This is Not Barbecue Day

This is Not Barbecue Day

by John Partridge

(Revised and reprinted from Memorial Day 2012)

    Today is not barbecue day.  It is not “just” a part of “just another” long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not another excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered to remember.  We have not come to thank our veterans (we do that in November), but to remember those who have fallen, and given their lives, so that we might have freedom and liberty.  We gather to remember men and women for whom words like duty, honor, and country had meaning, and because of whom, these words are themselves more meaningful.

    During the War in Vietnam, Marine Private First Class Gary Martini, braving intense enemy fire, raced through an open field to drag a fallen comrade back to a friendly position.  Seeing a second fallen Marine just 20 meters from the enemy position, Martini once again risked his life to bring the man back to safety.  Upon reaching the fallen Marine, Martini was mortally wounded but continued to drag his comrade back to his platoon’s position, telling his men to remain under cover.  As he finally struggled to pull the man to safety, Private First Class Martini fell and succumbed to his wounds.

     Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, while under enemy fire in Iraq, organized the evacuation of three soldiers who had been wounded in an attack on their vehicle.  Sergeant Smith manned the machine gun mounted on their vehicle, maintaining an exposed position as he engaged the enemy forces, allowing the safe withdrawal of wounded soldiers.  He was mortally wounded in the attack but not before killing as many as 50 enemy fighters in order to save his injured comrades.

    During the Second World War, First Lieutenant Jack Mathis, flying a bomb run over Vegesack, Germany, was hit by enemy antiaircraft fire.  His right arm was shattered above the elbow, and he suffered a large wound on his side and abdomen.  Knowing that the success of the mission depended upon him, Lieutenant Mathis, mortally wounded, dragged himself of to his sights and released his bombs on target before he died.

    These few examples give us only a flavor of the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform have made for our freedom and for the freedom of others, often total strangers, in other nations.  So highly do we value this gift we call liberty, that we are willing to expend the blood of our own sons and daughters so that others might enjoy this gift also.

    Brave men and women wearing the uniform of the United States have fought and bled and died in places like Bunker Hill, Yorktown, Concord, Lexington, Saratoga, Bazentin Ridge, Belleau Wood, Manila Bay, Guantanamo, Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Beruit, Okinawa, Pork Chop Hill, Hamburger Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, Pusan, Inchon, Bastogne, the Ardennes Forest, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Saipan, Medina Ridge, Al Busayyah, Wadi Al-Batin, Baghdad, Kandahar, Khaz Oruzgan, Musa Qala and thousands of other places most of us have never heard of as well as places so remote that the places don’t even have names.

     On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania four and one half months after the Union victory over the Confederate Army in the Battle of Gettysburg.  On this day or remembrance, it is good to remember the words that President Lincoln spoke.

    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    This day is much like the hallowed ground of Gettysburg.  There is little that our feeble efforts or words can do to consecrate this day beyond what the blood of patriots has already done.  As we gather today, our task is to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln.  It is for us, the living, to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work for which these brave men and women have given their lives.  We must be resolved that these patriots did not die in vain.  It is too painful for us to remember their sacrifice each day, but on this precious and hallowed day we must take the time to remember.  We honor their sacrifice by appreciating the things that they have purchased with their blood. 

     Avail yourselves of the freedoms their sacrifices have purchased.  Vote.  Don’t just vote for the politician that promises to give us the most stuff. Vote for the men and women who hold dear the ideals of freedom and liberty.  Honor the flag that they fought for. It is more than a piece of cloth because it stands for the things those patriots fought, and bled, and died for.  Stand when the flag passes by, sing the national anthem, and teach your children to stand, teach them to take their hats off, and to hold their hands over their hearts.  I have been at sporting events where far too many are oblivious to the national anthem. While others are standing, they sit. While others are standing at attention with their hats held over their hearts, these others are busy talking on their cell phones.  We honor the blood of heroes by being courteous and respectful. 

I realize that all of us who put on the uniform of the United States did so to defend your rights not to stand, not to sing and not to hold your hand over your heart.  That’s fine.  If you are one of those who takes issue with it, what I ask of you is that you do so respectfully and that while the rest of us are standing and singing, you share a moment of silence and remember those brave men and women who gave you that right.

    Finally, I ask that you honor the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform with your prayers.  You don’t have to pray to the God I worship, feel free to pray to whatever deity you choose, but pray for all of the men and women who, even now, are away from their families, friends and homes.  Pray for those who today, instead of attending backyard barbecues and swim parties with their friends, are far out at sea, standing guard or even laying in a bunk half-way around the world, or eating cold Meals Ready to Eat out of a foil envelope while they huddle in a foxhole in the sand waiting for the next mortar round to drop on their heads.  Pray for the families of those who are away from home.  Today wives and husbands of these brave soldiers are doing what they can to hold their families together and their children are growing up wondering when, or if, their fathers or mothers are ever coming home again.

    Today is not barbecue day.  It is not just a part of another long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not an excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered to remember.  Today, let us remember the sacrifices that made us what we are and have given us freedom and liberty.  Today has been set aside as a day of remembrance. 

Let us all pause…

                                                   …and may we never forget.

Real Freedom (and Pandemic Paul)

We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.” 

But that’s exactly what we’re doing.

It’s become a cliché to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”  But this week, I’ve been thinking church should be asking itself what Paul would do.  Of course, anyone who has spent any time in church or Vacation Bible School has heard about Paul the Apostle.  Paul was born in Tarsus which was a part of what is now the nation of Turkey.  But despite being born far from Rome, Paul was born to parents who were both Jews and Roman citizens. 

There were privileges that came with being a Roman citizen.  It was as if the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights only applied to citizens, and you carried those rights wherever you went, anywhere in the Roman world.  Non-citizens didn’t have the same rights and slaves certainly did not have them.  Romans could not be beaten or treated harshly, and while they could be arrested, they couldn’t be tried in any court outside of Rome but had to be returned to Rome, or to a Roman court, for trial.  In modern language, citizens were privileged.

But Paul didn’t always use that privilege.  Paul found that sometimes his privilege, his rights, his citizenship, and even his freedom, was a disadvantage when sharing the message of Jesus with the people around him.  In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul said:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Even though Paul was not a slave, he sometimes gave up the rights that he had so that he could be heard by the slaves and share the message of Jesus with them.  Even though Paul knew that following Jesus released him from some of the dietary restrictions and rules of the Jewish faith, he would follow those customs when he was with the Jews so that they would be able to hear his words when he shared the gospel.  But when Paul was living among the Greeks and other people who were not Jewish, he would follow their customs for the same reason. 

Wherever Paul went, he did whatever he could to allow people to hear his message.  And that often meant giving up something important.  Paul found that his rights, his privileges, and even his freedom, got in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.  Slaves wouldn’t hear a message that was preached by someone who used their citizenship and their freedom to act better than them.  Jews wouldn’t listen to someone who was an outsider and violated their religious laws.  And people everywhere feel more comfortable around a person who respects their customs.

But what does that mean to us?  What would Paul do if he lived among us today?

As we near what we hope is the end of this pandemic crisis in the United States, we are hearing a lot about rights and privileges.  We have a right to move about freely.  We are free to choose whether we will wear a mask.  And those persons who are vaccinated are being granted special rights and additional freedoms. 

But is exercising those freedoms the right thing to do?

I’ve seen churches advertising that they are “Open and Mask-less.”  Vendors are selling signs saying that vaccinated persons are welcome in their church.  And I’ve seen churches that say things like, “All are welcome.  Unvaccinated persons must wear masks.”  I understand that these are the rights that are given to us under the United States Constitution, and the privileges of having access to the Covid-19 vaccine.  But will exercising these rights prevent us from sharing the message of the gospel?

It was once common for churches to ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves.  That custom made me so uncomfortable that I vowed never to return to any church that made me do it.  And so, I worry that requiring unvaccinated persons to wear masks will make them feel unwelcome.  We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.”  But that’s exactly what these signs are saying.  Anything that draws a line between “us” and “them” is exactly what Paul spent his life trying to avoid.

If Paul were writing today, I wonder if his words wouldn’t be, “Though I am vaccinated, and am free to do as I wish, I have made myself to be unvaccinated, to win as many as possible.  To the unvaccinated, I have become unvaccinated to win the unvaccinated.  With the mask wearers, I have worn masks, to win those that wear masks.”  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

We have rights.  But what if using them turns people away?  In the twenty-first century, like Paul, we must be careful that our rights, privileges, and freedoms do not get in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Toxic Negativity

Toxic Negativity

We are being poisoned every day. 

And what’s worse, is that many of us are poisoning ourselves. 

I don’t mean that we’re sitting around drinking arsenic or antifreeze, and I’m not even thinking about more ordinary poisons like cigarettes or alcohol.  But in many ways, the poison that we are consuming is just as real, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse.

The poison that I’m talking about is the negativity that surrounds us and seems to beat us down at every turn.  The newspaper and the evening news are filled with bad news, the radio station playing in our cars and office spaces, breaks in every ten or twenty minutes to share still more horror, mayhem, fear, and death.  I’m sure that some of you think that I am exaggerating. But am I?  Even a little bit of poison, the tiniest bit of arsenic or cyanide, taken in small doses, accumulates over time and will eventually kill us or cause irreparable harm.  And I’m convinced that living under a constant bombardment of negativity can do the same thing.

I’m sure that no one’s death certificate is going to say that their cause of death was “negativity,” but I’m equally certain that that this everyday toxic stew contributes to deaths that are listed as heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, depression, suicide, and other health issues that wear our health down over time.

But what can we do about it?

We don’t control the news and we have no control over the pandemic, so what control do we have? 

And the answer is, more than you think.

I once had a coworker that radiated negativity in the way that Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen is surrounded by a cloud of dirt.  Any, and every, conversation with her became a conversation about how terrible life was.  A fender-bender became a sermon about how the world hated her.  There was never any recognition that she, and her son, were alive and unhurt.  It was all about the expense, the inconvenience, the trauma, and on, and on, and on.  No matter what it was about, after a conversation with her, I would inevitably walk away depressed as if I had somehow contracted her contagion.  She was a nice enough person, but her constant focus on the negative caused people to stay away from her.

My experience with that coworker has always reminded me that we have choices.  We ewget to choose our attitude toward the things that happen to us.  We get to choose our focus.  We get to choose what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we talk about, and with whom we associate. 

We make our own stew.

The church in Philippi was concerned about Paul, about his health, and about the various imprisonments and other difficulties that he had faced.  And Paul writes back to encourage them, and to remind them not to dwell on the bad news that they had heard.  He said,

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.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:8-15)

Paul had been repeatedly arrested, imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, flogged, and driven out of town.  He had every reason to complain.  And yet, he wrote to ask his friends not to do that but instead to be content in whatever circumstances they found themselves.  Rather than focus on our trouble, our pain, or any of the bad news that surrounds us, Paul encourages us to focus on the good things in our lives, things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and anything that is excellent or praiseworthy.

I’m not suggesting that we should be ignorant of what’s going on in the world around us. It’s important to be informed and know what’s going on, but don’t allow yourself to simmer endlessly in a toxic stew of negativity.

We get to choose our attitude toward the things that happen to us.  We get to choose our focus.  We get to choose what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we talk about, and with whom we associate. 

Let’s do our best to look for the silver lining, to look for the places where God is at work, look for the blessing, look for the good in every bad situation, and focus on the things that good, pure, noble, and praiseworthy.  Let’s spend more time with people who encourage us, spend more time encouraging others, and less time dwelling on the negativity that wears at our souls.

We make our own stew.

Let’s make it a good one.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Remembering Who We Are

Remembering Who We Are

April 01, 2021*

(Holy Thursday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14             John 13:1-17, 31b-35                         1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Often during the important seasons of the church year, we find ourselves wondering why.  Why do we do this every year?  Why to we say the same words, read the same scriptures, and repeat the same rituals?  Why do we tell the stories of Holy Week?  Why is it important?  Why does it even matter?

And our answer in the twenty-first century is the same as it was in the first century and the same as it was a thousand years before that.  And that, of course, is another story worth repeating.  This story is the story of the first Passover that is recorded in Exodus 12:1-14:

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lambfor his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs, and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”

Even before the Passover happened, God commanded his people to commemorate, to tell the story, to repeat the rituals, so that they would remember what had happened, so that they would remember what God had done for them, so that they would remember where they had come from, and so that they would remember who they were, and to whom they belonged.

These stories serve the same purpose for us.  They remind us of where we have been, where we came from, and where we are going.  They remind us that we are a part of a much larger story and they remind us that over thousands of years, God has never stopped loving us.  Of course, while we remember the story of the Passover, with the coming of Jesus, that is the focus of our ritual.  But in our modern liturgy, we heard the story of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:24, and we remember that Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me.

Just as God commanded Moses and the people of Israel to repeat the story of the Passover, and to make it a lasting remembrance, Jesus commands us to repeat the story and remember.

Just as it was thousands of years ago, we tell the stories, and repeat the rituals, so that we will remember what happened, remember what God had done for us, remember where we came from, remember who we

are, remember to whom we belong, remember that we are loved, and remember the price that was paid for our rescue.
And we remember because, by remembering the story, we are better able to remember what we are supposed to do with our lives.  Because the stories that we tell aren’t just the stories of the past, they are the stories that shape our present, and our future.  Because as we remember where we came from and who we are, we can clearly hear the words of Jesus in John 13:34-35 when he says,

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

May we remember who we are and live lives that the world around us will see and feel… as love.


Video of this service can be found at: https://youtu.be/EFVvpfpdZ2g

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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.

Vaccines, Bananas, and Christianity

Vaccines, Bananas, and Christianity

Our current environment of pandemic has returned the word “Vaccine” as a regular term of discussion in ways that it hasn’t since the national fight against Polio in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Everyone is talking about the safety of the various vaccines available, when and where a person might be able to get one, whether they have started, or finished, the vaccination process yet, and how soon vaccination rates might it possible for our lives, and our churches, to return to something resembling the “normal” that we had a year and a half ago.  Vaccines are something that are designed to protect us and keep us safe.  If we are vaccinated, we hope that they will either keep us from contracting the disease or, if we do contract it, will prevent us from becoming as sick as we otherwise might have.

But as we think about immunizations, it might also be useful to remember that Christianity is not a vaccine.  Our Christian faith is not something that we take once, or occasionally, to protect us from evil, from misadventures, or even to protect us from God’s condemnation.  Bad things do happen to good people.  Christians are afflicted by the forces of evil.  And Christian faith means more than periodically showing up to church, or putting money in the offering plate, or memorizing Bible verses.  Instead, Christianity, and Christian faith, is a lifestyle to which Jesus calls us and, having accepted that call, it becomes a way in which we choose to pattern our entire lives.  Christian faith shapes how we make friends, how we go on vacation, the clothes that we choose to wear, the places that we choose to spend our money, the occupations, and careers that we consider for our life’s work and influences nearly every aspect of our lives.  Christianity is less about what we do, and more about who we are as human beings.  When we choose to follow Jesus, we announce our intention to pattern our entire lives upon the life that Jesus modeled and taught.

But while Christianity is not a vaccine, our churches, and their members, can, sometimes, act a vaccine against it.  While we are good about bringing our children, grandchildren, to church, and even occasionally inviting friends and neighbors, we often fail to “make the sale” and ask them to follow Jesus and become his disciples.  The result is that having come to Sunday school a few times, memorized the occasional Bible story, and otherwise had a “little bit of Jesus,” rather than becoming committed followers and disciples of Jesus, they become vaccinated against Christianity instead.  Rather than discovering a Jesus that is worth following, they spend their lives thinking that, like a flavor of ice cream, they tried it, but didn’t find it to their liking.

In my mind, it’s a bit like our daughter Lina’s adventure with bananas.  When we first met her in China, we tried feeding her bananas, she smiled, she liked them, and wanted more.  But one day, as we attempted to give her some bitter tasting medicine, we tried to hide it in a spoonful of bananas.  She could taste what we were doing and rejected both the medicine and the banana.  And after that single experience as a ten-month-old infant, she wouldn’t eat bananas again for almost two decades.

Too many of our churches, or their members, do this same thing to the children, grandchildren, and visitors that come through our doors.  They come to church, or meet church members in secular places, and come away with an experience that leaves a “bad taste” in their mouth.  And those bad experiences, whether they happened in church, at work, at school, or anywhere else, can prevent them from returning to church, or to faith, for decades, and sometimes forever.

As we celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus, let us recommit ourselves to being true disciples who look and act like Jesus seven days a week, everywhere we go, and in everything that we do.  Let us live so that others will want what we have, and not be vaccinated against it, or are left with a “bad taste” that might keep them away.  After all, it was Jesus who commanded his followers this way:“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

I pray that we may be known for our love.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Easter 2021

A year ago, I began this Easter letter by saying…

 “This is an unusual time.

I read today that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is closed for the first time since the Black Plague in 1349.”

And I then proceeded to hope that we would return to worship withing a few short weeks, or months, and celebrate a postponed Palm Sunday and Easter celebration together.”

Clearly, that is not the way that things turned out.

Nevertheless, we have held together, encouraged one another, found new ways to worship, new ways to be “together,” endured, and overcome, many challenges along the way.

Today we can better see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Three different vaccines (so far) are available in the United States, and many of us have begun, or have already completed, the process of vaccination.  Things are, finally, beginning to “open up” and return to the normal that we once knew, and yet… many things have been changed forever.  We continue to watch the signs, and to discuss, and evaluate, ways in which we can meet safely without endangering the most fragile among us.  And we continue to hope that we can return to “in-person” worship… “soon,” and we hope that we will not be proven wrong as we were a year ago.

Nevertheless, we press on toward the prize for which Christ has called us and we continue to do as much as we are able to do.  We will celebrate Palm Sunday, together, in our church parking lot and online on YouTube for those who aren’t able to be here, or who don’t yet feel safe in trying.  And, because we can’t find a safe way to make Easter feel “normal” and include music and banners, and other things, we will celebrate Easter online as we did last year, and hope, again, that next year will be different.

I leave you with the same words that I used last year, simply because they still ring true.

In the meantime, I hope that you will take the time to use this time, before, during, or after the calendar Easter, to prepare your hearts and draw closer to God.

And, until we meet in worship again, please take the time to check on one another, take care of one another, and please call the church office if you need errands run, or if we can help to meet any other needs that you might have.

Take heart.  Have hope.  We will get through this… together.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Pickles on My Feet

Pickles on My Feet

by John Partridge

February 18, 2021

The other day I looked, and I had pickles on my feet.

Okay, they weren’t really pickles.  What I had, was a pair of socks that looked as if they said “PICKLES” written on the toe.  What they really said, or were supposed to say, was “DICKIES” but, because of a particular choice of font, the way that the ink had been applied, and a little wear, what had been intended as a brand marking suddenly reminded me of cucumbers in brine.  Obviously, the two things are in no way similar.  Or at least they shouldn’t be.

But it got me to thinking (and that’s always risky).

How often are we mistaken for something that we are not?

We’ve all heard stories about people who were assaulted, or worse, because they were mistaken for someone, or something else.  We’ve seen national stories about people of color who simply decided to go running in the “wrong” neighborhood, innocent young persons who were assumed to have bad intentions because of the clothing that they wore, or even new reporters on assignment who were attacked by police.   Many of those incidents were racially motivated, and inexcusable for any reason.  But those situations, and pickles on my feet, illustrate how easy it can be to be mistaken for something, or someone that we aren’t… or at least, that we shouldn’t be.

How often are we, as Christians, mistaken for something, or someone, that we are not?

Or, to think of it in another way, how often do we appear to be someone that we should not?

It happens.  We get tired.  We get angry.  And our impatience, anxiety, exhaustion, and frustration cause us to look different.  These normal, human, emotions, especially in times of stress (like we might experience during a pandemic), can cause Christians to say and do things that do not represent the church, or Jesus, well.  A harsh word, and angry email, forgetting to tip an overworked and underpaid server, mistreating an employee, an angry or short-tempered reply to a store employee, or a hundred other ways we can act, poorly, because of our frustration and impatience.

And so, I hope that all of us will occasionally take a moment to breathe.  I encourage all of us to pause for a moment, whenever necessary, before we speak.  And, in that moment, let us consider how we will look when we “wear” those words.  Let us ask ourselves if those words and actions will make us look like Jesus, or as his followers, or will they cause the people around us to mistake us for someone, or something else. 

It doesn’t take much. 

A little wear around the edges and suddenly “Dickies” looks like “Pickles.”

Now, more than ever, we should commit ourselves to doing everything that we can so that our friends, family, employers, employees, coworkers, and everyone around us can look at us and see Jesus… and not someone else.


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Lent is For Us

Lent is For Us

February 02, 2021

In just a little over two weeks, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and begin the church season of Lent.  But what is Lent?  The dictionary definition says this:

noun: Lent

  1. the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and so includes forty weekdays.

In remembrance of Jesus’ forty days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness as he prepared to begin his ministry, we spend forty days in preparation for the celebration of Easter.  Of course, as the dictionary definition pointed out, that is forty weekdays and not forty consecutive days because, traditionally, Sundays are each a “little Easter” and are not counted.

But what difference does it make?

Or, a better question might be, what will you do differently for these forty days?

In our modern era, the most well-known thing to do is to “give up” something for Lent.  For many of us who grew up Protestant, giving up something for Lent might be well-known, but it tends to be poorly understood.  To put it simply, giving up something for Lent, is a form of fasting.  We give up coffee, or chocolate, or buying takeout food as a substitute for fasting, or giving up food entirely, for forty days. 

But still, what’s the point?

The dictionary is not helpful.  The dictionary definition of a fast says, “abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.”  And, as I noted, simply saying that a fast is a “religious observance” is not helpful in understanding its purpose.  A fast is supposed to be a mechanism to draw us closer to God.  Usually, fasting and prayer are twins of a sort, or something that we would normally do together.  The point of fasting is two-fold, I think.  The first part comes closer to the dictionary definition that it is a part of a religious observance, in that it demonstrates our obedience to God and our desire to know God better.  But as the first twin of the pair, fasting also is a reminder to us to spend time in prayer.  As we fast, whether it is from food, from chocolate, from television, or whatever, we will be reminded to pray whenever we have a desire, out of hunger or out of habit, for the thing from which we are fasting.  Whenever we are hungry, we are reminded to pray.  Whenever we habitually reach for a chocolate bar, or for the television remote, we are reminded to spend time in prayer instead.  During our time of fasting, we fill the time we would have done something else, eating or watching television, etc., with prayer, Bible reading, devotional time, or some other thing that draws us into God’s presence and into a closer relationship with him.

So, do we have to fast during these forty days of Lent?

No, we do not.  While I have, I typically do not.  But, that said, Lent remains a season that is deliberately set aside for us to prepare our hearts, minds, and spirits, for the celebration of Easter.  It is a time for us to reflect, repent, and draw closer to God.  Fasting is just one way of doing that (and it’s a good one). 

As you read this, I urge you to use this season of Lent in the way that it is intended.  If you choose to fast from something, that’s great (but if you want to fast from food, please have a conversation with your doctor before you do).  But whether you fast, I hope that you will find some way of drawing closer to God.  Take the time to reflect, to repent, and to draw closer to God.  Find a good Lenten devotional and spend time, each day, reading it, reading the scriptures that it recommends or suggests, reflecting, repenting, and praying.

Rather than turning the calendar on Easter Sunday morning and saying “Happy Easter” to friends and family like someone crossing the finish line without running the race, I urge you to spend some time in preparation.  I hope that we will each take the time to run the race and spend the season of Lent drawing closer to God and preparing our hearts for Easter.

Lent is not something that God requires of us.  It is a gift that has been given to us.

When we take the time to draw closer to God and prepare our hearts during the season of Lent, Easter becomes even more meaningful and affects us even more deeply.

Lent is a gift.

What will you do with it?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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2020: How Did We Do?

2020: How Did We Do?

At the end of every January, we file our church’s End of Year reports.  And even though only a few months have passed since we filled out our Charge Conference reports, it is useful to look at some of the numbers and see how we did over the last twelve months.  I think that it may be particularly useful to look at how we did during such a strange and difficult year when many of those months we were grappling with the restrictions and changing demands of a global pandemic.

Among the first things that the report form asks are questions about church membership, and there we continue to see a significant decline due to the deaths of our members.  In 2019 we removed ten members from our membership rolls for this reason and in 2020 that number climbed to eighteen.  We mourn the passing of these members and we will, of course, remember them on All Saints Day.  But these losses challenge us as a church because even though many of them had not been able to actively attend worship, we feel the losses not only in the loss of our friendships, but also as we count attendance and in giving.

In this unusual year of largely virtual worship, we wonder about church attendance and understanding that number this year is a lot like trying to catch a greased pig.  On our Charge Conference paperwork, we reported our average attendance from January to March up to the point that we stopped meeting in person, and we will use that same number on one line of our End of Year reporting as well.  That attendance number (75) will look almost the same as the number that we reported last year (80), but only represents three winter months and, of course, doesn’t include any information about the last nine months of the year so, for most of us, that feels inadequate. 

We have kept track of our online presence and activity through various social media statistics, but because there are many ways that those number could be reported. Without going into too much confusing detail, every week I watch several numbers. 

Our online worship services on YouTube produce daily updates on viewers and traffic and, since it quickly became obvious that not everyone watches at 10:15 am on Sunday, I record our “official” traffic numbers seven days after each video goes live online.  That means that, unlike church worship where we simply count the number of people in the sanctuary, we don’t have a real count of our attendance for each week until the following Sunday.  With that in mind, when we first transitioned to online worship, Easter Sunday had an “attendance” of about 117, Palm Sunday had 123, and Christmas Eve also had 123. 

And while those number may sound a little low, compared to what we might have expected in person, in the online world, an attendance of 123 represents 123 different computers, not 123 people.  And, since we know that most of our congregation doesn’t join our online service to worship alone, we know that the number of people is much larger.  Among the churches in our United Methodist connection, churches are assuming that the number of computers should be multiplied by anywhere from 1.3 to 2.0 (or more) to arrive at what honestly is a guess at the actual number of people who are participating.  That means that if 123 unique computers connected to our Christmas Eve service, then somewhere between 159 to 246 (or more) were worshiping with us.  Our average, over 40 weeks of online worship, is about 78 “clicks” or “views” and 54 uniquely identified computers.  And, if you assume that more than one person is typically at every computer, that’s not out of line with what we might have expected in person.  The number on online worshipers that we reported on our End of Year report form was 81.

It is also worth noting that, over the course of the year, 7 more people have started following our church Facebook page (for a total 227), we have gained an additional 56 subscribers to our online sermon postings (for a total 393), and 57 people now subscribe to the YouTube channel where our worship services are posted (45 more than last year).   But all those numbers come with assumptions and guesses.  We know that all our members have not been able to join us digitally, we know that the numbers get confused when we have parking lot services as well as an online service, we know that some people are joining us online who live outside our community, and we have no idea how many people will feel comfortable enough to return to in-person worship, even when it’s safe to do so.  What we do know, is that since moving to an online format, the number of people who have been participating in worship since March has remained consistent. 

Not unexpectedly, we fell a little behind where we were financially in 2019.  Giving was off a little, there was no “loose” offering to count with a digital offering plate, we had no income from “Burgers in the Park,” and the economic uncertainty of these unusual times influenced giving.  But the changes that we made also led us to spend less, while also increasing our giving to missions.  While some churches are desperately struggling, the people of Christ Church have been incredibly faithful and with only a small infusion from our endowment, we have been able to remain current on all our bills, pay all our apportionments, complete several capital improvement projects in our building, and support all our missions at the same, or at an increased level.  I am incredibly proud to be a part of Christ Church and I want to thank all of you for your continued faithfulness.

I realize that is a lot of data, and while there is much murkiness and uncertainty due to both the numbers and to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, overall, I believe that our church will not only survive this crisis but thrive.  I hope that you are as proud to be a part of this church as I am, and that you will continue to tell your friends about the work that we are doing.  Tell them what great people attend here, how good it feels to be a part of this family, and invite them to join us online today, and in-person later this year.  I am certain that God has great things in store.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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2021, Blessing or Curse?

2021, Blessing or Curse?

December 30, 2020

by John Partridge

Will this pandemic influenced, socially distanced, Christmas, and the following New Year, be filled with “good news of great joy” or feel more like we were hit by a freight train?  And I think that my best guess is, it depends.

I was reminded this week of how we often find exactly the things for which we are looking.  We can watch same news stories and Republicans and Democrats will each hear entirely different things.  And each of those things will conform to the opinions and worldviews that they had before they watched it.  Scientifically, it’s called “confirmation bias.”  We tend to seek out views and opinions with which we agree, and even if we listen to unbiased reporting, what we hear is influenced by what we expected to hear. 

The same is true of much more mundane things.  I read a story once about an entomologist (you know, a guy who studies bugs) and his friend who were walking along a sidewalk in a big city.  Suddenly the man said, “Did you hear that?”  He stopped walking and started searching intently until he found a particular species of cricket in a crack in the sidewalk.  The friend marveled that the man had been able to hear a cricket chirp over the noise of the city, but in answer the entomologist simply pulled a coin from his pocket and dropped it.  Instantly a half dozen people turned and started looking for the dropped coin.  Smiling, the man said, my coin was no louder than the cricket, but people tend to find the things that they are thinking about. 

I don’t know if that story is true or not, but I know that our biases shape our daily lives, and our enjoyment of it, in powerful ways.  Years ago, I had a coworker who saw the entire world as a terrible place that always seemed to be out to destroy her.  Every conversation with her was one in which she described all the accidents and missed opportunities of her recent past and never once included the any stories of her successes, or even stories of her young son.  Her focus on the negative entirely robbed her life of the joys that could be found in her everyday life.

And so, as we enter a new year, and as we continue to live with restrictions and precautions of this current pandemic, I urge you to be careful of your biases about how you look at the world.   If we are looking for crickets or dropped coins, we are likely to find the things for which we are paying attention.  If we look for sadness and disappointment, we will certainly find them.  But, if we look for happiness, good news, and positive influences, I am convinced that we are more likely to find those instead. 

If we look at the Christmas story with this in mind, we realize that Herod was always looking at the world to find the next person that might threaten his power and control.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees, despite being biblical scholars, were always looking out for themselves.  But the wise men were looking for signs and the shepherds were looking for hope.  And so, when the star appeared in the heavens, everyone saw exactly what their focus and biases guided them to see.  The wise men saw a sign, the shepherds found hope, Mary and Joseph found answered prayer, Herod found a threat, and the religious leaders were so focused on themselves that they almost missed it entirely.

And so, as we enter this new year, whether we find blessings or curses in 2021 is almost entirely up to us, to our attitudes, and to our biases.  Rather than enter this new year searching for threats, or looking only for our own selfish interests, let us instead enter it as pilgrims in search of hope, faith, and love.  We are, after all, the ambassadors that carry “good news of great joy, which is for all the people.”  Despite the pandemic and its economic influence, despite our current, hyper-partisan political climate, despite our separation and isolation, if we are paying attention, I am convinced that there are, and will be, nuggets of good, silver linings, and pockets of joy that can be found.  Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, who is the “good news of great joy” for all people, the hope of the world, and the Prince of Peace because whatever it is that we choose to seek…

…is almost certainly what we will find.

I choose to seek faith, hope, joy, peace, and love.

Will you?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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*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.