Are You All In?

“Are You All In?”

June 25, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 21:8-21                      Matthew 10:24-39                   Romans 6:1-11

 

 

Do you have a favorite NASCAR driver, football, baseball, or soccer player, or any other favorite sports figure? How committed are you to watching your favorite team?

 

Teams want you to support them financially, to buy tickets, and jerseys, and memorabilia, and they want you to cheer for them.  The Cleveland Indians have favored the phrase, “Go big, or go home.”  A few seasons back, their players were seen wearing shirts that predicted 100 wins.  But during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ run for the national championship last year, the question that fans were asked was…

 

…“Are you all in?”

 

LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers wanted to know if your support for the team was wholehearted and hot-blooded, and not just lukewarm.  And that’s a good way of thinking about the theme of today’s message and the thread that winds its way through our scripture lessons.  We begin today in Genesis 21:8-21, where we find a jealous Sarah who is so enraged by the presence of her husband’s mistress and their semi-illegitimate child, as well as the fighting and sibling rivalry between their children, that she simply wants them gone from her life.

 

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah, here’s a quick summary: Despite God’s promise that their ancestors would become a great nation as numberless as the stars in the sky, Sarah was childless.  And so, at some point, Abraham decided to help God out, and took Hagar, one of his slaves, as a mistress in order to father a child.  This was an accepted practice at that time in order to preserve wealth and the family line.  But then, as we discussed last week, long after Sarah was past the age of childbearing, God gave her a son of her own, Isaac.  But now, as if looking at her husband’s mistress every day, as well as the child that they had together, wasn’t enough, Hagar’s son was mocking Isaac.  And all of Sarah’s frustration, and rage, fear, and hope for the future exploded.  She wanted them gone.  And so Abraham packs Hagar a lunch and sends her out into the desert.

 

The core of this story is two-fold.  First of all… people stink.

 

As good, and as godly as we are told that Abraham and Sara must be, they both stink.  What they did is understandable, but still pretty horrible.  Even though we look up to Abraham and revere him as the founder of our faith, sending his own son, along with his mother, out into the desert to die is an inexcusably horrible thing to do.  But the second part of this story is that as bad as human beings stink, God doesn’t.  God cares.  Despite the fact that the blessing of God is on Isaac and it is through Isaac that God intends to bless the world, God still cares about Hagar and Ishmael.  God finds them in the desert, saves their lives, gives them water to drink, leads them out of the wilderness, blesses them both, and promises that Ishmael will also be the father of a great nation.

 

And again, if you are unfamiliar with this story, Isaac becomes the patriarch of the nation of Israel and the people known as the Jews; while Ishmael becomes the patriarch of the people we now refer to as the Arab nations.  Curiously, all of these peoples are referred to collectively, as the Semitic people.

 

So to summarize, people stink, God cares.

 

But God’s plan is to change that.  God’s intent is to transform humanity into something better.  And the coming of Jesus Christ is a huge part of that plan.  Jesus came to earth to rescue humanity from its wickedness and sin so that we could become something better.  In Romans 6:1-11, Paul puts it this way…

 

6:1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 

At the very beginning of this passage, Paul wants to eliminate the notion that Jesus’ sacrifice and the infinite grace of God might be used as an excuse to continue in our sin.  In no way, shape, or form should we excuse our error and try to justify it by claiming that we are already forgiven for it.  Instead, we must realize that our sinfulness was the cause of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, and it is our sinful nature, our “old self,” that was crucified with him.  For that reason, Paul explains, that our “old self” is already dead and, as a result, we should do everything in our power to stop sinning, to break the bonds that sin and death have over us, and act like people who have been set free from sin.

 

Jesus didn’t die to give us an excuse to keep doing the same wrong stuff we’ve been doing all along, Jesus died so that our lives could be transformed into something better.

 

In Matthew 10:24-39, we hear Jesus echo that same sentiment.

 

24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.]

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

 

Do not be afraid.

 

God cares.

 

You are worth more than many sparrows; you are of incredible value to God.

 

The followers of Jesus Christ will turn against their families and against their parents, not because they are violent or because Jesus encourages them to be violent, but because Jesus intends to completely transform their lives into something new, different, and far better than we have ever been before.  When we choose to follow Jesus, we want what he wants, we follow where he leads, we go where he goes, and we do what he calls us to do.  And in doing these things, we will leave behind the people that won’t go with us.  Families, friends, and others will turn against us because we have chosen to follow Jesus and because we are becoming something new and different than the people we once were.  As we lose our old lives, we are transformed and we discover a new life that is lived through Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus calls for us to devote ourselves to him wholeheartedly and to walk away from a lukewarm faith.  In the end, Jesus asks us a familiar question…

 

…Are you all in?

 

 

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

 

Immigration and the Church

Immigrants with Statue of LibertyWhat should we do with immigrants?

What is the right thing to do?

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

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

It does. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Called Over the Top

crazy

Be Outrageous. Be stupid.

Jesus said so.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Seriously.

If you were here, I mentioned this on Sunday, but it’s worth saying again.  In Matthew (5:38-48) Jesus makes a series of statements that often begin with “You have heard it said, but…” in which he tells his listeners that the conventional wisdom, the ordinary assumptions of daily life, were just plain wrong.  Everyone assumed that the best defense against violence was to fight back, taking an eye for an eye, but Jesus says that the only way to reduce violence is to refuse to participate in it, to “turn the other cheek.”

Most of us have heard that before, but that was just the beginning.  He also says that” if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”  This is extraordinary.  In our litigious, twenty-first century society most of us make two errors in reading this.  First, we incorrectly assume that Jesus means for us to give a shirt to someone who won a lawsuit, but that isn’t it at all.  Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you…” so his instruction is to do an end run around the legal system, call it a loss, and just give it to them.  Our second mistake comes from our relative wealth and our expectation of the same on the Biblical story.   But Jesus was talking to people who lived in an entirely different world, most of them probably only owned one coat.  And so, Jesus’ instruction to “hand over your coat” is not only one of generosity, but one that is over-the-top, crazy, and disturbingly generous.  This is generosity that expensive and costly, and not just giving that is comfortable and comes from our excess.

Jesus continues, saying “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, go with them two.”  And, while this seems relatively straightforward, most of us still don’t understand the root of his comment.  As I understand the history of it, under Roman occupation, one of the standing rules that the occupied nation lived under, was that if any Roman soldier asked, any citizen had to accompany them for one mile and carry their pack, or whatever else they demanded you to carry.  So remembering that most people really resented the presence of the Roman soldiers in the first place, Jesus is saying that you need treat your enemies and the people you despise, and here it is again, with… disturbing generosity.

Why should we do all this?

Jesus answered that by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  We are called to behave in these strange, unfamiliar, and unpopular ways because these are the things that God does.  This is how God behaves.  And if we have any desire to be associated with him, to be called “children of God” then we probably ought to act like God does.

But going this far still wasn’t enough.  Jesus pounds the point several more times to make sure that we really begin to understand just how crazy we’re supposed to be.  Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  That’s pretty plain, but if you need a modern translation, here it is.

It doesn’t impress anyone that your love is “just as good” as the tax collectors, or that you are “just as loving” as everyone else.  Being “just like everyone else” means that you are no different than everyone else and that your faith is no better than their lack of faith.  The followers of Jesus Christ have been called to be different; we are called to a higher standard.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So get out there.  Go out into your neighborhoods, and your places of business.  Be willing to take a loss.  Go out into the world and be extravagantly, disturbingly, generous even when it is costly to you.  Be so generous that people think you’re crazy.  Be nice.  But be so nice that everyone thinks that you must be crazy… or stupid… or both.  Be friendly and outgoing.  Be loving.  But your friendliness and your love should be so over the top that it gets people talking about you.

Be outrageous.

Be stupid.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Remember our goal isn’t to blend in; our goal is to stand out.

Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal… is to be perfect.

 

 

 

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Finding Peace On Earth

earth-rise“Finding Peace On Earth”

December 24, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                        Titus 2:11-14                             Luke 2:1-20

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
 Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

2:1 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

MEDITATION:

Imagine with me the world to which the prophet Isaiah spoke.  Isaiah wrote from the land of Judah at a time when the Assyrian Empire was growing stronger by the day.  He watched as Judah’s King Ahaz, rather than stand together with Syria and the northern tribes of Israel, allied himself with the Assyrians instead.  Despite Isaiah’s warning to the contrary, Ahaz aided the Assyrians in conquering their neighbors and brothers in Israel.  Everyone could see the handwriting on the wall.  Everyone knew that, eventually, the Assyrians would come for them as well and, although it wouldn’t happen for more than a hundred years, Isaiah wrote about the eventual conquest of Judah, the captivity of both Israel and Judah in Babylon, the rise of power of Cyrus the Persian, and the return of the Jews to Israel and Judah after seventy years of captivity, as well as the Messiah that was to come.

Although these were dark days, Isaiah wrote about the light that was coming that would dispel the darkness.  Although the people were oppressed, Isaiah wrote about the freedom that would come.  Although they were surrounded by armies and warfare and bloodshed, Isaiah wrote about a child who would be the Prince of Peace.  Isaiah proclaimed that a day was coming when a rescuer would come from God who would have the authority to bring about endless peace and he would establish his kingdom not with force and oppression, but with justice and righteousness.

More than seven hundred years later, in a land occupied by foreign armies, and to a people who were also well acquainted with violence, oppression, warfare, and bloodshed,  angels appear in the skies over a band of shepherds and declare that the day prophecied by Isaiah had finally come.  “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Two thousand years later, we still remember that night and we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity, and yet, much like the people in the time of Isaiah, and in the time of the shepherds, we too are a people who are all too familiar with violence, oppression, warfare and bloodshed.  And we still look forward to the day when the boots of our soldiers and all of their bloodstained uniforms will be thrown into the fire.  We look forward to the end of darkness, and oppression, and death.  We look forward to the day when there will be endless peace and Jesus Christ will rule over all the earth with justice and righteousness.

But while we wait, we must also remember the instructions contained in the words of the prophet Titus who said (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

While we wait for the return of Jesus we have work to do.  Amid the chaos of the world in which we live, we are to pursue purity, and live lives that are self-controlled, righteous, and godly.  Jesus came, and surrendered his life, so that we could be rescued from sin and death, and to be transformed into a people who are passionate about doing good.

And so, while we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, and while we look forward to the return of Jesus Christ, until that time, his work falls to us.  Until Jesus sits on the throne and brings peace and justice to the world, we are called by God to do whatever we can to bring godliness, justice, righteousness, purity, and yes, peace, into the world in which we live.

I admit it’s a big job.  It’s huge.  It’s enormous.

But it is possible.

With.        God’s.        Help.

 

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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.

Christmas Heroes

hero“Christmas Heroes”

December 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture:       Matthew 2:1-13

 In 1959 a story appeared in Showcase comics and was retold in a July 1960 magazine entitled “The Planet of the Doomed Men.”  In this story, Abin Sur crashes his alien spaceship in a remote and desolate part of planet Earth.  He is dying.  And as he dies he searches for a man who is, at the same time, most outstanding and quite peculiar.  Abin Sur wears a ring of power that searches the world to find the type of man that he needs – and in all of planet Earth, only two such men are found, Guy Gardner and Hal Jordan.  Because time is of the essence, test pilot Hal Jordan is selected because he can be reached and summoned to the crash site more quickly.

And so, Hal Jordan becomes one of Earths greatest Super Heroes, The Green Lantern.

The thing that made Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner and later John Stewart and Kyle Raynor unique wasn’t their choice of career.  While Hal Jordan was a test pilot, Guy Gardner was a school teacher, Kyle Raynor an artist, John Stewart an architect, and Abin Sur was a professor of history.  Their careers were not what made these men unique.  What made these men worthy of being selected as member of the Green Lantern Corps was something that they lacked.  While every man and woman on Earth experiences fear, a Green Lantern has no such capacity.  Sometimes the banner heading of the comic magazine would say that, “Green Lantern, man without fear.”

 If you hadn’t guessed, I am a fan of Green Lantern, and for many years I collected comic books and there were things that I learned from them.  The comics of the Golden and Silver ages and to a lesser degree, still those of today, teach such things as integrity, chivalry, honesty, patriotism, the value of every intelligent being, teamwork, and freedom.

 The downside is that comic books aren’t real.  There really aren’t superheroes that we can call upon when we are in trouble.  There was no Superman or Green Lantern to help us on 9/11.  And there is no such thing as a man without fear.  There is an old phrase that says, “A hero isn’t a person that isn’t afraid, it’s a person that is afraid but does their duty anyway.”  A hero isn’t someone without fear, but someone who perseveres, who does their duty, who does their job, or who just does what has to be done despite their fear.  I challenge you to read sometime the stories of the men and women who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Under the circumstances that arose for which they earned their medals, fear was natural and often pervasive.

 The difference is that a hero keeps moving when normal people are paralyzed with fear.

 As we read the Christmas story, we would do well to notice an underlying theme.  It is one that we know but probably haven’t thought about consciously.  Today I want to take a different look at the people of the Christmas story and I suppose the obvious people to start with would be Mary and Joseph.

 These two young people often did not understand what was happening to them, or to the son that God had given to them.  But do you suppose that Mary was afraid of what her father would think of her when she became pregnant before her wedding day?  Do you think that she was afraid that her future husband would demand that she be stoned to death outside the city gate, as was his right?  Do you suppose that she was afraid that Joseph would return her to her father and demand that the bride price be returned to him?  We read a lot about Mary, but we need to remind ourselves that she was still just a tiny, thirteen years old, little girl.  All of these things were real possibilities.  And ye, Mary trusted God and moved forward anyway.

 In Matthew 2:1-13 it says:

 1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6” ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”

 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

What about Joseph?  Did Joseph worry that his reputation, as well as his father’s and his family’s reputation, would be degraded because his betrothed had become pregnant before their marriage?  I’m sure that he did.  Everything I have read indicates that a family’s reputation, their honor, was literally worth money.  From how you were treated in the legal system, to what kind of kind of loans and interest rates you could get, to what kind of deals that you could make in the public market to whether of not you could do business as a tradesman, all depended on the appearance of your family’s honor.  I say ‘appearance,’ because honor was very much a thing of appearances.

 This system of honor goes a long way toward explaining how the system of law worked, and how even the sacrificial system worked.  If someone did something that dishonored another person, that dishonored the community or that dishonored God, some penalty had to be levied that would the system back into balance and that would restore honor and holiness to the people.  This is why an unfaithful woman could be stoned for bringing dishonor upon her family.  This is why the husband, father and brothers of the woman were permitted to hunt down a rapist and kill him, or demand from him the bride price and possibly, that he marry the girl.  These were all means by which the family’s honor could be restored.

 Did Joseph worry about that?  Was he afraid of what the people of his village would think of him and how it would affect his business?  You can bet that he did.  You can believe that despite the promises of an angel sent by God, that Joseph worried about being able to feed his family and you can be absolutely sure that he was afraid when he heard that Herod was sending his soldiers to kill his son.  Herod had done things like that before… and worse.  This story was entirely believable and their fear caused Mary and Joseph to make good speed in getting out of town in the middle of the night and fleeing to Egypt.  Was Joseph afraid?  I’m sure that he was, but it never stopped him from doing what God told him to do, or from doing what he needed to do.

 Were the shepherds afraid when the angels came to give them the good news of the birth of the savior?  We know that they were.  But were they afraid of what they would find in town?  Shepherds were among the bottom of the social classes right near the prostitutes and the tax collectors.  Shepherds smelled bad and they were most certainly not welcome in town.  Were the shepherds afraid of the reception that they might get in town?  Did they worry that angry townspeople would drive them out of town again?  They had cause to worry.  But the things that the angels had told them were so incredible that they had to see it with their own eyes anyway.

 Were the wise men afraid when they realized that all of their study and all of their data indicated that the new king that they had expected (because of the signs in the stars) would be born in Israel?  These men, government officials for a hostile government, would need to visit the Tetrarch of Judea, Herod, the man who was widely known as evil, vicious and cruel.  They would visit Herod while in the company of a token force of their own military, but while flying the flag of an enemy to Rome and they would visit Jerusalem, a city with an entire Roman legion in and around it.  Were they afraid?  I suspect that they would have been less than wise if they were not, but they pressed on anyway.

 Did Anna worry about how she would live when her husband of only seven years did and left her with no children and no way to support herself?  Did Simeon perhaps worry that he had misunderstood God and that he would not really live to see the salvation of Israel?

 And what about Herod?  Was Herod afraid when he heard the wise men say that a new King had been born?  What about when his own advisors searched their own scriptures and found pretty much the same information?  From everything that we know, from scripture, history and archaeology, Herod was desperate to protect his job.  An appointment within the Roman government was tenuous and subject to removal or assassination.  Herod was constantly afraid of any upset in the peace or in the status quo in the nation of Israel.  If there were unrest or civil war, the Romans would move into Jerusalem in force to restore order, and Herod would be sent back to Rome, or worse.  Was Herod afraid?  Absolutely.

 But here we have a dividing line of sorts.  When Herod was threatened and was afraid, he did not react the way that the other characters in this drama reacted.  Herod’s response to being threatened was to strike back at the source of his fear.  Instead of responding in love or in faith, he responded in violence.  When others were afraid, they prayed and they trusted.  When Herod was afraid he mis-trusted.  When Herod was afraid, his fear and mistrust brought death to hundreds of innocent children in a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere.  When Mary was afraid she trusted and her faith and her trust brought new life and salvation to all people.

 We need to remember that in our real world, babies from the planet Krypton don’t crash to earth.  In our reality Abin Sur didn’t give his ring of power to Hal Jordan, and none of the other amazing superheroes of the comic books are going to come to our aid.

 We do however, worship a powerful God who created the universe, who knows each and every one of us, and who loves us so much that he allowed his only son to die in our place.  We worship a God who orchestrates the movement of the planets and who answers the prayers of little children.  The good news is that although our world doesn’t have Superman or the Green Lantern or even mutant warriors like the X-men, God has sent us heroes.  God has sent us heroes throughout recorded history, people that we know from the Bible and from other books.  Even today there are often even heroes among us.  God has sent us heroes that have shown us how to be faithful and how to make good choices.  From our heroes we learn things like integrity, chivalry, honesty, patriotism, the value of every intelligent being, teamwork, and freedom.  All of us should have a hero.

 But although there is no such thing as a man without fear, the good news is that heroes are very real.

 The key to having worthwhile heroes is in how you will identify them.

Green Lantern Abin Sur searched the world for a hero using his amazing ring of power.

How will you search?

Who will be your heroes?

You might start with the Christmas story.  It’s full of them.

 

 

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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.

The World Stinks but…

protestor-shot-wilth-rubber-bullets“The World Stinks but…”

October 30, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4                 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 Luke 19:1-10

 

It doesn’t take a genius to know that our world seems to be seriously messed up.

This week we continued to watch the train wreck that is our presidential election (and there really is no need to elaborate on that) but we also saw two dramatically different legal rulings that both seem to twist the meaning of the word “justice” in directions that seem difficult to understand.  First, a group of ranchers and other folks who, by force, took over and occupied a federal game preserve in Oregon, and then threatened federal law enforcement officers have been acquitted of nearly all charges that the government brought against them.  And second, on nearly the same day, the courts ruled against the American Indian tribes who are peacefully protesting a pipeline that will cross through sacred burial sites and under a river that provides all of their drinking water.  As a result, many of the protesters are being arrested, beaten, attacked by dogs, and even shot despite being on private property that lies on a reservation that is recognized by our government as a sovereign nation.  Almost every day it seems like we hear news stories about out justice system not working the way that it should or even in ways that seem unjust altogether.

And whenever we see and hear these things we pray that such misfortune will not fall upon us.

And as bad as things sometimes are here at home, we read stories about the inhumanity of ISIS, the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and other places, and our conclusion is obvious.

Sometimes, the world stinks.

Not surprisingly, this situation isn’t new.  Sometime around 600 BC the prophet Habakkuk complained to God.  This was not just a private prayer, but probably an expression of the thoughts and feelings of many of God’s people in Judah.  The world seemed broken, unfair, and unjust and God seemed to be unconcerned and uncaring because he did nothing about it.  (Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4)

1:1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.


2:1 
I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.

Habakkuk cries out to God that the world is unfair but, at the same time, says that he will remain on his watch; he will stay at his post and be faithful, until he hears an answer from God.  And when God’s answer comes, God agrees that the world is messed up.  The enemy thinks a lot of himself and the desires of the enemy are unjust but relief is coming.  God is already planning his response to the injustice that Habakkuk and his people are complaining about.  But until God’s judgement arrives, the righteous are called to be patient and remain faithful.

And in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Paul reminds us, much like Habakkuk’s message, that God does not always rescue us from difficult circumstances.  But in those times when God does not rescue us right away, there are still things that we can learn.

Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First of all, in both Habakkuk and in Thessalonians, we find that despite hard times, we should never give up talking to God.  Keep the lines of communication open.  Keep praying.  But, at the same time, as we struggle our way through the hard times, we can learn perseverance and strengthen our faith through the persecutions and trials that we endure.

But more than that, when we read Luke 19:1-10, we also begin to understand that our trials and suffering should probably teach us to be compassionate toward others as they experience their own.

19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Although nearly all of us are familiar with the story of Zacchaeus, we often don’t think of the story in terms of trials, empathy and compassion but that is a key part of Jesus’ message.  Just at the moment when people start to complain that Jesus, a respected teacher, has stooped to associate, and even eat, in the home of a tax collector and sinner, Jesus reminds them that as bad as he is, Zacchaeus is still a child of God and a part of God’s covenant with Israel.  Jesus concluded by reminding everyone that his mission on earth was to seek and to save the lost.

We really should wrestle with that more than we do.

Jesus is criticized for visiting in the home of a known scoundrel, cheat, and rip-off artist.  Tax collectors had a contract with Rome that authorized them to collect the taxes that Rome levied, and so that Rome didn’t have to pay salaries, they were allowed to collect extra to pay themselves.  How much extra, was often not defined.  They were essentially given a license to steal as much as the market would bear and their theft was enforced by the swords of Rome’s occupying army.  Tax collectors were outcasts from Jewish society because they were considered to be traitors to their people and to their nation.  But Jesus’s response to his critics is to remind them that he came to rescue the lost.

Think about that and consider the context, the time, and the place of what he said.

What Jesus is saying is that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go to the lake.

By saying what he said, and by reframing the argument, Jesus argues that it should be obvious that he should do this.  It is like criticizing the Coast Guard for getting their boats wet and risking their lives by going out to sea in a storm.

Jesus essentially says:

You can’t save the drowning if you don’t go out in the storm.

It seems so obvious when we understand it that in this context.  Jesus’ mission was to seek and to save the lost.  His compassion for their suffering and trials, past, present and future, without God, drove him to go to the places where the lost lived.  To invite himself into their homes, if necessary, so that he could pull them back into the boat and save them for eternity.  What’s challenging to us is that we have inherited Jesus’ calling.  The mission to seek and to save the lost became the mission of the church when Jesus ascended into heaven… his mission, is our mission.

But we are not just driven to obedience out of a sense of duty.

God understands that out world is broken.  God understands injustice, unfairness, suffering, struggle, persecution and trial.  But God’s message to us is twofold.  First, we must understand that our God is a god of justice.  Wrongs will be made right.  The guilty will be punished.  Injustice will be set right.  But although it will happen in God’s time, it might not happen right away.  Second, as we endure hardship and trial, God expects us to learn to have empathy and compassion for others as they experience similar circumstances.  Our trials should make us sensitive to the trials of others and compassionate for those who do not have the comfort and understanding that is to be found in our faith in Jesus Christ.

Because of that, we should be learning to be more like Jesus: To love others, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to rescue the lost by whatever means necessary.  Jesus went into the homes of scoundrels and ate with them; he was widely criticized by people in his church for associating with sinners, rebels, fanatics, and prostitutes.  But that criticism never slowed him down because it was absolutely necessary to accomplish his mission.

You can’t catch fish if you don’t go to the lake.

You can’t save the drowning if you don’t go out into the storm.

We are called to be fishers of men and rescuers of the lost.

Each and every one of us should live our lives so that we are criticized for our compassion.

 

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

Jesus the Destroyer

“Jesus the Destroyer”

August 14, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 12:49-56                   Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2                  Isaiah 5:1-7

 

If any of us have learned anything from the current election cycle, I think that there are two lessons that we have seen repeated over and over again. First, many people are not what they appear to be on the surface, and second, that no matter how badly you have mess up, a good publicist can “spin” it to look like something that wasn’t really that bad.  These same lessons can be applied to scripture.  By that, I don’t mean that Jesus has a publicist that is busy making him look better than he really is, but what I mean is that well meaning teachers, pastors and interpreters often focus on the good things, the nice things, the gentle things, about God and Jesus while overlooking some of the harsher aspects of their personalities.

Occasionally, this is deliberate, but I would guess that most of the time it is done simply because explaining and understanding these harsher realities is a little more difficult.  Likewise, understanding these harsher realities is more difficult for all of us to fit within our pre-established assumptions and understandings of both God and Jesus. But it is for exactly that reason that covering these aspects of scripture is important.  It is one thing to vote for a candidate because you heard all about the wonderful things that they have done, but before you vote, it is also critically important that we understand how they behave in private and that we know something about their core moral and ethical values.

If these things are important for us to know before we vote for a candidate for president, how much more important are they for us to know these things about the God that we worship?

We begin this morning with God’s message to the people of Israel during the time of the prophet Isaiah.  Here, God describes Israel as his very own vineyard where he had high hopes of raising a good crop, and producing a fine wine, but got something else entirely. (Isaiah 5:1-7)

I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

God says that he cleared the land, planted the absolute best quality stock, watched over it, and did everything he could to prepare for a good crop, but all that he got was rotten fruit.  God asks, “what more could I have done?”  “Why did my vineyard only produce rotten fruit?”  But clearly, God is not pleased and he has already decided on a course of action.  The walls that protect it will be torn down, the hedges that made it pretty will be uprooted, and the vines will be trampled underfoot.  Nothing and no one will live there except briars and thorns.

Even the rain will refuse to go there.

And God says that is what will happen to Israel because the people of Israel are the vines that God has cared for and tended.  God didn’t look for grapes or wine from his people.  What God wanted was justice, but instead they only produced violence.  What God wanted was righteousness, but what his people produced was the distress of the poor, the underprivileged, the outcasts, and the outsiders.

Even though Israel worships a merciful, giving, loving, compassionate god, they have exceeded his patience and God declares that he will remove his protection and allow them to be trampled underfoot by their enemies.

That isn’t the picture of God that we usually get, but it is a vitally important one.  God is a god of justice, mercy, love and compassion, but God has limits.  There are limits to his anger, there are limits to his compassion, there are limits to his mercy, and there are limits to his love.  Just because God loves us, just because he is merciful, compassionate, and loving does not mean that we can do whatever we want.

We worship a loving God, but there are limits to what he will tolerate.

God freely pours out his love and his blessings upon his people, but he still expects something in return.  God expects his vineyard to produce fruit.  God expects his people to act with justice and righteousness.

We must also remember that Jesus is not just a nice man who was kind to women and children, who welcomed strangers and foreigners, and loved everybody.  Jesus has more than one mission.  During his first time on earth, Jesus came as the holy Lamb of God.  He came to be the rescuer, the redeemer, and the sacrifice for the sin of humanity.  But that isn’t the only role that Jesus has to play.  Jesus is also the commander of the Army of the Lord, the Lawgiver, the Lord of our Righteousness, the Mighty One, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the one who will sit upon the Throne of Judgement.

In Luke 12:49-56, Jesus says,

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

Jesus says that he has been sent to set fire to the earth and he wishes that the fire had already started but he cannot because the time is not yet right.  Jesus says that he has not been sent to bring peace, but division.  In this role, Jesus is the destroyer.  The coming of Jesus will divide families, communities, and nations.  The coming of Jesus really is the beginning of the end of the world.  After his coming, Jesus says that we should be on the lookout for signs that will help us to interpret the times that we live in.  Some of these are signs of the coming of the end of the world but others are signs that we can, or at least should, interpret because they have happened before and we can find them in scripture.  What happened to Israel, God’s favorite nation, his very own people, the people with whom God made a covenant of love and protection, when Israel became morally corrupt and God could no longer find justice and righteousness in his vineyard?

God brought destruction.

And the reality of scripture is that the coming of Jesus wasn’t the beginning of pie in the sky by and bye where the world would be filled with everything wonderful and all God’s children would finally get along with peace and harmony.  Instead, the arrival of Jesus was a sign of the beginning of the end times.  Because of the coming of Jesus, families would be ripped apart, and family members would turn against one another.  Not only did this happen in good Jewish families and in Greek and Roman families in the time of Jesus but it is happening today.  It is difficult to think of a better example than those we see in the news in Muslim families where children are disowned, beaten, or even murdered because they have become Christian.  This is not limited to Muslims.  It is not uncommon for Jewish families to disown family members who convert, great tensions are created in some atheist families when one member comes to faith, and I have met Indian men whose families turned their backs on them when they converted from their Hindu faith.

So what is it that God desires from us?

We’ve heard it before in previous weeks but in Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, Paul says,

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets,33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

What Paul says is that following Jesus is no guarantee that life will be one endless chain of joy and wonder.  We aren’t guaranteed a dance in the meadow with unicorns and rainbows.  Instead, Paul reminds us of all the faithful people who died because of their faith… many of them horribly.  But Paul says that all of these faithful people are watching over us, are praying for us, and encouraging us.  Our goal is to do the best that we can, to trust Jesus as much as we can, even when life doesn’t isn’t all roses and margaritas and doesn’t go at all the way that we planned.  Paul’s message reminds us to hold on to faith even if we don’t live to see God’s promises fulfilled in our lifetime.

Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God, the Author and giver of life, but also the commander of the Army of the Lord, the Lawgiver, the Lord of our Righteousness, the Mighty One, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the one who will sit upon the Throne of Judgement.

All these things are true.

We know that our God is a god of love, grace, mercy and compassion, but we also must not ignore the reality that God’s patience has limits and that we do not have license to do as we please.

As people of faith, as followers, and as disciples of Jesus Christ, we trust God, but we must also be constantly striving to be worthy of the God that planted us in his vineyard…

…so that we can produce fruits of justice and righteousness.

 

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