Because… God.

“Because… God.”

July 08, 2018*

By John Partridge

 

 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              2 Corinthians 12:2-10                       Mark 6:1-13

 

What is it that makes a human being weak or strong?

 

Weak people tend to be forgotten by history so let’s think about people in history that we would describe as strong.  Abraham Lincoln was often attacked from both sides as he guided our wounded nation through the Civil War.  Winston Churchill held the British Empire together during the darkest days of the blitz.  George Patton demanded nothing less than excellence from every person under his command and they rose to his expectations and did things that many believed to be impossible.  Often, the parents that watch over a sick child demonstrate an incredible strength.  Athletes can demonstrate incredible strength of will.

 

We say that these people are different because they have character, or strength of will, or unusual determination, or stubbornness applied in the right direction.

 

But what about the people who have done great things for the kingdom of God?

 

What is it that makes the heroes of scripture notable?  Why was David a great king and Saul a bad one?  Why was Paul great after he meet Jesus on the Damascus road but evil and misguided before that?  And why was Jesus reliably wonderful everywhere, but nearly unable to do anything at all when he visited Nazareth?

 

Let’s take these examples in historical order and begin with David.  We begin this morning with 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 where we hear a simple summary of his coronation and his life:

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

First, David was a shepherd. Then he was anointed by God’s prophet as the king of Israel, but it took many years before God’s anointing could be recognized.  In the meantime, he was a musician to the king, a warrior, a soldier, a military leader, and then he was on the run from the king, even when he was keeping the borders of Israel safe with his own militia.  Finally, David was made king over the tribes of Judah, and even later, united the twelve tribes when he was also anointed as king over the tribes of Israel.  During all that time, he remained faithful to God and grew in power.  But our scripture is clear in saying that David “became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

David didn’t become powerful because he was handsome, or virtuous, or a great warrior, or personable, or likeable, or charismatic, or determined, or stubborn, although I am certain that he was all those things.  Scripture tells us that David became powerful and did the things that he did because God was with him.

Last week we were reminded that it is God who does the doing, and we see that same theme in these scriptures today.  David wasn’t great because of chance, and David wasn’t great because of David.  David was great because… God was with him.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” But sometimes we feel paralyzed by the situations in which we find ourselves.  Other times, we allow our fear to be an excuse for our inaction.  In “The English Wife”, author Lauren Willig, says, “I don’t believe anything’s really inevitable until it happens. We just call it inevitable to make ourselves feel better about it, to excuse ourselves for not having done anything.” And Mehmet Murat ildan distills that idea further by saying, “Inaction is the worst action of human beings.”

But when we read the story of Mark 6:1-13, sorting out who is doing what, and who is doing nothing is not at all what we expect.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Although Jesus had been going throughout Israel healing the sick and performing great miracles, when he arrives in his hometown of Nazareth, he really doesn’t do much of anything.  But the reason that Jesus doesn’t do much is that the people have no faith.  They have fallen for the great lit.  They have fallen for the lie that “people like me can’t.”  That lie is just as common today as it was then.  They were thinking this way: “Since we know Jesus’ parents, and his siblings, since we watched him grow up, since we watched him learn his trade, since we grew up with him, since he is like us, and we know that people like me can’t, people like me can’t be great, then we know that he can’t be the Messiah.”  So deeply have they bought into this lie, that they were offended at him and Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.

But that didn’t stop Jesus.  It didn’t even slow him down.  He continued to preach from village to village and then he also sends out his disciples, two by two, and they go from village to village teaching, and preaching, and healing, and casting out demons.  When Jesus is faced with the lie that “people like me can’t” he turns the lie on it’s head and sends out even more ordinary people, even more “people like me,” to do the extraordinary work that he was doing.

Why?

Not because these guys were well bred, or because they had a great education from an ivy league school, and not because they had mad skills.  They didn’t have any of those things.

So, why could they do what they did?

It’s simple.

Because God… was with them.

The Apostle Paul was an amazing preacher. And Paul did come from the right kind of family, and he did have all the right connections, and he did go to all the right schools.  But when God decided to use him, God left some imperfection in him that haunted him for his entire life.

Reading from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, we hear these words:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was that blue-blood, ivy league, know the right people, kind of guy.  But when God called him, he made sure that Paul would always remember that it wasn’t any of those things, and it wasn’t Paul, that made Paul great.  Even though a lot of ink has been spilled by theologians arguing about it, we don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was.  But what we do know, is that it was enough.  Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, for him, a constant reminder that he had been sent by God, was being empowered by God, and all his success had to be attributed to God.  Whatever Paul accomplished through his own strength was pointless, but everything that he accomplished because of his weakness pointed to God.

God relishes our weaknesses because it is in our weakness that his strength becomes obvious and the world can see Jesus most clearly.  That’s why Paul said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  God seems to delight in using fishermen, and carpenters, and farmers.  He uses demon possessed people, and prostitutes, tax collectors, enemy collaborators, foreigners, lepers, and yes, God has even been known to use dead people from time to time.

Don’t ever believe the lie that people like us can’t.  Or that God can’t use people like us.

David was a shepherd.  Jesus was a Carpenter.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh.  And all of them remembered that the things they did weren’t because of them but because… God was with them.

The truth is, God delights in using people like us.  People like me.  People like you.

All we need to do, is to have faith.

Remember, people don’t do great things because they’re great.  People do great things for God’s kingdom because…

…God is with them.

We are called by God.  This church is called by God.  And every one of us needs to remember that we can do great things for the kingdom of God because…

…God is with us.

 

 

 

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

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Dangerous Foolishness

“Dangerous Foolishness”

March 04, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 20:1-17                                  John 2:13-22              1 Corinthians 1:18-25

 

 

Have you ever gotten some advice from your parents as you went out the door for an evening with your friends?

 

Of course, most of us have.  And for most of us, our parents said things like, “Be careful,” “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” “Stay with your friends and don’t go off alone,” and other advice that often boils down to simply saying, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

 

All of those things are good advice because our parents loved us and cared about our well-being.  But what if God gave us advice?  What would God say to us?  But of course, we know that God has done exactly that.  God gave his people plenty of advice and has been trying to teach us how to live, and how to live alongside one another, for thousands of years.  Among the earliest instances of God’s teaching is also among the most famous and well-known, the Ten Commandments, which we find in Exodus 20:1-17.

 

20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

 

The commandments that we remember best are the big ones: do not murder, do not steal, and do not worship other gods.  But among all of these there are also some gems that are more commonly forgotten.: make your parents a priority, take one day a week to rest and think about something bigger than yourself, don’t lie in ways that hurt others, don’t behave in ways that hurt your spouse, and be content with what you have.  The coming of Jesus didn’t take away any of these commandment.  In fact, Jesus dedicated his life, not only to living in obedience to them, but to teaching how human beings, even church leaders, sometimes tried to cheat God by manipulating the meaning of his commandments.    We see that in John 2:13-22 where we find Jesus kicking butt and taking names because the leaders of the Temple forgot that God cared about outsiders.

 

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

 

By the time Jesus drove people from the Temple courts, he had already gathered his disciples, had already been preaching for a while, and people knew who he was, even in Jerusalem.  But Jesus took issue with all the buying and selling that was going on, but not because it was unnecessary.  You see, the animals that were being bought and sold were animals that people needed to take to the priests to offer sacrifices.  If you lived in town you probably didn’t own your own sheep or goats, or even your own doves and so, when you needed, or wanted, to offer a sacrifice, you had to buy an acceptable animal.  Likewise, the moneychangers were necessary because people came to Jerusalem from other nations and needed what we would call a currency exchange to change into local currency.  But there was still another reason because Greek and Roman currency often had the images of emperors or kings or other people on them, the Jewish faith prohibited such images from the temple courts and so the moneychangers offered an exchange of that currency into an acceptable Temple currency.  Even worse, all of these systems were rife with corruption that lined the pockets of the chief priests and their friends.

 

But, even knowing that these things were necessary, there was one thing that probably set Jesus off.  The Temple itself was laid out in concentric squares.  The innermost section was for the priests alone, the next outer section was for Jewish men to pray, the next for Jewish women and children to pray, and the outermost section was designated, by God, as a place for outsiders, unbelievers, and non-Jews to come to God’s house and pray.  It is likely that this was the place where all of the animals were being sold and where the moneychangers had set up shop, and in doing so, they had taken up all of the space that God intended to be a welcome place of prayer for the outsiders.   And so, Jesus singlehandedly drives out the entire crowd, and the response that he gets from the Temple leadership was, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”  Rather than refer back to their own scripture, which they most certainly knew, rather than admit that Jesus was the one who was obeying scripture, they instead ask Jesus to give them a sign to prove that God sent him.

 

Instead of being shaped by scripture and by the will of God, the leaders of Jesus’ church had allowed their values to be perverted by culture, greed, and power.  And with that in mind, as we read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, we can better understand how the people in the world around us might think that we, and our faith in Jesus Christ, are weird.

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

 

Paul understood how the priests and the temple leaders had their values twisted and he understood that Christianity, from the outside, looked weird.  Just like the Temple leaders, the Jews wanted to see signs that proved that Jesus’ message was real and the Greeks wanted an answer that used logic and philosophy as proof.  To each of them, the message of Jesus Christ is foolishness and idiocy.  While those of us on the inside have come to understand that this is the truth and the message of God to his people, to those on the outside we are often seen as fools and what we preach as dangerous.  Scripture reminds us that this sort of foolishness can be dangerous.  Paul and many of the disciples were executed, murdered, or exiled because of the message they preached.  Jesus was hung on a cross for teaching the foolishness of scripture by people who had devoted their lives to studying it.

 

Jesus, the priests, the teachers of the law, and the other leaders of the Temple all knew the Ten Commandments and the teachings of scripture, and yet, some of them allowed themselves to be shaped by their culture, by their greed, and by their lust for power than by the scriptures.  We all run that same risk.  We all run the risk of being deceived by our own selfishness, or by the culture of cynicism that surrounds us.

 

This foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and this weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

 

To everyone on the outside, what we do, and what we believe, is a dangerous foolishness.

 

But to us, it is the way, the truth, and the life.

 

For no one can come to God except through his son, Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

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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 Impossible

“Do the Impossible”

June 18, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 18:1-15                 Matthew 9:35 – 10:8                  Romans 5:1-8

 

 

Have you ever been asked to do the impossible?

 

On this Father’s Day, I suppose it’s fair to ask all of you fathers, just how intimidated you were that first time someone put a tiny baby in your arms and you realized that you were responsible for their life.  Did that seem to be a nearly impossible task at times?

 

One of the challenges facing our president and the Congress of the United States is to find a way to control spending, increase income, or in some other way, or combination of ways, to balance the budget and reduce not only our annual deficit, but to begin to repay the tens of trillions of dollars of our debt before our nation defaults on its obligations.  While some politicians might argue about the necessity of repaying our debts, most politicians, from both major parties, would likely argue that doing what I just described, as an impossible task.  Some mathematicians have already argued that it may soon be mathematically impossible to get out of the hole that we are digging for ourselves.

 

While this is obviously worrisome, many of us understand what it means to be told that something is impossible. Most of us, at one time or another have been asked to do things that were close to, if not totally impossible.  We were frustrated when our bosses asked us to do too much with too little or asked us to convince a client of something we knew they wouldn’t like.  But many of us also know of couples who have been told that they could not have children, and then did.  We know of people who were told that loved ones would not survive, and then did.  But no matter how it happened, we are all well acquainted with what it means to face an impossible task and this is the theme that we find woven throughout today’s message.  We begin with the story of Abraham and Sarah found in Genesis 18:1-15.


18:1 
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

 

Sarah is not afraid of the difficult.  When three visitors come to their encampment, Abraham sends her to get three seahs of flour and bake bread and, chances are, that when we read this we are unimpressed.  But we should be.  If we take the time to read the marginal notes in our bibles, we discover that three seahs of flour amounts to about 36 pounds and so would make at least a similar amount of bread and perhaps even considerably more after accounting for all the other ingredients.  Imagine not only making thirty six, but perhaps even fifty, loaves of bread, but mixing and kneading them, by hand, and then baking them over an open fire.  While we know that Sarah had servants and almost certainly didn’t do this alone, this was a huge job and probably took the better part of the day to accomplish.  Sarah was not intimidated by hard work or by a difficult task.  But when she hears the Angel of God say that she will bear a child, when she is already well past the age when women have children, Sarah recognizes the impossible when she hears it.  By some accounts Sarah was already almost one hundred years old, the very idea of her getting pregnant and having a baby at that age was so completely preposterous that when she heard it, she laughed at the idea.  And even though she had not laughed out loud, and even though she had kept her thoughts to herself, God knew her thoughts.

 

And God’s question for Sarah was simple.

 

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

 

Clearly, this is a rhetorical question.  Whenever anyone asks a question such as “Is anything impossible for God?” obviously we are intended to understand that the answer is “No.”

 

The God of creation, the God who spoke the universe into existence, is a god who does the impossible.

 

But what does that have to do with us?

 

What difference does it make, in my life, or in the life of the church, that we worship a god that does the impossible?

 

And in order to answer that question, let us first turn to the words of Romans 5:1-8, Paul says this:


5:1 
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

For our purposes today there are two things that I want to point out.  First, we have peace with God, through our faith in Jesus Christ, and second, that the Spirit of God has been given to us, and through him God’s love has been poured into our hearts.  I also want to take a moment to consider what Paul says in verse six as he says, “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”  Think about that.  What does he mean by saying “when we were still powerless?”  From the context of what Paul has written we can understand that we, the ungodly, were powerless at the time when Jesus gave his life to atone for our sin.  But by saying so, Paul is also communicating that we are no longer powerless, and if we are no longer powerless, then we might wonder what power we now have that we did not have before.  And the answer is one that Paul has already given to us when he said, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

 

We are no longer powerless, because the Spirit of God has been given to us and the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.

 

We are not powerless because God lives within us.

 

And with that in mind we come to Matthew 9:35 – 10:8, where we find Jesus sending his disciples out to continue the work that he had been doing.


9:35 
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”


10:1 
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

Jesus gives his disciples the authority to drive out impure spirits, to heal disease, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, to rescue the lost sheep of Israel, and to proclaim the coming of the messiah.

 

All of these things are difficult.

 

Some would say that many of these things are impossible.

 

But the followers of Jesus Christ have been given the power of the Spirit of God that lives within us and we have been given the authority of Jesus Christ to do the work that he has given us to do.

 

Not only do we worship the God of the impossible, not only is our God the god who does the impossible, but that same God has equipped us and called us to do the impossible through the power of the Spirit of God that lives within us, and through the authority of Jesus Christ that has been given to us.

 

Jesus said, “proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

 

Go.

 

Go, and be good fathers to your children and to the children that you know that don’t have a father of their own.

 

Go and heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and the orphans, preach the Good News

 

Go, and do the Jesus thing in the Jesus way.

 

Go.

 

Do the impossible.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Justice, Power, Gentleness

“Justice, Power, Gentleness”

January 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 42:1-9                                      Matthew 3:13-17                                           Acts 10:34-43

 How much do you know about Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX?

I know that most of you have heard of Dr. Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon.

What you may not know, is that these two very different men, from different generations, and entirely different backgrounds have a dream for humanity that is surprisingly similar.

Buzz Aldrin has been a tireless advocate for the support of manned spaceflight and Elon Musk has made it his goal to make spaceflight cheaper by several orders of magnitude.  Okay, I know I lost a few of you with that comment.  I’m an engineer and a math geek so that language is natural to me, but for those of you who have never been especially friendly with math, an “order of magnitude” means something that is divided or multiplied by ten so that when describing it you are moving the decimal by one place.  For example, if something costs $1000, reducing the cost by one order of magnitude would make the price $100 and two orders of magnitude would reduce it to only $10.  So what Elon Musk is attempting, is to reduce the cost of a rocket launch from something like $100 million per launch to $10 million or even $1 million per launch.  That’s a really big deal.

In any case, the vision for humanity that is held by both Buzz Aldrin and Elon Musk is that we, as a species, should attempt, as soon as possible, to land men on Mars and, shortly thereafter, attempt to establish a human colony there.

Not surprisingly, science fiction writers have been thinking about what this would be like for generations.  One thing that is presented as a problem for a moon colony or a Mars colony is that since the gravity of the moon is one-sixth the gravity of Earth, and the gravity of Mars is only one-third that of Earth, when children are eventually born on such a colony, their bones won’t grow the way that our do.  Without a stronger gravity, their bones won’t be as strong as ours and they will likely never be able to come “home” to Earth.

But with that in mind, what I want you to think about is really the opposite.  What if humans were to somehow build a colony on Saturn or Jupiter, or somewhere else where the gravity is much greater than ours?  When those colonists, or their children, returned to Earth, they would be a little bit like Superman.  They would have incredible strength because, to them, the gravity of Earth would affect them the way that the moon’s gravity affected Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and the rest of the Apollo astronauts.  These people would be incredibly strong but would they also remain capable of gentleness and tenderness?  Superman can lift an airplane, but he can still catch Lois Lane without hurting her and Clark Kent can still buy groceries without crushing the eggs in his basket.

I admit that this discussion is a little strange for a Sunday morning, but bear with me because I hope that it will help us to understand a greater truth before we’re done.  We begin this morning once again in Isaiah, this time we are reading from Isaiah 42:1-9, where he continues to look ahead and to describe for the world what the coming messiah will look like.

42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Isaiah says that the Spirit of God will be put on the messiah so that he will be able to bring justice to the nations.  But Isaiah also draws for us a dramatic contrast from our natural expectations.  If we are honest with ourselves, whenever we think of someone who is powerful enough to conquer the world and to bring justice to all of the evil and terrible things in the world, whenever we think of a person that is great enough to bring justice to the Adolf Hitlers and Julius Ceasars of the world, and powerful enough to overcome the Roman Empires and the ISIS-es of the world, we almost automatically think of someone who is not only strong and powerful, but also ruthless and perhaps a little wild.

But that is not the picture that Isaiah paints.

The messiah that Isaiah describes is powerful enough to overcome all of the evil in the world, but will not shout, or raise his voice, he will be so tender that he will not break a bruised reed, or snuff out a smoldering wick.  In these two examples, Isaiah describes two things that are more fragile than an eggshell.  If you’ve ever held a candle that was sputtering and drowning in its own wax, you know that one jostle in the wrong direction will smother it.  Likewise, a bruised reed needs only the slightest touch to break it the rest of the way.  And so, what Isaiah describes for us is a messiah that not only has indescribable power, but who is also so self-controlled, so gentle, so caring, and so compassionate, that he will care for even the most fragile among us without breaking them.

Also worth noting is that Isaiah also says that God will make the messiah to be a new covenant for the people and that, while he is sending this incredibly powerful messiah, who will be filled with the Spirit of God, God will not yield his glory to another.  And so, while the messiah is powerful, and filled with God’s Spirit, and is a new covenant for the people of God, he is not someone who is other than God, but perhaps in some way, is God himself.

I am certain that this was a puzzle for everyone who has read this that did not know of Jesus the messiah or who does not believe in what we now call the Trinity.  In this passage, God speaks of himself, of his Spirit, and of his messiah in ways that sound as if they are all somehow separate, and yet are all one God.  And then with the coming of Jesus, we hear these words in Matthew 3:13-17:

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

And again, in that moment, we hear the voice of God, we see the Spirit of God descend, and we also see Jesus who is the object of God’s praise.  And yet again, we remember that God said that he would not yield his glory to another.  And so where does that leave us?  It is a puzzle, but before we’re done let us also consider Peter’s explanation in Acts 10:34-43:

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Peter again emphasizes that Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power and was able to do all the things that he did through the power of God that was with him.  Peter then goes on to say that Jesus died, was raised from the dead, by God, after three days, that Jesus was the messiah that all the prophets had testified about, and that human beings were able to receive forgiveness through the name of Jesus.

 This is an impressive list.

 But nearly all these things are impossible for someone who was no more than just a human being.  No one else, in all of scripture was able to raise the dead simply by commanding them to do so.  No one else was raised from the dead by God in the way that Jesus was.  No one else could ever fulfill the prophecies that were written about God’s messiah.  And if you remember the objections of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, no one has the power to forgive sin, except God himself.

 And again, here we are faced with a puzzle.  How can Jesus be all these things at the same time?  How can God be all these things and yet not yield his glory to another unless Jesus is, himself, God in human flesh?

 The conclusion of countless theologians throughout history is that these three things, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, must somehow, be one and the same, and yet, somehow, exist separately.  I remind you that this word that we use, “Trinity,” appears nowhere in scripture.  It was invented in the first century after Jesus in an attempt to describe the relationship that we’ve been reading about this morning.  But two thousand years later, when we are faced with the facts, from the Old Testament, the Gospel stories, and from the testimony of the New Testament eyewitnesses, we are compelled to come to the same conclusion or one very much like it.

 Jesus is the messiah, sent by God, to bring justice to the nations.  He is the one who has been given supernatural power to overcome evil and bring righteousness to the world.  And yet, he is so in control, so gentle, so compassionate, that even while yielding this incredible, indescribable power, he will not raise his voice or break the most fragile and damaged among us.

There is no alien from another world like that.

There is no human being like that.

The only conclusion is that Jesus…  is… God.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

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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.

 

Fear Not?

fearEarlier today, my friend John Thro posted a question that, in light of this election, is worth taking the time for all of us to consider.  He said…

“I have gay relatives, relatives with gender identity issues, relatives with mental health issues. 

I have friends and coworkers who are immigrants, friends and coworkers who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist.

How should they feel this morning?”

First off, I want to point out that throughout this election cycle I have not supported either candidate.  Professionally, I try very hard (with varying degrees of success) to keep my political opinions (though strongly held) to myself.  What I have to say, and what we do, on Sunday morning, and inside the walls of the church are far more important than whatever political differences that we might have.  Personally, I found both major candidates to be so deeply flawed that I could not, in good conscience, support either of them.  What button I pushed inside the election booth is not something I care to post publicly.

With that in mind, here is my perception. Despite the efforts of the opposing campaign to smear him, Mr. Trump’s history is not as bad as some would lead you to believe. Many of the things brought up were things that he had said, 20 or 30 years ago. People change. In general, as we age, we mellow.   For every accusation of hatred, there were employees, friends, associates, and others who countered with a story demonstrating the opposite.  Even so, I do not discount that some of the things said by Trump were troubling, some should not have been said, and these are things that we must watch for, and guard against.

What I fall back on is that we still live in a nation of laws, a nation in which the violent crime rate has been dropping for the last twenty years, and a nation that is full of good people. No laws will be enacted that violate anyone’s Constitutional rights, violence against minorities or others will be not tolerated under our laws any differently than it has been, and the law will be upheld. In the end, as it has almost always been, to the man or woman on the street, there will be little or no perceived difference.

You are as safe today as you were yesterday.

The Gallup research organization says that 58 percent of all Americans claim to be third generation Americans, the grandchildren of immigrants.  I am one.  Our conversation about immigration is not only important, for more than half of us, it is deeply personal.  For that reason alone, as well as others, there will be no gigantic shifts in immigration policy.  We will not ban immigration.  We will not hate immigrants.  How can we when half of us claim that as our heritage?  What we will (or at least should) have, is a discussion about what legal immigration ought to look like, what reasonable limits we should put in place, and how we can do it better.

Similarly, we are already such a culturally, religiously, and racially, diverse culture that I do not expect any huge, or dangerous, changes in public policy.  And, despite those who would seek to attack our neighbors with gender identity issues, or those whose gender identity is different than the mainstream, I really don’t see any significant changes happening.  As a nation, we are a good, kind, compassionate, generous, and yes, tolerant people… even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

I said many of these things to John in my reply to his post, but I also added something else.  We must remember that President Obama, even though he was well liked and widely supported by the Democrat members of the United States House and Senate, occasionally proposed legislation that went too far.  In those cases, even his friends and supporters could not agree with him, and that legislation did not pass.  What President Trump will face, although there will be a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, is a Congress in which many establishment representatives neither like him nor support him.  I believe that they will be more than willing to oppose him on issues that they believe cross the line and go too far.

In the end, I also have faith.

I have faith that the ultimate power is not the man or woman who sits in the Oval Office.  God is in control.  And our God is a god who is passionately concerned about the poor, the outcast, the voiceless, immigrants, minorities, and every kind of oppressed people.  What is left to us is not to be afraid, but to choose what we will do.  We must not wait for the President, or the Congress, or the government at any level to do what we should do.  I have always, regardless of political party, committed to pray for the President of the United States and all of our leaders at every level and I will continue to do that.

I encourage you to do the same.

But we must also busy ourselves doing what is right, good, and just, particularly if we are people of faith. We must commit ourselves to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the outcasts, being a voice for the voiceless, showing mercy and compassion for immigrants and the oppressed, and seeking justice for everyone.

I believe that our nation is full of good, decent, hardworking, compassionate, faithful, and generous people.

I believe that we will do these things.

We will be vigilant.

There is no reason to fear.

 

 

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Set Free… For a Purpose

“Set Free… For a Purpose!”

August 21, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 13:10-17                 Hebrews 12:18-29                         Jeremiah 1:4-10

 

How many of you have access to the internet and use things like email, Facebook, Twitter and other things?

Like anything else, sometimes we take have to take the good with the bad.  I am not very fond at all of the political garbage that gets circulated but I love some of the things that my friends pass along.  While there is a lot of worthless junk, some things make me smile, and others can be a source of encouragement.  Not long ago, I saw a video that was, recorded from the dashboard of a police car.  In the frame of the video are both another police car and a police officer who is attempting to make an arrest.  But there is a problem.  The man being arrested is not cooperating and is bigger and stronger than the police officer.  He begins to wrestle with the officer for his gun and things look pretty grim for the good guys when something unexpected happens.

The text underneath the video tells us that the officer that we are watching is, in fact, a canine handler and his canine partner is still in the car that is seen in the video.  We are also told that just a short time before the events recorded in the video, the police department had installed a remote release that allows the officer to press a button in his pocket or on his equipment belt, and release his partner from the back of the car.  At that moment, the officer, in the midst of wrestling with the perpetrator, manages to reach his remote release button.  And in the blink of an eye, the tide turned.  In a flash, the canine officer is all over the perpetrator, wrestles him away from his human partner and pins him to the ground.  From the moment that the car door opened to the bad guy being in handcuffs, took less then ten seconds.  It was truly impressive, especially if you are a dog lover.

But the reason that this story came to my mind was the scripture that we will be reading today.  The police dog was safe and secure in the police car but being save and secure is not what police dogs have been trained for.  In order to do what he had been trained to do, the dog had to be set free.  When his handler pushed that button to open his door, there was no leash on him but he knew exactly what had to be done.  He was set free… for a purpose.

We begin our scripture lesson this morning with the prophet Jeremiah who was probably about 12 years old when God called him.  Jeremiah was worried that no one would believe him and protested his calling before God. (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah complained that he was too young to be a prophet probably because he had already been told this about a lot of things.  “You’re too to do this.”  “You’re too young to do that.” And so Jeremiah internalizes those doubts and protests to God himself that he is too young to answer the call of God.

But God.

But God didn’t care for Jeremiah’s excuses nor did he care much about his fear.  God casts aside the protests of others by telling Jeremiah not to worry about his age and then he does something else.  God tells Jeremiah not to be afraid because when God calls, he does not set you loose upon the world all alone.  Instead, God calls you to go out, and then goes with you.  To further ease his fear, God touches Jeremiah and declares that he has put his words into Jeremiah’s mouth.  What’s more, God declares that Jeremiah is being called and sent out, to lift up, and to destroy entire nations, to build things, as well as to destroy things.

God called Jeremiah to be his prophet, and then he set him free… to go out into the world and to do the work of God.

God called Jeremiah and then he set him free… for a purpose.

And then in Luke 13:10-17, we hear of this encounter with Jesus:

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

The woman that Jesus met had been bent and crippled for eighteen years and Jesus simply declares “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”

But the synagogue leader was infuriated that Jesus would even consider healing someone on the Sabbath day, a day that no one was supposed to do work.  But Jesus exposes the ridiculousness of this manmade rule by pointing out how any sensible person would understand that untying their animals, or feeding and watering them, was allowed.  How much more so would God allow this woman to be freed from her crippling disfigurement!

Jesus healed the woman to set her free from her pain and humiliation.

Jesus broke manmade rules to set everyone free from expectations that twisted God’s commands into something ugly.

Jesus set the woman free… for a purpose.

And finally, in Hebrews 12:18-29, the Apostle Paul confronts the nagging fear of many Christians that God is big, and scary, and will strike us down because of some mistake or perceived sin.  Paul understands that the stories of the Old Testament can feed this fear of God but reaches out to calm our fears by saying this:

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Paul understands that the stories of the Old Testament revealed a god that sometimes even terrified Moses.  But in contrast, Paul reminds us that God is also the god that invites us to live with him, the righteous, loving, and perfect god.  With God is Jesus, the priest who intercedes for us and the man who loved us so much that he gave his life for us.  While we should be cautious not to refuse God, God’s strength is intended to comfort us instead of frighten us.  As followers of God, God’s strength defines a kingdom that cannot be overthrown or defeated.  Instead of binding us into slavery through fear, God’s strength, when added to his call, is intended to set us free.

Just as he called Jeremiah to be his prophet, God calls each and every one of us to our own, unique and special ministry for his kingdom.

Just as Jesus healed the crippled woman, God has healed us of a multitude of wounds, infirmities, and sin.

Just as Jesus broke manmade rules in order to make God’s rules appear more clearly, we too are called to understand the loving Spirit of God instead of the harshness with which humans have often described him.

We have been called, to tell the world that God loves us, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We have not been enslaved.

We have been set free from the non-biblical rules that human beings have made for us.

We have been set free from sin.

We have been set free from death.

We have been set free… for a purpose.

 

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