Wedding Gifts

What would God give you for your wedding?
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Wedding Gifts

January 16, 2022*

by Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 62:1-5

John 2:1-11

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

What is an appropriate gift that you would give at a wedding?  What we give, and how much we can afford to spend, changes with our own marital status, income level, relationship with the people being married, how well we like them, and probably what kind of mood we were in when we went shopping.  We hear about the typical gifts of toasters, blenders, electric blankets, and other small appliances, sometimes we shop from the list that the couple provided on their gift registry, the crafty among us give thoughtful, handmade gifts time and self, but there is variety in our gift giving and it changes with the passage of time and changes in culture. 

When my parents were married, not long after World War Two, most people were “getting by” but didn’t have a lot of money and so, among other things, my parents received enough towel sets that they were still unboxing them fifteen or twenty years into their marriage.  One of my college roommates gave Patti and I a plunger with rolls of toilet paper slid onto the handle.  His logic was that, when he and his wife lived in their first apartment, the toilet overflowed and… they didn’t own a plunger.  Panic ensued.  But, in any case, the lesson that he learned was that sooner or later, whether you realize it or not on your wedding day, everyone will eventually need a plunger.  But when you need it is a terrible time to go shopping for one.  Honestly, despite this being a relatively inexpensive gift, we needed it, we appreciated it, we used it, and I still think that his logic is a bit brilliant in its own way.

But with all those gift-giving ideas floating around in our minds, what sorts of wedding gifts do you think that we might find in the pages of scripture?  As you might expect, they can be quite different depending on who is giving them, who is receiving them, and the time, place, and culture in which the gifts were given.  But there’s a twist here.  Before we’re finished, we will discover that some of the wedding gifts that we find in scripture are gifts that are being given… to us.  But before we get to that, let’s begin with the words of the prophet Isaiah found in Isaiah 62:1-5 where he says:

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
    her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
    and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah, [ Hephzibah means my delight is in her.]
    and your land Beulah[Beulah means married.];
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.

Isaiah says that he will not shut up until Israel is vindicated by God and the world sees God’s glory and Israel’s splendor as a jewel in God’s hand.  At that time, Isaiah says, Israel’s name will be changed from Deserted to Delighted, and from Desolate to Married, or perhaps, from Desolate to “Beloved Bride.”  Isaiah says that at that time it will be as if Israel’s builder will marry her, and rejoice over her, like a bridegroom marries and finds joy in his bride. 

And then in John 2:1-11, we see Jesus give an entirely different sort of gift to an unknown couple from the village of Cana in Galilee.  We don’t know who they were, but Jesus’ mother was invited and so was Jesus, and so were all his disciples.  As we will see in a moment, it was a seriously big wedding and an enormous party afterward.

2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied.  “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so, they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.  He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.  Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

We don’t know the people who are being married.  We don’t know their parents.  And no one in the entire story is named other than Mary and Jesus.  We aren’t even sure how Mary or Jesus knows them because the wedding is in Cana and they were from Nazareth, but most likely Mary, Jesus, or both, knew the bride, the groom, their parents, or had some connection.  My guess is that the disciples were invited out of politeness because they were known to be “with” Jesus.  It was common, at that time, for weddings to included entire villages, last for a week or more and, as we look at the story about the wine, we can see just how big this party is going to be.

At some point, and we really don’t know how long it took, the wine ran out.  This is not trivial.  This is a big deal.  Jesus lived in a culture that was based on a system of honor.  The loss of honor could cost a family, or an entire village, the ability to do business, lose customers, make it difficult to find spouses for their children, or even buy and sell at a disadvantage in the marketplace.  Honor was everything.  And running out of wine, halfway through the wedding party could cost this family, and possibly the entire village, their honor.  Our story says that before the master of the feast even finds out what is going on, Jesus has the servants fill six stone jars with what adds up to be as much as 180 gallons of water. 

I think that it’s interesting that, before Jesus performs this miracle, he is essentially drafted by his mother.  Jesus protests that it is not yet time for his ministry to begin, or since he has already gathered his disciples, that it is not yet time for him to reveal himself by performing miracles, but just as mothers have done for, well, pretty much forever, when Jesus disagrees with her, Mary just ignores him entirely and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.  And even though Jesus is 33 years old, runs his father’s business, is the head of the household, and the Son of God, he does what dutiful sons do, and obeys his mother. 

Jesus obeys his mother and, in addition to whatever gifts they might have brought with them, Jesus gives the bride, the groom, their families, and even their village, the gift of what we would calculate to be 75 cases or more than 900 bottles of wine.  And, if we assume that the original supply got them at least halfway through the party, 900 bottles of wine, for the two or three days that remained of the wedding reception tells us that there were a lot of guests, that this was a really big party, and a really big deal.  Jesus’ gift wasn’t just a gift of wine, it was a gift of honor and a rescue from an enormous embarrassment.  Much like Isaiah had described 800 years earlier, Jesus brought a wedding gift of vindication before it was even needed, and transformed embarrassment, ruin, and dishonor into delight before the disaster even happened.

But the promise that we read in Isaiah wasn’t just that the builder and creator of the universe would show up at a wedding, but that he would be the bridegroom and would marry the church and its people.  And, as you might expect, Jesus brings gifts to his bride as a part of that relationship, and we see some of those gifts listed in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth as we read his words in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

12:1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.  Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Paul says that the gifts that God gives to his people are varied and are unique to the needs, personality, goals, purpose, and mission of each person that chooses to follow Jesus.  We are given different gifts, called to different kinds of service, and given different kinds of work to do, but all those varied, unique, and individual pieces of the puzzle are a part of larger whole, a part of a greater purpose than our own lives or the lives of our immediate family.  The gifts given to us by God’s spirit are not only given for our benefit but are intended for use toward the common good of our community, our church, and the kingdom of God.

Whether we have been given wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, a facility in speaking or understanding languages, or any other gift, our wedding gifts are not intended to sit on a shelf and gather dust.  Neither are those gifts intended to enrich our selfish desires.  God’s purpose in giving wedding gifts to his bride, to us, is now, and has always been, is for us to share those gifts with others; to use them for the common good, to help the people around us, to benefit the churches to which we belong, to rescue to the lost, bring comfort to the suffering, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, share the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to grow the kingdom of God.  God’s gifts to us weren’t intended to be hoarded.  They were intended to be shared with entire world.

And so, unlike the gifts that we give to a bride a groom at a wedding, God isn’t waiting for us to send a thank you card, and God isn’t wondering how well we liked his gifts.  The question that God is asking is…

            …how are you healing, how are you helping, how are you growing, how are you helping, and what are you doing with the gifts that I gave you?


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/.  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Bone Grafts in Far, Far Away

Video of this worship service can be found here: https://youtu.be/YOV2uT1u5u4

Bone Grafts in Far, Far Away

January 02, 2022*             

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 60:1-6 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12

Merry Christmas.

Of course, you’re thinking that Christmas was more than a week ago, but that’s only because our tradition, that was handed down to us through the Protestant and Catholic churches, celebrates the birth of Jesus as the appropriate time for celebration.  But today, the first Sunday of the new year or, more specifically January 6th, is Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the Magi, or the Wise Men.  In the Orthodox tradition, Epiphany is the day that is celebrated as Christmas.  And, if we’re honest about our theology, there’s a good case to be made in favor of the Orthodox tradition as, perhaps, a better choice.  At the very least, Epiphany is a day that is worthy of both remembrance and celebration.  But before I dig too deeply into theology, let’s begin with the story.  It is a story, like many of our stories, that began in the Old Testament with the words of the prophet Isaiah where we hear these words in Isaiah 60:1-6:

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
    they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
    your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
    all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
    and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah tells of the Messiah that will one day come to rescue Israel, just as he does in other passages that we have read over the season of Advent.  But in today’s reading he speaks of how other nations will be drawn to the light of Israel’s messiah.  Not only will the coming messiah be a king for the nation of Israel, but Isaiah says that he would also be worshiped by other kings and other nations.  Gifts of gold and incense would be given to him from nations in southern Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula, Israel’s southern neighbors, and Saudi Arabia and they would bring so many camels, that thousands of them would cover the hillsides of Israel.

And those stories were remembered as an entourage of magi from far, far away entered Jerusalem along with what was most likely a significantly sized, well-armed, military security and logistics force that would have been sent along to protect, and care for, these important government officials.  The magi were, after all, at least ambassadorial level officials, if not what we would think of as presidential advisors or even cabinet level officials.  They would certainly not have traveled through wilderness and potentially hostile countries without adequate protection.  This is, in my opinion, why we hear Matthew say that King Herod, and all of Jerusalem, was frightened.  Reading from Matthew 2:1-12, we hear this:

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people, Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

It’s a story that has become familiar to us after years of repetition, but we still have questions.  Did the magi come from the East, or did they see a star in the East, which would mean that they came from the West?  Were these emissaries from far, far away ambassadors from nearby Egypt to the West or were they, as is often supposed, the philosophical and scholastic descendants of Daniel from the Persian Empire and this from the area of modern-day Iran or Iraq to the East?  Honestly, I don’t know and, as far as I know, there isn’t a definitive answer anywhere in scripture.  But what we do know, is that these scholars came bearing gifts from a land far away and became the first Gentiles, the first non-Jews, to worship the newborn Jesus and that is the most important part of the story and begins to tell us why today’s celebration is a big deal.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul explains it this way (Ephesians 3:1-12):

3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.  Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him 13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

Paul says that by God’s grace, he was called to reveal a mystery of prophecy, scripture, and the workings of God among his people on earth.  Although it had been hinted at in moments of history, like the one that we saw with the coming of the magi, many, if not most, of God’s people missed what God was doing.  But with the coming of Jesus, and the calling of Paul who had once hunted and persecuted Jesus’ followers, the mystery was finally being revealed and explained to everyone, and that mystery is that the Gentiles, people who are not now, and have never been, Jewish, were not only being invited into God’s family, but were being adopted as family members, becoming not only sons and daughters of God, but heirs of his gifts and of his kingdom. 

Now, anyone in the world, whether they were Jewish or not, or came from a Jewish family or not, could hear the good news of Jesus Christ and become a part of his family, kingdom, mission, ministry, and join him in his eternal home.  The revelation that Paul received, and was called to proclaim, was that this was God’s plan all along.  This is the message that God was revealing to the world with the coming of the magi.  At that moment, God threw open the doors of heaven and invited the Gentiles, invited us, into his family.

And that’s why today, Epiphany, is a big deal worth celebrating.  Certainly, the birth of Jesus was big deal because the Messiah that had been promised to the Jews had finally come to rescue them.  At the moment of his birth, Jesus was a Jewish messiah for the Jewish people.  But with the coming of the magi, God reveals that Jesus was not just a Jewish messiah for a Jewish people but was instead the savior and rescuer of the entire world.  The coming of the magi is the moment when… we… were invited in.

Although Paul says that this was God’s plan all along, it was at that moment, at least symbolically, when we were adopted by God and grafted into the family of Abraham so that we, the people from far, far away, could become, in the words of Samuel, God’s own flesh and bone.

And that is definitely something worth celebrating.

So…

…Merry Christmas everyone.


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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.

Out of Darkness

The video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/TF7bDRrEhMY.

Out of Darkness

(Christmas Eve)

December 24, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 9:2-7             Titus 2:11-14              Luke 2:1-20

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Luke 2:1-20

2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  All went to their own towns to be registered.  Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  20 The shepherds returned, glorifying, and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Out of Darkness

(Christmas Eve)

December 24, 2021

By Pastor John Partridge

Eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah told of a messiah that would bring light to a people who walked in darkness, a savior that would bring light, joy, freedom, and the end of violence, a child that would bring endless peace, justice, and righteousness that would last forever.  After hearing Isaiah’s words, generation after generation watched for the coming of the Messiah.  The promise of God’s rescuer and redeemer was ever-present in the minds of the people of Israel, and even more precious, during times of hardship and suffering.  And so, after a civil war that divided the country, and the arrival of an occupying Roman army, as well as a burden of taxation and mistreatment at the hands of the Romans and their (often corrupt) tax collectors, the people were starved for good news and dreamed of the day when the Messiah would rescue them and change the world.

And then, as we heard in the story of Luke, on a dark hillside, probably in the springtime (because that’s when shepherds and their flocks would have been in the mountains), darkness is overcome by the light and the glory of God.  It isn’t difficult to imagine that in a world where candles and oil lamps were the state of the art, the lighting of an entire hillside was a terrifying experience.  But the message that they shepherds heard was, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  The light had come.  Darkness was being overthrown.  The Messiah had arrived. 

And when the angels had left them, even without instructions, the shepherds knew exactly what to do. 

The people had been hoping and praying for this to happen for eight hundred years.  Especially now, with the Roman occupation, the people needed to hear, they needed to know, because this was indeed “good news of great joy for all the people.”  The shepherds knew that they couldn’t keep this news to themselves.  They needed to go, immediately, with haste.  They hurried so that they could see this miracle for themselves and so that they could share the good news with everyone that they could find.

But what does it mean for us two thousand years later?  Of course, it is still “good news of great joy.”  It is still news that gives us hope for a future, and an eternity, filled with light, joy, freedom, and peace.  But what else?  As Paul writes to Titus in Crete, he describes the arrival of Jesus this way (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Paul says that the arrival of Jesus brings salvation and rescue to all people, but that Jesus also came to train us to turn our backs on sin, immorality, vice and worldly passions and instead live lives that are filled with self-control, righteousness, and godliness.  The Messiah, Paul says, sacrificed himself so that we could be rescued from sin and made into a nation of people who are purified and eager to do good.

Every year, we meet at this time to remember.  We spend weeks celebrating the season of Advent, singing Christmas carols, watching Christmas specials on television, listening to Christmas music, decorating our homes, and whole neighborhoods, having Christmas parties at work, at home, at school, and at all sorts of clubs to which we belong.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  This is, of course, good news of great joy for all the people.  There is every reason to remember and celebrate.  But let’s not forget God’s purpose.  Let’s not forget the reason that Jesus came was not just to rescue us from sin, but to train us to turn our backs on sin, immorality, and the worldly passions that our culture passes off as normal.  Instead, Jesus calls us to live lives that are filled with self-control, righteousness, and godliness.  Jesus sacrificed himself so that we, the church, could be transformed into a nation of people who are eager to do good.

Let us never forget that the angel said that this was “good news of great joy for all the people.”  Not just the Israeli people, not just the Jewish people, not just the Christian people, but for all the people.  And so, our mission, the mission of the church and of every person in it, is to remember the shepherds; to go out from this place praising God, sharing this good news with everyone that we can find, and doing everything that we can to become a people who are eager to do good.

Merry Christmas everyone.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/.  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Miracle of Contradictions

(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/aOLC9MA9-GA)

The Miracle of Contradictions

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

December 19, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

What are your favorite Christmas gifts?

We often see television commercials that try to convince us that fifty-thousand-dollar pickup trucks are an appropriate gift with which to surprise your spouse, apparently without consulting them on such a huge expenditure.  Yikes.

But advertisers also try to convince us that bigger is better and that Christmas is a time to overextend our spending and buy diamonds, or giant flat screen televisions, or other things that almost certainly don’t fit in out budgets.  But is it the big things that we remember?  What gifts do you have in your homes, or in your memories, that you treasure the most?  I still have a Mickey Mouse watch that I wore when I was in elementary school, and I have a paperweight that my grandfather brought home from a trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.  And I remember a Christmas when my brother Dean gave me a little plastic railroad crossing gate for the model railroad that my father and I were building in the basement.  Dean didn’t know anything about our project, but he knew that I liked trains.  It wasn’t an expensive gift.  And it came out of the package broken.  Dean was visibly disappointed that he had given me something broken.  But you know what?  I glued it back together and it found a place in our layout.  But more than that, I knew that he cared.  I’m pretty sure that crossing gate got thrown out or lost several decades ago, but I think about that gift, and the thought and love behind it often when I see crossing gates on model railroads anywhere. 

It sounds like a contradiction, but often the most meaningful and the most memorable gifts aren’t the biggest or most expensive but were in fact the smallest and most inexpensive.

And we see those same kinds of contradictions at work in the story of Christmas as God upsets the status quo and sends the king of the universe to be born in stable and sleep in a feeding trough.  And the entire story of Christmas and the coming of the messiah is steeped in, and filled with, those contradictions from the earliest prophecies of his coming.  And, as we look for, and investigate, these contradictions, we find that these contradictions are some of the greatest miracles of all.  We begin this morning with God’s prophecy of the coming messiah found in Micah 5:2-5a where it says:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth;and he shall be the one of peace.

Micah declares that the smallest of Israel’s clans will produce the greatest king that Israel would ever have and continues by saying that God was bringing something new into the world that was already ancient.  Micah says that someone new is coming to rule in Israel who already existed in the dark recesses of their ancient past.  And so, Judah would be both small and great, the messiah would be both new and ancient, and would have great strength but would bring peace instead of bloodshed.  And then with the coming of Jesus, the contradictions continue as we read Luke 1:39-45 where he says:

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Elizabeth declares that Mary, despite being poor, is the most blessed woman on the planet.  Also, Elizabeth recognized Mary’s child, who was unborn, as her Lord and king.  And if those contradictions weren’t enough, Elizabeth’s child, John, despite being blind and still inside of his mother’s womb, sees clearly, and has the perception to recognize the arrival of Jesus and Mary.

And the contradictions continue in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews as he summarizes the coming of Jesus this way in Hebrews 10:5-10:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
  (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Jesus said that sacrifices and offerings were not desired by God even though history, tradition, scripture, and the law of Moses required them.  And then Paul says that the coming of Jesus not only abolishes God’s system of worship for his people, but also establishes a new system of worship for his people.

That’s a lot of contradiction in just a small sampling of scripture from the Christmas story.  But why would I say that this is a miracle?  What is this miracle of contradictions?

Simply put, the miracle of contradictions is that the story of Christmas isn’t just one big miracle about the birth of the messiah.  It isn’t just a story about the birth of a king, or even the birth of God’s son.  It’s a bigger and deeper story that involves ordinary people, with ordinary lives, and a story in which God, repeatedly, does the unexpected, in new, different, and surprising ways.

Judah is small, but great.

The Messiah is new, but ancient.

Would be strong enough to rule the ends of the earth but would bring peace instead of bloodshed.

Mary is poor but blessed beyond measure.

Jesus is unborn, but king.

John is blind but sees.

The sacrifices of God are required but undesired.

The messiah’s arrival abolishes but establishes.

The story of Christmas is filled with the miracle of contradictions, and it is that miracle that makes the story unexpected, fills the story with mystery and wonder, draws us in, and welcomes us, not only as spectators, but participants in the story.  The story of the coming of the messiah is filled, not with kings and princes, and rich and powerful people of influence, but ordinary people like us.  The story of Christmas is a story of poor people, farmers, laborers, sheep herders, scholars, infants, old people, the forgotten, the outcasts, and the unwanted.  In God’s most powerful and meaningful story, the pivotal actors are all people like us.  Ordinary.

God did not choose to use kings and princes.  Instead, he used ordinary people of faith.  God chose to trust the people who trusted him to begin his most miraculous work of all and to share the story of that miracle with the world.

And that’s still the way that God works.

That’s a part of the mystery and wonder of the story.

God still calls ordinary people; people like you and me.  God still calls farmers, laborers, sheep herders, children, the elderly, the forgotten, the outcasts, the unwanted, and the unexpected.  The greatest movements in history, the greatest agents of change in the world, are usually not presidents and prime ministers, bad boys, and billionaires, or even millionaires, movie stars and the monied elites.  The people who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the orphans and the widows, bandage the wounded, and do the work of Jesus in the world are, most often, unsung, unheralded, unnoticed, ordinary people of faith because God trusts the people who trust him.

It’s mysterious and it’s wonderful.

The miracle of contradictions is that the God who spoke the universe into existence, wants me, and wants you, to do his work, to represent him, to be his ambassadors, to share his story with the world, and to be Jesus to the people around us.

We see it in the Christmas story, but God has been working like that all along.

It is one of life’s greatest contradictions. 

But these are the contradictions that welcome us into the story.

Not just as spectators… but as participants.

And may just be the most meaningful Christmas gift of all.


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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.

Prepare the… What?

(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/RJ4_5liF5cs )

Prepare the… What?

(Second Sunday of Advent)

December 05, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Malachi 3:1-4 Luke 3:1-6 Philippians 1:3-11

This morning we need to talk about preparation.  We know that the motto of our Troops 50 scouts is to always “Be Prepared.”  But for what should we prepare?  If we look at how we often use the world preparation, it appears in quite a few places and means something different in each case. 

If a restaurant advertises for a Prep Cook, what they need is someone to get their day started, to make the ingredients for meals, so that food can be made to order later.  Prep cooks might make bread dough, or mix batches of pancake batter in the morning, or they could be peeling potatoes or chopping vegetables that will be used later.

If we go shopping and we buy “prepared food,” what we’ve purchased is food that has already had most of the work done for us.  If we cook from scratch, as we read through our cookbooks or online recipes, we find that each one often tells us how much “prep time,” or preparation time, is required before we start cooking.  And, if we’re trying to pass an upcoming state board exam, we might sign up, and pay, for a “test prep” class to make sure that all the most important information is fresh on our minds. 

All these things are important and I want you to keep them in mind as we read today’s scriptures and consider what it is for which we are preparing.  We begin this morning with the Old Testament prophecy of the coming messiah found in Malachi 3:1-4 where we hear these words:

3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.  4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Malachi says that God is sending a messenger to prepare the way ahead of his arrival and when he arrives, he will refine and purify his people until they become suitable and righteous offerings that are pleasing to God.  And then in Luke 3:1-6, we hear Isaiah’s words used to describe John the Baptist as a person who has come to prepare the way before the arrival of the Lord when he says…

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was rulerof Galilee, and his brother Philip rulerof the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias rulerof Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Luke says that John’s mission was to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah that had been foretold by Malachi, Isaiah, and other Old Testament prophets, and the purpose of his preparations were so that every human being could see the salvation and rescue of God.  John’s appearance as the fulfillment of scripture, as the person whom God sent to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah, is an important part of Advent and the story of Christmas.  But we all know that the Messiah, Jesus came.  So, what does that mean for each of us?  The arrival of Jesus happened more than two thousand years ago.  We can’t take John’s job; we can no longer prepare for the arrival of Jesus… or can we?

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he writes to a church that was established well after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Like us, they knew the Christmas story and they knew, as we do, that they could not prepare for Jesus’ arrival.  But there was still something that God was calling them to do, and we hear that calling in the words of Philippians 1:3-11 when Paul says:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s gracewith me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Paul says that the calling of the church is not to prepare for Jesus’s arrival, but to be so filled with the love of Jesus that our love overflows into the world and into the lives of the people around us.  But our calling to love is in addition to our calling to prepare.  While we are no longer called to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah, we now have three callings instead.  We are now called to prepare our minds so that we will increase our knowledge, gain insight, and grow in faith, to prepare our hearts so that we will be pure and righteous, and to prepare our actions so that we will share the message of Jesus and produce a harvest of righteousness that brings glory and praise to God.

As we walk through the season of Advent and as we read the story of Christmas, let us remember that it is not just a story from long ago and far away.  It is a story of here and now, of you and me, and it is a calling for us to have hope, to have faith, and to prepare the way with just as much joy and passion as John the Baptist did two thousand years ago.  But while John was called to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah, we are called to prepare ourselves, our neighbors, our friends, our communities, our nation, and our world for the King that will rule for all eternity.


(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/RJ4_5liF5cs )


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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.

Now We Must Do the Singing

Since I had the week off, there is no text to share with you. But you can still join in the fun by listening to Pastor Chris Martin by listening to this podcast…

Now We Must Do the Singing (Pastor Chris Martin)

or watching the livestream on YouTube here:


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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

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Facing Anxiety, Hopelessness, and Disaster

Facing Anxiety, Hopelessness, and Disaster

November 14, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Samuel 1:4-20                     Mark 13:1-8               Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25

What do you do when life just isn’t going the way that you had hoped, you are filled with anxiety, faced with hopelessness, and God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers?  If you’ve been in the church or been a follower of Jesus for any length of time, you know that being a Christian is not some magical ticket to a pain-free life.  We are not immune from tragedy, suffering, worry, or depression.  If we were to go around the congregation this morning, and survey each of you we could probably list many most difficult emotional traumas that human beings can typically face.

But we’re still here.

We endured.

But what is it about us that allowed us to endure?  What do we have that can help others to find their way through difficult struggles and paralyzing emotional turmoil?  If we’re honest, many of us haven’t thought about it too hard in those terms.  There’s a fair chance that we deliberately avoid thinking about some of our life’s experiences because revisiting them, even as a form of self-analysis, is just too emotionally difficult.  But without baring your souls to one another in church this morning, I invite you to immerse yourselves in the struggles and anxiety of the prophet Samuel’s mother, Hannah.  And, as we think about Hannah’s struggles, maybe we can discover something within ourselves as well.  We begin in 1 Samuel 1:4-20 where we hear these words:

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore, Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a naziriteuntil the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”

12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore, Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate, and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

Hannah lived in a place where much of a woman’s value was seen as her ability to produce children… and she had none.  Worse, her husband had two wives, and although Elkanah loved her greatly, the other wife, Peninnah, was not kind and went out of her way to taunt, torment, ridicule, and otherwise provoke Hannah because she had no children.  And the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for this important sacrifice was a moment that Hannah dreaded every year because she had to watch Elkanah pass out portions of the sacrifice to Peninnah and to all her many sons and daughters, and then, even though he gave her a double portion, there was just… Hannah… alone.

Hannah was emotionally gutted.  After the feast she was deeply depressed.  She advanced as far into the temple courts as women were allowed, wept bitterly, threw herself into prayer and began bargaining with God, swearing that if God would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to a life of service to God.  But in her misery, she ran out of words, and while she was praying silently Eli the priest thought that she was drunk.  Hannah answers him that she is not drunk, but deeply troubled, Eli answers with a blessing, encourages her to go in peace, and prays that God would answer her prayer.  Some time later, presumably before the same feast the following year, Hannah has a son and names him Samuel, which means “I asked God for him.”

Ordinarily, this is the point that we would thank God for answered prayer, and for the miracle that Hannah had received.  But today I want to consider what it was like for Hannah.  Let’s think about her anxiety, hopelessness, depression, and despair.  Let’s think about how long she endured that situation.  If she was the first wife, then she would have been married for at least a year or two before Elkanah married Peninnah.  And then Peninnah bore at least two sons and two daughters, and possibly more.  Assuming that she didn’t have more than one child per year, then Hannah had been feeling the looks of others in her community, had been hearing the whispered comments, had endured those comments and mistreatment, as well as the looks of pity in her community, had been tormented by Peninnah, and had grown increasingly desperate for at least five or six years and possibly ten, or even twenty years. 

And all that time, God was silent.

Clearly, God is not a genie in a bottle and prayer is not just a way for us to rub the lamp and ask God to grant us wishes and the desires of our hearts.  Clearly, life doesn’t always go our way.  And hundreds of years later, Jesus makes that same point as he walks through the city of Jerusalem with his disciples as we read in Mark 13:1-8:

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The disciples point to the incredible buildings that they saw, and they were indeed marvelous to look at and incredible feats of engineering.  In the temple, there is one stone in particular that is 44.5 feet long, 11 feet high, is estimated to be between six and eight feet deep, with a weight somewhere between 250 and 300 tons, is considered to be one of the largest building blocks in the world and would require one of our largest modern construction cranes to move.  The disciples assumed that such beautiful and awe-inspiring construction and engineering would have some permanence, but Jesus tells them that these things would all be destroyed, that imposters would come who would claim to be Jesus, and who would lead many people away from God.  Jesus continues by telling them that life wasn’t ever going to be easy and that the world would continue to see violence, wars, earthquakes, famine, and other man-made and natural disasters.  Worse still, Jesus says that all these things would just be the beginning of the end of this world and the birth of the next.  Jesus wants us all to understand that these struggles, pain, and suffering will be a part of our world, and a part of our lives until his return.

Ultimately, life is hard, and it isn’t going to get any easier.

At this point, I can almost hear some of you thinking that today’s message is not at all encouraging, and it wouldn’t be if we ended it here.  But thankfully, this is not the end of our lesson.  When the angels sang at the birth of Jesus, they said that they carried “good news of great joy for all the people.” And as we continue to read the story of scripture, despite our suffering and pain, we discover reasons for hope.  In Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25, Paul explains why when he says:

11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Paul reminds us that although the day of judgement has not yet come, the world has begun to change.  Worship in the temple required that the priests offer sacrifices for sin over, and over, and over again, but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was offered once, was completed forever, and Jesus now sits at the right hand of God and waits for the end of the world when the enemies of God will be ground underfoot.  With one single offering, Jesus perfected and sanctified, for all time, every person who chooses to follow him and put their faith in him.  And, because of that offering, made by Jesus on the cross, Paul says that we have “confidence to enter the sanctuary.” 

That’s helpful, but not entirely clear so I want to unpack that a little.

Remember in the story of Samuel, Hannah went as far as she could toward the temple but was forced to stop at the edge of the court of the women.  The temple had clearly designated and enforced areas of worship.  The men could pass through the court of the women and draw closer to the sanctuary, but only priests could enter the sanctuary, and only the high priest could enter the holy place.   But Paul says that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we have the “confidence to enter into the sanctuary” and come before God… as priests with Jesus as our high priest.  Paul encourages us to approach God with a true heart, an assurance of faith, and a clear conscience and we are to hold tightly to hope because the one who has given us his promise is faithful.  Rather than provoke one another to despair, depression, and anger as Peninnah did to Hannah, we are called to provoke one another to love and good deeds, to remember to regularly meet together, and to encourage one another more and more, particularly as we see the signs that the day of judgement and redemption is drawing closer.

Our world is a mess.  It is full of violence, war, disaster, envy, greed, and suffering.  Our lives are often filled with desperation, depression, anxiety, trauma, and darkness and, despite his love and compassion, God has never promised that we would be rescued from those things in this lifetime.

But…

But… we have hope.  We have hope because we know that this world and this lifetime are not all that there is.  We have hope because we know that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ has been given so that we are, even now, rescued, forgiven, purified, and sanctified in the eyes of God so that we can enter the sanctuary with confidence.  We can, as priests, carry our burdens and worries before God, share them with him, and leave them there.  We can provoke one another to love, and good deeds and we can meet together, and encourage one another as we face the trials and difficulties of life.  The message of scripture is not that the followers of Jesus Christ will be exempt from trouble or that we will escape the pain and suffering that is common to all of humanity. 

The message of scripture is that there is hope and that…

…we are not alone.


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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.

Recipe for Greatness

What is it that makes people great?

Video of this message can be found here: https://youtu.be/ow1TdTlm8QM

Recipe for Greatness

September 19, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 31:10-31                 Mark 9:30-37                         James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

What does it take to be great?

We’ve heard of people like Alexander the Great, Peter the Great, Darius the Great (from the book of Daniel), Cyrus the Great (who captured Israel and carried them into the Babylonian captivity), there was Herod the Great in the time of Jesus, and Wikipedia says that there are 91 historical figures known as “the great” including kings, queens, military, religious, and mythological figures.  But obviously, even a list like that doesn’t include magicians that bill themselves that “the great” something-or-other, or a Muppet character like the ironically named, “The Great Gonzo.”  Nor do such lists include people that we would consider to be great in our more modern era, like General George Patton, President Eisenhower, Lee Iacocca, Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, or anyone else.  Referring to people as “the great,” in any form other than stage acts, seems to have fallen out of favor. 

But what is it that makes people great?

In scripture, King Lemuel’s mother had a few ideas, she taught them to her son, and he recorded them in Proverbs 31 (which, incidentally, is the only chapter that we know was essentially written by a woman).  We often hear Proverbs 31 referred to as the description of the “ideal woman” but today I want to avoid any sexism that might be lurking there, and as we read, I want you to consider what it is, that made King Lemuel, his mother, and the writers of Proverbs think that such a person was so great. (Proverbs 31:10-31)

(The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him)

10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.
22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

If you were keeping track, let’s compare what we saw in this ideal human being and see if anything there can inform us about what it is that makes us think of a person as “great.”  As I read, I saw that she does good, is trusting, works hard, is a provider, a negotiator, is perceptive, understanding, generous, kind, well-prepared, well-respected, wise, her kindness is repeated a second time, faithful, godly, and excellent.  And as I think about that list, the thing that I notice is that nearly all those things are things that were done for the benefit of others and not for herself alone.

Let’s hold on to that idea and move on to the story in Mark 9:30-37, when several of Jesus’ disciples argue among themselves about which of them is the greatest.

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Despite Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, that we heard last week, the disciples still don’t understand what Jesus was talking about when he said that he was going to die, be buried, and rise again.  And not only did they not understand, after Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” they’re all afraid to even ask Jesus what he meant when he said those things.  It is no accident that just as we are told that they lack understanding, we also see them arguing about who is the greatest and, in pairing these two ideas, Mark emphasizes that the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus had been trying to teach them all along about greatness and humility either.  Injecting himself into their argument, Jesus explains, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” and, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus not only emphasizes servanthood, but uses children, who had no rights, no property, and no voice as his example.  Children could offer them nothing in return.  Children had no political influence, and they were, perhaps, the epitome of people that might be described as “the least among us.”  And it is they that Jesus points to when he says that we welcome God when we care for, and about, them.  Jesus says that to be great, we must first be a servant of others, and that specifically means caring for those who have less than nothing.  Greatness is not about doing for “me” but about doing for others.

And just in case there is any doubt remaining in our minds, James piles on, repeats some of what we’ve already heard, and stirs in some additional clarity in James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a when he says:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? [that’s the same thing we heard in Proverbs, remember?] Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace forthose who make peace.

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so, you commit murder. And you covetsomething and cannot obtain it; so, you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

James says that we should demonstrate our faith through the good works that we do, wisely, for others and that the opposite of greatness is envy and selfishness.  Boasting out of ego and bending the truth to our own purposes are the hallmarks of earthly, unspiritual, and devilish wisdom because envy and selfishness bring disorder and wickedness along with them.  But real wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, flexible, merciful, and produces goodness without partiality or hypocrisy.  James continues by saying that conflicts between believers are caused by the selfish desires within us.  Our selfish desires turn into covetousness and cause us to fight with others to get what we want. 

All of that explains why God doesn’t answer our prayers.  God ignores our requests because we ask for ourselves and not for others.  God knows that the things for which we are asking will be spent on ourselves, on our comfort, and our pleasure and for that reason God says “no” and our prayers remain unanswered.  Instead of living selfishly, James says, we should surrender our lives, and our prayers, to God and draw near to him. 

The key to greatness is… selflessness.

The recipe for greatness flies in the face of the “me” generation, it runs contrary to the message of “get rich quick,” or “greed is good,” or “what’s in it for me” and stands in utter opposition to the message of the prosperity gospel and countless televangelists.   The real recipe for greatness isn’t about the accumulation of stuff, or amassing piles of money, power, or influence.  The recipe for greatness is about humility, compassion, persistence, producing good fruit, impartiality, peace, mercy, gentleness… and love.

When we put the needs of others ahead of our own, when we dedicate ourselves to using our power to serve others and not ourselves, and when we lift our prayers to heaven on behalf of others, then God will hear our prayers, and only then… will we discover greatness.


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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.

You Can’t Fix Stupid

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You Can’t Fix Stupid

September 12, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 1:20-33                   Mark 8:27-38             James 3:1-12

On August 4th, 1991, comic strip writer Jeff MacNelly, coined a phrase in his “Shoe” comic strip that has since passed into common usage across the nation and has been widely used in magazines, newspapers, movies, and at least one book title.  In that comic, newspaper editor “Shoe” calls downstairs to the press his press operator Eugene and says, “Yo, Eugene, how goes it down in the pressroom?”  and Eugene answers, “Horrid!  It’s your editorial page.  I can fix almost anything that runs on those presses… bit I can’t fix stupid.”

Some years later, in the movie “Forrest Gump,” the title character similarly says, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Given the frequency with which most of us do stupid things, it isn’t surprising that someone would say these kinds of things.  The surprising thing is that it took this long for someone to say it, particularly since a similar sentiment is expressed by God in Proverbs 1:20-33.  You’re probably surprised, but I’m serious.  In this passage we hear wisdom speak as if it were a real person, and it begins this way:

20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
    in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused,
    have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm,
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel,
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
    and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure
    and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Today we may say, “You can’t fix stupid” or “Stupid is as stupid does” but three thousand years ago God simply said, “How long will you love being stupid?”  God says that the skeptics delight too much in their skepticism and fools just hate knowledge but in doing so, all of them have ignored God’s advice and refused to hear God’s reprimands.  The result, God says, is that when the inevitable, but completely avoidable, disaster comes, and when they are up to their necks in alligators, in a full-fledged panic, and then call upon God to help them, God will not answer, and they will be utterly unable to find him.  God says that because they hated knowledge, and refused to listen to God’s advice, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their stupidity. 

Apparently, even God can’t fix stupid.  Or, more correctly, God simply won’t fix stupid.

In Proverbs, a personified Wisdom declares that the people who ignore God’s instruction, advice, counsel, and reproof are simple, stubborn, and stupid and God warns that if we ignore him in this way, he will leave us to suffer the consequences of our actions because the calamities and disasters that we experience will have been completely avoidable.  But even though we think we’re doing better than that at listening to God’s instructions, Jesus reprimands Peter for something that is a lot easier for us to fail at doing.  In Mark 8:27-38, we hear this:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

While Jesus is traveling to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, or the area we now know as the Golan Heights, he has a discussion with his disciples about who the people say that he is, and who the disciples think that he is.  But as Jesus describes his upcoming trial, death, and resurrection, Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for being such a fatalist and for thinking such negative thoughts.  But Jesus not only rebukes Peter in return, but he flat-out calls him “Satan” for losing his focus on the things of God and thinking too much about earthly politics and power.

Twenty-one centuries later, losing our focus on the divine, and thinking too much about politics, power, and other earthly problems remains an astoundingly easy thing to do.   And in that case, Jesus’ advice to us is to commit everything that we have, our time, our money, and even our lives to the cause and the mission of God, his kingdom, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

At the end of this passage, Jesus’ words echo those of Wisdom in Proverbs 1.  In Proverbs, Wisdom declares that God will leave those who ignored his teaching and correction to struggle without him through the disasters they could have avoided, and in Mark, Jesus declares that the people who abandon Jesus in this generation will be abandoned by God on the day of judgement.

But if the consistent message of God is that he will leave us in our time of trouble and abandon us on the day of judgement, then the message of scripture is hopeless and terrifying. 

But thank God, that’s not even a little bit true.

The message of scripture is quite the opposite.

In James 3:1-12, Jesus’ brother writes to the church and explains how we can make sure that these things never happen to us.  He says:

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine, figs? No more can saltwater yield fresh.

If I were to summarize James’ words as they apply to our message today, I would simply say that they mean…

Start small.

You don’t need to have a seminary degree.  You don’t need to read deep and difficult to understand treatises on theology, sociology, and morality.  You just need to start small.

Horses are huge, but they can be guided with a bridle and a bit that’s about the size of a pencil.  Ships are gigantic but they are guided by a rudder that is a tiny fraction of their size.  Fires can be incredibly destructive, but they get started by a tiny spark.  And if we want to get started doing the right thing, we need to start small and get control of our tongue.  And to do that, we need to take control of the choices that we make.

And that’s what all of this is about.  We all make choices.  We make hundreds, even thousands of choices every day.  We choose whether to brush our teeth, whether we will brush up and down, or from side to side.  We choose what clothes to wear, what shoes will be comfortable, what to eat for breakfast, how we want to make our coffee or tea, or other breakfast beverage, we make choices every waking moment of every day we walk the earth.  And among those choices are the words that come out of our mouths, and the things with which we will fill our hearts, our minds, and the very substance of our lives.  We get to choose whether we want to read the words of God.  We get to choose whether we listen to God’s instruction and advice.  And by making those choices, we will choose whether our spring is filled with salt water or fresh water, and whether the words that come out of our mouths are life giving.

In Proverbs, God says that he will pour out his thoughts, make his words known, call out to us, and stretch his hand out to catch us and to hold us.  But we still get to choose whether we will listen, hear, and obey.  We get to choose whether we will ignore God’s instruction and advice, but scripture is clear that making that choice… well…, is just stupid.

The message of scripture is clear about God’s incredible love and care for all his people, but we are free to ignore God.  We are free to ignore God’s instruction and advice, and we are free to live our lives without him.

But God’s reply is that if we stubbornly make those choices, God will allow us to be consumed by the consequences of those choices.

All that is required, is that we begin to make good choices.

Feel free to start small.

But be smart… and choose wisely.

Because there is a point after which…

…you can’t fix stupid.


*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.