Because… God.

“Because… God.”

July 08, 2018*

By John Partridge

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

So, why could they do what they did?

It’s simple.

Because God… was with them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All we need to do, is to have faith.

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

…God is with them.

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

…God is with us.

 

 

 

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

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Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect

May 20, 2018

(Pentecost)

By John Partridge*

 

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15                   Acts 2:1-21                 Romans 8:22-27

 

 

If you are old enough, you might remember Rube Goldberg, whose drawing of amazingly complicated machines would appear in the comic pages of newspapers across the country.  These machines amused us because, although complex, they performed a simple task that would have been easier done than the effort it took to build, or even to draw, the machine.  Goldberg became so famous for this, that now, many years after his death, machines like this have been named after him.  There is an entire genre of videos of these type machines on YouTube, including a popular series of videos by a band named OK Go.

 

Have you ever watched Sesame Street?  Kermit the frog would periodically build Rube Goldberg machines on a spot that he called “What Happens Next.”  Except in the case of Kermit, these machines never worked quite right.  (We might just watch one of Kermit’s adventures during the Coffee House service.)

 

But watching these machines can remind us that actions have consequences.  The things that we do in the world do not happen in a vacuum.  What we do impacts the world, and the people, around us.  Each action has an effect, and sometimes, as we learned from Kermit the Frog, sometimes, the effects are not what we intended.

 

We begin this morning in the gospel of John where Jesus makes a promise.  And since we all know that Jesus always keeps his promises, this cause, will certainly have an effect later on.

(John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)

15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

16:4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Well before the crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples that he must go away, but when he does, he will send the Spirit of God to be with them in his absence.

 

There is a cause, and an effect.

 

Jesus says that he will send the Spirit to testify to us about Jesus, but that in return we also must testify to the world about Jesus.  Jesus promises that when he departs, he will send the Spirit of God to us and the Spirit will guide us into all the truth.

 

And just a few short weeks later, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, we read the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21 where we see Jesus keeping his promise.

2:1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Jesus promised that he would send the Spirit and he did.  And the spirit of God arrived in spectacular fashion and through the Spirit, God gave great gifts to all of the believers so that they, and the world around them had to sit up and take notice.  People were amazed that back country hicks from Galilee could possibly be speaking Parthian, Phrygian, Egyptian, Latin, Libyan, Arabic, and other languages of the far-flung Roman Empire.  Those who didn’t speak foreign languages simply thought they were drunk and babbling nonsense, but those who came from those places were amazed to hear people speaking the language of their home.  They had all heard the sound of a violent wind and had come to this place to investigate, and here they discover this amazing thing.  Surely, this must mean something.  But what?

 

And Peter steps up to explain.

 

Once again, remember that this is the same Peter that only a few weeks before had lied about even knowing Jesus.  And here, in the middle of Jerusalem, he stands up and tells everyone that, through Jesus Christ, God is at work changing the world.  Peter tells them that the Spirit of God would pour out his spirit on their sons, their daughters, the young, the old, and even on their servants so that they would receive gifts that would demonstrate to the world the power of a holy creator God so that the world might come to faith in him and be saved from sin and death.

 

But what does that mean today?

 

What does Pentecost mean a hundred generations after the people of the first century church?  And for that we find that Paul has some solid insight in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 8:22-27) where he says:

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Paul says that the world is not perfect, far from it, in fact.  The world is in such sad shape that all of creation groans over its condition.  But the gift of God’s spirit to his people is still having an effect on our daily lives.  Paul says that the gift of the spirit of God, and our faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t make our lives perfect.  We often find ourselves in pain or suffering from the circumstances in our lives and in the world around us, but the spirit of God helps us along the way.  Paul says that our spirits have already been redeemed, but our human bodies have not.  That wonderful pain-free existence that we dream of is something that will only come about when God redeems our bodies in heaven.  But Paul explains God’s spirit also gives us the gift of intercession.  Intercession means that when we find ourselves in such misery or confusion that we are unable to pray, or to even find words, when all that we can do is groan, the Spirit knows our hearts and carries the messages and the desires of our hearts directly to God on our behalf.

 

And so yes, two thousand years and over a hundred generations of humanity later, the Spirit of God is still alive and well in the people of Jesus Christ and in the world around us.  Like the cartoons that Rube Goldberg drew, and the silly machines that Kermit the Frog built, there really is a “what happens next.”  We really do feel an effect caused by the work and the mission of Jesus.

 

Jesus has sent the Spirit into the world and into each person that puts their faith in him.  As we wait for our final adoption and the redemption of our bodies, the spirit helps us in our weakness, prays for us, and intercedes for us in our pain, confusion, and hopelessness, guides us into all the truth, speaks the words of God to us, and yes, Jesus still sends us into the world to testify to the world about him so that others can be rescued from sin and death.

 

It’s all about cause and effect.

 

For over a hundred generations, the people of Jesus Christ have answered his call and told others the Good News so that they might have the hope of redemption and the power of God’s spirit.  Each of us is here because someone answered that call of God.

 

They were the cause.

 

We are the effect.

 

The spirit of Pentecost continues today just as it has for two thousand years.

 

Will you answer God’s call?

 

What effect will you have on the world, and on the people around you?

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Courage Unbound

“Courage Unbound”

April 29, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 10:11-18            Acts 4:1-12                 1 John 3:16-24

 

 

Where have you seen courage?

 

We’ve all been witnesses to courage at one time or another.  Sometimes it’s as simple as tasting a new food, emptying a mousetrap, or a new parent changing a diaper for the first time.  Sometimes it’s a cancer patient willing themselves to show up for one more chemotherapy treatment, or the parent of sick child putting on a brave face to calm the child’s fears.  But sometimes it’s more than that.

 

During the war in Yugoslavia, a Bosnian Muslim factory manager was captured by Croatian soldiers along with his family and his neighbors.  They were all taken to a makeshift prison camp and after several days, 40 of the prisoners, including this man, his wife, and his five year old twin boys, were taken out of the camp and lined up in a row.  The soldiers brought out a civilian man who was Croatian as they were, and demanded that he choose 12 of the prisoners from the lineup, and decide how they would be killed.  But, although he was ethnically Croatian, he had also been a neighbor to the people who stood before him and the closest friend of the Muslim father.  Rather than follow their orders, the man turned on the soldiers and said, “You should be ashamed of yourselves! These people are innocent. Release them. Let them go home.”  He then turned to his friends and said, “I’m so sorry. This is all I can do. I know they will kill me tonight. I wish all of you the best.”  The soldiers dragged the man off and took the Muslim prisoners back to the prison camp.  That night the Croatian man was killed by the soldiers, but many of the prisoners were later saved through a prisoner exchange.  (Story from Courage Under Fire – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/courage_under_fire)

 

Imagine the courage that it took for that man to risk his life in order to do what was right?

 

In the last couple of messages, we have paid particular attention to the change that we see in Jesus’ disciples from the time of the crucifixion to the days immediately following Pentecost.   In a way, our scriptures revisit that today, but our focus this time is on us more than it is on the disciples.  We begin this morning with the words of Jesus which are recorded for us in John 10:11-18.

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Long before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus knew what was going to happen, but he also knew why it was going to happen.  Jesus said that a good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.  Someone who is just in it for the money, fakers, thieves, and charlatans, don’t stick around when things get difficult.  Real shepherds are in it for keeps and are ready to stand and fight for their sheep.  But Jesus also says that the relationship goes the other way as well.  Real sheep know the shepherd and they follow him, they listen to his voice, and they join together as one flock.  This is the way that God intended for it to be and Jesus has been given the power and the authority to do everything that God commanded.

 

But Jesus did more than that.  His ability and willingness to sacrifice for his flock was passed on to his disciples.  After Jesus rose from the dead, they began to more fully understand who he was, what he did, and what he had accomplished.  And as they understood, they began to follow his example. (Acts 4:1-12)

4:1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

As you will remember from last week, Peter and the disciples are proclaiming the name of Jesus to the crowd that gathered after Peter healed a lame man who was begging by the gate of the temple.  Now, as they preach, they are approached not only by passers-by, but by priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the representatives of the Sadducees and, we are told, they were “greatly disturbed.”  Most likely, if they weren’t being unruly, or causing a nuisance, the captain of the guard wouldn’t be too concerned, but the Sadducees were the political group that did not believe in any kind of afterlife.  They didn’t believe in heaven or hell, in souls, or spirits, and they certainly didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead.  This is most likely why they were greatly disturbed.  The teaching, let alone the existence, of a risen Jesus, was highly damaging to their worldview and to their ability to attract followers.

 

But many believed and the church grew.

 

Peter and John were arrested, thrown in prison, and the next day they were brought, almost certainly under guard, to appear before the high priest, the former high priest, the high priest’s father, all the elders, the teachers of the law, and all the political movers and shakers of the church power structures.

 

And Peter unapologetically preaches to them all.  Peter is bold and courageous and “in-your-face.”

 

Remember, that just a few weeks ago, this is exactly what Peter and the other disciples were so afraid of.  They were afraid that people would overhear.  They were afraid that the leaders of the temple would hear about them.  They were afraid that they would be arrested or manhandled by the temple guards.  They were afraid that they would be forced to appear before the leaders of the temple.  And now, that exact scenario has happened.

 

And at every step, the disciples are no longer afraid.

 

Why?

 

Peter’s explanation rocks the world of the temple leaders when he says, “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter essentially says that even though the temple leaders rejected him, Jesus is the cornerstone on which God’s church must be built.  Jesus has authority over life and death itself and nothing else matters because no one else, no other religious leader, no other political leader, no other church, matters because Jesus is the only one who can save them.

 

The disciples are no longer afraid because they know, without a shred of doubt, that Jesus is in control.

 

The courage of the disciples came from knowing, and trusting, that Jesus was in control and had authority over everything, even life and death itself.  And that courage was transformational.  It changed their lives.  It changed everything.

 

But so what?

 

That was still two thousand years ago.  What does that have to do with us?

 

And again, John has the answer.  In 1 John 3:16-24, we hear these words:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John says the reason that we know what love is, is because Jesus showed us.  Because Jesus was willing to give up his life for us, we ought to be willing to give up our lives for the people around us.  But love isn’t just risking our lives for people, it’s being willing to give up material possessions as well.  We aren’t just called to love other when it doesn’t cost us anything; we are called to love others when loving them means that we give up some of the stuff that makes us comfortable.  Love, John says, is demonstrated not by the words that we say, but by our actions toward others.  And it is our actions toward others that tell us that we belong to Jesus.  We know that we belong, when we act like Jesus.  We know that we belong, when our hearts tell us that we are right.  We know that we belong, when our hearts do not condemn us for being selfish, or greedy, or guilty of other sins against God.

 

A significant part of our transformation as Christians comes as we grow in courage, and that courage comes to us because, like the disciples, we know that Jesus is in control and has authority over everything, even life and death itself.  John reminds us that God forgives our past but we must live in such a way that we do not feel guilty for our actions.  “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him.”  And we know that God lives in us because we live like Jesus.  We know that God lives in us because we love like Jesus…

…even when that love costs us something.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are transformed by meeting the risen Jesus because in meeting him, and knowing him, we are given the gift of courage.

 

We are transformed because we have the courage… to love like Jesus.

 

 

 

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U 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.

 

Ghosts and Transformation

“Ghosts and Transformation”

April 22, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Luke 24:36b-48         Acts 3:12-19               1 John 3:1-7

 

 

Have you seen all the paranormal shows on television?  It isn’t just funny movies like “Ghostbusters” anymore, there’s “Ghost Hunters,” “Paranormal Lockdown,” “Ghost Adventures,” “The Dead Files” and something like sixty others that are either currently on television or older series that are sometimes rebroadcast.  With varying degrees of seriousness, these shows describe, or investigate, the activities of supernatural, non-spiritual, beings.  More simply, ghosts.  These ghost hunters or paranormal investigators do not even consider the possibility that the disturbances they are searching for might well be the same sorts of creatures described in the Bible, but in any case there are some things that haven’t changed.

 

In two thousand years of history, there are some things that everyone seems to know about ghosts.  1) Ghosts can pass through walls and locked doors.  2) Ghosts are not bound by the laws of physics as we understand them.  By that I mean that not only can they pass through walls and locked doors, but that they can fly, swim, walk on water, and other things that living people cannot do.  3) Ghosts are generally quiet but can also occasionally communicate with the living.  4) Ghosts are not solid so you cannot shake hands with one and they have been known to pass right through a living person as well as solid objects.  And 5) because ghosts are not solid, they generally can’t move solid objects and certainly can’t eat or drink.

 

Do why does any of this matter?

 

It matters, because there were several moments when Jesus’ disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost, and each time it scared the snot out of them.  You may remember that when the disciples first saw Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a storm, they were frightened because they thought that he was a ghost.  Jesus had to call out to them, calm the storm, and explain that it was really Jesus.  And as we continue reading the Easter story, our first scripture also finds the disciples, shortly after listening to the story told by the men who had returned from Emmaus.  The disciples are afraid because, once again, they think they’ve seen a ghost.   (Luke 24:36b-48)

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

This clearly one of the best arguments that Jesus simply appeared, rather than knocking and being let in through the front door.  Jesus was supposed to be dead, but there he was and the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost.  Jesus shows them his hands, and his feet and lets them touch him.  But just to be sure, he asks for something to eat, is given a piece of fish, and eats it in front of them.  Since everyone knows that ghosts can’t eat solid food, Jesus is obviously trying to calm their fears and convince them that he is not a ghost before he begins teaching.  And once he begins his teaching, he explains from scripture why the Messiah had to suffer, die, be buried, and rise from the dead after three days.  Jesus then explains that because he has done this, the next step will be theirs.  Jesus declares that the news of repentance and forgiveness of sins must be preached to every nation, and that soon he would be sending them out to tell the world.

 

But not yet.

 

For now, Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending them a gift and that they need to stay in Jerusalem for a little longer until it arrives.  While they wait, Peter and the others travel to the temple daily to pray.  And one day, after the events of Pentecost, on the way to the temple, Peter heals a lame beggar that had spent years of his life begging at the same gate to the city.  After he is healed, he is seen running, and jumping, and praising God in the temple courts and that attracts a crowd.  People recognize the beggar that they have often walked past and they wonder if this could be the same man. (Acts 3:12-19)

 

12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 1

 

Remember, that just a month or so before, Peter and the other disciples had met Jesus while they were together in a house in which they had closed the windows and locked the doors.  They were living in fear.  They feared being discovered.  They feared being arrested.  They feared death.  They were afraid of ghosts.  They were afraid that Jesus was a ghost.  And Jesus had to keep telling them, “Peace be with you.”  A month or so earlier, Jesus could not communicate with the disciples without repeatedly telling them not to be afraid.  But now, together they walk boldly to the temple, Peter heals a lame beggar sitting at the gate to the city, and then stands up and witnesses and preaches to the gathering crowd about the risen Jesus.

 

In the span of a month to a month and a half, the disciples have been completely transformed.  Where they were quiet and afraid, they are now bold, courageous, loud, and in-your-face.  Where they had been afraid to be associated with Jesus, now they are proclaiming it in the center of the temple mount.  So dramatic is the change in the disciples, that one could easily say that they are hardly the same men.  The difference is both stark and dramatic.

 

This is not the change that you would expect if they had seen a ghost.

 

People who see ghosts tend to be more afraid, not less.

 

But meeting the risen Jesus has had quite the opposite effect.  Seeing Jesus, or rather, meeting Jesus, has transformed the disciples from a gaggle of frightened fisherman and businessmen into fearless and passionate witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.

 

For the disciples, meeting the risen Jesus was a transformational experience.  Their lives were fundamentally and demonstrably changed.  How they acted, what they did, and even where they did it, was dramatically different after the resurrection than before it.

 

But what does that mean for us?

 

We didn’t have the opportunity to walk with, and learn from, Jesus for three years.  Most of us haven’t been to seminary, or to bible college.  So what does it mean for us to follow Jesus and to be his disciples?

 

In what scholars think is probably a letter to churches in Asia, the Apostle John wrote these words:

(1 John 3:1-7)

3:1See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

At first that may not seem to answer our question, but if we look a little deeper, we can find what we were looking for.  First, John reminds us how much God loved us and how much of his love he “lavishly” poured out on us so that we could be called the children of God.  God loved us so much that he stepped down from his throne in heaven, came down to earth, became a human being, suffered alongside of us, and then was tortured, hung on a cross, and died in our place all so that we could be forgiven by, and reconciled to, God.  When we put our trust in Jesus we know that we will one day be like him and live with him in his father’s house in heaven.

 

But John also says that “All who have this hope, purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  John also says, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”  And finally, John says, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”   Each of these statements tells us something about who we should be and what we should be doing.

 

John knows what it means to have his life transformed by meeting the risen Jesus.

 

And that’s exactly what he’s describing for the rest of us.

 

Everyone who comes to faith in Jesus begins to pursue purity.  They do not immediately become pure, but begin to work at purifying themselves because our desire is to become more like Jesus.  John also says that if we have seen the risen Jesus or if we even know Jesus, then we will do everything we can to stop sinning.  We want to do what is right, because Jesus has done, and is doing, what is right.  What John is describing for us, is nothing less than the total transformation of our lives.  Meeting the risen Jesus has always been, and remains still, nothing short of a transformational experience.  Once we meet Jesus, we want to become like him and we begin to do whatever we can to do so.

 

Two thousand years ago, the disciples at first thought they were seeing a ghost.

 

But ghosts don’t transform lives.

 

Only a living and resurrected Jesus does that.

 

Two thousand years later, the risen Jesus is still transforming lives.

 

Jesus is transforming lives in this church today.

 

Have you met my Jesus?

 

If you haven’t, I’d love to talk to you.

 

Maybe today is the day, that your life begins to change.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

A Different Spring To-Do List

crocusI know that many of you will be reading this after Easter even though I am writing it in March. But the arrival of Easter and spring often signify a flurry of activity.  Many of us are already making lists of things that need to be done outside in our flower beds, gardens and lawns as well as a host of things that we put off during cold weather. If we have children, there are even more things being added to our schedules with the arrival of spring sports and other activities. But in the midst of all this busy-ness, I hope that you will also take the time to put a few spiritual things on your to-do lists. Spring and Easter are filled with images that remind us of God and of spiritual things. And so, in the midst of our rush to get things done, I encourage you to take some time out to appreciate the gift that spring really is, to “be still” and listen to the heartbeat of God, and to notice the ways in which we are surrounded by the miraculous.

What follows is far from being an all-inclusive list, but are just a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Sit.  That’s all. Just sit. Once it gets warm enough, find a place on your porch or in the back yard, pull up a lawn chair, and just sit. Leave your phone in the house. Feel the sun on your face. Listen to the wind, the birds, the neighbors, squirrels, or whatever it is that’s going on. Now remember the silence of the winter and give thanks. You’re alive and all around you the world is emerging from death and the grave of winter. Remember the resurrection of Jesus at Easter, and imagine what your new birth will be like.
  • Look for the signs. Flowers, trees, and animals of all kinds have been buried in the earth, or been dormant, in hibernation, or have migrated for thousands of miles. Now they are emerging from the earth, reawakening, and returning from far away. Within the boundaries of your lawn you can find dozens of examples of rebirth and resurrection. Give thanks for all of these little miracles.
  • Smell.  Seriously. Take a moment. Snow doesn’t smell like much, but now your yard and your neighborhood smell different. Pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Smell the fragrance of spring flowers, the aroma of dirt, earth, and grasses that are warmed by the sun. They are alive and growing. Even the more unpleasant smells are new. Rejoice in all the new-ness around you and give thanks that you can smell, that you have life, and health, and can appreciate these gifts.
  • Touch.  Lean down and look at the spring flowers, the buds on the trees, or even the tender shoots of grass. They are so small, so fragile, and so tender that anything but the slightest touch might damage them. And yet they survived the winter, and they’ve pushed their way through the soil or forced open the tips of a woody branch to emerge into your world. Rejoice that you are there to see it but also consider how God has made something so small, so tender, so fragile, and yet at the same time, so determined, so tough, so persistent, and so resilient. Remember that the same God made you. Toughness, resilience, persistence, tenderness, love, and compassion all live within you. Give thanks for the gifts God has given to you and the ways that he has brought you through your wintery trials.
  • Your turn. Contemplate. Be still. Listen. In what other ways will God reveal himself to you?

 

 

 

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Dangerous Foolishness

“Dangerous Foolishness”

March 04, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

20:1 And God spoke all these words:

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

“You shall have no other gods before me.

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

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

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

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

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

Covenant of a Clear Conscience

“Covenant of a Clear Conscience”

February 18, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 9:8-17                                   Mark 1:9-15                           1 Peter 3:18-22

 

 

Have you ever watched the news when there is a press conference to announce the end of a particularly difficult labor negotiation?  I don’t care if it’s the steel workers, or the school board, or a Major League Baseball franchise, there is one word that you seem to hear over and over during the press conference, and that is… contract.  I usually sounds like, “We’re here today to announce that all parties have agreed to this new contract.  Negotiating this contract was difficult and although everyone didn’t get everything that they wanted, everyone was willing to compromise to reach an agreement on this contract.  Thanks to this contract, we can all get back to work and be successful together.”  Doesn’t that language sound familiar?  It does, because the repeated word, “contract” is important, and it is one that the negotiators want to emphasize.

 

In our society, a contract is something with which we are familiar.  Almost all of us have signed contracts at one time or another.  We know that those contracts are legally binding on all the parties that sign them, and that there are penalties and even fines that can be incurred if anyone fails to live up to their part of the deal.  Now kick that all up a notch and you can better understand the biblical idea of a covenant.  A covenant was not just a religious thing; it was a legal one that was often used between nations.  Like contracts, covenants usually included a list of what was expected of each party as well as a list of what terrible things would happen to anyone who failed to live up to their part of the deal. The signing of a covenant was often combined with one or several animal sacrifices as a symbol to everyone that the signing of the covenant required the shedding of blood and the breaking of that covenant would also bring about the shedding of blood or death.

 

With that in mind, then I think we can better appreciate the significance of God’s words contained in Genesis 9:8-17, where God describes his promise to Noah, to all of humanity, and to all of creation after the global flood had ended.

 

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

 

Just like those news conference we mentioned earlier, God mentions the word “covenant’ seven times in nine verses and in addition, repeatedly refers to “every living creature,” “all generations,” “never again,” and “everlasting.”  God wanted to make a point that this was a solemn promise that God intended to keep and that humanity never needed to worry about God going back on his promise.   At least from this one disaster, we were safe.

 

And then, thousands of years later, Mark records for us this story and the words of Jesus in Mark 1:9-15.

 

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

 

Jesus went to John at the Jordan River and was baptized by him.  Following his baptism, Jesus went out into the wilderness for 40 days and was tempted by Satan.  But after all of that, the message that Jesus shared with the world was that the kingdom of God had come near and that everyone should repent and believe the good news.  With the coming of Jesus, heaven is torn open and comes to earth.  Instead of heaven being a place that was far away, the kingdom of God had come to earth and lived among humanity.  God was no longer far away, but as close as your neighbor, as close as your next breath, as close as your own heart.  God was no longer confined to heaven, but entered into the hearts of those who believed.  But the baptism of Jesus also symbolized something even more important and the Apostle Peter explains that in 1 Peter 3:18-22.

 

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

 

In this passage, Peter speaks about God’s new covenant with his people, and that is the promise that comes through Jesus Christ.  Peter reminds everyone that since the days of Noah, water has been a symbol of salvation and rescue, but Noah and the ark only managed to rescue eight people.  With the coming of God’s new covenant, Jesus entered into the grave and revealed the truth to those who were imprisoned there (Note: theologians aren’t clear whether Peter was referring to the spirits of dead people who lived in the time of Noah, or if these were fallen angels who had been imprisoned by God).  But Peter makes the bigger point that baptism becomes for us a symbol of Jesus’ three days in the grave and his subsequent resurrection.

 

Baptism, Peter argues, is not about washing and cleanliness, and it isn’t even about ritual purification in the way that the Jews had traditionally done it.  Instead, baptism is a symbol that we take upon ourselves where we join with Christ in the grave (which is the water), pass through the trial that is death, and emerge from the water not only purified, but conquerors of suffering, trials and death, forgiven and resurrected to a new life in Christ Jesus.  It is because of this that we have received the new covenant of God through Jesus Christ, or what Peter calls “the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.”  Once we have received the gift of Jesus Christ and have given our lives to him, we no longer need to fear God, or worry about the sins that we have committed in the past because we are assured that we are a forgiven people who died with Christ and have left our guilt, our shame, and our sin in the grave behind us.

 

This is the gift that we have received.

 

This is the gift of the covenant of a clear conscience.

 

And so as we leave this place and move forward into the future, we are left with two tasks: First, we should rejoice and give thanks to God that we have been given such an invaluable gift.  And second, because this gift is so incredible, we must not keep it to ourselves but instead we must find ways to share this good news with our neighbors, our friends, our family, and with all the world.

 

What will you do with your gift?

 

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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.