Unexpected Acts of Love

“Unexpected Acts of Love”

September 10, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 12:1-14                      Romans 13:8-14                                 Matthew 18:15-20

 

How many of you own jewelry of one kind or another?

 

Most of us do.

 

Some of it is elaborate, ornate, and expensive, while some of the things that we use to adorn ourselves are simple, plastic, and cheap.  I have a cross that’s made of wood and bit of yarn.  I’ve seen others that came out of a vending machine at the grocery store for a quarter.  But regardless of their cost, many of the things that we wear include symbols that have meaning. And one of the odd things about the stories of the Bible are the times in which things that are ordinarily gruesome, terrible, and frightening are redeemed and transformed into symbols of something else entirely.  The cross is the most well-known example. With few, if any, exceptions the cross is among the most painful, gruesome, and horrific ways of dying. Merely the threat of crucifixion was enough to bring about the stubborn obedience of entire nations to Roman rule and law.  The cross was, absolutely, a clear and profoundly terrifying symbol of pain, suffering, and terror.  Few of us would wear a necklace with an electric chair, or a guillotine, or a gallows around our necks.  But the death of Jesus Christ transforms the meaning of the cross into a symbol of faith, hope, and love.

 

Somehow, in the wisdom of God, this symbol of horror becomes instead a symbol of something else entirely, and this one act of suffering and death is revealed to be a completely unexpected act of love.

 

As we continue reading the story of Moses and the people of Israel in Exodus 12:1-14, we see another well-known example of this.

 

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. 

 

Darkness, frogs, lice, locusts, blood, and even death are sent to plague Egypt and while all of these things are terrible, they become for the nation of Israel, symbols of hope and signs that remind us, even today, of God’s faithfulness. And in this passage we see the slaughter of year-old lambs and goats and their blood being painted on the doorframes of houses.  In any other context, painting houses with blood would be offensive, threatening, disgusting, and terrible.  Today, the perpetrators would likely be charged with a hate crime, but in this particular case, the blood of these slain animals becomes a mark of the faith of God’s people and a symbol of God’s love that endures for thousands of years.

 

More than that, the plagues of Egypt themselves, including the death of every firstborn, while haunting and terrible, are not signs of God’s hatred of Egypt or a suggestion that God is somehow evil, but instead are symbols of God’s love even for Pharaoh and the people of Egypt.  Over and over again, God demonstrates his power and authority, granting second chance after second chance, in an attempt to bring about their repentance.  God could have just as easily started with the destruction of Egypt but, in his mercy, provides advance warnings through Moses, and repeated non-lethal demonstrations of his sovereignty so that even the Egyptians might accept him and be saved.

 

And even though we might struggle with elements that seem to be negative and difficult, we see something similar as we read Matthew 18:15-20.

 

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

 

None of us like conflict and confrontation, and what Jesus tells us to do is exactly that.  When we see a follower of Jesus Christ that is falling into sin, we are called to go to them and point out their error.  The intent of this confrontation is not to be angry, or vindictive, or to gloat over their sin, but to call them to repentance in a way that is loving so that they can be restored to the body of Christ.  The first effort is totally private and done in such a way that, should they see their error, no one else would need to know.  You saw it, pointed it out to them, and if they recognize it, repent, and change, then it’s all over and done.  The second attempt is nearly as private, but lets the fallen person know that others in the community are aware of what they have done, and they are given a second chance to repent and stop doing whatever it is that they have done.  And still there is a third chance given where the sin is made known to the entire community of faith and still there is time to repent and to be restored.  But should that fail, then the fallen can be expelled from the church.  All along, the goal is never about confrontation, or humiliation, or ruining reputations, but the goal is always to be caring and loving, and to bring about repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration.

 

Paul sums up the commands of God in a wonderful way in Romans 13:8-14 where he says…

 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

 

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

 

Paul’s summary of the law of God is one of the simplest to remember in all of scripture. “Whoever loves, has fulfilled the law.” Boom.  That’s it.  Every commandment of God can be summarized with this one simple statement because “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Although they are important, there’s no need for us to get all wrapped up in trying to remember rules and laws because, in the end, all of them are accomplished if we love one another and seek the best interests of others.

 

What is unexpected, when we look at the examples that we read earlier, is how often the loving thing, done in the best interests of others, can sometimes appear to be quite the opposite.  Our children thought that we were terrible parents when we said ‘No” to their requests for candy before dinner or caffeinated soda before bed.  Our teens were furious with us when we grounded them for breaking the rules or refused to allow them to go out with their friends the night before a big test.  Darkness, lice, locusts, boils, and death certainly don’t seem to be the acts of a loving God, and yet, all of these were an attempt to draw people, both Israelite and Egyptian, into the kingdom of God.  Confrontation, accusation, humiliation, and even excommunication do not seem like loving acts, but the goal, in every case, is to bring about restoration and reconciliation.

 

To a toddler, a swat across the hands does not seem to be a loving act, but to the adult who stopped curious fingers from touching a hot stove, that mild act of violence was understood to be a loving rescue.

 

Sometimes love is unexpectedly painful.

 

Jesus sought to do what was best for all of us at the expense of his own comfort and even at the expense of his life.

 

And our calling is to pursue what is in the best interests of others even when it might seem, on the surface, to be something less than loving.

 

“Whoever loves, has fulfilled the law.”

 

We may find that love is expressed in some unexpected ways.

 

But love must always come first.

 

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

 

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Hatred, Faith, Restoration

“Hatred, Faith, Restoration”

August 20, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

I have to tell you that I was disappointed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves

“Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves”

June 11, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Until the arrival of Jesus.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Eternity Restored

“Eternity Restored”

May 28, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

What does it mean to be “restored”?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And the answer is… everything.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We are, after all, at war.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

When God is ready, Israel will be restored.

 

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

 

Everything will happen when God chooses for it to happen.

 

But in the meantime… we have work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

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