Extravagant Motives

Extravagant Motives

Monday Lenten Luncheon

Vine Street UMC

April 01, 2019

 

If you watch any of the crime dramas on television, and I mean any of the crime dramas, anything from Perry Mason, to Murder She Wrote, to NCIS Los Angeles or Evening Shade, one of the things that you often hear about is “motive.”  Characters often ask, as real law enforcement officers do, “What motive did that person have?”  What reason did they have for committing a crime, what motivation would they have for doing such a thing?  But crimes aren’t the only thing that requires motivation.  Some days we spend more time on the couch than we probably should, simply because we can’t seem to find the motivation to do anything different.  We put off filling out our tax forms until the deadline unless we think we’re getting money back, we procrastinate cleaning the house until it annoys us or until we know that we have guests coming over.  Just about everything we do has motive assigned to it.  We go to work because we need to make some money because we like to have a warm place to live and food to eat.  We eat cookies, because, hey, this isn’t hard, we eat cookies because they taste good.

But sometimes we need to look at what motivates our spiritual lives as well.  That’s a big part of the story that we hear in John 12:1-8, as Jesus shares a meal at his friend Lazarus’ house:

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Jesus arrives in Bethany and stops in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.  John, and probably everyone else, notices that Lazarus is the guy that used to be dead.  It’s almost funny, but you must admit, even today that’s the sort of thing that people would talk about.  “Look, Fred!  That’s the guy I told you about.  He’s the one that woke up at the cemetery and climbed out of the casket, three days after the funeral!”

But anyway, between Jesus and Lazarus, this was probably a prominent and well discussed (gossiped) event.  But during the dinner, Mary comes into the room, walks over to where Jesus was reclining (remember that it was traditional at that time to eat in a reclining position, much like sitting in a beach lounger), broke open a bottle of expensive perfume, and poured it over Jesus’s feet.  As you can imagine, the entire house was filled with the smell.  Just imagine if you poured out an entire bottle of Chanel No. 5.  A little dab smells nice, but a whole bottle would almost certainly be overpowering.

There are many ways to interpret what Mary did, and why she did it.  It can be interpreted as symbolic of burial as well as an anointing and consecration to royal service.  But I don’t want to dwell on what it meant today, instead I want to point out that Jesus highlights Mary’s motives as a stark contrast to Judas’ protests about the expense.  Jesus says, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”  Essentially, Jesus is saying, I think, honoring God, at the right time, and for the right motives, is an important value.  There was a limited time to honor Jesus while he was on earth, and Mary chose to do so while he was living rather than save that expensive perfume for his burial.

Chale No. 5But let’s also look at the motivations of Judas.  John calls him a thief whose greed caused him to want that money in his purse, and I think we should take his word for that, but even if he wasn’t, most of us would have been shocked at the extravagance of what Mary did, and I’m certain that many others, besides, Judas, were just as shocked.  Scripture tells us that the perfume that she poured out was worth 300 denarii, or since a day’s wage was one denarius, that’s about a year’s wages for an average laborer.  If we do that same math if modern American economics, we discover that in 2015, the average wage for an average American worker, was $56,516.  Can you imagine how you would feel if you watched someone pour fifty or sixty thousand dollars’ worth of Chanel No. 5 onto the floor?  Even though we may not be thieves, I think that many of us, despite our love for Jesus, would be just as shocked as Judas was.

It’s a difficult thing to compare these two attitudes, the extravagance of Mary and the greed of Judas.  But the comparison comes down to the motives of these two people.  Mary was motivated by her love for Jesus and her desire to honor him in the best way that she could.  Judas’ motives were to honor himself and to put some of that money in his own pocket.

And, as we think about these two people, and as we reflect on their motives, it reminds us that we often need to reflect on our own motives in much the same way.  Honoring God is an important value, but when do we cross a line from honoring God to honoring ourselves?

When we build church buildings, and I admit Christ Church is an enormous and incredibly beautiful building, are we building them to honor God or to honor ourselves?  Do we want to impress people with the awesomeness of God, or are we trying to impress them that we are the ones who attend church in that awesome building?  And what about us personally?  Are we getting dressed up on Sunday morning to honor God in his house or to impress other people?  Do we attend church to worship God, or are we there to “see and be seen,” to network with other local business people, and to make sure that the people in our community see us going to church because it’s good for business or good for our reputation?  Are we putting money in the offering plate because of our love for God or because we’re trying to impress someone?  But, at the same time, if our motivation is that we are truly trying to honor God, are we being extravagant enough?

As we move through this season of Lent and come ever closer to the resurrection and the celebration of Easter, let us look deep inside of our selves and consider our own motives.  Just who am I trying to impress?  Does my life honor God?  Does my giving honor God?  And do I honor God with…

…extravagance?

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Vine Street 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.

 

I’m Not Going

If you were in church a few weeks ago, this is going to sound familiar, but I think it bears repeating.  Amid all the stories, confusion, hurt feelings, media attention, angst, frustration, and speculation about the future of the United Methodist Church after our recent General Conference, I hope that everyone remembers something.  Many of us have watched the ongoing discussions about human sexuality at the General Conference for over a decade.  This latest dispute is something that we have anticipated for a long time.  But, like many other things, despite the national and international media attention, I don’t think that it changes much at our level in the local church.

 

What I reminded our congregation a week or two ago, and I repeat here, is that “All ministry is local.”  The General Conference never brought anyone to faith in Jesus.  Our East Ohio Annual Conference never stood by the graveside of a mourning family and shared words of comfort or offered a hug.  Although the mission and ministry of the General and Annual conferences may contribute to those things, in the end, the people that did them, and the people that do everything in our denomination, are ultimately people who belong to local churches.  Nobody will ever care about the people in and around Alliance, Ohio like the people who live here.  And the same applies to every local church, of every denomination, all over the world.  The ministry of Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance, Ohio is to the people around us, and to the people that we care about, and are passionate about, in the mountains of Kentucky, in Sierra Leone, in Liberia, and in other places where the people of our church have made personal relationships with others. Nothing that happened at General Conference changes that.

When I was asked to move to Alliance a year ago, I was keenly aware that the scheduled 2019 Special General Conference could easily be a pivotal moment in the United Methodist Church.  I had no idea what would happen, but I was already reading about the work of the Commission for a Way Forward as well as blogs and denominational magazines that were filled with commentary and speculation.  There was every possibility that our church might vote to go in one of a variety of directions and might even split in one direction or another.  And my decision, even before I agreed to move, was that, most likely, I wasn’t going anywhere.  My calling, mission, and ministry is with the local church.  Whichever path that the General Conference chose, I knew that if my congregation and I were happy together, I would find a way for us to stay together.

I learned a long time ago that our churches are filled with single, divorced, remarried, and happily married people who disagree about marriage.  They are filled with Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, and all kinds of other political affiliations and we disagree about a lot of things.  But regardless of our disagreements, we’ve agreed to be a part of this big church family and do everything we can to be the body of Jesus Christ.  Even though this is a divisive issue for the General Conference, it isn’t all that different.  We have people in our church who are conservative, progressive, moderate, and apathetic and we’ve still managed to be friends and work together for the Kingdom of God. Why? Because, in the end, mission and ministry is always local.

I’m not going anywhere.

Let’s just keep doing what we’ve always done.

Together.        

 


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Heroes

SpacewalkThere was one moment. It wasn’t scripted, it wasn’t planned, and it wasn’t a part of the program or on anyone’s agenda. But for those of us who were paying attention… it was powerful. Many of you know that I just got back from a weekend technical conference with the National Association of Rocketry that was held at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  As an engineer, and as a geek, I had a great time learning all kinds of detailed, specific, stuff about rockets that would bore the snot out of a lot of other people. In any case, because this year is the 60 anniversary of NASA and the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, this year’s conference not only included tours of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, we invited engineers, technicians and astronauts from the space program to come and talk to us.  And, after our evening banquet at the close of the conference, a panel of NASA astronauts shared memories and stories about their lives and their careers. Sadly, due to my hearing loss, and a big room filled with echoes, I only heard 10 or 20 percent of what was said.  But I didn’t miss one of the most powerful moments… …because there weren’t any words. You see, three of the astronauts on the panel were pilots or technical specialists that had made one, or several, flights aboard the Space Shuttle, but one gentleman, Colonel Al Crews, was from another generation.  He was one of the guys who was training during the Apollo era, and who was an X-20 Dyna-Soar pilot (a space plane 20 years before the dynasoarshuttle) before that program was cancelled.  He was then transferred to work on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory project, which was planned to be a space station based on the Gemini launch vehicle (thirty years before the ISS).  But that program was also cancelled before it flew.  But even though Al Crews never flew, his hard work and dedication (and that of many people like him) made it possible to build the space shuttle, and an orbiting space station, and many other things that we take for granted. But after all the jokes, and shared memories, and stories were over, something happened. On the stage, were four men who, to many of us, as engineers, as rocketry hobbyists, as Americans, and as human beings, were heroes.  We all watched the Space Shuttle launches on television, and we wished that we were them.  We cheered their successes and we wept over their failures.  But when the evening’s program was over, something powerful happened. And a lot of people probably didn’t even notice. As the program ended, and everyone in the audience applauded, the astronauts nodded and accepted our thanks.  Eventually, they stood up to leave the stage, and as they did so, every one of those heroes made sure that they found their way over to Al Crews and shook his hand. Saturn VThey knew that they would not have lived the lives they had, or done the things that they had done, without men like Al Crews.  Just as we looked up to them, it was obvious that they all looked up to him. And so, at the end of the day, if you were watching, there was a powerful message. Even heroes, have heroes. Al Crews never walked on the moon, he never even made it to orbit, but his dedication, his reliable, predictable, daily effort, sustained over an entire career, made it possible for another generation of heroes to inspire others. We may not walk on the moon, but each of us can be a hero to somebody. What are you doing to inspire others?  What actions are you taking?  What reliable, predictable, daily effort are you making, to make it possible for others to go places you can only dream about? Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Whose giant will you be?      

 

 

 

 


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A Season of Preparation

A Season of Preparation

As we begin the season of Lent, much like Advent, we are called to spend some time in reflection.  As a church, we spend 40 days remembering the gospel story that leads up to our celebration of Easter and, as individuals, we are called to do the same.  Easter is wonderful, but the thing that makes it a reason for celebration is contained in the story that leads up to it.  Of course, we will welcome you to our church at Easter even if you don’t, but won’t you also join us in the deeper meaning as we remember the story, study God’s word, and prepare our hearts during the season of Lent?

Our Lenten season begins next week with Ash Wednesday services here at Christ Church at 7:00 pm.  There will also be a weekly Lenten Bible study each Thursday at 7:00 pm entitled “Embracing Uncertainty” by Magrey R. deVega.  Please accept our invitation to come to these, and to our weekly Sunday worship as we prepare our hearts for Easter.  Of course, if you don’t live anywhere near Christ Church (in Alliance, Ohio), we encourage you to visit a congregation near you.

Fear

Special General Conference

Fear

This is it.

As I write this, the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church will begin its session at the end of this week.  Delegates from around the world have already begun their journeys to St. Louis for their deliberations.  This appears to be a great watershed moment and the future of the United Methodist Church will be forever changed.

We worry.

Some of us may even experience fear.

I admit to being concerned.  Many of the proposals specifically designed to hold our church together will instead drive the church apart or accelerate its decline. 

So, what will we do?

My advice, to those who have asked me, is to relax (a little).  There are many proposals that the General Conference will consider but they are not obligated to pass any of them.  They might choose one, but it is more likely that they will craft something new from pieces taken from among the various proposals or, at the very least, modify one of those proposals before passing it.  There is also a reasonable chance that they won’t pass anything at all and decide that the best way to keep us together, however unhappily, is not to change anything.  And finally, there is a chance that some elements of whatever may get “kicked down the road” for debate at the regular General Conference in 2020.

But, assuming that the General Conference passes something, then what?

Still, my advice is that we should still not get excited too quickly.

Some proposed changes may require ratification by the annual conferences and that would take a year before the results were known.  But even if a major change were to be passed by the Special General Conference, many of those changes would require Annual Conference action.  And, since our Annual Conference doesn’t meet until June, nothing could happen until then, and understanding the difficulty of preparing that legislation for the Annual Conference, there is a fair chance that we wouldn’t take any action as a conference until June of 2020.  Other actions that are being proposed would open a window for churches to decide and in most cases, we would have a year or so to choose a path forward.

Are you confused?  Of course, you are.

At this point the road ahead looks like a bowl of spaghetti, or a road map of the Los Angeles freeways.  That is precisely why I have been advising folks not to get too excited.  The path ahead, for now, is confusing and unknown.  But, once the General Conference passes something, whether that is next month or in 2020, then the path ahead, and our options, will become much clearer.

And until it does, we will continue to be in ministry to the people around us as Christ Church has for over a hundred years.  For now, we should continue to pray for all of the General Conference delegates.

Trust that God knows what is going to happen.

Have faith that God is in control.

Try not to worry.

And fear not.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

– Isaiah 41:10

 


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Depression:You Can’t Just “Get Over It”

darknessdepressionA friend was recently criticized for being depressed. His friend reminded him that he had a great job, a beautiful wife, life was going great and he didn’t have any reason at all to be depressed.  Unfortunately, this is not uncommon.  Those who suffer from depression are often told to “Get over it” or “Suck it up,” or  “It’s all in your head.”

But depression doesn’t work like that.

Imagine that you have a friend who limps. Would you ever dream of saying, “Dude, you have a great job and a beautiful family, you eat right, and sleep well, why do you have to limp all the time?” That seems silly because you understand that while all those things are true, there’s something about your friend’s knee that doesn’t work quite right. Maybe it’s arthritis, or a bone spur, or some degeneration of some kind, but whatever it is, it isn’t quite what it’s supposed to be, it’s painful and so he limps. You get it.

Depression really isn’t that different.

Instead of a knee that doesn’t work quite right, there are chemical reactions in your friend’s brain that don’t work quite right. It could be dopamine, or a bunch of other possibilities, but whatever it is, it isn’t quite the way it’s supposed to be and his brain “limps.”  Maybe even worse, these negative attitudes are so common that people are afraid to get help, or accept a prescription for medication.

That’s depression.

Heck, that describes a host of mental illnesses.

Instead of telling your suffering friends that they should just magically “feel better” why not do the same thing that you’d do for a friend with a limp.  Encourage them to see their doctor, or a specialist who treats those sorts of illnesses.  Often, like knees, brains with a limp can get a little better with treatment and the right medication.

Don’t just complain that your friend is sick.

Be a friend.

Do something to help.

Now do you get it?

2018 – By the Numbers

by-the-numbers

So, how are we doing?

Each fall our church staff and volunteers fill out several forms, with line after line of questions, we also submit quite a few other reports, budgets, lists of nominated and elected officers, and all of this is compiled into our Charge Conference report.  By the middle of January, we report even more numbers, on five or six more forms, for our official “End of Year” report.  Many of these numbers are of not that interesting to the casual observer, but there are a few that are, and some of these are useful in “taking the temperature” of the church and help us to see where we are and in what direction we might be going.  I have a few other numbers that I track monthly and the end of the year is a good time to look at that data as well.

Although we report church membership at both Charge Conference and in the End of Year report, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from it.  It is difficult, because our membership is more than three times our annual attendance.  And that, in turn means that either we have a great many inactive members (which might be good if we can get them to attend more regularly) or, that we have many people on the membership rolls that shouldn’t be, or both.  In any case, in 2016 membership at Christ Church was 362, in 2017 it was 356, and in 2018 we ended with 323.  In the last year, we lost 18 members to death, 2 to transfer, and 14 were removed simply because we had lost all contact with them.  We did, however, add one member to our rolls through transfer (Hi, Hayley!).   So is declining membership bad?  Maybe, but it’s hard to tell.

I guess the good news (if you can call it that) is that we don’t remove people every year, those who were removed haven’t attended for a long time, and our number of deaths was much larger than usual.  So, although membership “declined” by 33 people, the impact on our congregation, although significant, is not as bad as the numbers might imply.

On the other hand, while our average Sunday attendance was 69 in 2017, it was 71 in June, and by the end of the year had risen to 78.  Similarly, we saw an increase in Sunday school attendance, an increase in the number of people who were giving to the church, and a healthy increase in our stewardship pledges.  Not only that, but we also saw an increase in participation in missions and outreach, an increase in the number of people we served in our community, and a small decrease in our total church expenses.  In short, attendance is increasing, and we’re doing more, with less.

Another measure that is not yet reported to our district or Annual Conference, but is of growing usefulness, is our ability to engage with our community on social media.  For the moment, the only number that I can report to you is our number of Facebook followers.   In the last year, the number of people who have “liked” our Facebook page has increased by 27, from 172 to 199.  That isn’t a lot, but it’s a positive increase and it at least hints at a growing engagement between our church and our community.

I understand I’ve only been here for half a year, but even if I were here longer, I know that I am not solely responsible for any of this.  We are a church and a community, and we work together as a team.  But as I have said before, what I see in our reports, and what I see in these, and other numbers, is good news.  Clearly, we have work to do, but  in many ways we are doing well, or at least doing better.  Digging through the numbers and filling out reports is not anyone’s idea of fun, but I want to thank Dolores, Julie, and all our staff and volunteers that help us do it.

Because, in the end, when I read through our reports, I see every reason to be hopeful, even excited, about the direction that we are going, the future of Christ Church, our ministry here, and our outreach to our community and the world.

Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

Keep up the good work.

Let’s build on what we have and make 2019 even better.