Thanksgiving Overflow?

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Thanksgiving Overflow?

November 26, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Deuteronomy 8:7-18       Luke 17:11-19       2 Corinthians 9:6-15

In the middle of a global pandemic, we are taking a day out of our schedule to give thanks.  For many of us, our traditional celebrations have been dramatically changed, reduced, or even cancelled, and yet still we pause to give thanks.  And that’s a good thing.  Despite all the weirdness, difficulty, hardship, and yes, even death, when we pause long enough to reflect, we remember that we are, indeed, blessed.  That busyness causes us to forget our blessings is not new.  Almost as soon as the people of Israel had escaped their 400 years of slavery they already knew that once a  better life came, that they would begin to forget just how blessed they were to have a better life.  In Deuteronomy 8:7-18 we hear these words:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws, and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

God tells the people that once they had arrived in the Promised Land, and once their lives were better, they needed to occasionally pause from their busyness and remember that it was God who had given them that life.  Despite their sweat and hard work, they would not have been where they were had it not been for God.  Yes, they busted their guts, and  yes they invested their sweat and their hard work, but if it had not been for God, they would have been doing all those things for the benefit of Egypt’s Pharaoh, and not for themselves. 

They were indeed blessed.

And God simply asked them to occasionally pause and remember that it was God who gave them the ability to do the things that they did and to have the things that they had.  But Jesus tells us that thanksgiving is more than something that we put on the calendar to do one day each year.  In Luke 17:11-19, we hear a story that should resonate with us during a pandemic, as Jesus meets ten men who were afflicted with an incurable disease.

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

God has given us gifts.  God has granted us health, and healthcare workers who struggle to make us well when we fall ill.  But how often do we say thank you to those to whom we are indebted?  Do we return to God and give thanks?  Do we appreciate, and give thanks to our healthcare team?  Do we bother to simply say “thank you” to the people around us who work to make our lives better, and easier?

It isn’t a question of setting aside a day to give thanks.

But do we live lives of thankfulness?

And, as you consider that, let us also remember Paul’s words in his letter to the church in Corinth that we find in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Paul reminds us that if we are to truly live lives of thankfulness, then we must also live lives of generosity.  Our generosity is not a fee that we pay for God’s continued blessing and it is not a tax on the blessings that we have already received.  Instead, our generosity should come from a heart that overflows with gratitude. 

Generosity is a visible sign of genuine… thanksgiving.

And so, as we take time out to give thanks for the gifts that we have been given, as we give thanks for our homes, our lives, our health, our families, and everything else, let us remember to let out thanksgiving overflow into the lives of the people around us.  Say “Thank you” to the people who make your life easier, say thank you to God for his indescribable gifts, and let us not insulate, segregate, and isolate our thanksgiving in one single day.  Let us instead live lives of thanksgiving and allow that thanksgiving to overflow as gratitude and generosity.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


* 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 secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  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 https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

How to be Everyplace at Once

November 22, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24    Ephesians 1:15-23      Matthew 25:31-46

Have you ever been so busy that you really needed to be in two places at the same time?

We all try not to do that, but on more than one occasion I have accidentally double-booked myself and needed to be in two places at the same time.  At other times, District Superintendents, or various committee chairs have changed meeting dates that conflicted with other activities to which I had already committed, and as many of you have experienced, when our children were in school, we often needed to be at soccer, cross-country, cheer-leading, football, band, school, church, or scouting events in different places at the same time. 

But we all know that we can’t be in two places at once.

Or can we?

Obviously, God, being omni-present, is everywhere at the same time, but since we are individuals that are bound by the limits of space and time, we can only be in one place at any particular moment in time.  But that’s not the end of the story, although it is a good place to begin.  Let’s continue by reading Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, where God has just condemned the leaders and shepherds of Israel for misleading and bringing harm to his people, and now, instead, promises to lead and care for his people himself.

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

Throughout this passage, God speaks in the first person. “I myself will search,” I will bring them, I will pasture them, I will tend them, “I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.”  But God also promises that he will, personally, bring punishment and destruction to the bullies who used their strength and power to abuse the people and to drive them away from God.  Instead, God promises that he, through his servant David, will place one shepherd to watch over his people.

And this prophecy and promise of God is reiterated and echoed in Matthew 25:31-46, as Jesus says, …

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

There are three things that struck me as I read this, and all are worth remembering as we consider the idea of being everywhere at once.  First, Jesus reminds us that everyone, Christian, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, atheist and everything in between will one day stand in front of Jesus and be judged.  In that moment, the good will be separated from the bad or, as Jesus said, the sheep will be separated from the goats.  Sheep and goats are similar, but are not the same, and that is also true of human beings.  We might look the same on the outside, but what is inside of us makes us different from one another.  And that difference of heart creates the next two distinctions. 

The second thing worth remembering is that the good, or the righteous people, had no idea that they had done good.  For them, doing good, was so automatic that they did it without thinking and weren’t even aware that they were doing it for, or to, Jesus.  Doing good, helping others, and being Jesus to the world, was so ingrained, so natural to them, that it was simply who they were.  And the third thing is nearly the same thing.  The people who Jesus condemns didn’t really do anything overtly, or obviously evil.  Instead, they simply looked past the evil and suffering of the world, they looked, they saw, and they ignored.  And when Jesus condemns them, they had no idea who they had ignored, or the pain and suffering that they had ignored.  Like the righteous, the behavior of the unrighteous was so ingrained, so natural, and so normal to them, that it was simply who they were.

But what does that have to do with us, or with being everywhere at once?

We are connected to the person, and to the mission, of Jesus, and to his omnipresence, because we are his followers. And, in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:15-23), he explains it this way…

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Paul says that he has not stopped giving thanks for the people of the church and goes on to pray that God would bless them with the wisdom to know Jesus better, enlightenment to know the hope that Jesus brings, to know the riches of God’s inheritance, and to understand the great power that God gives to those who believe.  Paul then reminds the people of the church of the God’s great power and the power that God has granted to Jesus Christ and to his church which is the body of Christ.

Paul emphasizes God’s great power, and the power that God gave to Jesus, and then surprises us by explaining that the great power of Jesus Christ has been given to the church which, he says, “is the fullness” of God.  I want to be clear that what Paul is saying, is that we are Jesus to the world because we are the body of Christ.

And so, as the body of Christ, collectively, we, as the church, find ourselves, at any moment in time, spread all over the world.  Although we are certainly not omnipresent in the way that God is, we are, almost, everywhere at once when we are acting as the body of Christ.  But to do that, there is something that we need to do first.  We must tune our hearts so that, as much as possible, we have the same heart as Jesus Christ.

There are two steps for us to take.  First, we are to shape and tune our hearts to be like the heart of Jesus Christ.  Our hearts are to be so in tune with Jesus that we become Jesus to the world around us.  And second, we must be the church.  We must be the body of Christ and do the work of Jesus.

But it really is easier than that.

The people in Jesus’ parable who did good, did so without even realizing that they were doing good.  Being Christlike was automatic.  Doing the work of Jesus was a completely unconscious action once their hearts became like the heart of Christ.  So, our first step is to do everything we can to be like Jesus, to love like Jesus, to care like Jesus, and to have the heart of Jesus for the world, and for the people around us.  Once we accomplish that, the rest is automatic.  Once we accomplish that, we only have to go out into the world…

…and be ourselves.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/DFz1jUZnWTw

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*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 secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  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 https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Use It, Or Else!

November 15, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Judges 4:1-7  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11       Matthew 25:14-30

Have you ever had trouble making up your mind about something?

It can happen easily as you consider whether you want a red or a blue lollipop, or where you should take your next vacation.  Those of us who are musicians had a moment when we had to choose which instrument we wanted to learn.  But some decisions get more difficult, and more expensive, as we get older.  Choosing between a minivan and a pickup truck has consequences and it’s usually too expensive to choose both or to change your mind once you’ve chosen.  Choosing a major in college can be hard but changing your mind after you’ve already invested several years of your life can be expensive.  If you move to a new town, finding a church that you like can be difficult, but changing churches after you’ve established yourself and made friends can be painful.  We’ve all been through it and, at one time or another, we’ve all wrestled with indecision.  But when we read the book of Judges, we discover that the entire book was written during a time when the entire nation of Israel was having trouble making up its mind about God.  For a while Israel would love God, but after a generation or two, they would forget God and drift away.  And then, as life often happens, things would get hard, and the people would pray for God to rescue them, again, and God would send a judge, or a prophet, people would return to their faith and follow God… for a while, and then the cycle would start over again.  That is exactly the story that we see in chapter after chapter of the book of Judges, and that is what we see as we read this passage from Judges 4:1-7 as Ehud, the previous leader of Israel, dies and the people, once again, drift away from God.

4:1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leadingIsrael at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

So, as we joined the story, Ehud, Israel’s previous rescuer, who had rescued them from the nation of Moab, had died and, as they had often done, Israel drifted away from God.  Once that happened, they were captured and oppressed by the Canaanites.  But after praying for twenty years, God raised up the prophet Deborah to lead the people and to rescue them from their oppressors.  God speaks to Deborah, and she creates a plan to trap Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite armies, and all his troops and chariots.  In this plan, Deborah will get Sisera to chase her up Mount Tabor and when they reach the top, Barak would be waiting, on the strategic high ground, with an army of men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and would destroy Sisera and all of his troops from that region.

But imagine what would have happened if Deborah had trouble deciding whether she trusted God.  Or what if Barak couldn’t decide whether he could trust Deborah?  Or what if no one answered Barak’s call to arms so that there was no army waiting at the top of Mount Tabor?  At each step, every person had to believe in the power of God, trust that the message that they received was true, and be willing to take action, and risk their lives, based on what they heard.

And that brings us to Jesus’ parable about the unfaithful servant in Matthew 25:14-30 where we hear this:

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So, you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The wealthy man could have easily entrusted his money to the bankers and received a modest profit when he returned.  But instead, each servant was given gold because their master trusted that they could manage his money better than the banker could.  While he did not believe that they had equal skills, he entrusted them with his money in proportion to the trust that he had in their abilities.  But the unfaithful servant was paralyzed by indecision.  He was unable to choose how he would invest the money, abandoned the mission, and failed in his duty.  Worse, as the master had pointed out, if the servant had so little confidence in their own abilities that they feared losing it, he could have, at the very least, invested the money with the bankers and received some small rate of interest on it until his master’s return.  But rather than use what had been entrusted to him, he buried it instead.

So, what should we be doing with our lives?  In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the Apostle Paul explains it to the church this way:

5:1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Paul says that, of course, we don’t know exactly the day and time that the world will end, but we know that when that day comes, it will be a surprise to everyone and Jesus will come unexpectedly “like a thief in the night.”  And, when that day comes, as there always is, there will be politicians spouting campaign promises about peace and safety, but our calling to always be ready and prepared for the end.  We are to be the people who wear our faith, hope, and love where is it visible to everyone around us as if we were wearing armor.  Paul reminds us that Jesus died for us so that we could live, together, with him and for that reason, we are to encourage one another, and build each other up.

And if we use this perspective to help us understand Jesus story of the unfaithful servant, we begin to see that his failure was not only due to his lack of faith in himself, and not only due to his lack of trust in his master, but also due to the failure of his friends to encourage him, help him, and to build him up spiritually and intellectually. 

We are our brother’s keeper.

Our calling, that that of Deborah, Barak and the people of Israel, is not only to have faith in God, and to trust in his instructions, but to build up the people around us, to call them to Jesus, and to call them to action, so that they are prepared, willing, and ready for action when God has need of us.

We are our brother’s keeper.

We cannot stand idly by and watch as fellow believers, and unbelievers, lose trust in God and fall away from him.  We cannot be happy with our success as we watch the failures of the people around us.

Like the servants of the rich man, God has given us gifts, each in proportion to our abilities, and regardless of how much, or how little, we have been given, God expects us to use those gifts for his benefit, and for the benefit of the people around us.  We must not be deceived into thinking that we only have a “personal faith” or a “personal relationship” with Jesus.  We are called to use our gifts, both as individuals, and as a community, to lift up the people around us, to encourage them, help them, and to build them up emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.

We must use the gifts that God has given to us or, like the unfaithful servant, God will take what we have and give it to someone else.  Instead, we must lift one another up and, work together to rescue the lost, heal the suffering and the hurting, bring hope to the hopeless, and to the build God’s kingdom until our master returns “like a thief in the night.”


 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ZLDcfVPWNp4

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

*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 secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  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 https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Never Again

Never Again*

November 01, 2020

(All Saints Day)

By Pastor John Partridge

Matthew 5:1-12                     1 John 3:1-3                           Revelation 7:9-17

In J. Rachel Reed’s book, K-9 Korea: The Untold Story of America’s War Dogs in the Korean War, she says,

“Aren’t we as a society better, stronger, when we have these best examples of humanity to rest our hopes on? And aren’t we better when we can look at the failures of humanity and vow, ‘Never again’?”

I think that’s a great question.  Aren’t we better when we look at our failures and vow, “Never again?”

Many of us have done exactly that.  We’ve failed and made some bone-headed decisions, we’ve chosen poorly, we’ve chosen quantity over quality, we’ve worked too much and played too little, we’ve said “yes” when we should have said ‘no” and “no” when we should have said “yes” and a made a host of other regrettable decisions and afterwards many of us learned from our mistakes and promised ourselves, “Never again.”

And, as we celebrate All Saints Day and remember those members, family, and friends that are no longer with us, we also remember, and hold on to, the words “never again” and the deeper meaning that they have to us from our understanding of scripture.  We begin this morning with the words of Jesus, and his sermon of the Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:1-12.

5:1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus proclaims blessings upon the people who are typically looked down upon, ignored, and pushed aside by the ambitious and the powerful as well as those who are struggling with loss.  And it is in these words that Jesus reminds the entire world that God cares more about peace and purity than power, more about comfort and compassion than cash, and more about mercy and morality than money.  Jesus reminds us that God is proud of you when you do the right thing, even if the world persecutes you and lies about the things you did.  And, while it never seems to difficult to imagine, during this election season it seems easier than ever to understand how the people can manipulate and twist the truth into anything they want it to be.  But as long as you are honoring God, and working toward the goals of God’s kingdom, then God calls you blessed and promises that, while persecution and unpleasantness may come to you on earth, blessing and reward have already been set aside for you in heaven.

John the Apostle puts it this way in 1 John 3:1-3,

3:1 See 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. Dear 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.

John says that God loves us so much that we will be called the children of God.  God claims us as his own and the world misunderstands us, and our motives, because they do not know him.  But because we live here and have not yet passed over from this life into the next, we cannot yet see what our new life will look like.  But we do know that when Christ appears, or when our lives end and we go to live with him, we will see him as he really is in all his glory.

And in Revelation 7:9-17, John also writes about his vision of heaven and a hint of what we will see there after our time on earth has ended.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

While John speaks specifically about the saints of God who were killed during the great tribulation, we are given a glimpse of heaven and of God’s love and compassion for his children.  What’s more, it is here that we find those words that we’ve said to ourselves.  On earth we’ve learned wisdom by saying “never again” to the bad decisions of the past, but we are unable to do anything about some of the hardest parts of our lives.  In this life we often can’t do anything about pain, suffering and death, but John says that once we begin our new lives God says, “never again.”  Never again will there be hunger or thirst.  Never again will there be scorching heat, or bitter cold.  Never again will there be mourning, crying, pain, sorrow, suffering, or death.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

And so today, as we celebrate All Saints Day, and as we remember those whom we have lost in the past year, as well as all of our friends and loved ones who have been lost to us, we also rejoice in the new life that they have with Jesus Christ.  Because we remain on earth, we also remember our calling to faithfulness, righteousness, mercy, and compassion.  We remember that, as followers of Jesus Christ we must continue his work as we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak for the voiceless, care for those who have no one to care for them, and in every other way possible to preach the Gospel, rescue the lost, and be Jesus to the world. 

But, at the same time, while we continue our earthly struggles with frustration, hunger, thirst, pain, persecution, suffering, grief, and death, we look forward to the day when we too can rest from our labor and say…

… “Never again.”

 


 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/6ge6H8IvMao

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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 secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  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 https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Real Power Reversed

Real Power Reversed*

October 25, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Deuteronomy 34:1-12       1 Thessalonians 2:1-8    Matthew 22:34-46

Our current focus on the upcoming election has many of us thinking about power.  We think about who has power in our system, how that power is distributed, and whether the people in power use it well or poorly.  Often, during campaign speeches, press releases, debates or 30 second sound bites, modern candidates seek to corner their opponents, goad them into saying something stupid, or trick them into saying things that will alienate their supporters.  And it may not surprise you to discover that these tactics are not new.  In today’s scripture readings, we find the political leaders of Jesus’ day doing exactly those same things.  But God isn’t playing by the rules of human culture, society, and politics.  God has plans that upset the halls of power, unseat the powerful, and reveal that the rules of real power are completely reversed from our human expectations.  We begin in Deuteronomy 34:1-12, as God honors a promise made in past generations, makes a new promise to future generations, and the torch of power is passed from Moses to his successor, Joshua.

34:1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried himin Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak, nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spiritof wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So, the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

God had promised the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Moses sees that land from a distance as the descendants of Abraham are about to cross the Jordan River and take possession of it.  At the same time, God tells Moses that his descendants are included in that promise even though he himself will not be among the people to cross into that new land but will die and be buried in Moab.  But before his death, Moses laid hands on Joshua, blessed him, and passed on to him the blessing of God and the spirit of wisdom that God had given to him.  But, and this is important, despite the blessing of God, and the spirit of wisdom that Moses passed on to Joshua, no prophet in Israel was ever like Moses had been.  No one ever had the kind of power that Moses had, or was able to perform the mighty deeds that Moses had done.  Moses was believed to be the pinnacle of all God’s prophets.  No one who came after him, regardless of their great acts, was ever seen as reaching that status.  But Jesus turns that status quo on its head.

In Matthew 22:34-46, Jesus has a conversation in which the Pharisees attempt to goad him into saying something stupid and in that conversation, Jesus turns the tables and completely upsets the conventional wisdom of political power.

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
  “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees were rival political factions, much like our present-day Democrats and Republicans, with some significant religious differences thrown in as well.  Although they sometimes worked together, there was no love lost between them.  This passage begins with the Pharisees hearing how the Sadducees had been embarrassed by Jesus when they had tried to trick him and so, naturally, they decide to set a trap for Jesus as well in an attempt to succeed where the Sadducees had failed.  But much as he did with the Sadducees, Jesus deftly evades the trap the Pharisees had set, expertly answers their question, and then turns the tables by asking them a question that they can’t answer.

Remember the conventional wisdom that no prophet had ever done the things that Moses had done.  Then recall that Jesus had been performing miracles (or soon would) that even Moses had not done.  And then take note that the conventional wisdom about Moses had also been applied to King David, and from there into a general rule of thumb that no child was ever greater than his father.  So that, according to conventional wisdom, no ancestor would ever be as marvelous, or as devoted, powerful, godly, or as holy, of David.  And so, Jesus asks the Pharisees that if this is so, how is it that David refers to the coming Messiah, who must be his descendant, as “Lord.”  The Pharisees, of course, are caught in their own trap.  Jesus has revealed that the conventional wisdom about power is wrong and if the Pharisees agree, then they contradict their own teaching.  But if they disagree, then they contradict scripture.  And that is why the passage ends by saying that the Pharisees could not say a word.  They were trapped.  They were stuck.  And no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

The coming of Jesus was a disruption of the status quo, and overturned the conventional wisdom about power, authority, and many other things.  Jesus performed miracles that even Moses couldn’t perform, he pointed out that when the Messiah came, even the great King David would call him Lord and recognize him as greater than himself.  And with his death and resurrection, Jesus upset the conventional wisdom and understanding of death itself.  But as we look deeper into the teaching of Jesus, we begin to understand that the entire structure of real power was being upset, overturned, changed, and redefined. 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, we discover that the Apostle Paul modeled these changes as he, and his missionary team, lived and worked among the Greek church in Thessalonica.

2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young childrenamong you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

Paul begins by reminding the people that his visit to Thessalonica was productive and produced good results despite the abuse that they had suffered when they had previously visited Philippi which is about a hundred miles to the east.  Paul says that even though they had suffered in Philippi, and even though they faced strong opposition in Thessalonica, they persisted in preaching the gospel message.  Paul credits the success of their mission team to the authority that they had been given by God, that they always preached in a way that was humble, honest, straightforward, and honest.  They didn’t suck up to people or flatter them to make them feel important and they didn’t do anything to get rich at the expense of other people. 

Instead, rather than using the authority that they had been given by God and by the church, they used the authority of children, which is to say that they acted as if they had no authority at all.  Paul then compares the method of their ministry to the way that a mother cares for her infant children.  Obviously, the mother has all of the authority, and has much greater strength than her children, but it is her love for them that guides her to use her strength to guide her children and care for them gently, tenderly, and with compassion.

This style of leadership is patterned after the life of Jesus and is a complete reversal of how we normally see power and authority exercised in the culture of the world from before the time of Jesus until today.  For the followers of Jesus Christ, this is a representation of how real power should be used and speaks to us about how we should use our power, and how we should minister to the needs of others in our communities both as individuals and as the church.  Jesus doesn’t say that we can’t have power or authority, but that we should upend the conventional wisdom and use our power, authority, and influence with gentleness, tenderness, compassion, and love.

As we follow Jesus, our patience will be tested.  Our tolerance will be tested.  Our compassion, our will, our strength, courage, compassion, and every other part of our humanity and our mission will be tested.  But, just as Paul and Jesus were tested, we must pass those tests with grace and gentleness so that we are known to the people around us not as the church with an iron fist, but as a people with a loving heart.

I pray that we might be known as a people with a loving heart.

 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/VjzbCWP7gao

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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 secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  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 https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Pastor’s Report 2020

(Note: What follows is a copy of my report included in this year’s Charge Conference paperwork)


Pastor’s Report – 2020

If you wanted to deliberately turn the life of the church upside-down, you could not have imagined a better tool than COVID-19.  Virtually everything changed.  And yet, they didn’t.  Our committee meetings changed, but once we got comfortable with Zoom, and social distancing protocols, most of our committees are still meeting.  We aren’t using our church building on Sunday, and yet, we’re still “having church” every week.  Sometimes via YouTube, sometimes in our church parking lot, sometimes both and two out of three Sunday school classes are still meeting weekly via Zoom (and it’s the younger group that isn’t).  We can’t pass offering plates on Sunday morning, and yet, our offerings are often as good, or better, than they were last year.

The weekly community dinners have changed but have never stopped.  The first week after the lockdown, one sponsoring church cancelled, but the people of Christ Church immediately stepped up, improvised, and prepared a carry out meal so that those who rely on us were fed.  Since then, our regular church hosts, as well as few others, have all stepped in, and stepped up, and our weekly Tuesday meals have continued, and have… grown.  In the last month, the lines have been longer, and the number of guests has increased.  Occasionally, the food has run out, but the word has spread, everyone is adapting, and more food will be prepared for the next meal.

Obviously, there are things that we can’t do.  Our mission trips to Harrisburg, Liberia and Big Creek, Kentucky have been postponed until it is once again safe to do so, but we have already collected an enormous pile of things to take with us to Kentucky simply because our members have taken advantage of this time and used it to do some Spring cleaning.  Similarly, gifts in support of our trip to Liberia are continuing to appear in our church offerings so that, when the time comes, we will be ready.  And, as our Outreach Committee discussed these changes, they deliberately looked for how the needs of our community might have changed and how we might be a part of caring for new communities or new areas of need that were caused by, or exacerbated by, the pandemic.  And so, while some planned and budgeted gifts are not needed, we have shifted gifts, and fund-raising efforts to new places where the needs are great.

Although things sometimes seem to have turned upside down, the mission never changed, and the church has continued to be the church.  We have changed, we have adapted, we are learning new things every week, but we are still here.  Our membership has remained connected in new ways, and we see new names participating in our online forums.  In short, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are housed, and we continue to look for ways that we can be the church, and places where we can be Jesus to the people around us.

The church is still here.

The mission continues.

We continue to seek Jesus Christ and to share his love with the people around us.

We could do nothing less.


I hope that all of you remain well.  I encourage you to continue our mission, continue to be the church, and continue to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world around you.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Just Do The Next Thing

Some years ago, when I was still working as an engineer, I used to listen to a Christian radio station in Cleveland, Ohio and would often hear a program hosted by Elizabeth Elliot. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that name, Elizabeth Elliot was the widow of a missionary, Jim Elliot, who was killed by Ecuadorian natives from the Huaorani tribe– also called the “Auca”, along with Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint in 1952. Their story spread around the world and was recorded by Elizabeth Elliot in a best selling book “Through Gates of Splendor” as well as subsequent movies and other books written by Elliot and others.

In any case, in a conversation with a caller on her radio show, Elizabeth Elliot noted that there were many times, particularly after she was widowed with small children, as well as other crises later in her life, that she would remember and recite to herself an old poem entitled, “Do The Next Thing.” On that show, on more than one occasion, I heard her recite it, at least in part, and remind her listeners that when life is hard, when we are struggling to understand how we can possibly move forward, her advice was simply to put one step in front of the other, and just “do the next thing.”

Although I didn’t need that particular wisdom on the day that I heard it, my brain filed it away somewhere. And, there have been several occasions since then that I found myself reciting parts of it to myself, looking up the entire poem online, or just reminding myself to just “do the next thing.”

It occurred to me today that some of you might not have heard it and during the turmoil caused by the Coronavirus, or for a host of other possible reasons, maybe you needed to hear it today. Here it is:

Do The Next Thing

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing
Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.
Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.
– Elizabeth Elliot

Hang in there friends.

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Television pastor and writer Rev. Robert Schuller used to say,

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do. ”

I said it before, but I’m going to say it again anyway…

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and just…

Do the next thing.

God Bless.

____________________________________________________

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Present, Half-Present, or False Presence?

October 11, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 32:1-14                      Philippians 4:1-9                   Matthew 22:1-14

Have you seen the television commercials for car insurance that has a salesman that travels with a partner that is an emu?  In one of those commercials, the salesman recalls having a conversation, about insurance naturally, with a guy on an elevator who was listening to the radio with earbuds and was never even aware that the salesman had been talking to him.

It’s (a little) funny.  But has that ever happened to you?

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and, after talking to them for a while, turned and discovered that they had left the room and you had been talking to no one?  Or, have you had a conversation with one of your children, or your spouse, or a co-worker, and discovered, at some point, that they were so distracted by something else, that they had no idea what you had been saying, or perhaps even been aware that you had been talking to them?  It’s a but like talking to a wall.

As odd as it may seem, scripture tells us that God has these same kinds of interactions with his people, times when we simply aren’t present, and others when we’re only half there.  But God doesn’t want followers who… well, maybe if we listen to this story from Exodus 32:1-14, we might understand better.

32:1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us godswho will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

The people of Israel started coming unglued as soon as they thought Moses was overdue in coming back down the mountain.  For them, Moses had come to represent God.  They were, in effect, following Moses instead of God.  If Moses had gone missing then, by their reasoning, so was God.  The people depended on the presence of Moses rather than on the presence of God.  And so, rather than fall to their knees and pray, or to seek out God’s presence in some other way, they created a false god and a false presence to take God’s place.  And that, as you know, did not go well.  Our God is a jealous God and does not permit dual loyalties or a people who are not fully present.  God does not share his presence with other gods, nor with people who do not follow him, nor does he allow his followers to split their presence, or their loyalties, with other gods.

And just in case we are tempted to say that this somehow exclusive to the Old Testament, we see exactly the same thing in Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 where we hear these words:

22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In Jesus’ parable, the King, whom we know is God, prepares a wedding banquet for his son and invites his most favored subjects to attend.  Remember, that in that day, and even somewhat in the twenty-first century, the invitation of the king is much like a command performance.  An invitation from the king is not really something that can, or should, be refused or ignored.  But still, they refuse to come.  And so the king sends even more servants proclaiming how awesome the food will be at the banquet, but some were not present, they ignored the servants and they ignored the invitation, and others were openly hostile and murdered the servants in an attempt to silence the invitation.  And the king was so angry, at both groups, that he sent his army to destroy them all and burn their city to the ground.

But the story doesn’t end there.  After the king wipes away all those who ignored his invitation, he invites the uncommon people, the unfavored subjects, the people who are ordinarily ignored and forgotten.  Since the movers and shakers and most favored subjects wouldn’t come to his banquet, the king invites the people of the streets, the poor, the ordinary, the street sweepers, laborers, criminals, and anyone else that they could find.  And, most likely, since they were the people without much money, the king offered them clothes worthy of a king’s banquet for them to wear.  And they wore them.  At least they all wore them except for one man who tried to have things both ways.  He was half-present.  He physically came to the banquet, but he refused to wear the wedding clothes that the king provided.  He was trying to be both a part of the king’s banquet and yet still clinging to a part of his ordinariness.  He was, in other words, lukewarm in his support of the king.

And that didn’t go well either.  The king had him tied up and thrown out of the palace into the darkness because, as we have already seen, he was a jealous king who does not permit dual loyalties or a people who are not fully present. 

And that brings us to a situation that we find in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.  In Philippians 4:1-9, we read these words:

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Paul describes Euodia and Syntyche using words like “companion,” “at my side,” and “co-workers.”  These women were truly present for Paul and present as servants of God.  Paul urges the people of the church to be present through their gentleness (because you just can’t be “virtually” gentle), to be present with God through requests, prayer, petition, and thanksgiving and, in exchange, God will be present in their lives by pouring out peace and by guarding their hearts and minds.  Paul says that if we focus our thoughts on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy, and if we put into practice the things that we have learned from our teachers, then we will truly be living lives that are present with God.  Simply put, whenever we act, or think, like Jesus, we are present with God.  And, by doing so, we will discover that God is present with us.

We worship a jealous God.

God will not talk to the wall.

We cannot be absent.

We cannot fake our presence.

We cannot be half-present or have divided loyalties.

We must live lives that are truly, and fully, present with God.


 

 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/VUwBkvSYvYA

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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 secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  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 https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

I Am the Greatest

“I Am the Greatest”

October 04, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Matthew 21:33-46                 Philippians 3:4b-14 

             

People who always think that they are right can be annoying but sometimes we need them.  Although we’re likely to call them egotists, there are situations where it is good to think that you’re always right.  Officers in combat don’t have the luxury of doubting themselves.  They must be decisive. 

General George Patton once said that, “All very successful commanders are prima donnas and must be so treated.”  Patton himself was often accused of not only being a prima donna but of being egotistical and overconfident.  He was so sure of himself that he once said, “I am a soldier, I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight.” 

In combat, leaders have to believe that they are making good decisions so that they aren’t paralyzed by doubt.  But, at the same time, if someone cannot recognize and admit when they were wrong, they become unable to learn, adapt, and move forward.  We see many of those same characteristics in the Apostle Paul, but first, let’s begin with a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 21:33-46, about a powerful landowner and his relationship with the people who rented it from him.  Jesus said…

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, people who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

Jesus told this parable at least in part because the church leaders of his day, the chief priests and the Pharisees, were in the audience and his description could easily be understood to be a story about how Israel had treated God’s prophets as well as pointing to himself as God’s own son and how they would, ultimately treat him as well.  But the point of the story was to tell the people, the leaders, the nation, and the church that God expects us to not only care for the things that he has given to us, but to give credit to him for giving us the gift, and to use them to produce fruit for the kingdom and not just to enrich ourselves.  If we don’t use what we have been given to grow God’s kingdom then, Jesus says, God can easily take away the gifts that he has given to us, and give them to someone else that will.

That’s harsh.  The chief priests and the Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus was talking about, and they knew that he was talking about them.  And they didn’t like it one bit.

In contrast, we can look at the Apostle Paul who, at one time, counted himself as one of the Pharisees and leaders of Israel.  But, with God’s help, Paul had a change of heart and the explains what that change meant in Philippians 3:4b-14 where he says…

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Do you remember the phrase, “Float like a butterfly sting like a Bee?”  Muhammad Ali was known for his style of trash talk and self-promotion and Paul begins by using that same style of self-promotion.  When Paul says, “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more,” he is saying the same thing that Ali did when he would say, “I am the greatest.”  Paul is using that same style of self-promotion and the same egotistical, self-confidence that we saw in General Patton and other leaders, but with an important exception.  Paul not only says why he is the greatest, he explains why.  He explains that he was born in the right family, went to the right schools, had the best teachers, did all the right rituals, and he did them perfectly. 

But he discovered that he was wrong.

On the road to Damascus, on one of his journeys to find arrest and torture, if necessary, Jews who had been deceived into following Jesus, Paul is confronted, and blinded by, the risen Jesus.  And after that, Paul says, everything in which he once took pride, his pedigree, his education, his position, his importance, the rituals, and even his perfection, he now sees as being worth nothing… unless they are used to promote the cause of Jesus Christ and to grow God’s kingdom.  Paul casts aside everything that he once thought was valuable, everything that he once intended for himself, and everything that he once built his life upon, because he is now pursuing something new, better, and truly perfect.  He says that he has surrendered all the prizes that his old life once offered and now pursues only the prize that God intends for him.

Although Paul still has the same kind of egotism and self-confidence that he always had, he has taken to heart Jesus’ parable of the rich landowner.  Paul realized that he was wrong, learned, adapted, and is now moving forward by working for God instead of against him.  Paul realizes that the prize that God intends for his life must be far better, and far greater, than any prize that he might have ever intended for himself.

But will we learn the same lesson?

Are we willing to give up on our dreams, let go of the personal goals to which we have held so tightly, so that we can grab hold of the dreams and goals that God intends for us?  Are we willing, as individuals, and as a church, to use what we have been given to grow God’s kingdom?

Or will we hold too tightly to the control, the power, the influence, the dreams, and the goals that we had in mind for ourselves, and risk that God will take it all away and give our gifts to someone else?

May we instead, forget what is behind us, strain toward what is ahead, and press on toward the prize for which God has called us through his Son Jesus Christ.

 


 

 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/4Umcv0D_pW4

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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 secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  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 https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Death of “Normal”

“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”

You’ve all heard it.  Sometimes it seems as if we hear someone say it every day.    But you know what?  The old “normal” is dead and it isn’t coming back.  I’ll explain what I mean in a minute, but while the death of normal makes me a little sad, it also gives me hope.

For most of us, getting back to “normal” means that everything returns to the way that it was before COVID-19 turned our lives upside-own and sideways.  But so much has changed and, if we’re honest, we have changed, that there’s no way for us to go back to the way that they were before.  And, if we’re brutally realistic, some things are still going to get worse before they get better.  So, how is any of that hopeful?

First, let me explain why we can’t go back as if this year was a children’s playground “do over.”  Some things have changed that simply can’t be erased.  People we love have died and we can’t get them back.  Businesses have closed that won’t reopen, and more are likely to do so before this is over.  Movie theaters and other businesses are starting to close as the pandemic drags on and while some of them may have enough money to try again when things get better, most of them are gone forever as are the jobs that they created.  But, after six months, our behavior is changing too and, by the time COVID-19 burns itself out or we develop a vaccine, our habits and patterns of life will have changed as well.  People who never used the drive thru at the bank or the pharmacy will be used to it, and many of us will like it enough to keep using it.  Many of us have discovered the convenience of Zoom meetings and, while we might not meet that way all the time, some of our meetings will remain on Zoom and other electronic platforms.  People who didn’t cook at home a lot are learning how, and some of them are getting pretty good at it and are discovering that it’s a lot cheaper (and healthier) than eating out.  Families are spending more time together and more time outdoors.  And every one of those changes, from small ones to big ones, changes how we do business and how we live our lives.

Churches are discovering the same thing.  Churches have had to completely change the way that we fund our operations.  Obviously, there isn’t a weekly offering plate if there is no weekly in-person worship service.  So, with essentially no notice, churches had to find ways of either collecting a weekly offering by mail or doing so electronically.  Christ Church has been blessed to have a congregation that navigated that pivot well, thanks to your adaptability and thanks to finance and computer literate members who had the building blocks in place long before we needed to rely on them.  But some churches haven’t navigated that transition nearly as well, and many of those churches may not survive.  All of us have seen those changes in our Cub Scout pack, our weekly Community Dinner, our collections for the hungry and the homeless, our online worship, and a hundred other ways.

But, at the same time, not all those changes are bad.  Some of us are discovering how easy that donating electronically can be, and we might just like it.  Our move to online worship may have lost a few of our regular attenders but, at the same time, we’ve added a few new “faces” in worship.  Each week there are several people who are “liking,” commenting, and sharing our services online that we haven’t yet met in person.  People are “visiting” our church, and our worship services, that likely would not have physically walked in the door before we were forced to change.  And some of the people we’ve known for years have discovered that our online worship, newsletters, and “Newsy Notes” have allowed them to stay connected even when they are working weekends, sick, travelling, or retire out of state.  The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to shift our perspective.  As much as we love our church building, it’s possible that we are less likely to think of “church” as a building when we are prevented from spending so much time in it.  It might just be easier for us to think about “being Jesus” to the people around us when we don’t physically see the Outreach Committee at church every Sunday and expect them (or the pastor) to be Jesus for us. 

And if those changes help us to meet new people, share the gospel with new friends, reach out to our neighbors, get to know their names and their problems, to love them, and be Jesus to them, that’s certainly not a bad thing and it’s not something that I want to give up when this is over.

It’s time for us to accept that the old “normal” isn’t ever coming back.  But while this pandemic is still a long way from being over, now is a great time for us to think about what our “new normal” will look like when it finally is.  Church in the “new normal” is almost certainly going to remain online in addition to “in-person.”  Some of our meetings are likely to remain on Zoom simply because it’s convenient as well as easier for some of our member who don’t like to drive after dark during the winter months.  Some of us will continue to use the option of giving online. 

But how will we, as the people of God, be changed?  Will we be more loving?  Will we be more compassionate?  Will we be more aware of our neighbors, coworkers, and other people around us?  Will we be transformed by this natural disaster, and by God, into people who are more like Jesus, who love like Jesus, than we were before?  Will our church become known, even more than we were, as a church who cares about our neighborhood and about our community?  Will we, more than ever, act as if we are the ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God?

I hope so.  I see it happening in bits and pieces and it’s growing.  We are, every day, taking baby steps in a new direction.  And, if that new direction carries us closer to Jesus, I don’t ever want to go back to the old “normal.”

I urge you to keep praying for Christ Church, for our church family, for the new names and new faces that we are reaching in new ways, for our neighborhood, our community, our nation, and for the world. 

The old “normal” isn’t coming back. 

Feel free to grieve its loss.

But there is hope.

We will, eventually, pass through this trial and arrive on the shores of a new “normal.”

Let us pray that when we arrive, each one of us, and our church, is more like Jesus than ever before.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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