Never Tire of Doing Good

 

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

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

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

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

It’s called “compassion fatigue.”

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

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

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

They had compassion fatigue.

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

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

Never tire of doing good.

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

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

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

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

Do all the good you can.

By all the means you can.

In all the ways you can.

In all the places you can.

At all the times you can.

To all the people you can.

As long as ever you can.

 

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

May we never tire of doing good.

 

Blessings,

Pastor John

The Path to Peace

The Path to Peace

May 26, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:23-29            Acts 16:9-15               Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

 

Let’s begin with an easy question that turns out to be more difficult than we expected.

What is peace?

While at first a part of us wants to think that defining peace ought to be easy, the more we think about it, the harder it gets.

When most of us begin thinking about peace, we probably thing about the violence between nations.  In that case, peace is simply the absence of war and violence.  That’s probably the kind of peace that we’re thinking of when we talk about “world peace” or when hippies say things like “peace, man” or “peace out.”  But then there’s the kind of peace that Mom is looking for when she says that she just wants “a little peace and quiet.”  Of course, that means the end of sibling violence, but in this case, she also means a lack of worry and the ability to find a moment of rest.  If we extend those few moments of quiet rest, maybe that’s what we mean when we say that we are “at peace” or when we are searching for “inner peace,” or maybe that’s what the Eagles mean when they sing about that “peaceful, easy feeling.”  And, of course, there is the religious wish that is common to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, when we express our wishes for Salaam, Shalom, or “peace be unto you.”

But as much and as hard as we might search for, seek out, strive toward, or wish for peace, it may well be that our human efforts will always fall short if we do not include God as a part of, and as a participant in, our search for peace.  In John 14:23-29, Jesus tells the disciples that peace is a gift that he is giving to them, and to us, if only we will truly love him.

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus says that if we will only obey his teaching, God will love us, and both he and Jesus will make their home with us, and a part of what comes with that, is Jesus’ gift of peace.  Moreover, Jesus helps us to define what he means by peace, in this case, by saying that we should not let our hearts be troubled nor should be we afraid.  But peace can be hard.  We are often plagued by doubts about the future, and questions about where we ought to go and what we ought to be doing.  We ask ourselves, “Should I study this or that,” take this job offer or that one, is God in this, or not, is this better or worse than that, or more generally, “Just what does God want from me?”  And in asking those questions, we struggle, and we sometimes lose our sense of peace.  But as we read the stories about how God has called others to do his work, we can learn something about how God might call us.  In Acts 16:9-15 we remember the way that God called Paul to ministry in Philippi.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia [central Turkey], having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia [western Turkey], they tried to enter Bithynia [northern Turkey], but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas [northeast coast of Turkey]. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia [across the Aegean Sea and north of Greece] standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace [Aegean island], and the next day we went on to Neapolis [eastern Greece]. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony [and a bit inland] and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira [a Greek city in eastern modern Turkey, near Mysia, where Paul had just been] named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Now, if all of that wasn’t confusing enough, if you were trying to follow along this journey on ancient maps, one of the things that you’d probably notice is that the woman that Paul meets, and in whose house they end up staying, Lydia, comes from the city of Thyatira, which is in the nation of… Lydia.  Anyway, after all of that, what I wanted to point out was that Paul was struggling to find peace with what he was doing, where he was going, and what God wanted him to do.  He kept trying to do different things, and go different directions, and things were not going his way.  He wanted to do ministry in Asia, or as we understand it, in eastern Turkey, but felt that the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to do so.  We don’t know if that was an unsettled feeling, or an inability to sleep, or just physical or political barriers, but clearly something kept Paul and his team from going where they wanted to go.  But one night, Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia, a nation to the north of Greece, begging them to come there and preach.  And so, that’s where they go, and once there, they meet a wealthy businesswoman, who specializes in the manufacture and distribution of rare purple cloth, she comes to faith in Jesus Christ, is baptized, and all of them are persuaded to stay with her in her estate.

All of that may sound like a rabbit trail, but I include it here to make a point.  Even though Paul’s journeys were long and difficult, even though his direction was not always certain, even though his travels often seemed to include arrest and torture, Paul had the peace of knowing that he was where God wanted him to be and he was doing what God had called him to do.  Certainly, while being arrested and beaten does not sound peaceful, Paul had inner peace, the peace of knowing that he was where he was supposed to be.  But Paul also knew that the peace that we so desperately seem to pursue cannot often be found in this life.  Paul knew that a greater peace awaited him as a reward for his faithfulness.  John writes about that in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where we hear these words:

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Believe it or not, as odd as some of this language sounds, many of its visual images are all about safety and peace.  Because darkness in the ancient world, and to a lesser extent today, was associated with danger, John notes that in the new Jerusalem, it never gets dark.  The light of God and the protection of God, shines on everyone constantly.  Both nations and their kings come to live under the light and under the protection and justice of God and that, finally, after thousands of years of history, sounds like a government that we can trust.  And then John says that the gates of the city are never shut.  For those of us who live in the twenty-first century, far removed from a time when it was necessary, or even possible, to live inside of walled cities, it might be easy to miss the importance of what John is saying.  But, at a time when walls meant safety, remember that the gates were closed at night to keep out robbers, spies, and enemies.  If an enemy army approached, the gates would be shut.  If danger was suspected, the gates were there as a last measure of protection.  But John says that here, the gates are never closed because there is never any danger.  There are no thieves, bandits, spies, there is are no armies, and there is no danger.  There is no impurity, there is no hunger or thirst, and leaves of the trees, as common as they are, provide for the healing of any wounds that we carry in with us.  The curses that God laid upon humanity after the failure and fall of Adam and Eve are all removed.  We will serve God only, and we will see him face to face.

In every way, by every definition, there will be peace.

Let’s put that all together.

Jesus said that his gift to us was a gift of peace.  Some of that we can have now, and the rest is promised to us after the judgement at the end of time.  But, if we follow Jesus, if we listen for his voice, and are obedient to him, then we can find peace in knowing that we are where we need to be and doing what God has called us to do.  And even when our call brings difficulty into our lives, or when the chaos of our world erupts around us, we can trust that when we reach our eternal destination, we will finally, and forever, by every possible definition, be at peace.

There is a roadmap and a path that will lead us to peace.

The great question of humanity is not “How do I achieve peace?” 

The question is, “Am I willing to trust the one who has shown me the path?”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Shirley Carberry – Eulogy and Obituary

Eulogy for Shirley Carberry

May 16, 2019

by Pastor John Partridge

 

Shirley Carberry was one of those people that, behind the scenes and out of the public eye, made the world go ‘round.  She was one of those people who aren’t out to get the attention and adulation of the world but who saw what needed to be done and just put her head down and got it done.  Shirley was born on May 17th, 1927 to Robert and Muriel Crum.  This being the year that began the Great Depression, it wasn’t an easy time to be born and, in a way, that sort of set the tone for Shirley’s life.  It often wasn’t easy, but every time that life got hard, Shirley just put her head down, and got it done anyway.

Early on, Shirley’s father, without announcement or explanation, just up and left his family.  And so, Shirley, Maxine, and Robert took care of one another and, at the same time, took care of their mom.  Robert went to work early in the morning before school assisting a dairy man in his morning deliveries.  At the end of their morning route, the dairyman would drop Bob off near Mount Union and Shirley would ride her bike there to pick him up and ride them both to school.  At the age of 18, Shirley went to work at the West Ely Street Market and a few years later, when the owner retired, she took it over, eventually bought it, and her husband learned to be a butcher and joined her there.

Shirley married Bob’s best friend Milton, at the age of 22, on September 3rd, 1949 after he had returned to Alliance after the end of his service in World War II.  At the time they were married, Shirley lived with, and cared for, her mom, and upon their marriage, Milton just moved in with the two of them and helped Shirley.  Milton and Shirley lived there together for more than 37 years until Milton died in 1987.  After that, Shirley continued to care for her mother alone.  It was only after her mother’s death, that Shirley finally moved out and got her own place.

But we’ve skipped too far ahead.  Shirley and Milton had 37 years together and during that time they had many adventures.  They worked together at the West Ely Street Market, for a while Shirley worked in the offices of Judge Tangi, they attended church, bowled in a bowling league, played cards (Shirley loved to play cards), volunteered with Boy Scout Troop 50, kept a garden (Shirley was known around town for her beautiful flowers), traveled together, and even took a trip to Europe together.  Shirley kept a scrapbook of their travels in Europe that included something from every place that they had visited.  And they had a cottage at Berlin Lake where there was always a crowd of friends with skiing, and swimming, and card games, fun and laughter.

Shirley was well-known at Christ Church.  She became a member when it was the First Methodist Episcopal Church and stayed as the denomination merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to become the United Methodist Church, and she just faithfully kept coming no matter what.  Although she and Milton never had any of their own, Shirley loved children and you could find her volunteering with the Boy Scouts and the Cub Scouts, and with the church youth and anywhere else that she was needed.  Shirley could often be found helping in the kitchen for church dinners.  She came to church every Sunday with her mom, and after her mom passed away, then she came every Sunday with her sister Maxine and with her niece Sheryl and Sheryl’s husband Jeff.

Shirley not only attended regularly, but everyone knew that she just hated to miss church.  Even after she moved to Danbury Senior Living, and could no longer get out, Shirley still loved to hear all the news about Christ Church, it’s people, it’s missionary outreach and ministries, and she always had questions about the latest church news, as well as the happenings around town, about the Alliance High School Alumni, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, and Christ Church’s Cooking for the Soul classes whenever Susan and Dick Diser would come for a visit.  Many years ago, Shirley belonged to the Protheon Sunday school class, and she kept in tough with many of her friends from that time and many of them were the founding group that regularly attended our church’s 8:30 am worship service until it ended a few years ago.

Shirley was known for the things that she loved.  She loved her garden, she loved riding her bicycle, she loved trips to Las Vegas, she loved a cold beer (even if it often took her most of the day to drink one), and she loved raisin pie.  Boy I wish I had known that.  Nobody else in my family (except me) likes raisin pie, if I had known this sooner, I would have used that as an excuse to go and buy some just so I could share it with her.  And Shirley loved to read.  And boy oh boy did she love to read.  If you had visited her, she had her favorite chair set up with her lamp and bookcases and piles of books and magazines surrounding her so that she could reach everything and just stay there for hours.  And right up until the end, Shirley subscribed to our church newsletter and our weekly Sunday sermons, and she read everything that we sent her.

Shirley spent much of her time helping others and contributing to her family, her church, and her community in any way that she could.  She was the secretary of the North End reunion for 25 years, a life member of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary, and active in many things as church.  She collected antique clocks, cuckoo clocks, hurricane lamps, most any kind of money that was dated prior to 1918, and, as her brother described it, “anything old.”  In her later years, Shirley became interested in the stock market.  Not surprisingly, she read books about it, she studied it, and then she tried her had at it and, as I understand it, she got pretty good at it.

But Shirley didn’t do things for the money.  Although she kept enough for herself to be comfortable, Shirley was just never motivated by money.  She was always generous with what she had no matter how much, or how little, she had herself.  She was a giving person who was known for her generosity.  When her sister Maxine passed away and left Shirley a fair amount of money from her IRA, Shirley simply said that she didn’t need any more than what she already had, so she gave it all away to worthy causes.  Even now, with her passing, Shirley is blessing her church and several other charitable organizations with what she had.

Shirley was not only a sister to her siblings but the three of them were close, if not the closest of friends.  She was known as a woman who was always willing to share her opinion, on any subject, but she was also known for her gentle spirit, her unselfish attitude, and a good, even wonderful, woman.  It has been said that everyone who knew Shirley, liked her.

And so, before we conclude, I want you to hear some of the adjectives that seemed to repeat themselves in this eulogy, and in all the conversations that I’ve had with people about Shirley Carberry.  They were words like, gentle, persistent, reliable, undemanding, faithful, unselfish, helpful, generous, and giving.  Shirley was not the kind of person that tried to be the center of attention, but she was always there, in the background in the office, or in the kitchen, doing the things that needed to be done.  Her life wasn’t always easy, and maybe that’s why she spent so much of her time trying to make the lives of others easier.  She spent her life trying to help people and, in the process, she made our community, and the world, a better place to live.

Not only do we all owe Shirley Carberry a debt, we need more people like her.

My prayer is that those of us who knew Shirley Carberry would learn from her example and become the kind of giving, faithful, and loving person that she was so that we too can make the world a better place.

 

 

 

Obituary for Shirley Carberry

Shirley Carberry

Shirley A. Carberry, age 91, of Alliance, passed away at 3:20 a.m., Saturday, May 11, 2019 at Danbury Senior Living of Alliance.

She was born May 17, 1927 in Alliance, Ohio to Robert L. and Muriel (Elder) Crum.

Shirley was a 1945 graduate of Alliance High School in the class of 1945 and was co-owner of the former West Ely Market and had worked in Judge Tangi’s office for five years.

A 70 plus year member of Christ United Methodist Church, Shirley was a member of the Protheon Sunday school class and also a life member of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary No. 1076.

Survivors include brother, Robert G. Crum, of Alliance: and two nieces, Sheryl (Jeff) Lain of Alliance and Carol Tallman of Boardman.

Preceding her in death were her parents: husband, Milton Carberry whom she married September 3, 1949; sister, Maxine Lastivka and a niece, Joni Mastriacovo.

Services will be held at 2 p.m., Thursday, May 17, 2019 at Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home with Pastor John Partridge officiating. Friends may call one hour prior to the service. Interment will be at Highland Memorial Park.

Memorial contributions may be made to Christ United Methodist Church 470 E. Broadway Ave., Alliance, OH 44601.

Arrangements are by Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home 75 S. Union Ave., Alliance, OH 44601.

Not THOSE People!

Not THOSE People!

May 19, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Acts 11:1-18                          

 

How many of you have friends that are so close that they have become family and are included in almost everything that your family does?   Or, how many of you with children, have some of their friends that are so close, that they can show up at your house at almost any time of the day or night, just walk in without knocking, help themselves to whatever is in the refrigerator, plop down on the couch next to you, as you’re watching television, and just look over and say, “Hey.  What’s up?”  Many families have friends like that, but if push comes to shove, we would all have to admit that – legally – they aren’t really family.  In order to legally be a member of the family you must either be born into the family, or you must be legally adopted through a very particular and well-defined legal process.

Church membership is a little like that.  Anyone can attend church here, and if you come for a while everyone will know that you belong here, but in order to “legally” become a member, there is a process that must be followed.  Some churches make the process super easy; others make it harder than it needs to be, and ours is just designed so that you understand how our system of church governance works and are familiar with some of our theology and ways of doing things.

But Jesus’ church was a little of both of those things.  The people of Israel, as the descendants of Abraham, were both a family and a church.  And, after thousands of years of history there were systems and processes in place for everything.  While you might be free to move there from another place, you couldn’t just show up one day and declare that you were a citizen of Israel or announce that you were now Jewish.  It just didn’t work that way.  Either you were born into the family, or you had to follow a particular, and specific, path of education, ritual, and even surgery, in order to become a Jew.  And even then, you, and your family, would probably remain on the outside of much of the culture for generations to come.  Taken together, it was hard to even think about becoming a follower of Israel’s God.  That was not what God had in mind, and one of the things that Jesus came to do, was to fix that.  But changing that culture, and that way of thinking, even among Jesus’ own disciples, was not easy as we see in the story that Luke shares with us in Acts 11:1-18.

11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance, I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

In this story, the followers of Jesus hear a rumor that non-Jews, Gentiles, had heard, and accepted, the message of Jesus Christ and that Peter had been the one who had told them.  And so, when Peter returns to town and re-enters the community of believers, they get in his face and criticize him for doing so.  “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  How dare you have contact with people like that?  How could you?  Good people simply don’t share hospitality and friendship with those people!  It surprises us a little, but the followers of Jesus were so much a part of their culture that they couldn’t separate what they had been taught by their culture from the things that were taught in scripture and by Jesus.  They had been so indoctrinated by their culture, and by their leaders, that they believed what they had learned, even when scripture taught that these things were entirely wrong.  This hits us hard, because we are often guilty of exactly the same misunderstanding.

Peter explains how God called him to do what he had done, but in retelling of his story, we notice how even Peter was stuck in the same cultural pattern.  Peter was desperately trying to be a good Jew and he refused God’s direct command two times, before, on the third repetition, he was finally convinced to break from a lifetime of training, teaching, and practice.

And, at the moment Peter surrendered to the will of God, three men arrive and ask him to go with them.  Gathering six other believers, Peter travels to the home of these Gentiles, preaches the good news of Jesus Christ, the Gentiles believe, repent of their sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But there is something that we skipped past a moment ago.  As Peter prepares to leave his house and travel to the home of the Gentiles, he gathers six other believers to go with him, specifically six other men.  And although this may appear to be sexist, there is a cultural, and legal, reason for his doing so.  First, Peter, plus six others, is seven, and seven is the number of perfection, and that may have had some connotations for good luck or for the blessing of God, but there is something else.  Under Jewish law, the testimony, or witness, of three men is required to establish something as true and factual.  So, when Peter takes six men with him, he is preparing for the possibility that he might have to testify about what happens there, whether that something is an act of God or the commission of a crime of some kind we don’t know.  But in either case, when Peter returns to Jerusalem, and is criticized by the other disciples, Peter testifies to what happens with seven witnesses, one more than twice the number needed to ascertain the legal facts, so that there can be no doubt about what happened in that place.

God is truly at work, and those people have surely been invited into God’s family.

Of course, “those people” are us, the Gentiles, the non-Jewish believers.

If you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that Paul is the one who we generally associate with missionary outreach to the Gentiles, and although that’s true, it is here, that Peter really begins ministry outside of what had been the “normal” outreach to other Jews up to that time.  Although Peter’s calling isn’t to become a missionary to the Gentiles, it was Peter and his six witnesses who proved to the disciples and the gathered church in Jerusalem that reaching out to the Gentiles with the good news of Jesus Christ was something that God was doing and something that God intended for the church to do.  Can you imagine how difficult it would have been, just a few years later, to convince this same group of people that God was calling Paul to carry the message of Jesus Christ into Greece, and Rome, and to nations full of what were thought of as pagan unbelievers if it had not been for the witness of Peter and his six friends?

What Peter discovered was revolutionary and hard to accept, but it was obvious to every witness that God was reaching out to “those people” as well as to the Jews.  It wasn’t just about Israel or the family of Abraham anymore, the boundaries that divide human beings are broken and erased for good.  God isn’t just calling the Jews, or the insiders, but anyone who hungers and thirsts for God and for what is right.

And that all sounds fine… right up until we remember that those words are supposed to speak to us in the twenty first century just as they did in the first century.  The mission of Jesus Christ hasn’t changed and neither has the mission of his church.  These were words that the early church wrestled with and they are words that we are still wrestling with two thousand years later.

Why?

Because no matter how far we’ve come, we still seem to find ways to divide people between insiders and outsiders.  Maybe “those people” are no longer the Gentiles, but we still find ways of labeling them as “hopeless,” as “outsiders,” “lost causes,” and yes, “those people.”

So, think about who “those people” might be for us.  Who are the outsiders, the outcasts, and the unwelcome?  And once we have an idea of who that might be, let’s find ways of reaching out them and inviting them in.

Because that’s exactly what Jesus has called us to do.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Madelon J. Andrews – Eulogy and Obituary

Eulogy for Madelon J. Andrews

May 13, 2019

A Memory shared by Mary Neese

 

When I first met Madelon, I had a feeling that we were going to be good friends.  We talked a lot about our families and other things.  Then the 10-cent sale came along.  When we first started, I worked in the gym and I think she did too.  We would kid each other about different things, then one year, Denise asked me if I would work the boutique, and I was so glad when Madelon decided to work with me.  It was a lot of work, but we had fun doing it.  The last time we worked it, we were both so tired at the end that we both said that we were getting too old for the job, so we retired, but I wouldn’t change my time that we had together for anything.  During the time we had together, we learned a lot about each other.  She was a special person in my life, and I am glad that we had all that time together.

 

 

A Life “Full”

by Pastor John Partridge

 

I was told quite clearly that this time of remembrance is not a time of mourning but is intended to be a celebration of the life that was Madelon J. Andrews.  She was our friend, coworker, family member, grandmother, and mother and it is without dispute or doubt that her life has deeply enriched all of ours and, in fact, for many of us who are gathered here, much of who we are is because of what Madelon was and what she taught us.

I want to confess, up front, the majority of the words that I have prepared for today are not my own.  Steve has coordinated and collected stories from Madelon’s family as well as from some of her church friends and that is what most what you are about to hear.  All that I have done is to put in a “file tabs” to classify them into a handful of ideas.  Madelon’s was a life that was “full” in  many ways.

First, Madelon was help-“full.”   Her life was all about helping others.  Sandy Watkins remembered that you could always count on Madelon.  If she told you that she would do something, then you absolutely knew that she would do it.  But not only was Madelon helpful, she was also faith-“full.”  Madelon was always volunteering.  When Park Church first launched the Free Store, Madelon was one of the very first volunteers, and every Thursday she was, faithfully, at work at the Good Neighbors community food bank in Goodyear Heights.

Madelon was all about helping others.  Whether she was at the Free Store sorting clothes, or greeting people as they registered at Good Neighbors, Madelon was always in the middle of things.  She spent one day each week at the Lawndale Elementary School helping in the Kindergarten class.  She would help out doing whatever was needed, but most likely would be found reading to the kids.  She was affectionately known as Gramma Madelon.  And with that ongoing relationship with the teachers, she became a liaison to Park Church, where a yearly collection of school supplies for the kids was developed, as well as having a luncheon for the teachers before the start of each new school year.  And, of course, she was also a part of the 10-cent sale at Park Church for many years.  She would be here, sorting clothes with Mary Neese, Johanna Henline, Nancy Reichman, and others.  On occasion, Madelon would find a, um, “unique” outfit and model it for everyone.  I’m told that there are pictures, but discretion forbids us from showing them to you at this time.

Pastor Linda Somerville remembers that it was Madelon, Johanna, and Mary who were always trying to find the flashiest, cheapest, tackiest, jewelry and show it off at Bible Study.  And of course, one of the advantages of sorting things for the ten-cent sale was the opportunity to “pre-shop” the donated items.  When Pastor Linda had knee surgery and couldn’t make it to the ten-cent sale one year, it was Madelon who found the tackiest items in the entire room that year, put them in the biggest pill case that you’ve ever seen, and “gifted” them to the pastor, during Sunday worship, in front of everyone.  The funny thing is, Pastor Linda is still using that pill case.  Pastor Linda also remembers what she refers to as “that spunky nature of hers” that sometimes displayed itself as an incredible courage in the face of really unpleasant things.  But, despite her courage, spunkiness, and determination, Linda also noticed the softness that Madelon displayed whenever she was with Matthew and TJ.

In the last year, despite her own problems, Madelon was helping her across-the-street-neighbor, Carol.  Carol has had trouble with her vision, and so whenever Carol needed to go shopping, or pick up a prescription, Madelon would pick her up and take here where she needed to go… but that usually meant that they would also have to stop off at Wink’s in Barberton to get a hamburger while they were out.

But Madelon’s life wasn’t just about being “faithful” and “helpful” but it was also simply “full” of love.  Madelon was all about family.  Family gatherings, family celebrations, family vacations, and supporting her family in all of their activities whether they were band shows, concerts, award ceremonies, dance recitals, basketball, soccer, or baseball games.  Our family, even though we were sort of extended in-laws, benefitted from Madelon’s sense of family too.  Each year it was as if our kids had an extra set of grandparents because they could expect some kind of Christmas present whenever we met for the annual Thanksgiving feast.  Patti and I, as well as my mom, my brother Dean, and pretty much anybody who showed up, always went home with a big box of mixed nuts or something as well.

The story of their family vacations has some history to it that is worth retelling. In the early years, Susie’s family would go on vacation and pull a tent camper.  But as the family began to grow, and as siblings got married, camping turned into large family vacations at the beach.  First there was Ocean City, then Assateague Island with the wild horses roaming around, then Bethany Beach where it rained so hard that the family all has memories of walking together in the flooded streets.  And then, finally, for many years it was Top Sail Island.  And, as we remember family vacations, I am supposed to mention to the Madelon’s family these three words: Red. Hot. Dogs.  I don’t know what that means.  You’ll have to ask if one of them will tell you about it.

As a sidebar to Madelon’s vacation stories, it was obvious that Madelon never met a stranger.  When the family started taking trips to Top Sail Island, they would have to make a couple of stops along the way.  And they lost count of the times that they came out of the bathrooms to find Madelon talking to the occupants of the car next to them.  She would ask them where they were going, what they were going to do there, and on and on.  It only took a moment for Madelon to notice a license plate or someone walking their dog, or simply asking, “where are you going?” and she was off making new friends and having a great conversation with someone who, just a moment ago had been a total stranger.

Madelon loved her grandchildren, and she loved it whenever they could cove to visit her.  Whether it was just an overnighter, or for a week, it was a special time.  Going to the Akron Zoo was always a must, arts and crafts were usually a part of their time together and, on occasion, a cooking class or two.  At some point, Madelon had taken some painting classes that had been offered by a former Park Church pianist and so, when the kids came to visit, Madelon would practice her newfound techniques with them.  Sometimes those visits included a night or two out at the Acres in the trailer, and with each of the kids there was something special.  With each one it was different.  There were always special breakfasts and suppers, for Matt, TJ, and Stacey, it was spaghetti and meatballs, and with Madelon, Cameron, and Patrick, it was Galuch’s Pizza.

Madelon’s love of her family was obvious to everyone of us who had eyes.  Sandy remembers that Madelon only had praise and love for her family and was always proud of all of them.  If Madelon didn’t show up at Bible Study, everyone knew that she was probably enjoying some time with her grandchildren.  Whenever Susie would go to Jamaica on another mission trip, Madelon would be anxious, and worry, and ask her friends for special prayer.  And it was just as obvious that Madelon never stopped missing Roger because he never hesitated to tell her friends how life without him would never be the same.

But with that, we’ve circled back to “faithful.”  In the last couple of months, Madelon longed to be home with her Jesus.  However, before she left, she made out a short, and somewhat unusual, bucket list.  Rather than list a bunch of things that she wanted to do, Madelon made out a list of foods that she wanted to eat before she met Jesus face to face.  I don’t have the whole list, but there were angel wings, taco salad, chili, cherry pie, coleslaw from Whitehouse, a bear claw, and an apricot and cheese Danish.

Madelon had a strong faith.  In the midst of fighting cancer for the last year, she worked through it, and she always knew that God was in control.  She longed to go home to be with Jesus, and to see Roger again, as well as other old friends.  In the last couple of weeks, Madelon would comment to Susie, “I’m so tired, I’m so tired.”  There was one day, after Susie had moved into the house to care for her, that Susie looked in on Madelon to check on her and to see how she was sleeping or to watch her breathe, and as she did, Madelon rolled over, looked at Susie, and said, “I’m not dead yet?”  To which Susie answered, “No, Mom, you’re not dead yet.”  This was, again, another indication of Madelon’s faith and her desire to go home to glory.

It was Madelon’s prayer, and it remains the prayer of her family, that all of us could have the same kind of confidence in our eternal destination that Madelon did.  Knowing Jesus, and accepting his invitation to follow him, and to be adopted into his family, can result in exactly that kind of confidence that we will also meet Jesus face to face and share stores of weird outfits, of cheap jewelry, of family, of faith, and of love.  If you don’t have that kind of confidence, and you’d like to find out how to have it, Madelon wouldn’t want you to leave here today without asking Steve, or Susie, or one of us pastors about how you can have it too.

Madelon Andrews lived a life that was full.  She was helpful, faithful, courageous, dependable, committed, and full of love for her family, and for everyone around her.  Madelon’s entire life was a life that was, in every way…

…full.

And in her fullness, Madelon Andrews has poured out love, hope, grace, determination, courage, faithfulness, love and many other things into all of us, and into the lives of all the people around her.

May we, through her example, do half as well.

 

To Those I Love and Those Who Love Me

A poem found among Madelon’s personal notes to her family

When I am gone, release me, let me go.

I have so many things to see and do,

You mustn’t tie yourself to me with tears.

Be thankful for our beautiful years.

I gave you my love,

You can only guess,

How much you gave to me in happiness.

I thank you for the love you each have shown,

But now it’s time I traveled on alone.

So, grieve awhile if grieve you must,

Then let your grief be comforted by trust.

It’s only for a time that we must part,

So bless the memories within your heart.

I won’t be far away, for life goes on,

So if you need me, call and I will come.

Though you can’t see me or touch me, I’ll be near,

And if you listen with your heart, you’ll hear,

All my love around you soft and clear.

And then, when you must come this way alone,

I’ll greet you with a smile and say,

“Welcome Home!”

(author unknown – possibly Ardis Marletta)

 

 

 

Obituary for Madelon J. Andrews

 

Madelon J. Andrews, 87, of New Franklin passed away on May 10, 2019. She worked as a nurse for over ten years at Edwin Shaw. She was a member of Park United Methodist Church and volunteered at Good Neighbors Food Pantry and in the kindergarten class at Lawndale Elementary School, where she was known as Grandma Madelon.

Madelon was preceded by her husband of 53 years, Roger Andrews. She is survived by her children, Douglas (Tami) Andrews, Greg (Tammy) Andrews and Susan (Stephen) Partridge; grandchildren, Stacey, Matthew, TJ, Cameron, Madelon and Patrick.

A Celebration Of Life service will be held at Park United Methodist Church, 2308 24th St. S.W. on Monday at 7 p.m. officiated by Rev. John Partridge. The family will receive friends an hour before from 6 to 7. Donations, if desired may be made to Good Neighbors Food Pantry.

 

(Published in Akron Beacon Journal May 12 to May 13, 2019)

The Last Five Percent (Part 2)

The Last Five Percent

(Part 2: Peter)

May 12, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 21:1-19

What does it take to finish the last five percent of a project?

I know that there are several people in our church who run.  They have run 5K and 10K races, half marathons and full marathons.  I have officially run in exactly two 5K’s and one, half marathon.  But once you have set such a thing as a goal, barring any accidents or injuries, there are two huge obstacles to be overcome.  The first is just the daily and weekly grind of getting out several days each week and putting in the miles that it takes to get in shape.  I was able to get through that a couple years ago because I had set a big goal, a half marathon.  I didn’t know if I could do it, but I knew that for me to stay motivated, I needed a big goal in front of me.  But once you’ve found a way to stay motivated, and you put in the miles, and you are really starting to know your body and get in shape, towards the end of your training cycle, as you approach the date that you set for your big race, your practice distances start to get harder.  For weeks, even months, each week wasn’t much different from the last, but as you approach the big day, your training starts to get harder.  While your early training regimen is designed to increase your speed and build up your heart and lungs, the latter part of your training ramps up to build endurance.  On paper, or in casual discussion, it seems obvious.  You can’t run a long distance if you haven’t prepared to do it.  And so, in the weeks approaching the race, your training runs start to get longer. Each week’s long run becomes five to ten percent longer than the week before.  Where your Saturday run used to take a half an hour to an hour, suddenly you discover that you are now investing two hours for your run, it’s hard, and you begin to wonder just how committed you really are to accomplishing this goal.

But by this point, you’ve already come 95 percent of the way.  You’ve already pounded out hundreds of miles on the road or on the trail.

You need to find a way to stay motivated.

How could you possibly quit now, just because it’s hard?

And that is at the heart of the question Jesus asks Peter after the resurrection in John 21:1-19.  Peter was totally devastated by Jesus’ death, but perhaps even more by his own failure of faith and his denial of Jesus.  Despite Jesus’ resurrection, Peter is plagued by doubt and he repeatedly returns to his fishing boat as if he is giving up and returning to the sea for good.

21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So, they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.  9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

 

It is not an accident that this story is almost exactly like the story that we heard in Luke chapter five when Jesus was first calling his disciples to follow him.  In Luke’s story, Jesus tells the fishermen to go back out to the deep water and lower their nets.  Despite having worked all night and caught nothing, they do as Jesus asked and caught so many fish that they needed to call a second boat to help them bring all the fish ashore.  In this story, Jesus calls out from the shore and tells them to throw their nets over the other side of the boat from where they had probably been doing it.  And the result is much the same as in Luke’s story.  John is the first one to put two and two together, to remember what Jesus had done three years earlier, and realizing that the author of this miraculous catch of fish must be the same Jesus. 

Peter, despite his grief and doubt, is so eager to meet Jesus that he jumps into the water and swims ashore to be with him.  But after sharing a meal together, Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Do you love me more than these?  From context and sentence structure we are led to believe that Jesus is asking if Peter loved Jesus more than the other disciples, but there is also the possibility that Jesus is also asking Peter about his doubts and whether he would really give up Jesus to return to his fishing boats.  While George Beasley-Murray, the author of the Word Biblical Commentary on the Gospel of John (Second edition, 1999), believes that this was definitely about the other disciples, I wonder if Jesus didn’t intend, and Peter understood, for this to be a double entendre, a deliberate double meaning about both fish and mission.  In either case, Peter cannot help but remember the words that Jesus spoke the first time he performed this miracle, Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

In the midst of the disciples’ confusion, grief, pain, doubt, and conflicted feelings, Jesus calls them to ministry a second time.

But that isn’t enough for Peter.

Peter is still doubting himself and beating himself up because he knows that when the chips were down, he denied that he even knew Jesus.  He has fallen so far, how can he possibly climb back up that mountain?  How can he ever be a missionary, or preach, and call people to follow Jesus when he has already failed so spectacularly himself?

And so, two more times, Jesus boils it down as far as he possibly can and asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter denied Jesus three times, and three times Jesus makes him declare his love for Jesus out loud.  Certainly, it isn’t that Jesus requires three declarations of love for forgiveness, and certainly Jesus doesn’t need to hear it three times, but Peter needs it. 

I also noticed that the third time, Peter changes the way that he answers the question.  The first two times he says, “Yes, Lord.  You know that I love you.”  But the third time Peter doesn’t say “yes.”  Peter’s answer no longer has anything to do with Peter, and everything to do with Jesus: “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

And I think that, right there, is Peter’s last five percent.

Peter was always headstrong and willful.  He always knew what was right, even when he was wrong.  Peter was always getting into trouble because his ideas of what Jesus should do didn’t always line up with what Jesus was doing.  Remember that it was Peter who swore that even if everyone else failed to follow Jesus, he would stay.  It was Peter that decided that the best way to defend Jesus was with a sword.  It was Peter that rebuked Jesus and told him that he wasn’t allowed to die.  It was Peter who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet.  And it was Peter who gives up on ministry and goes back to fishing.

Peter loved Jesus, but as much as Peter wanted to what Jesus wanted, Peter was always hanging on to a lot of what Peter wanted.

But at this moment, Peter surrenders his ego.  He abandons the last 5 percent of himself that he’d been hanging on to, and says, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

It wasn’t about Peter anymore.

It was all about Jesus.

It was 100 percent about Jesus.

Last week we talked about how Saul’s last five percent was all about understanding and believing that Jesus was the messiah that he had been looking for all along.  Saul was missing information, understanding, and although he already had faith, he had to steer his faith in a new direction.

Some of us are like that, but far more of us are like Peter.  We know about Jesus, we have faith in Jesus, we claim to follow Jesus, but we’re holding on to that last five percent.  We want Jesus to do the things that we think Jesus ought to do instead of the things that Jesus wants to do.  We think that the church ought to look like what we think it should look like instead of what Jesus wants it to look like.

That’s just where Peter was.

And that’s where a lot of us are.  I need to ask myself, as much as I love Jesus, how often do I want what I want, more than what Jesus wants?

Just like Peter, we need to let go of that last 5 percent.  We need to let go of our ego and let Jesus be Jesus.  We need to let Jesus be who Jesus is, do the things that Jesus intends to do, follow him even when he goes places that we didn’t really want to go. And when he does things differently than we think he should.

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I ready to give up my last five percent and let Jesus… be Jesus.

 

 

 

 


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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.

The Last Five Percent

The Last Five Percent

(Part 1: Saul)

May 05, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Acts 9:1-20                            

 

Have you ever set goals for yourself?

It could be anything from education, to building a house, to running a 5K (or a marathon), taking on a project (like selling hamburgers in the park, or raising money for a Habitat for Humanity house), or almost anything.  But when it comes to accomplishing a goal, it is often said that the last five percent of the project takes 80 percent of the effort.    Sometimes that is almost literally true, and sometimes it just feels that way because you’ve worked so hard all through the project and suddenly, as you near the goal, things just pile up and pushing through that last five percent seems harder than ever before.

Not surprisingly, we often find the same thing to be true in our spiritual lives and in the life of the church as well.  When we set out to grow closer to Jesus, it seems easy at first, but as we grow, we suddenly discover that Jesus wants us to change some things that we don’t want to change.  We are fond of, and often quite attached to, our habits and routines and taking those last steps that make us more like Jesus can be difficult. 

Churches often find that growing is difficult, not only because it requires everyone to make changes in order to grow, but because growth itself is difficult.  When churches are successful and start to grow, church members discover that growing means that they are suddenly faced with unfamiliar people sitting next to them in church, new faces across the table at committee meetings, new events that their church never had before, and doing new things, or doing familiar things in new ways.  And suddenly the some of the very people who advocated for change and growth turn against that growth because the unfamiliar is uncomfortable and because “we’ve never done it that way before.”

And so, for the next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at two stories about two kinds of people, who had to make some significant changes in order to grow closer to Jesus and to become the people that God intended for them to be.  We begin this week with the story about how Saul, became Paul, and a persecutor of Christians became one of Christianity’s greatest evangelists and next week we will remember how Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, had to leave one more thing behind to become the man that Jesus was calling him to be.

As we begin the story, we meet Saul, a Pharisee.  He was born into the right family, went to the right schools, had the right teachers, and had done all the things that we see in the modern world among wealthy families that want their children to be successful.  Paul was driven to succeed and had become a great defender of the Jewish faith.  He was so focused on the purity of the church, that he made it his life’s mission to seek out Christians in the Jewish world and bring them back to the orthodox teachings of the Jewish rabbis and teachers in Jerusalem.  His mission was to “correct” their misunderstanding of the nature of God by persuasion if possible and by arrest and torture if necessary.

We find that story in Acts 9:1-20.

9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So, they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

There is a lot going on in this story and a great many sermons and Sunday school lessons have been written about it.  First, aside from Saul, we meet Ananias.  After Saul meets Jesus on the road and is left blind from the experience, God call upon Ananias to explain to Paul what has happened, who Jesus really is, and to heal him of his blindness.  But Ananias is not stupid.  He has heard of Saul before and he is justifiably cautious, if not outright fearful.  Saul is already well-known, and scary, as a man who is hunting down Christians, arresting them, and hauling them back to Jerusalem to be imprisoned, questioned by the chief priests, and… (ahem) “persuaded” to return to a more traditional way of thinking.

But, despite his fear, Ananias obeys God and goes to Saul anyway.

After being told that it is Jesus who met him on the road, and it is Jesus who has sent Ananias to him, Saul is healed, his sight is returned, he goes to the synagogues in that area, and rather than arresting Christians, he begins to preach that the Christians are right, that Jesus really is the messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the rescuer of all humanity. 

When this story is told, it is often portrayed as a story about an enemy that became a friend, or as a man who changed sides, or who completely reversed his life’s direction.  But I don’t think that those ideas get close to the truth.  Instead, I think that the story of Saul is a story about a man who had his life 95 percent right with God.  Saul was a devout man of faith who was fervent in his desire to make sure that everyone honored God.  But for all that desire, faith, fervor, and passion, Saul still fell five percent short.  He had a lot of things right but missed one small piece. 

He misunderstood who Jesus was.

Saul was right about his dedication to God, he was right about his passion for the truth (even if his methods were unnecessarily harsh), he was right in his missionary zeal to bring others to orthodoxy, or “right belief,” but he misunderstood who Jesus was.  He missed the understanding that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies of the ancient prophets and was Israel’s promised rescuer, redeemer, and messiah.  And once he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and once Ananias explained it to him a second time, and once he witnessed his own healing in the name of, and through the power of, Jesus, Paul finally understands that last five percent.

But that last five percent would cost him more than anything else in his entire life.

That last five percent cost Saul his family, got him thrown out of the Pharisees, it turned him into a full-time missionary and wanderer, he was repeatedly arrested, beaten, and he was ultimately killed because of that last five percent.

But Saul was willing to pay the price because it was the truth.

So, let us consider this:

What will your last five percent cost you?

Are you willing to pay the price?

 

 

 

 

 


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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.