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.

Pride and Prejudice

“Pride and Prejudice”

July 03, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture:

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20               Galatians 6:1-16                      2 Kings 5:1-14

 

Having served for ten years in the United States Army Reserve, I am a veteran.  Perhaps that makes me more conscious of public military references or more aware of how the military is being portrayed in the media, but to me it seems as if the last few years have seen a significant increase in the drumbeat of patriotism.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it depends on how it is expressed and who it is that is beating the drum.  What I have seen and heard, is a huge increase in the way that we honor veterans, the way that we praise those serving in active duty, and the way that we glorify the military in general.  Again, these things aren’t necessarily bad, but we must be careful that we aren’t being manipulated by people, businesses, and politicians who have something to gain.

I am proud to be a veteran.  I’m glad that I served and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I am proud of our military, what it can do, the skills, abilities and intellect of the men and women in uniform, and I am proud of my nation.  But in all these things, I must be careful because that pride can be manipulated by marketing companies, special interest groups, charitable organizations, and shady politicians to advance their cause even when that cause may not represent my interests and, in fact, may not be good for anyone except the shady people who profit from it.

But there is yet another reason to be cautious.  We must be cautious of pride itself because if pride is allowed to grow without boundaries, controls, or accountability, it can grow into something ugly.

We begin this morning in 2 Kings 5:1-14, where we meet Naaman, one of the most powerful military leaders of his day.  But despite all of his power, Naaman had a big problem.

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.”So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

Naaman was the commanding general of the most powerful army in the known world.  Among his friends were warriors, kings, and ruling elites.  But he had an incurable disease that didn’t care about his wealth, power, or influential friends.  The good news was that one his slaves knew that Elisha, the prophet of the God of Israel, had real power that came from God himself.  And so, Naaman goes to Israel carrying great wealth and a letter of introduction from the King of Aram.  The king of Israel worries that this is a trick because he knows that leprosy is incurable, but Elisha tells the king that he should send Naaman to him.

And here is where Naaman’s patriotism derails everything and very nearly kills him.

Even though Elisha tells Naaman what he must do to be cured, he storms off because the cure required that he bathe in a river in Israel instead of a river in his home country.  Naaman was so proud of his home country that he was insulted that he couldn’t be cured in waters that he believed to be superior simply because they were the rivers of his home.  For Naaman, his home, his nation, was better than every other.  For him, there was no better place in the entire world.  For him, it was necessary to believe that home was worth fighting for because it was the best.  But that nationalistic streak, that pride, became a prejudice against everyone else, and a prejudice against any place else.

And that pride almost killed him,

The irony is that the warrior who would die because of his pride and arrogance was rescued by his servants.  They gently remind the Naaman that if Elisha had demanded some great act of service, or participation in some heroic battle, Naaman would have jumped at the chance.  And so, in humility, they suggest that perhaps something simple could be done just as easily.  And as soon as Naaman recovers enough of his humility to do as Elisha asked, he is healed, the incurable is cured, and the damage that has been done to his flesh, is restored.

Similarly, in his letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 6:1-16), Paul warns that the leaders of the church, and indeed any of the followers of Jesus Christ, and not immune from falling victim to our own arrogance and pride.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

We all experience failure.  None of us are perfect.  And so, when someone sins, our response should not be to humiliate them further, turn our backs on them, throw them out, excommunicate them, or otherwise abandon them, but to restore them… gently.  Paul says that it’s okay to be proud of your own accomplishments, but that you’ve crossed a line when you compare yourself to someone else.  Your path and your burdens are yours and not someone else’s.  We can help others to carry their burdens, and they can help to carry ours, but we cannot be proud that we are doing “better” than they are without our pride crossing the line into arrogance and sin.  Our motivation in doing good must be to please God and not to please ourselves or to make ourselves more comfortable.

Paul goes on to remind his readers that there are those within the community of believers, likely including some well known people or church leaders, who do things simply to impress people.  These people tried to get believers to do things that weren’t required.  They wanted people to follow rules rather than follow Jesus because following rules looked good and impressed people.  They wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised so that they would “fit in” and not because it was required to follow Jesus.  Their ultimate motivation was to be popular and comfortable rather than obedient to God and to the mission of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus sent seventy-two missionaries out into the towns and villages ahead of him he built in a lesson on humility even before they took the first step of their journey. (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 


16 
“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus sends his followers out with nothing that they can call their own and nothing that they can credit for their success or failure.  They go out with almost no possessions of any kind, no money, no luggage, and not even shoes on their feet. All that they have are their gifts, talents, abilities, and the Spirit of God that goes with them.  And when they return, they sing God’s praises telling everyone what God had done and not what they had done.  Afterward, Jesus instructs them not even to rejoice over God’s power, but simply to praise God for their salvation.

Pride is a tricky thing.  It’s okay to be proud.  It’s okay to be proud of ourselves.  It’s okay to be proud of God and the things that God does.  It’s okay to be proud of our nation and proud of our military.  But we can cross a line and become too proud.  We must be careful not to allow our pride to drift into arrogance.  Patriotism is normal and even expected, but sometimes patriotism can be an excuse for our failure to be humble before God.

And so, as we leave this place to go out and celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, feel free to be happy for our country.  Feel free to be proud of how far we have come and what we have accomplished.  But let us also try to keep our priorities in order and remember that everything that we have been given, as individuals, as a church, and as a nation, has been given to us as a gift from God and, just as surely, can be taken away by God.

Let us remember that our obedience must be to God first, and to our nation second.

The most important thing, however, is to rejoice that God has chosen to rescue us.

 

 

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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.

Why Study Poverty?

urban-povertyWe all think we know what poverty is.

Almost all of us are wrong.

In August, Trinity Church will host Dr. Ken Price as he presents a one day seminar called Bridges Out of Poverty.  I’m certain that many people think that this is unnecessary and until a few years ago, I was one of them.

We all think that we know what poverty is, what it means to be poor, and many of us think that we have to solution to how poor people can get back on their feet again.  We think that poor people just need to work harder, or sign up for this or that government program, or get more education, or stop making foolish choices.

These thoughts are almost always wrong.

Poverty is much more complicated.  In fact, there are a great many forces that (unintentionally) work together to trap people in poverty and prevent very logical solutions from being successful.  These forces also prevent those people who are most in need from working harder, getting education, or doing many of the things that ought to lift them up to the next level.

As a church, both locally and nationally, we try to provide assistance to the poor but very often our best efforts are unsuccessful and we struggle to understand why.  We thought that we did all the right things, but the people didn’t come, or the help that we offered didn’t work when we thought that it should.

More often than not, the failure isn’t one of planning, or effort, or budgets but a much more fundamental failure to understand the complexity of the problem.  Moreover, these failures are not unique to the church but the same mistakes are often made by school systems, businesses, local, state and federal governments, and many others.

In order to be good stewards of our gifts, talents, abilities, time and money we should do our best to understand the problem before we set out to fix it.  And that is exactly why I invited Dr. Price to come here and why we are offering the Bridges Out of Poverty seminar.  This seminar was originally designed to teach school teachers so that they could better understand the students (and their families) that lived in poverty but it quickly grew beyond that.  It is regularly taught in businesses, social service agencies, charitable organizations, churches and other groups that work with, or seek to help, people in poverty.

I hope that you will join me, and Dr. Ken Price, on Saturday August 27th as we learn the hidden “rules” that govern the lives of the poor, why the poor can’t get the services that you take for granted, and many other ways in which our own culture and basic assumptions set us up for failure when we try to help.  This seminar is not free.  Participants will each get a course book, and we will be serving lunch, but if you would like to attend and the cost is a problem for you, please talk to me.  I don’t want anyone to miss this because they can’t afford it.

I look forward to seeing you there.