn’t difficult to imagine a version of us that is better than the one that we see in the mirror.  Our mission is to try to move toward that goal.  But I also think that because God gave us intelligence, power, and authority over the planet, we are still the custodians and caretakers of the earth.  We must work toward restoring the earth, as much as humanly possible, to the perfection that it once was, and maintain it, in good condition, for future generations.

 

Perfect people would have no use for a ruined planet, and as we’ve already seen, a perfect planet could not last long if it’s filled with ruined people.

 

We need to restore our planet, and ourselves, at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Do The Homeless Really Need Help?

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

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

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

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

It really is heartbreaking.

This is real.

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

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

Imagine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So are there scammers? Sure.

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

Do they really need help? Yes.

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

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

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

And it’ll probably break your heart.

 

 

 

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Easter Sheeple

TRAVELER DIGITAL CAMERA“Easter Sheeple”

(Easter, So What? – Part 4)

May 14, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 2:42-47                           John 10:1-10                            1 Peter 2:19-25

 

Sheeple.

In in the midst of our polarized and inflammatory political debate, if you are on the internet you have probably heard the derogatory and disparaging term “sheeple.”  The word “sheeple” is intended to refer to people of an opposing political viewpoint and accuse them of blindly following the leaders of their political or religious organizations without giving any thought to whether those leaders are right, wrong, just, or unjust.  The difficulty for us, as the followers of Jesus Christ, is that Jesus, as well as the writers of the Old and New Testaments, often describe the followers of God as sheep.  And so, as we conclude our examination of the meaning of Easter, I want to spend some time today struggling with how being a sheep can be such a bad thing, if that is almost the same sort of language that Jesus used to describe us.

We begin this morning with a fairly typical statement of this type from John 10:1-10 where we hear Jesus address the leaders of Israel saying:

10:1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus describes his followers as sheep but he also draws an important distinction by saying that he is the only good shepherd.  Others will act like shepherds, portray themselves as shepherds, describe themselves as shepherds, insist that they have been elected as shepherds, and even demand that the sheep follow them, all so that they can attempt to steal the sheep from the one true shepherd to whom they belong.  These false shepherds, Jesus said, only come as thieves and their goals amount to no more than theft, murder and destruction.  In stark contrast, Jesus, the good shepherd, came so that his sheep might have life to the fullest.

In his pastoral letter to churches in the Mediterranean, Peter touches on this same theme.  Peter teaches and encourages the followers of Jesus whose beliefs are in the minority and who they have begun to face increasing persecution. (1 Peter 2:19-25)

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Peter reminds us that as followers of Jesus, we are called to live our lives according to his example.  Because Jesus was insulted, abused, and even killed, without any retaliation on his part, despite his total innocence, we are expected to do the same.  We are called to do good no matter what.  We are called to do good, even when we suffer because of it.  Regardless of our suffering, regardless of the criticism we might receive, we must not stop doing good.  Peter understands that it is possible, even easy, to stray from the flock like sheep but he is clear that being a sheep, or being sheeple, can be a good thing but only if we follow the one true, good shepherd.

But so what?

That’s the question we’ve been asking for the last four weeks.

What difference does any of this make?  What difference does Easter make in our lives two thousand years later?  What does the Easter story tell us about how we should live our lives?  And again, we return to the book of Acts where we can learn from the eyewitnesses who watched the crucifixion and who saw Jesus, and ate with him, after his resurrection.  What they did tells us everything we need to know about what we should do. (Acts 2:42-47)

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Because of what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they had experienced, the followers of Jesus dedicated their lives to four things; the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.  Let’s review that list for a moment.  The followers of Jesus devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and, as simple as that sounds, we remember that what the apostles were teaching was nothing more than what Jesus had taught them and nothing less than what they have recorded and passed down to us.  What the disciples taught is what we find in the gospels, the Old and New Testaments, and what we regularly study today.  They also devoted themselves to fellowship, to simply being together, to friendship, to worshipping together, to studying and learning together.

They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread.  This might be interpreted was sharing communion together, but what is more likely is that it means that they shared meals together.  Sharing meals is something that we do with people with whom we are both friendly and familiar, and in ancient societies this familiarity is implied even more strongly.  There are few things in the time of the New Testament that demonstrated closeness better than sharing meals together.

And finally, they devoted themselves to praying together.  Two things stand out in that one simple phrase.  First, they prayed whenever they were together, which we often do, but second, their prayers were not simply cursory, or routine, or a mere formality, they devoted themselves to prayer.  Their prayers were common, deep, frequent, fervent, and filled with dedication and devotion.

All of the believers were together, they shared what they had… together, and they even shared with people who were in need, even if they weren’t believers.  Every day they spent time… together in the temple courts worshipping, teaching, studying, and learning… together.  Over and over and over we hear this story about people who not only followed Jesus but whom together, created a place where everyone could… belong.  You didn’t need to be rich, the poor could belong.  You didn’t need to be Jewish; Greeks, Romans, foreigners and other Gentiles could all belong.  Both the educated and the uneducated could belong; both men and women could belong.  One of the substantially distinctive elements of the early church following the resurrection of Jesus was that it was a place of belonging.  The things that they did together were so well known by the people of their community that everyone who knew them, or who knew about them, had a favorable opinion of them.  Everybody liked them because they did good for everyone.

So, as we live in a culture where behaving like sheep, and being criticized as “sheeple” is clearly not a good thing, how are we to understand it when Jesus himself refers to his followers (and everyone else) as sheep?

First of all, Jesus described people as sheep because it was a handy metaphor that everyone could understand.  More often than not, throughout history, our human nature causes us to behave in ways that are much like sheep.

We’ve earned it.

We wander away from the truth.  We lose our way.  We follow politics, political parties, and political leaders, Democrat and Republican and everything in-between, when they lead us in directions that aren’t good for us, and even when they follow paths that run contrary to the teachings of Jesus.  We follow religious leaders even when what they teach is not based upon, and sometimes totally contrary to, the teaching of Jesus or anything supported by scripture.

However, there are those people who act like wolves and the results, among humans, can be just as dangerous and just as deadly, as they are in the animal kingdom.

So are we sheeple?

Is that a bad thing?

Yes, it’s bad.

And yes, sometimes we earn the criticism that is directed at us.  But here is the difference: Jesus described us as sheep because it was a handy metaphor to describe how prone we are to wander away but also to describe our need for leaders that care for us at the risk of their own lives.  At the same time, Jesus recognizes that we are a lot smarter than sheep.  We make poor choices because we simply aren’t thinking.  We get into trouble because we aren’t careful and because we are not using the intelligence that God gave us.  We are capable of making good decisions and we can return to the right path when we make mistakes.

 

There are three lessons from today:

 

First, there is only one good shepherd.  Our real leader is not an elected official, or a country, or even a pastor or bishop.  The one person, the one example that we trust, is Jesus.  Everyone else should be followed with significant skepticism and regularly compared to Jesus, and what he has taught us, to make sure that we are staying on the right paths.

 

Being a sheep is not a bad thing, as long as we follow the right shepherd.

 

Second, do good always. Even if people criticize you, or persecute you, or harass you, or cause you suffering and pain, do good anyway.  Everyone around you should know who you are because of the good things that you are doing.

 

Third, we must dedicate our lives to learning what we have been taught, to fellowship, to breaking bread, and to prayer.  We must dedicate our lives, together, to creating a place where everyone can belong regardless of where they came from, what they may, or may not, have done in the past, or anything else.

 

The church must be a place of belonging.

 

If we can do these things, then I don’t care if someone wants to call us sheeple…

 

Because when do that, then we will truly be…

 

…Easter sheeple.

 

And that’s a good thing.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Immigration and the Church

Immigrants with Statue of LibertyWhat should we do with immigrants?

What is the right thing to do?

Does the Bible offer any help or insight into this problem at all?

With all the press and politics surrounding the issue of immigration, regardless of our personal feelings, we often wonder what the Bible can tell us about how the church ought to approach the subject.  We might also simply wonder if the Bible has anything to say about immigration at all.

It does. 

The position of the Bible is clear and consistent through both the Old and New Testaments.

Its teaching begins early.  In Deuteronomy 26:4-6, Abraham is described as a “Wandering Aramean” and the people of Israel were commanded to remember it whenever they brought a sacrifice to the Tabernacle.

The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor.

God’s instruction to his people included this instruction so that even generations later, long after they had settled and built houses and cities in the Promised Land, they would remember who they used to be.  God built this into their regular system of worship so that his people would remember that their forefather was an immigrant and they themselves used to be a nation of immigrants, nomads, and wanderers.

Thousands of years later, the writer of Hebrews echoes that same message saying, 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (Hebrews 11:12-14)

This reminds the people of God that all of us are only passing through this life and that we are fellow travelers as we pass between life and death.   This entire existence is only a temporary stopping point on grand journey through eternity.  Throughout scripture, we are reminded that in God’s eyes we are all foreigners and strangers.

In Hebrews 13:2, the instruction is even more specific saying, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

But in Ephesians 2:18-20, Paul challenges us in another way with these words:

18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Here, Paul says that not only were all of us foreigners and strangers in the eyes of God, the thing that made us belong to each other wasn’t ever our citizenship in any particular nation.  Instead, what makes us citizens, what makes us belong, what gives us a home, regardless of where we were born, what language we speak, or where we live, is our faith in Jesus Christ.

When we grapple with scripture, we begin to understand the larger picture regarding immigration.  Certainly, there is room for differing opinions about the policies of the United States, or the State of Ohio.  But we realize that no matter what policies we support, those policies absolutely must include treating foreigners and strangers the way that we would hope to be treated if our positions were reversed.  We are called to remember that our forebearers, and all of us, were once wanderers, strangers, and foreigners.  As so, as we meet the people who carry those labels today, we are called, by God, to treat them with humility, hospitality, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love.

 

 

 

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The Reason for Rules

“The Reason for Rules”

February 19, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18                 Matthew 5:38-48                 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Have you ever thought that there are just too many rules to remember?

 

We have rules about etiquette, culture, language, law, and religion.  There are rules and laws that govern the maintenance of our automobiles, how we drive, where we drive, what we drive, and who can ride in the car with us.  We have rules about what kind of gas we can buy, where we can buy it, and how they are allowed to sell it.  We have rules about who is allowed to drive, when they can drive, and what skills they have to have to get permission to drive.  We have rules about how the cars that we drive are made, what they look like, what safety features are required, which are allowed but not required, and even which safety features are not allowed.  We have rules about who is allowed to sell cars, how they can be sold, and who can’t sell cars and who is not allowed to sell them.  There are simply tons of rules about even the simplest things in our lives and we are prone to wonder why we have so many rules, if there is any real necessity for so many rules, and if there is a reason that we have so many of them.  But consider for a minute, what would happen if we encountered a stretch of highway where there were no rules.

 

I can assure you that in a very short amount of time, no one would want to go there.

 

What if you could drive as fast as you wanted, in any kind of vehicle you could imagine, and no one had to obey any traffic laws at all?  You could not have any expectation of road safety or regular maintenance.  The people around you might be riding bicycle, driving bulldozers, or drag racing jet powered semi-tractors.  People could be driving fast, or be parked in the middle of the highway.  Without rules, that stretch of road would be frighteningly dangerous and in a state of continuous chaos.

 

When you think about what driving would be like with no rules, we quickly realize that although there are some rules that might be questionable, there are generally good reasons that the rules exist.

 

That just seems to make sense to us, but at the same time, people ask the same sort of questions about our faith, Christianity, Judaism, and the Bible.

 

Why are there so many rules?

 

And as we read through scripture today, we discover that the answer is surprisingly simple.  We begin in Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, where we hear these words, many of which we remember as a part of the Ten Commandments:

19:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

11 “‘Do not steal.

“‘Do not lie.

“‘Do not deceive one another.

12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.

13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.

15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

Please note that this expands on the message that we heard last week.  Do not hate a brother or sister in Christ, but if you know that they are doing something wrong, neither should you simply ignore what they are doing nor cover it up.  If you knowingly ignore wrongdoing, or help to cover it up, you share the guilt of the people who are doing wrong.

18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

This list offers a slightly different slant than the Ten Commandments, but I think the most important words in this passage are found in the introduction.  God commands Moses to gather all of the people of Israel and it isn’t difficult to imagine that everyone’s first reaction, including Moses, would be to ask why.  And so God says, “Speak to the entire assembly and say to them, be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

What we almost always forget when we think about the Ten Commandments is this introduction.

Be holy, because God is holy.

God does not say that he is giving his people a list of instructions because he loves rules, or because he enjoys burdening people with lots of restrictions on their behavior.  What God says, is that he wants us to be like him, and then he gives us some examples of how we, imperfect and corrupt as we are, can do better.  God doesn’t give us rules to follow because he loves bureaucracy, but because he wants to point us in a direction that leads to life and holiness instead of suffering and death.

Imagine God’s frustration in this.  Imagine that someone comes to you, tells you that they are very sick, that they need to see a doctor, and asks for directions to the hospital.  And when you tell them how to get there, they complain bitterly that you are putting too many restrictions on their freedom and insist that they can go any direction that they want to.

Of course, that seems ridiculous, but that is exactly what it must seem like to God when we complain about there being too many rules restricting our freedom, when the entire purpose of the rules was to give us directions that would save our lives.

Jesus says something similar in Matthew 5:38-48, where we hear these words:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus says, I know that you’ve all heard about “conventional wisdom,” but the conventional wisdom is wrong.  The only way to reduce violence is not to participate in it.  Be willing to take a loss, be willing to look foolish, be willing to be disturbingly generous, even when it is costly to you.  God has done good to you and has poured out his love upon you, even before you ever met him.  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.  Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal is to be perfect.

 

Paul emphasizes this difference in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, where he says…

 

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.


16 
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Paul says that the foundation of everything that we do is Jesus Christ.  Because the Spirit of God has taken up residence inside of us, we are the temple of God.  This weekly gathering of fellow believers is sacred because this is God’s temple.  It isn’t the building, it’s the people.  Paul also echoes Jesus in fighting against the conventional wisdom or “the standards of the age,” and reminds the church that worldly wisdom is not the same as godly wisdom, and what God teaches is often ridiculed by conventional wisdom.

So what does this all mean?

In the end, what this means is that the foundation of everything that we do is Jesus Christ.  We are called to be different because we belong to Jesus and through Jesus, we belong to God.  We are called to be holy, not because God loves rules, or because God wants to take away your freedom, but because we want to be like God, and God is holy.  We want to live, and God has given us a prescription that can lead us to health and wellness.  We are moral free agents who are absolutely free to do whatever we choose, but God is abundantly clear that our choices can either lead us to God’s blessing and life, or to suffering and death.

You wouldn’t want to even try to drive on a highway that didn’t have any rules.  It is the rules that maintain order and keep us safe.  And so whenever we hear people complaining that God has too many rules, or that the church just wants to control your life, the question that you should ask is probably similar to the one you might ask someone who criticizes you for giving them directions to the hospital.

You can do whatever you want.

Do you want to get better?

Or not?

 

 

 

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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.

 

Responsibility, Immaturity, Blame

“Responsibility, Immaturity, Blame”

February 12, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Deuteronomy 30:15-20                  Matthew 5:21-37                     1 Corinthians 3:1-9

 How many of you have ever had to make a choice?

It seems obvious that all of us have.  We make dozens, even hundreds, of choices every day.  We have to choose whether we want paper or plastic, cash or credit, Colgate or Crest, name brand or generic, roll-on or stick, toast or bagels, and on and on, and on, all day , every day.  But sometimes we are faced with bigger choices that have more importance and more impact on our daily lives and on our future.  Our own children at the age when they have to choose whether or not they are going to college, and what discipline they want to major in, where to go to school, how much they should study, whether they should be in a serious relationship or not, and so on.  After that they’ll have to decide weather they want to be married or not, to whom they want to be married, and whether, or when, they want to have children (let’s be clear, I’m not in a rush for that to happen).  As we go through life, some of our choices are clearer than others.  Some choices are simple, do I want ‘A’ or ‘B,’ apples or oranges, white or black, but others are a lot like being on “Let’s Make a Deal.”  Do I choose door number one, door number two, or door number three?  Sometimes we just do the best that we can and hope and pray for the best.

But imagine if we had a clear choice about one of the biggest, most important, decisions of our lives?

What if we had to choose between door number one and door number two, but both doors were already wide open and we could see everything inside of them?  It seems obvious that this kind of choice would be easy, but in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 we find that sometimes we make mistakes in even the most obvious of choices.  Moses declared to the people:


15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

We must choose responsibly.

The decision ought to be easy.

The choice is black or white, and literally life or death.  Choose to love God, to be obedient to him, and to keep his commands, and you will live and be blessed.  Or, turn away from God, be disobedient, and drift toward idolatry, and you will face death and destruction.  The choice ought to be easy, God equals life, but many people are so trapped by their addiction to selfishness, that they cannot break away and give their lives, devotion, and obedience to God.

But it isn’t just our obedience that is a part of our spiritual relationship with God.  In Matthew 5:21-37 Jesus is very clear that our relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters, and even our relationships with other human beings generally, is an important part of God’s judgement about us as well.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [An Aramaic term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Being angry at each other, can bring about God’s judgement and even muttering that some other Christian is a “jerk” under your breath can land you in front of a judge.  Before God will accept your offerings and prayers, he wants you to be reconciled with one another because just like disobedience, your personal differences push you away from God.  This may be especially difficult in an era of political polarization.  But, regardless of our politics, we are called to be reconciled with one another.  Jesus then provides several examples that explain why keeping the commandments and obeying the law is even more difficult than we imagined.  Divorce is more harmful than we’d like to pretend it is.  Adultery is more than cheating on your spouse, it can happen as easily as your head turns to look at a pretty young thing on the beach.  Even breaking a promise can open the door to judgement so we are encouraged to always tell the truth and always follow through and do what we have said that we will do.  We are called to be so reliable, that people have faith that will do what we have said that we will, or won’t do.  There is no need to swear an oath if you are known to be a person of your word.

If we read this carefully, I think that there is another underlying message as well.  All of these things that Jesus said include the expectation that each of us are responsible for the things that we do.  We are cautioned not to do those things that might cause others to fall into sin, but in every case, the focus is on being responsible for what we have done, and not allowing us to blame someone else for our failures.

And finally, in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Paul encourages the church to grow and mature in their faith and the things that he holds up as examples of immaturity are some of the same ones that we just heard Jesus condemn.

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Stop arguing with each other.  Stop trying to divide the body of Christ by claiming divisions that don’t really exist.  We aren’t different because we follow John Wesley, or Martin Luther, or Menno Simons, or John the Baptist, we are the same because we are all followers of Jesus Christ.  All of us are working together, or at least we should be, to work in the garden of God’s kingdom.

In all these things, from Deuteronomy, to Matthew, to Paul, to Jesus, we are encouraged to grow up.  To become mature followers of Jesus, we must become people who accept responsibility for our own actions, people who work to purify ourselves and are obedient to God, in our faith, in our personal relationships, and in every way so that we can work together and share our responsibility in growing the Kingdom of God.

It’s more complicated than we sometimes think, and it’s harder than we’d like to pretend it is, but in the end there are only two choices.

God is blessing.

God is life.

Without God is death.

Without obedience is death.

What will you choose?

 

 

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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.

 

As IF

“As IF”

February 05, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 58:1-12                              Matthew 5:13-20                      1 Corinthians 2:1-12

 Are you familiar with sarcasm?

By definition, sarcasm is a form of humor or wit that relies upon the use of irony or satire.  The Merriam Webster online dictionary uses this sentence from the weekly column “It Beats Working” in the Charleston Post and Courier as an example: “The best part of being single,” Bryce Donovan jokes, “is being able to choose any woman I want to shoot me down.”   In the 1970’s we often heard sarcasm expressed using the phrase “Yeah, right” and during the 1980’s we would end a sentence with the word “not” to express a form of sarcasm, as in “I am the smartest kid in school… not.”  And then in 1995, the movie “Clueless” with Alicia Silverstone popularized the expression “As if” to do much the same thing.  The Urban Dictionary uses this example: “If a guy tells me he knows I’m in love with him (but I think he’s a total loser), then I say to him “AS IF!””

Curiously, as modern as these sentiments are, we find a very similar message this morning in today’s scripture passage from Isaiah 58:1-12 where we hear God use words that sound very much like sarcasm…

58:1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

As we listen to these words, we realize that this is God’s criticism of his own followers.  God says that people come to the temple every day and genuinely seem to desire the ways of God.  They ask for justice, and they seem eager for God to be close to them.  They fast, and they humble themselves before God, but they wonder why God doesn’t notice them.

But God did notice.

God noticed all those things, but he also noticed that on the same day that these people fasted before God, they also abused their employees.  When they are done acting penitent before God they yell and scream and get into fistfights with one another.  And God says that he simply doesn’t work this way.  You can’t behave that way and expect God to bless you for being faithful.  Instead, God says that the kind of faithfulness that God chooses to bless is the kind that fights against injustice, that frees people from slavery and abuse, that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and welcomes the stranger.  When we do that, is when we will experience healing and feel God’s protection.  God’s blessing doesn’t come when our faith is only words.  Blessing comes when we act to bring about God’s kingdom on earth and when we do the things that God has commanded us to do.  We will be blessed, and the church rebuilt and restored to its former glory, when we fight against oppression, stop pointing fingers at one another and stop talking smack about each other.  We will be blessed when we spend our time, our strength, and our energy caring for the hungry, marginalized, outcasts, vagrants, refugees, the oppressed, and the abused.

And just in case we go off on some mistaken assumption that this is limited to some sort of an Old Testament thing, we find almost exactly the same idea in Matthew 5:13-20 where we hear Jesus say…

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

What Jesus is saying, is that each one of us has been put on earth in order to accomplish some purpose.  Salt is supposed to be salty.  When it is, it does what it’s supposed to do, but when salt loses its saltiness, it becomes nothing better than just a bunch of rocks.  Salt that isn’t salty might be good for gravel in your driveway, but not for much else.  Likewise, and I realize that this sounds redundant, lights are made to shed light.  No one lights a lamp and then hides it.  If they did, then why bother lighting the lamp, or turning on the light, in the first place?  Lights are only useful when they do what they were intended to do, to drive back the darkness and to provide illumination.

Jesus gives these two incredibly obvious illustrations to make his larger point about the people who were listening to him, and that includes each one of us.  Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  You have been created and put on earth for a purpose intended by God.  God intends for you, for us, to obey his commands, to do the things that Jesus taught, and to teach others so that God’s kingdom can grow and continue on into the future.  Jesus says when his people fail to do these things it’s like salt losing its saltiness, or a light being hidden under a bowl.  It’s ridiculous, it’s silly, and it transforms something valuable, into something useless.

And finally, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, Paul explains our work, mission, and purpose this way…

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.

Just as we mentioned a few weeks ago, Paul again reminds us that the power of the message of Jesus Christ isn’t anything that depends on us.  It isn’t our strength, or our eloquence in using big words or flowery phrases, it isn’t our courage, or much of anything else that we can take credit for.  Paul says that he came in weakness and fear and trembling but was successful, not because of anything that he did, but because of the power of God.  We can never know the thoughts, fears, motivations, or much of anything else about the people we meet and the people we talk to, but God does and it is God’s Spirit that is at work whenever we have those spiritual conversations about the person and message of Jesus.

Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  You have been created and put on earth for a purpose intended by God.  God intends for you, for us, to obey his commands, to do the things that Jesus taught, and to teach others so that God’s kingdom can grow and continue on into the future.

What we cannot do is to be un-salty salt, or hidden lights, or people who appear to act as if they want God, but who never do the things that God has asks us to do.

We have been created by God and deliberately placed on earth for a purpose.

Let’s get busy.

 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.