Missions is Where?

Missions is Where?

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June 12, 2022

Pastor Christine Tobergte

(teenager’s voice by Pastor Carol Topping)

Since I (Pastor John) was attending meetings at our United Methodist church’s East Ohio Annual Conference all week, my dear friends Pastor Christine Tobergte and Pastor Carol Topping graciously stepped in to bring this week’s message so that I wouldn’t have to worry about writing a sermon on my laptop during business meetings or worship services. I can’t offer you the text of this message, as I usually do, in part because I don’t have it, but also because the skit that is in it is copyrighted material (you should see a copyright disclaimer below, and in the video, showing that we *do* have permission from the publisher to stream and podcast it).

You can watch this message or listen to the podcast by clicking appropriate link above.


COPYRIGHT: “On Missions” taken from Girl Talk with God by Susie Shellenberger.
Copyright © k2001 by Susan Shellenberger. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian
Publishing. http://www.harpercollinschristian.com.


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Religious Extravagance

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Religious Extravagance

April 03, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 43:16-21                      John 12:1-8                Philippians 3:4b-14

What do you think of when I say the word… extravagant?

We buy things that we need, but how nice those things are often depends upon how much money we have available to spend on things that don’t matter.  We might need a watch, but we could buy a cheap one at the dollar store that will keep time, or we can buy a decent Timex that will last longer.  But when we have a little more disposable income, we might consider buying an Apple watch or a Garmin sport watch that not only keeps time but counts our steps, calories, tracks our heartrate, and a bunch of other things.  And there are some people who have enough money that they can wear a year’s salary, or even the value of a house, on their wrist with wildly expensive watches made of gold and platinum.  But do you know what those expensive watches say at three o’clock in the afternoon?  They say that it’s three o’clock.  The difference between a Timex and a Rolex isn’t that the time is different, or that expensive watches somehow give their wearers twenty-five hours in a day instead of the usual twenty-four, the difference is in their level of extravagance.

We could say that a house with four bedrooms is better than a house with one bedroom if you have a larger family.  But at some point, as homes grow larger and pass three thousand square feet, four thousand, five thousand square feet, and even larger, at some point we’ve crossed a line from utilitarian and into extravagance.

And so, if I were to ask you what comes to mind when I say the words “religious extravagance,” I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you began to think about the mansions that we’ve seen on television that belong to a variety televangelists and other religious leaders who have capitalized, in one way or another, on their position, power, or notoriety.  But is religious extravagance about 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets? 

As we consider that question, let’s begin by remembering what God said through his prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:16-21.

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

As I read that passage, I divided it into four sections that each said something different.  The first, asks God’s people to remember what God is capable of doing and all the amazing, awesome, powerful, and even impossible things that God has done.  The second, simply says that while we should remember what God has done, we should not live in the past or get stuck there.  The third, says that as we keep the first two things in mind, the big news is that God is doing something new.  Now, God is doing the impossible.  He is making a road through the impassable wilderness and bringing free flowing water to the desert.  The fourth thing explains why God does everything that God does.  The reason that God does extravagant miracles, achieves the impossible, blesses his people, feeds them, and cares for them, is not just so that they will give thanks, but so that they will tell the world about his greatness.

But in John 12:1-8 we see an entirely different sort of extravagance as the time of Jesus’s crucifixion draws near.

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 pintof 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.”

For perspective, let’s consider the value of what Mary did for Jesus.  It’s one thing to say that she anointed Jesus with perfume that cost a year’s wages, but it’s another thing entirely to put that into language that is personally meaningful to our wallets.  Thinking about a year’s wages in a vague sort of way sounds like it might be a lot, but we feel a punch in the gut when we put that into numbers that we understand.  And a number that most of us can understand is the median income.  The “median” is the annual income at which half of all wage earners made more, and half made less.  And in the United States, the median income in 2021 was $79,900.  So, when we say that Mary poured $80,000 on the ground, we feel that it a different way than saying that it was worth about a year’s wages.  John uses this as an opportunity to criticize Judas for being a thief, but it’s hard not to think, as Judas suggested, about how much food, clothing, rental assistance, bus passes, or other things that we could buy for the poor with $80,000.  Mary’s gift was not just costly, it was extravagant.  But Jesus understands and explains to everyone present that there was a limited time that anyone could give such a gift, and while God’s intent was that this gift should have been for Jesus’ burial, Mary chose to give her gift to Jesus while he was still alive rather than after he was dead.

And in Philippians 3:4b-14, the Apostle Paul frames the discussion about extravagance differently.  Rather than reminding everyone about the extravagant gifts that God has given to us, or about the extravagant gift that Mary gave to Jesus, Paul explains how his life changed because of his reaction and response to God’s extravagance.  Paul says:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul begins by reminding his readers that for all the worldly reasons that people can have confidence, trust, and even arrogance, Paul has all of them… in abundance.  Paul had money, possessions, accomplishments, power, authority and more.  He was born into the right kind of prestigious family, he mixed with the right kinds of prestigious people, he followed all of the church’s rules in a very public way in the sect of the Pharisees, and even among the Pharisees, he was outstanding in his passion, zeal, and herculean efforts as a defender of the faith and a warrior for the church as he persecuted those who followed Jesus, and he did all these things so well that no one could find fault with his theology or practice.  Paul was beyond a rising star in the leadership of the church and was on track to be among those in the very highest levels of the Jewish church and the leadership of Israel.

But Paul after he met Jesus, he threw it all away.

Because he chose to follow Jesus, Paul lost his position in Jewish leadership, was cast out of the Pharisees, excommunicated, banned from the Temple, and we suspect that he may have even been disowned by his family.  Paul says that he has now given up anything that he once considered to be valuable because the value of knowing Jesus was worth more than anything that he had before.  In fact, what Paul received when he put his faith in Jesus was so extravagantly valuable that in comparison, everything that he had before was worth no more than garbage to him.

The value of what Paul received from God through faith in Jesus Christ is so valuable, that even after he has given up everything that he had, Paul still looks forward to the future and presses onward so that he can become whatever God called him to be, and to do whatever God called him to do.  Paul freely admits that Gods work in him, and through him, is not yet finished, but he continues to do the work of Jesus Christ, and to press on so that he can earn the reward that God has prepared for him.

Isaiah said that our mission it to show the world how amazing, wonderful, and awesome God is, and not spend our time and money showing people how awesome we are.  The goal is to get the people around us to give thanks to God and give praise to him, not to give thanks and give praise to us.  Mary shows her gratitude to Jesus by giving him the most extravagant gift that she can imagine.  It is a gift that is her life savings and represents her pension and her rainy-day fund all wrapped up in one package.  Paul says that God’s gift to us, the gift of his own son, Jesus Christ, is such an extravagant gift, that nothing that we have, and nothing that we can do, can ever begin to show God how grateful we are.  Instead, Paul’s response was to give up all that he had and spend his entire life giving of himself to do the work of God’s kingdom.

My friends, religious extravagance isn’t about churches that seat tens of thousands, or 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets.  Those sorts of things point people in exactly the opposite direction that God wants us pointing.  Religious extravagance is demonstrating to the world that what God has given to us in Jesus Christ is so valuable that we will give, or do, anything to show God our gratitude and to do the work of the kingdom of God so that, as God said through Isaiah, the world would proclaim God’s praise.

When the followers of Jesus Christ are extravagant, every part of that extravagance should point to God so that the world sees the wonders of our amazing God… and not us.


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

Life and Death Reversed

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Life and Death Reversed

March 27, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Joshua 5:9-12                         Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32              2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Some of you know may that we used to own a 1948 Farmall Cub tractor. I did not grow up in a home that worked on cars, motors, or machinery of any kind, and although my maternal grandfather was known to do be pretty handy, I didn’t learn any of those things from him. But with the arrival of that antique tractor, and a 1970’s era Cub Cadet, with not a lot of money, and a need to maintain our seven-acre mini-farm, I learned. I had all the manuals, I joined an online antique tractor forum, I asked lots of questions, and I learned. I got to the point where I split that tractor completely in half, replaced the clutch, and put it all back together.

There was still a lot that I didn’t, and don’t know, but I learned. And along the way, I gained an appreciation of the guys that could pull an abandoned piece of rusty iron out of a barn or a field, free a seized engine, sandblast the rust, replace, repair, renew, and eventually restore something that most people would see as a lost cause and transform it into a piece of art that looked like it just came off the showroom floor.

Now, on YouTube, I occasionally watch videos of people who rescue old tractors, bulldozers, and other things that have been left to rot away at the side of a road, out in the forest, field, desert, or other places. I love to watch shows like This Old House, and I’ve watched videos of a guy that bought an old missile silo and is transforming it into a home for his family. The transformation that happens as hopeless, discarded relics are restored so that they look and run as if they were new is nothing short of amazing.

And those are just machines and houses.

But what if we could do that for people?

What if lives could be rescued instead of tractors and houses?

And that’s the point of our message today as we begin in Joshua 5:9-12

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So, the place has been called Gilgal to this day. [Note: in Hebrew, Gilgal sounds like “roll”]

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day afterthey ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

For many of us, God’s word to Joshua hinges on the word “reproach.”  God says that he will roll away the reproach of Egypt for the people of Israel and, since “reproach” isn’t a word that we often use, many of us will read that and miss a good portion of the point. Reproach means criticism or disapproval. Egypt’s opinion of the Israelites was that they were “just slaves” and incapable of caring for themselves, that they needed overseers to guide them, direct them, and care for them even if their care was cruel, harsh, and unwanted. The Egyptians believed that the slaves who fled to freedom would surely wither away and die. But that wasn’t God’s plan. God brought the people to a place where they could plant and harvest crops and care for themselves. And on the day after Passover, the day after they started eating the food that they had harvested for themselves, God stopped providing food for them. God had finished his work of transforming them from slaves into a free people, and now he set them loose to care for themselves.

But in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, we read about an entirely different sort of transformation. In this story the transformation isn’t from slavery to freedom, but from ignorance to understanding.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The accusation against Jesus was that he was hanging out with, offering hospitality to, and even fraternizing with disreputable people who were enemy collaborators and outcasts. Sharing meals with people was seen as an act of intimacy that should only be enjoyed by your closest friends and it was shocking that Jesus would offer this level of inclusion and intimacy to people who were social pariahs.

And in reply to that sort of accusation, Jesus tells a story about a son who disrespected and dishonored his father, his family, and his community in every possible way. The son is so selfish and self-focused, that he says that he wished that his father was dead and wants to receive his inheritance now. This means that his father’s entire estate would be divided into thirds so that his older brother, as the firstborn, would receive two-thirds, and the younger one third.

But what he was demanding wasn’t just the money that he would, eventually, inherit, it represented his father’s security, his family honor, his retirement, and his assets that allowed him to care for his family, dependents, and employees. But not only did the son demand, and take, the money, he treated that money carelessly. He was shortsighted, thought of his present pleasure and comfort without any concern for the future. He did not plan and had no vision, and the price of his short-sightedness is that he ended up with nothing. No money, no home, no pride, and no purity. He ends up homeless, doing a job that no one else wanted, a Jew feeding religiously unclean pigs.

And in his misery, he realizes what he had given up and what he could have had if he had not been so selfish. He decides to beg for his father’s forgiveness and ask to hire him as a servant because he knew that what he had done was unforgivable. He understood that there was no hope of ever again finding acceptance as a family member, but even as a servant he would have food, clothing, and a place to live.

“And while he was still a long way off…” the father saw him. His father had been watching, waiting, and hoping that his son would one day return to him. There had been no word, no letters, no phone calls, no emails and for all that he knew, his son was dead. But, despite his hurt, disappointment, dishonor, and humiliation he still he watched the road and hoped that one day his son might return. And when he does, he casts aside propriety and does what no self-respecting eastern man would do, and he pulls up the hem of his robe like a little boy and he runs to put his arms around his son, he interrupts the prepared speech about being a servant, puts a ring on his finger, and welcomes him back into the family.  And, when the older son remains bitter, and complains, the father explains that relationships aren’t about money, but that there is joy in restoration and reconciliation.

And that is the same lesson that Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 when he says:

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Although he doesn’t mention it by name, Paul uses the imagery of Jesus’ parable of the lost son to explain how that story matters to the people of his church, and to us. Before we became his followers, we saw Jesus as someone who was a philosopher, preacher, and teacher. But as we chose to follow him, we are transformed. We are transformed in our opinions, attitudes, mind, body, and soul just as the lost son, in realizing what he had lost, suddenly gained more than he ever expected or imagined. When we became the followers of Jesus we became a new creation, death had been reversed, we were once dead, but are now alive. We are reconciled, renewed, restored, welcomed, included, and embraced into our new family as brothers and sister of Jesus Christ.

And that’s just the beginning because just as the lost son had to build a new life after his return to his family, our work begins when we come faith. Paul says that because we have been reconciled, we have all been given the message, mission, and ministry of reconciliation. We are sent into the world, as ambassadors of God’s kingdom, as if God were sharing his message through us. We cry out to the world to be reconciled to God, to realize what we lost because of our selfishness, to return to God, to his family, and be restored to life as a new creation.

You have to admit that restoring old pieces of unwanted, abandoned, and hopelessly rusted machines is an amazing process to watch. But rescuing and restoring unwanted, outcast, abandoned, and hopelessly lost people is way better.

God doesn’t send us to rescue the people around us because we’re good, or because we’re loyal.

God sends us to rescue the people around us because he once rescued us.


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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.

Facing Temptations Today

Facing Temptations Today

March 06, 2022

Rev. Chris Martin

Rev. Chris Martin reminds us of the story of Jesus’ baptism, the beginning of his ministry, his forty days in the desert, his temptation at the hands of Satan, and what it all means to us as we face life’s temptations today. You’ve heard the story before, but not from the likes of this master storyteller. Click here to listen to this podcast.

Facing Temptations Today – Rev. Chris Martin

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From Ruin to Rescue

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From Ruin to Rescue

February 06, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 6:1-13

Luke 5:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

There is a story that is common to special Sundays with the Gideon’s, or to inspirational speakers who are recovered alcoholics, or drug addicts, or former gang members.  It’s the same attraction that we have to the stories of people like Chuck Colson.  Colson was convicted of breaking into the Watergate building and was a key participant in that Nixon-era scandal, but he encountered the message of the risen Jesus in prison and founded Prison Fellowship ministry to reach others who find themselves on the wrong side of iron bars.  We are inspired by stories of people who got lost or reached rock bottom, but ultimately found a way to rebuild their lives.

As we read the stories of scripture, we find many stories like that and, in fact, the whole point of God’s message is a story of redemption, rescue, and restoration.  But before a story of rescue can be told, we often need to hear a story of ruin.  Before we hear how a person rose from the ashes like a phoenix, there is often a story of how they crashed and burned.  And, for that, we begin with the story of Israel contained in Isaiah 6:1-13 where we hear this:

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
    and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
    and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
    it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
    leave stumps when they are cut down,
    so the holy seed will be the stump* in the land.”

Isaiah has a vision of God in all his glory, sitting on the throne of heaven and Isaiah cries out that he is ruined or, we perhaps understand his intentions better by translating that as “I am a dead man walking.”    It was a common belief that any imperfect and sinful mortal who saw a perfect and holy God face to face would immediately die.  But an angel, a seraph, takes a hot coal from the altar, touches it to Isaiah’s lips and says that his guilt has been taken away and atonement has been made for his sin.  And so, when God asks who he might send into the world as his ambassador, Isaiah raises his hand and volunteers. 

.

But the message that God has for the people of Israel is terrifying.  God’s message is that the people just aren’t getting it.  They don’t see, they don’t understand, they’re sick, and they don’t want to get better, and God’s judgement is that for their disobedience, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their unbelief.  And, when Isaiah asks how long this punishment will endure, God replies that Israel will be left to their own devices until their houses, fields, people, and everything else are utterly ruined and the trees are left as stumps. 

Stumps.

The word “stumps” is worth noting because a few chapters later, Isaiah refers to the messiah as a shoot that comes up from the “stump of Jesse.” (Isaiah 11:1) God’s punishment is to turn Israel over to the natural consequences of their disobedient actions and refuse to rescue them.  But, in the same passage, God hints at the hope of future rescue.

And then, after we have heard about what happens to a disobedient people, and what happens to them when they refuse to hear the words of God, in Luke 5:1-11, we are given a vision of what happens when God’s people do listen and are obedient to his words as Jesus begins his ministry and encounters fishermen by the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.

Jesus had barely started his ministry but even so, Simon, who would later be called Peter, was willing to let Jesus borrow his boat as a place to preach to the people gathered on the shores of Galilee.  After Jesus was done preaching, he asked Simon, a professional fisherman who had been fishing the shores of this lake for his entire life, to go out into deep water and to throw out the nets that he and his partners had just spent hours cleaning.  Worse still, the fisherman had not only just cleaned the nets, they had spent the entire night fishing with them and caught nothing but weeds, grass, sticks, and rocks.  They had been awake all night.  They had been throwing heavy, wet, nets into the sea and hauling them back out, hand over hand, time after time, hour after hour, all night.  And then, after they had spent their morning cleaning and repairing those same nets, they were ready to go home, see their families, eat, get some sleep, and get ready to do it again.  They were tired, sore, hungry, and probably more than a little grouchy.

But despite their hunger, irritation, fatigue, professional experience, and every other reason that they had to say no, and tell Jesus to get stuffed, Simon tells Jesus, “…because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

“Because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

And because Simon and his friends are willing to be obedient, even when they don’t even really know Jesus, and even though everything says that they should just go home and get some sleep, their lives are completely transformed.  This is the opposite of what we saw a moment ago in Isaiah 6.  There, the people of God knew the words of God but selfishly chose to go their own way and to do their own thing.  Here, even though they haven’t yet recognized Jesus as the Messiah, these fishermen are willing to be obedient, even in the face of their own hunger, fatigue, and irritation.  And it is that willingness to be obedient that transforms their lives.

And that brings us to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where we find Paul warning the church in Corinth that they seem to be drifting toward selfishness and away from obedience.  Paul says:

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul says that the people of the church need to remember where they started, to remember the gospel message that they had originally found so compelling that they had left behind their former gods, and former religions, and chosen to follow Jesus instead.  It was that message, Paul says, that saved them and abandoning that message would make everything that they had done, and everything that they had endured, completely pointless.  He then recites four points that are still contained on many of our creeds today, that Christ died, was buried, raised on the third day, and appeared to Peter and the twelve. 

But Paul also says that although he had once persecuted the church, he was shown grace by God, had been transformed, and was now a missionary to the Gentiles for the cause of Jesus Christ.  Like Peter, Paul’s entire life was transformed by his obedience to God, and he urges the people of the church in Corinth to remember that this was the power of the gospel in which they had put their faith.

We face a choice between ruin and redemption, between ruin and rescue, and the thing that transforms one to the other is our obedience to God and our willingness to do the things that Jesus asks us to do.  Clinging to selfishness will inevitably lead to our destruction, but like Peter, the fishermen, and like Paul, our obedience to Jesus Christ can completely transform our lives into something new, powerful, unexpected, and completely amazing.

But, having been rescued, God asks us to rescue others.  God is still asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

Are you ready to be obedient?  Are you ready to fish for people?

What will be your answer? 


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

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?


Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.