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Pastor John Partridge

Playing Favorites

“Playing Favorites”

April 04, 2010*

(Easter Sunday)

Acts 10:34-43                         Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24                          I Corinthians 15:19-26         

 

Pastor: God is good!

People: All the time!

Pastor: And all the time…

People: God is good!

Do you have any brothers and sisters?  How about bosses at work, do you have any of those?  Friends, family, coworkers, teachers, politicians?  In just about every aspect of life we run the risk of running into an authority figure that, while they should treat everyone equally, they clearly have a preference for one child over another, one coworker over another, one friend over another or any number of other “favorites” over the regular folk.  As a parent, it is difficult sometimes not to show favoritism and likewise as a leader, it is difficult not to show some preference to the people who are nice to you or who work hard.  We all have been witness to bosses that had some slimy suck-up who always said nice things and was always trying to get on the bosses good side.  History tells us that ancient kings had similar people who hung out with them and tried to smooth-talk their way into an easy lifestyle.  As Christians, this line of thinking will inevitably lead us to wonder if Jesus plays favorites.  Of course our reflex is to immediately say that Jesus would never play favorites, but if we think a little longer some reasonable questions emerge.  Jesus was and is Jewish.  In Matthew 15, Jesus meets a Canaanite woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon.  When she asks Jesus to heal her daughter, Jesus replies "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."  Ultimately, Jesus heals the girl because of the woman’s great faith but this exchange reminds us that Jesus was sent first to the people of Israel and second to the Gentiles.  The Gentiles, of course, are any people who are not Jewish by birth or by conversion.  We also remember that God repeatedly calls the people of Israel his “Chosen People” and we can appreciate that some favoritism might well exist.  Just how God’s favoritism plays out in that case is a far deeper subject that we have time for today but I point it out just to help us understand that perhaps not everyone is entirely equal in the ways that we might expect.  Jesus was human after all, and he had friends.  The twelve disciples saw more and learned more than others.  Peter, James and John were even closer and saw things that the other disciples didn’t.  Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus and stayed in his house but we don’t really know if Lazarus and his family got any special considerations from Jesus, well, aside from being brought back from the dead.

This morning, I want to take a look at the favoritism of Jesus.  I believe that Jesus does play favorites and I believe that scripture shows this to be true.  What you will find, however, is that the favoritism of Jesus may not be what you think it is.  The writer of Psalm 118 (v1-2, 14-24) wants us to remember something even before he tells his story.  God is good.

Pastor: God is good!

People: All the time!

 

  1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

 2 Let Israel say: "His love endures forever."

14 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. 

 15 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous:
       "The LORD's right hand has done mighty things!

 16 The LORD's right hand is lifted high; the LORD's right hand has done mighty things!"

 17 I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.

 18 The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.

 19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.

 20 This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.

 21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.

 22 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;

 23 the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

 24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

The psalmist tells us that above all else, God is good, yesterday, today and forever.  We are told that God is our rescuer, we will live so that we can tell the world of the good that God has done.  We are told that God has allowed bad things to happen but has not allowed death to gain a victory.  God is our rescuer.  God has seen to it that the one who was rejected has become the most important of all.  We are told that God is a god who answers prayer and for all that he does, we give thanks.  We understand that God sometimes allows bad things to happen.  He allows things to happen that we don’t understand, but all the time, God is our salvation, our rescuer, our friend and all the time, God is good.  Say it with me…

Pastor: God is good!

People: All the time!

Pastor: And all the time…

People: God is good!

To be fair, my contention that God shows favoritism is contradicted directly by the disciples.  In Acts 10:34-43, Peter seems to say exactly the opposite… 

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

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

 Peter had clearly been of the opinion that God favored the people of Israel over the Gentiles and that the rules of his church were favored over what he saw as the bizarre and offensive practices of the Gentiles.  God had been at work on Peter though.  Peter had had dreams and heard God’s voice and he had learned that eating pork and other foods he had previously known to be despicable could be acceptable.  Over the course of time, God brought Peter to understand that God’s call was to all persons and not just to the people of Israel and that the worship of God might not look exactly the way that it looked at home, and God was okay with that.  In fact, Jesus was perhaps a unique messenger against favoritism.  If we search Jesus’ genealogy, we find that among his ancestors were Rahab, the prostitute who aided Joshua’s spies in Jericho and Ruth who was a widow from the nation of Moab.  Tamar is mentioned in his family tree and it is probable she was also not an Israelite as were several others. 

The whole idea of racial purity was not something that existed for much of Israel’s history and so any ideas that modern people may have about God favoring one people, nation, tribe or race over another has little or no basis in scripture.  For much of its history, Israel was at the crossroads of two main, international trade routes, the Via Maris (Way of the Sea) that wrapped around the Mediterranean Sea and connected Europe with Africa and the King’s Highway that connected with Syria, Babylon, much of Asia and a host of other major caravan routes.  God deliberately placed the nation of Israel in the center of a place that was always very multicultural and multiethnic.

Peter had, like many Jews, thought that God’s message to them made them special.  They believed that because God loved them, they were unique because God loved them and only them.  Peter’s realization is not that God loves people of different colors, because by this time there were Jews all over the world that had intermarried and so there were Jews of every color.  Peter’s realization was that God loved people who weren’t Jewish.  Peter’s realization was that while God had sent the message of Good News to the people of Israel, the message was for everyone.  Even though the birth, life, death, resurrection and all the events of Easter happened in Israel, the people who had seen and heard were supposed to tell everyone including the Gentiles.  Peter’s realization was that race wasn’t important, that genealogy wasn’t important, that geography wasn’t important but that it was the message that was important.  What was important was to tell the world, to tell all the people that Jesus died and rose from the dead and to tell the whole world that God has appointed Jesus to be the judge of all people both living and dead.  Peter says that the message of God throughout the centuries is clear, that all who believe in Jesus will be given forgiveness.

And so Peter says that God does not show favoritism but at the same time I believe he had proved my point.  Likewise, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul sees it too…  (I Corinthians 15:19-26)

9If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

 20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The Psalmist said 20 This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter,” but are any of us righteous, do any of us truly live “rightly?”    In Romans 3:9-10, Paul says, “9What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10As it is written:   "There is no one righteous, not even one.”

So what are we to do?  If we’re not perfect and none of us is good enough to be righteous, then what?  WE believe that the gate of the Lord is not a place or a thing but a person.

Peter said, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Paul says that when Jesus returns, those who believe in him will rise from the dead and be made alive.

God plays favorites.  He is partial. 

All have sinned, all fall short and no one is righteous, no one is good enough to say they are good enough but that isn’t all there is. 

None of us is good enough but thankfully God is good.  In his partiality, God plays favorites and his favorites are those who believe in his son Jesus.  God forgives sin through the name of Jesus and only through the name of Jesus.

This is the good news of Easter morning. 

None of us is perfect, but God has provided a way out, a path to a second chance, a path to forgiveness, but there is only one path.  Because Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, he is the gate of the Lord and judge of all creation.  If we believe in him, God forgives us and invites us to live with him forever.  God invites everyone to accept his invitation but invites no one who does not first accept his son.

Our mission in the twenty-first century is the same as Peter’s was in the first century, to tell the world that Jesus has risen from the dead so that we can be forgiven.

God does play favorites and it’s not only good news; it’s the best news ever.

 



*You have been reading a message presented at Johnsville Grace and Steam Corners United Methodist Churches on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor of the Johnsville Parish.  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 Johnsville Grace UMC or Steam Corners UMC at P.O. Box 205, Shauck, Ohio 43349.  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 .  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook  (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge and audio podcasts at http://www.sermoncloud.com/ (type the church name in the search box)

All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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