Popular? Or Faithful?

Popular? Or Faithful?

June 23, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 18:20-39                   Luke 7:1-10                Galatians 1:1-12

 

Martin Luther had seen rampant abuse in the way that the church raised money and preached that both the church and the pope had claimed powers that were not to be found anywhere in scripture.  Threatened with excommunication and imprisonment, Luther was tried for heresy against the church for the things that he had written and preached regarding the corruption of the church and the powers wielded by the pope.  He stood trial and defended himself on April 16 – 17, 1521 and on the 17th famously concluded his arguments by saying, “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest evidence…I cannot and will not retract, for we must never act contrary to our conscience… Here I stand. God help me! Amen!”

In 1932, in a rigged election, key positions in the German Lutheran Church were won by Nazi supporters and, shortly afterwards, official church rules were changed in order to remove all pastors and church officials of Jewish descent.  As a result, many pastors left the church and joined together in opposition of the Nazified church in what would be known as the “Confessing Church” which was increasingly persecuted by the growing Nazi regime.  One of those Lutheran pastors, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stood with those in the confessing church because, having lived and taught alongside the poor in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Bonhoeffer believed that the church, and its people, had to stand against social injustice.  Ultimately, Bonhoeffer’s participation in the Confessing Church and his opposition to the Nazis and the Hitler cult brought about his arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution.

Today, the pressures that we face are not likely to be nearly so life threatening, but we struggle all the same.  Every day, the church and its people are tempted to agree with government policies, elected officials, and partisan party platforms that stand in opposition to the teaching of scripture.  And, as the followers of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to choose whether we want to risk disagreeing with our friends, family members, fellow union members, or with political parties that we have identified with for decades or if we will stand up for what we know to be right.

This is deep stuff so, before we dive into that dark water, let’s go back and look at some of our history.  Let’s begin in 1 Kings 18:20-39, where we find Elijah standing alone against the King of Israel, all the people, and four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal whose worship was officially encouraged (if not required), and which had become the predominant religion of Israel.

20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs [about 24 pounds] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, were worshippers of the god Baal and they both encouraged, and enforced, Baal worship among the people of Israel.  Under their rule, the priests and prophets of the God of Israel were hunted down and killed.  Even Elijah had lived in hiding for many years in fear of the king and his armies.  But now was a time for a showdown.  And in that showdown, God demonstrates, in an inescapably obvious way, that there is only one God in Israel.  In answer to Elijah’s simple prayer, fire falls from the sky and consumes the sacrifice, the wood, twelve large jars full of water, the rocks, and even the dirt under the altar.

Clearly God wins.

But what about Elijah?  We remember this story not only because of the great power that God displayed on that day, but because of the courage that we witness in Elijah.  Not only was it unpopular to stand against Ahab and Jezebel, it was dangerous and positively life-threatening.  By this time, Elijah believes that he is the only prophet left in all of Israel (although we learn that God has hidden others as well), and he is afraid for his life, but he still stands up for his God, for his faith, and for what is right regardless of the risks.

And we see something similar, on both sides, in the story of a Roman centurion who had a sick servant in Luke 7:1-10.

7:1 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

The elders of the Jews recommended that Jesus meet with the centurion because he had come to love Israel and had provided the funds to build a synagogue.  It seems that he had become sympathetic to the Jewish faith though I suspect that he did not become a convert to Judaism.  It was probably not popular for a Roman to be so friendly with the Jews.  It seems likely that his Roman countrymen would look down on this kind of fraternizing, and just being a Roman would make you unpopular among most Jews.  Jesus would have faced this same criticism among the Jews for meeting with a Roman, but he consents to go anyway.  Likewise, I’m sure that there was criticism for healing a Roman servant, but Jesus not only did so, he praises the centurion by saying that he had never seen anyone, in all of Israel, Jewish or not, that had such great faith.

Doing such things, and saying such things, did not make Jesus popular.

In Galatians 1:1-12, Paul explains it this way:

1:1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

I completely understand why we do what we do.  We really aren’t that different than the Israelites in the time of Elijah and King Ahab.

We all want people to like us.  We want to be safe.

But being popular has never been the goal of a follower of God or a believer in Jesus Christ.

As Paul said, we aren’t trying to win the approval of human beings, we should be seeking the approval of God.

We must stand up for what is right and stand against what is wrong even when it’s “our” political party, our friends, or our family that’s wrong. 

We must choose Jesus.  Even when it’s unpopular.  Even when it’s dangerous.  Even when it’s life-threatening.

Do what’s right.

Keep the faith.

Do the things that God has called us to do.

Always.

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Jan Stoll – Eulogy and Obituary

Eulogy for Janice L. “Jan” Stoll

June 21, 2019

by Pastor John Partridge

 

In 1937, the world was changing.  The Golden Gate Bridge opened for the first time, “Gone With the Wind” won a Pulitzer prize, Cy Young was elected to the baseball hall of fame, War Admiral won the Kentucky Derby, SPAM was introduced to the world, the Hindenburg exploded in Lakehurst, NY, war was ramping up in both the Pacific and in Europe, and the first commercial airline flight travelled across the Pacific.  And just about the time that Amelia Earhart disappeared while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, Janice L. Stoll made her first appearance in Alliance, Ohio.

 

Jan was born on October 25th, 1937 to Lee and Roberta Freytag.  By the time she graduated from Alliance High School, she was steady with her high school sweetheart Bill Stoll and the two of them were married on March 9th, 1957.  Jan stayed home and kept the home fires burning while Bill spent some time in the Navy, but afterwards they raised Tammy together.

 

Jan was a regular at Eastern Star, but she could almost always be found at Christ United Methodist Church and she and Bill made sure that Tammy was there too.  Almost every year the family would take some time off, spend time together, and make a trip out to Garden Grove, California to visit Bill’s mother.

 

In 1993 Tammy moved to Texas and not wanting to be so far away from their grandson, two years later, Jan and Bill did too.  Tammy and Jan had a difficult relationship at times, but Mitchell was always the apple of Jan’s eye.  She was his biggest supporter and his constant cheerleader.  She was there at just about every sporting event or school program that he was ever in and she loved to take Mitchell to play mini golf.  When they played, Jan always let Mitchell win… until she didn’t.

 

One day, when Mitchell was approaching adulthood, she stopped holding back and skunked him handily.  He didn’t take it well and threw his putter into the water.  But Jan just gently talked him down, explained to him the value of patience, and told him that even though winning is great, everyone should know how to lose well.  These are lessons and memories that remain fresh for Mitchell and will stay with him for the rest of his life.  Mitchell remembers that Jan loved to cook, and that she had a jukebox in her home will with old classics.  She regularly played Elvis songs and taught Mitchell to sing Blueberry Hill with Fats Domino playing on the jukebox.  The two of them often bonded discussing the latest news about the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Mitchell said that while Jan may not have approved of every decision that he made, she never judged him and was always there to give him good advice.  It seems to me, that Jan knew that she had made some mistakes while she was raising Tammy, learned from them, and tried to do better with her relationship with Mitchell.

 

The family lost Bill in 2008 and, in 2011, Tammy decided to move to Florida.  At first, Jan thought that she would follow Tammy as soon as she could sell her house.  But it took a while.  And when the day came that her house finally sold, Jan called Tammy and announced that instead of moving to Florida, she was going to move back home to Ohio… and she did.  Maybe starting over, again, in a new place, had lost its appeal, but whatever the reason, Jan came home to her hometown, to the things that were familiar, to the place where she still had friends, and eventually to her Lakeshore apartment at Copeland Oaks.

 

I think Tammy put her finger on one of the themes of Jan Stoll’s life when she said that Jan always tried to do her best.  Ultimately, that’s immensely important.  Jan knew that life isn’t perfect, that we don’t always make the right choices, that everything doesn’t always go well, and that our relationships aren’t always what we wished they could be.  But in the end, no matter how life twists and turns, we all need to be a little bit like Jan.  Don’t give up.  Just keep swimming, just keep pushing, just keep going, and just…

 

…do the best you can.

 


Footprints

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”


Obituary for Janice L. “Jan” Stoll

Janice-StollJanice L. “Jan” (Freytag) Stoll, 81, of Copeland Oaks, went home to be with the Lord on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at 12:00 pm at her home in Sebring.
Born on October 25, 1937 in Alliance, to Lee and Roberta Freytag, she lived in Alliance for most of her life.
A graduate of Alliance High School, Janice was a member of Christ United Methodist Church. She was also a member of the Order of the Eastern Star.
Janice enjoyed antiquing, traveling, beachcombing and collecting shells, and she supported several Native American organizations.
Survivors include her daughter, Tammy Smith of Kissimmee, FL; a grandson, Mitchell Lee (Brittany) Smith of Winter Park, FL; two nieces, Linda (Regis) Valentine and Diane (Ray) Shallenberger; three nephews, Robert Sims, Michael (Kathleen) Sims and Christopher (Rebecca) Sims; several great nieces and nephews; great-great nieces and nephews; cousins, Doris Lowers, Bob (Debbie) Graham and Shawn (Marsha) Graham.
Preceding her in death was her husband, William L. Stoll, whom she married on March 9, 1957 and who died on September 3, 2008; an infant daughter, Jody Lynn Stoll; a grandson, Andrew Smith; her parents; a sister, Carol Sims; and a nephew, William Sims.
The family wishes to give heartfelt thanks to Visiting Angels, Hospice of the Valley, Nurse Debbie RN, her aides, Anna and Audrie, social worker, Rebecca; the nursing staff of Copeland Oaks, and Annette and Mindy of Lakeshore Apartments.
The family will receive friends on Friday, June 21, 2019 from 11:00 am – 12:00 pm at Sharer-Stirling-Skivolocke Funeral Home. Her Funeral Service will begin at 12:00 pm with Rev. John Partridge, of Christ United Methodist Church, officiating. Burial will take place at Highland Memorial Park.
Memorial contributions are suggested to Shriners Children’s Hospital www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org .
You are invited to view Janice’s tribute wall, offer condolences and share memories at www.sharerfuneralhome.com. Arrangements are by the Sharer-Stirling-Skivolocke Funeral Home.

One Year In

CalendarAs you probably noticed, the end of June and the beginning of July mark the end of our first year here in Alliance.  Time flies.  Sometime the entire year feels like one giant blur.  But a year ago our home was full of boxes, a lot of things had gone into storage (some of them are still there) and we were worrying over the logistics of moving.  This year we’re fussing over flowerbeds, preparing my brother’s house for sale, and thinking about strategy for mission and ministry.

So how are we doing?

That’s a conversation that I hope to have with a number of people will be having in the days ahead.  Sara Sherer and I have already begun that conversation, it’s a regular part of our monthly (less often in the summer) staff meetings, and it’s a conversation that I welcome with any of our church family.  What are your thoughts, what strategies, mission, and ministries should we pursue, what’s working, what has gone well, and what could we do better?

As for me, I am often struck by the willingness, and the passion, with which our Christ Church family are reaching out to our community.  We are in mission through food pantries, participation in, and financial support of, the Habitat for Humanity Apostle Build, weekly community dinners, Cooking for the Soul classes, support for the work of the Alliance of Churches, as well as for mission and outreach outside of Alliance.  Christ Church’s support of Red Bird Mission, The Joy Center in Big Creek, Kentucky, schools in Sierra Leone, the work of Farmer to Farmer in Liberia, and many others.  Patti and I have been staggered (and truly blessed) by the interest, support, and encouragement that we have received regarding the things in which we are participate. 

Thank you. 

We couldn’t be more grateful.

In some ways, we are still learning about one another.  We haven’t always hit the right notes.  Everything hasn’t gone perfectly.  There are lessons to be learned and things that we can do better.  But in total, I am very pleased with where we are.  It seems as if the more things I learn about the people of Christ Church, the more impressed I have become, I am excited about the future, excited about our ministry together, and I am truly looking forward to the year ahead.

 

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 


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Wisdom, Truth… Hope

Wisdom, Truth… Hope

June 16, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31                        John 16:12-15                        Romans 5:1-5

 

It seems that our world is increasingly without hope. 

We regularly meet people in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our communities that are struggling.  And certainly, the people in our churches are not immune.

Hope seems to be in increasingly short supply.

We see it on the news almost every day.  People are wondering why the world seems so filled with disaster, hate, mayhem, hunger, fear, and hopelessness.  Even at our church’s Annual Conference this week, as we worked to elect a slate of delegates to next year’s General Conference, amid our denomination’s divisive debate over homosexuality, there were many discussions about the future.  We discussed what the future might look like, and even whether our denomination, or any denomination, has a future at all.

But despite some discussions of what might appear to be dark or grim possibilities, our discussions were also often filled with hope.

Hope.

Hope is something that seems to be in short supply in the world but remains abundant in the church. 

Why is that?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

In Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Solomon speaks about the creation and the beginning of time in this way:

Does not wisdom call out?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
    I raise my voice to all mankind.

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
    before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

Solomon speaks of wisdom as the first creation of God. Wisdom was there before the mountains and the oceans.  Wisdom has been, and is, the constant companion of God in all that he does.  And it is wisdom that stands at the gates of the city and cries out to all of humanity… if we will only listen.

But wisdom isn’t the only voice that is trying to speak into our lives.  In John 16:12-15, Jesus speaks with his disciples and prepares them for a time when he will soon depart with these words:

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

Jesus says that after he returns to heaven, he will send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.  The Spirit of God will carry the words of Jesus to us and guide us into the future.

But because we know the story of Jesus, we also know that listening to the Spirit and doing the will of God doesn’t shelter us from suffering.  Just as Jesus suffered because of his faith, we may also endure times of suffering because of our faith.  But our high calling is to always hear the voice of wisdom, to stand up for the truth, and to follow God wherever he leads us.  In Romans 5:1-5, Paul shares this wisdom:

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

This short passage is often quoted because, as short as it is, it is also filled with great power.  We know that life isn’t perfect.  We know that life is filled with suffering.  But we are encouraged as we remember that suffering produces perseverance.  Perseverance produces character, and character produces… hope.  But don’t forget that last part either.  Hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our lives, through the Holy Spirit that has been sent to us by Jesus Christ.   Not only are we being built up, day by day, through our faith in Jesus Christ, and through our daily suffering, but we are also, through the Spirit that lives within us, being filled with the love of God.  Daily, we should be growing in love and compassion for our families, for our friends, for our community, the world, and for everyone around us.

Our life of faith is a group project, a work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Since before the beginning of time, the wisdom of God has cried out to all of creation and to all of humanity if only we would take the time to listen.

And every day, the Spirit of God pours the love of God into our lives and speaks the words of Jesus into our hearts and minds in order to guide us to the truth.

And, as we persist in our faith, and endure the sufferings of this life, we grow daily in character and are filled…

…with hope.

In a world that is increasingly without hope, where we see a rise in opioids, despair, and suicide, we, the people of God, must be bold in proclaiming the truth so that the people around us can discover the great gift that we have received through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We must share with the world the gift…

            …of hope.

 

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Ministry of Wow

The Ministry of Wow

June 09, 2019*

(Pentecost)

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:8-17, 25-27               Acts 2:1-21                 Romans 8:14-17

 

Have you ever watched the fireworks on the fourth of July?

Have you ever opened the newspaper and seen the mayor and a bunch of city officials at an important ribbon cutting or groundbreaking?

Have you ever seen the evening news report on a new freeway, tax cuts, or some other big news story about our local, state, or federal government?

Sure, you have.  Occasionally, our government does something that is very public and splashy.  But most of the time, day in, and day out, most of our government’s employees, whether they are employed by the federal, state, or local governments, toil away at computer monitors, check in on endangered children, teach school, clean streets, repair streets, fix leaks, and make sure that many things that we take for granted are so regular and reliable that we can take them for granted.  You rarely see stories in the newspaper or on television about the people who showed up and did their jobs, every day, for thirty or forty years doing ordinary things.

And although God often works the same way, daily caring for our wounds, watching over us, and being so ordinary and predictable that we allow ourselves to take his presence for granted or forget about him entirely, he isn’t always so invisible.  Occasionally, God does something splashy and noticeable.  Sometimes God heals the incurable, moves mountains, or raises the dead.  Sometimes God does things that make us say, “Wow.” 

Pentecost was one of those moments.

Some time before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke with his disciples and explained that after he returned to his father, he would send the Spirit of God to be with them.  That gift… would change everything. (John 14:8-17, 25-27)

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Jesus told his disciples that the words that he said, and the miracles that he performed, were being done because of the father that lived in him and was doing his work through him.  And then he goes on to say that because he is returning to his father, anyone who believes in him will do the same kinds of works that Jesus was doing, and even greater things.  Because Jesus was returning to his father, and because he was sending God’s Spirit to be with us, and live with us, we would do these things, and God would be glorified.  And, not only would the followers of Jesus Christ do these amazing works, but because of the presence of the Spirit of God living in us, we would also receive the gift of peace.

Fast forward to a few weeks after the crucifixion to the day of Pentecost and we find this story from the book of Acts 2:1-21.

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

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

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

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

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

Remember that I said sometimes God does splashy things?

This isn’t only a splashy thing, but a whole pile of splashy things.

A sound like a violent wind comes down from heaven, tongues of fire pour into the room where the followers of Jesus have gathered to pray, the fire separates and come to rest on each and every one of them, and then, speaking all the languages of the known world, these men and women go out into the streets and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The people in the streets either heard the sound of the wind or the sound of so many people speaking different languages, but whatever they heard, people came from all over the see what was going on.

Those that came were shocked because the people who were speaking foreign languages were Galileans and, you may recall that Galileans were thought of as uneducated, country hicks.  Remember that even one of the disciples, when he first heard about Jesus, said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Not only that, but remember that just a few days earlier, these same people were meeting in locked rooms with the windows bolted shut, because they were afraid that the Pharisees would have them arrested because of their association with Jesus.  Not long ago, Peter had been so emotionally destroyed that he went back to his fishing boats and was beating himself up over his public denials of Jesus. 

But no longer.

Suddenly, their fear and doubt are gone.  Suddenly they are speaking languages that they had never learned.  Suddenly, instead of hiding behind locked doors, they were speaking in public and Peter raises his voice and lectures everyone on the meaning of the scriptures.

This moment is entirely unexpected, exceptionally public and splashy, and totally transformational for both the disciples and for us.  In that moment, the disciples were changed.  Their fear was gone, they were filled with an urgency to tell the world about what they had seen and heard, and they went out into the streets to do it.  And, as they went, God, through the power of the Holy Spirit that now lived within them, began to do exactly what Jesus had described.  Suddenly they were doing something miraculous.  Suddenly they were doing the work that Jesus had been doings, and even things that were more surprising and unexpected than some of the things that Jesus had done.

But if all of this was not enough, Paul’s letter to the church in Rome describes yet another amazing gift that the church received at Pentecost. (Romans 8:14-17)

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Paul says that the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost was also the symbol of our adoption by God and because we have been adopted, then we are heirs, co-heirs with Jesus so that we will share in both his suffering and in his ministry to all of the world.

Not only was Pentecost a splashy, headline news moment, the effects were not something that wore off and were forgotten.  Instead, the gifts that God gave to the church at Pentecost, were gifts that were passed on from generation to generation.  God’s spirit entered into the followers of Jesus as tongues of fire at Pentecost, but today still enter into each one of us as we are baptized into the service of Jesus Christ.  Two thousand years later we still receive the gift of adoption, and fearlessness, and still we are empowered by God, through the Spirit that lives within us, to do the work of Jesus Christ in the world around us.  Sometimes that work is ordinary and almost invisible, but all of us, working together, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, are doing amazing things as we answer his call on our lives.

Let us continue, with God’s help, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak for the voiceless, stand up for the oppressed, comfort the afflicted, heal the sick, and all of the other things that Jesus did, and calls us to do.

This was the call of the church two thousand years ago and it remains the call of the church today.

And we press on…

…with God’s help…

…through the power of the Spirit that lives within us.

Sometimes we are called to the ordinary, but sometimes, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are witness to the ministry… of Wow.

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

A Fire in the Belly

A Fire in the Belly

June 06, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Romans 8:14-17         Acts 2:1-21                

As you may already know, this coming Sunday is the celebration of Pentecost and so today’s responsive readings, prayers, and even our communion liturgy reflect back (or perhaps it reflects forward) to that celebration.  So, what is it that happened on Pentecost and why does it matter two thousand years later?  Luke’s story in the book of Acts tells us that fire came down from heaven and touched each of the disciples and followers of Jesus that had gathered for prayer.  But fire doesn’t begin to describe what really happened. 

If it had only been fire, that would have been an impressive sight and it would have made for a good story to tell around the campfire on a cool fall evening, or after a drink or two at the local watering hole.  But it wasn’t just fire.  On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised would come after he returned to his father, came down from heaven and in that moment, the Spirit of God, which looked like fire, entered into each of those men and women who had gathered together for prayer.  If it had only been fire, it would have been a tale that was told among friends for a generation or two and then died, but what actually happened was not only a great story, but a story that had long-lasting, even eternal, implications and repercussions.

In the Old Testament we often heard stories about how the Holy Spirit came upon Sampson, or Gideon, Saul, or David and, empowered by the Spirit of God, they did great and amazing things that we still read about, and marvel at, two thousand years later.  But these encounters with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament were a rarity that only happened once in a great while and seemed to be limited to people of great faith.  But no longer.

The story of Pentecost has power for us in the twenty first century because it was a transformational moment in history.  Pentecost was the moment when God no longer empowered the occasional hero. It was the moment when the work of the Holy Spirit stopped being a once-in-a-while agent of change.  Instead, as those tongues of fire entered into the followers of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit began working 24/7 empowering every single man, woman, and child that was baptized into the fellowship of believers and followers of Jesus.

It is because of the story of Pentecost that we have a divine confidence about the work that we are doing.  It wasn’t the human strength of Sampson that allowed him to kill a lion with his bare hands or pull down the temple on the heads of the Philistine idol worshipers.  It wasn’t just an active imagination that allowed King Saul to sit with God’s prophets and speak prophecy.  These were not the acts of moral humans but the acts of a powerful God working through fragile and finite followers.  As mortals, and as humans, we are well acquainted with our limitations and frailties, but as the followers of Jesus Christ, we must also remember that we are not alone.  We do not work alone.  We do not do our work through our own strength… alone.  We, each one of us, do the work of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Kingdom of God, empowered and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within us.  It is this same spirit that gives us a fire in the belly to do the work of Jesus even when people say that we are too young, or too old, or too sick, or too tired, or in mourning, or anything else.

Every year we repeat, and reread, and retell, the story of Pentecost, yes, even two thousand years later, not just because it’s a great story to tell around the campfire, but because it is utterly critical to our spiritual formation, and transformational to our behavior as the followers of Jesus Christ.

We must never forget that we are not alone.

We do not do the work of Jesus Christ alone.

The fire that we have in our bellies is the fire of the Spirit of God who lives within us and it is that same spirit that gives us the strength to be modern day heroes of the faith as we do the work of Jesus Christ.

Our mission is nothing less than to change the world. 

One life at a time.

Not through our own strength, but through the strength of the God that lives within us.

 

Scripture Readings

First Reading: Romans 8:14-17

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 

Second Reading: Acts 2:1-21

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

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

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

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

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

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio 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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Slaves, Felons, and the Church

Slaves, Felons, and the Church

June 02, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 17:20-26            Acts 16:16-34           

 

Here’s a weird question: Is it important to be respectable?

I have read several opinions that say that the ministry of the church started to come off the rails and lost its ability to do the work of the kingdom when it became respectable.  Maybe it was in the third century when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, maybe it was every time that the church was endorsed by royalty, maybe it was when the church became the empire, maybe it was when John Wesley’s followers advanced socially and instead of being coal miners, laborers, and street people, the church was filled with storekeepers, doctors, and bankers, and maybe it was when each of us became more worried about how respectable we looked than we were about doing the work of the kingdom.  And, maybe it was all those things. 

But it wasn’t always that way.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays for his disciples and for everyone who has put their faith in him.  Jesus knows that following him and doing the things that he taught them to do, wouldn’t be an easy thing.  It would be easy to compromise.  It would be easy to be distracted by the world and by the cultures of wealth, greed, lust, comfort and pleasure that surround us.  And so, Jesus prays for them, for us, that God would hold them close so that they would persist, hang on, and endure in their mission until the day that they could meet face to face at the throne of God.  In John 17:20-26, Jesus said,

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus prays that all of those who follow him, and all of those who would come to faith in him through their message, would find unity and become one in their faith.  Then Jesus prays that all these followers would endure until the end so that they could be with him in heaven and see his glory.  But Jesus also prays that because he has made himself known to us, that he would continue to make God known in the world, through us, so that the love of God might be in us, and that Jesus might live within us. 

You might notice that respectability is never a consideration on the part of Jesus.  What Jesus wants for us is to be united together in our faith, that our faith would endure, and that we would make the love of God, through his son Jesus, known throughout the world.  But before I belabor that point, I want to read the story of one Paul’s missionary journeys found in Acts 16:16-34.

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

There is a lot going on in this short passage and many sermons have been written about it in a great variety of themes, but there are a few things that I want to point out that coincide with the title of today’s message.  First, as Paul and Silas and their team preach, they are followed by a slave girl who can foretell the future because of a spirit, or a demon, that inhabits her.  She, and her demon, are well aware of who Paul and Silas are, and whom they represent.  One can only imagine that, although she was telling the truth, it became difficult for Paul and Silas to approach anyone and have sincere conversations about Jesus with this girl constantly shouting to the community around them.  And, at some point in his frustration, Paul orders the demon out of the girl, but doing so has some unintended consequences.  Once the slave girl’s owners discover that her demon, her gift of fortunetelling, and their profits are gone, they press charges against Paul and Silas and stir up the crowd until the judges of the town have them arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail.

Paul and Silas are now outsiders, foreigners, rabble rousers, and felons.  But never once do they stop telling the people around them who they are or why they are there.  During the night they pray and sing praises to God and even though an earthquake shakes open the doors to the prison, neither Paul, nor Silas, nor anyone else, make any attempt to escape.  But, because he knows that allowing a prisoner to escape is punishable by execution, the jailer is prepared to take his own life rather than be tortured to death.  But Paul hears him draw his sword and saves him from himself simply by declaring that everyone is still there. 

Having confirmed that this is true, the jailer understands that what has happened is supernatural.  Earthquakes open door and jam doors shut, but they do not open locks and loosen chains.  Earthquakes do not compel a prison full of felons to remain in place despite having been freed from their chains.  And realizing that this was a supernatural event, and remembering that Paul and Silas had been preaching a message of repentance, forgiveness, rescue and salvation, the jailer immediately wants to hear that message again and know how he, and his entire family, can know the love of Jesus Christ and be saved.

We don’t know whether the jailer had heard Paul and Silas preach in town, or if he had heard the stories about the slave girl, or (most likely) if Paul and Silas had kept on preaching in the prison as well as praying and singing.  But somewhere the jailer had heard that these two foreigners, miscreants, and felons were representatives of a powerful god and were telling others how they could be saved from death.

And he, and his entire household, were saved.

Being respectable was never a part of the story. 

Respectability, or upward mobility, or fitting in with the “right” social circles, was never a concern for Paul, or Silas, or their team.  And although we might be tempted to think that respectability might have improved their witness, that wasn’t what the jailer was looking for either.  The jailer sought out the witness of Paul and Silas because he recognized the truth.  He could see that even though these men were foreigners, strangers, rabble rousers, and felons, they were just as obviously the representatives of a powerful god and carried with them a message of great importance.

The followers of Jesus were never intended to carry a message of respectability.

Our calling has always been to carry a message of truth and love from a God who was willing to send his own son to be born in poverty, be disrespected, and die in humiliation, so that we could be rescued from our own crimes against God, be forgiven, and live with him forever.

The story of Jesus was never respectable.

The story of Jesus’ disciples was never about respectability.

The very real danger is that when we attempt to be respectable, that we will water down the real message or misplace its importance altogether.

Jesus never prayed that God would make us respectable.

Jesus prayed that we would find unity and become one in our faith.

Jesus prayed that we could endure until the end, be with him in heaven, and see him in his glory.

Jesus prayed that, just as he made God known to us, that we would make the love of God, and his son Jesus Christ, known to others.

It is by sharing the love of Jesus with others that we discover the love of God in ourselves and the way that Jesus come to live within us.

Don’t worry about being respectable.

Just focus on the mission.

 

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.