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.

Never Tire of Doing Good

 

Today we woke up to news that several tornadoes touched down near Dayton.

Sunday, we talked about flooding in Oklahoma and I asked our congregation to consider donating toward the construction and operation of a new high school in Harrisburg, Liberia.  Before that, there was flooding in Iowa and Nebraska and we were raising money for a Habitat for Humanity house here in Alliance, Ohio.  Before that, it was something else, and there was something else before that, and so on.

There seems to be a never-ending stream of need.

There is always someone, or some organization, asking for our money or our time.  And, after a while, we can be tempted to shut it all out, to numb ourselves to the needs of the people around us, and just live quietly in our own world while we pretend that the rest of the world will be okay without our help or participation.  This is not uncommon.  In fact, there’s even a scientific name for it.

It’s called “compassion fatigue.”

The constant demand for our attention, for our money, for our time, and for our effort can wear us down.  We get tired of helping and we grow weary of even being asked.

But this isn’t new to the twenty first century.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica, he writes about people, inside the church, who won’t do their share of the work but still show up to get food and other help from the rest of the church.  It was bad enough that they even instituted an official policy, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  But even so, some of the idle non-workers were spending their time gossiping about everyone else and it was disrupting the entire church.  People were frustrated.  They were tired.  They felt as if they were being taken advantage of.

They had compassion fatigue.

But after Paul calls out the busybodies and urges them to earn the food that they were eating, he sends this message to the rest of the church who were already doing more than their fair share:

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Never tire of doing good.

I know that someone always seems to be asking for something.  I know that sometimes it feels like someone is trying to take advantage of us.  I know that the pleas for disasters and calls to alleviate poverty and suffering from across the country and around the world seem to be almost constant and never-ending.

But it has always been that way and it will almost certainly continue as long as we draw breath.

Three out of the four gospel writers record Jesus words, “You will always have the poor among you…”  (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8).  And these words remind us that until the world is remade at the end of time, there will always be people in need.

But, as the followers of Jesus Christ we have been called to do something about it.  We can’t do everything, but we can do something.  John Wesley put it this way:

Do all the good you can.

By all the means you can.

In all the ways you can.

In all the places you can.

At all the times you can.

To all the people you can.

As long as ever you can.

 

We have been both blessed and called by God to be his agents in the world.  We are the only Jesus that most people will ever see.  We are his hands and his feet in a hurting, suffering, hungry world.

May we never tire of doing good.

 

Blessings,

Pastor John

Easter is Over. Now What?

Easter is Over.  Now What?

  binocularsWow.  What a ride.  As we passed through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter we had many opportunities to dive into scripture and draw closer to Jesus.  I hope that each of you were able to take advantage of some of those opportunities and found a measure of peace, confidence, and hope. But what now? With Easter behind us, will soon enter a quiet part of the liturgical year known as “ordinary time” in which there really aren’t any significant church celebrations until we begin the season of Advent in November.  But first, we will pass through Eastertide, a time of remembering the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, his appearances to the disciples, and the first days of the church as the disciples truly understood what had happened and began to spread the good news throughout the world.  At the conclusion of Eastertide, we will celebrate Pentecost, then Trinity Sunday, and then finally move into ordinary time. But what will the church be doing? It does feel a little like we are shifting gears, and in a sense, we are.  Many of us have been focused on preparing for Easter and now with that celebration behind us, our focus shifts to other things.  Soon we will be setting up for the church Basement Sale, Cooking for the Soul, and planning for Graduation Sunday.  We are already looking ahead to mission trips to The Joy Center in the Redbird Missionary Conference, the East Ohio Annual Conference, concessions for the Friday concerts downtown by the Caboose, we are participating in the Habitat for Humanity Apostle Build both as fundraisers and builders, and there are other possibilities as well. Just because Easter is over, and we are heading toward “ordinary time” is no reason to rest on our laurels.  Great things are happening at Christ Church, and we don’t want to lose our momentum. Be sure that you read your bulletin every week and your newsletter every month.  I have often said, “If you miss a week, you’ll miss a lot.” Stay tuned in or you might miss something great. Blessings, Pastor John    
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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.