Blessings, Weeds, and Suffering

Blessings, Weeds, and Suffering

July 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 Genesis 28:10-19a                 Romans 8:12-25                     Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

If we can’t have church, how can we be the church?

If I am a member of the church, is there something that I should be doing for the church?

Can my faith in Jesus help me to understand, or even just to cope, with the craziness and suffering that is going on because of the Coronavirus (or anything else)?

In the middle of the chaos caused by the Coronavirus, some of the questions that gets kicked around revolve around the church.  What should the church be doing?  What should its members be doing?  Does our faith in Jesus Christ make any difference in how we ought to respond to the world, to the news, or to our leadership?  And, while I certainly don’t have all the answers, and we surely won’t have time to talk about all of the possibilities, or all of the relevant scriptures, today’s lectionary passages are enough to give us plenty to think about.  We begin in Genesis 28:10-19a, where Jacob has an encounter with the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham and in which God reiterates a blessing that he had promised to Abraham, and by doing so reemphasizes that the promise had not only been passed down to him, but that it would continue pass through his descendants.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel.

God meets Jacob and he promises that he will give the land, upon which he sleeps, to Jacob and to his descendants.  But more than that, God promises that those descendants would multiply, spread out in all directions, and become so numerous that God’s blessing would flow through them and into the entire world.  Of course, as Christians, we believe that not only has this prophecy been fulfilled by the growth and expansion of the Jewish nation, but also specifically through Jacob’s descendant Jesus.  And therefore, from our perspective, the blessing of God flows through Jacob, down to Jesus, and through Jesus, flows into the world of today… through us.

But so, what?  Why does that matter?  What difference does it make if we are numbered among the descendants of God’s blessing to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  It matters, and it makes a difference, because the world is also full of weeds.  What do I mean by weeds?  Listen to what Jesus had to say in the parable found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

 36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven, in other words, the world in which we live, is like a field that has been planted.  The good seed is the people of the kingdom of God and that seed was planted by Jesus.  The weeds are the people who are controlled, or manipulated, or deceived, by the evil one, the enemy of God.  In the fields, and in the world, and even in the church, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat.  But as the plants mature, it becomes obvious what kind of fruit they will bear.  This is a story about God’s judgement at the end of time.  Jesus says that the angels will know which people are bearing good fruit and which are weeds and that the weeds will be pulled out, sorted, and separated from the good fruit, and burned in the fire.  As we have seen in other passages, when we become mature, we will be known, and judged, by what kind of fruit we produce.

But what does that have to do with being the descendants of Jacob, and the followers of Jesus?

The “So what” question is answered by Paul in Romans 8 and there he also explains what our faith matters in times when life is difficult, during pandemics, or worse. (Romans 8:12-25)

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Paul says that, as the church, we do not have an obligation to live well or to pursue comfort and the satisfaction of our fleshly desires.  But we do have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, to live as if our faith really mattered, to do the things that Jesus taught, be the kind of people that Jesus has called us to be, and to do the work that that Jesus has called us to do.  Paul reminds us that we are God’s children.  We are the adopted sons and daughters of the family of God.  We are the heirs, the inheritors, of God’s blessing, and co-heirs with Jesus.  But being heirs with Jesus means that we not only share in God’s riches and glory, but that we also share in the suffering of Jesus.

The present suffering of this world, our present suffering in this world, no matter how bad things get (and Paul was absolutely, intimately, familiar with just how bad things could get), simply do not compare to the glory that we will see as our reward and as our inheritance.  But for the present, we live in a creation that is the frustrated, tangled, twisted, perverted, and corrupted reality of the creator’s perfect creation.  Yes, we are enduring the chaos caused by the Coronavirus.  Yes, our culture is in turmoil.  Yes, our own denomination is tearing itself apart.  Yes, there is unemployment, and suffering.  Yes, our lives are chaotic, unsettled, and uncertain.  But Paul, and the people of his time, and his world, knew chaos and suffering too.  We live in this present, but like Paul and the church that he knew, we live with the hope that creation will one day be redeemed, rescued, and liberated from its bondage to decay.  We look forward to the day when, not only the world, but we too will be redeemed and made perfect.

Through Jesus, we are the descendants of Jacob, and the inheritors of God’s blessing.  And while we live in a world that is filled with weeds, enemies, frustrations, disasters, bad governments, and outright evil, we look forward to something so much better that we are able to look past the suffering of the present and into a future filled with glory and light.  But while we are here, in this present time, we have an obligation to be and to do.  We are called to live according to the Spirit of God, to be the kind of people that Jesus called us to be, to live the way that Jesus lived, and to do the work that Jesus did.  We are called to live lives that look like Jesus, lives that reveal Jesus to the people around us, to love the people around us like Jesus did, and to do the work that Jesus did.  Yes, the fields are full of weeds, but until the time comes for the harvesters to separate the weeds from the wheat, our calling is to nurture the seeds that have been scattered.  Those seeds surround us in our families, in our community, in our places of employment, and everywhere we go.  Many of those seeds can still be saved.

Although we aren’t meeting together in a church building, we have never stopped being the church.  Every day, whenever, and wherever we can, we must look for opportunities to be Jesus to the world.  We must do what we can to relieve the suffering that we see; and help the people around us who are struggling in any way that we can.

Despite the chaos that surrounds us, we must keep moving forward. 

This week look for ways that you can help.  Send a card, call, donate food, mow someone’s grass, buy groceries for an unemployed neighbor, maybe even pay somebody’s rent.  In big ways or small ways, let us answer the call to show the love of Jesus to those around us.

And let us keep our eyes…

…on hope.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Y8cHcw79Uuo

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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.

Eulogy and Obituary for Robert Crum

Eulogy for Robert Crum

July 10, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

We remember 1925 as the beginning of many things that shaped history.  In California, the first ever Mo-tel, or Motorists Hotel, opened for the first time, F. Scott Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby,” the site that would eventually become Mount Rushmore was selected and dedicated, the Chrysler Corporation was created and manufactured it’s first automobile, Sears and Roebuck opened their first store in Chicago, Illinois, Adolf Hitler published “Mein Kampf”, Benito Mussolini took became the dictator of Italy, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as the President of the United States and, in Alliance, Ohio, Robert Crum was born.  Many things were happening, and the economy was booming as never before, but, only four years later, in 1929, the bottom would fall out as with the greatest stock market crash in modern history.  And all these things would shape Robert’s life, and the lives of his family.  Through it all, Robert and his sisters were close, if not the closest, of friends.

Maybe it had something to do with the stock market crash or the Great Depression but early on, Robert’s father, without announcement or explanation, just up and left his family.  And so, Robert, and his sisters, Shirley and Maxine, and 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, married Bob’s best friend Milton Carberry after he returned from World War II, who then learned to be a butcher and joined her there.

And of course, Milton Carberry wasn’t the only young man from Alliance to go to war.  Robert did too.  After he joined the Navy as a gunner’s mate, Robert may have served some of his time on an aircraft carrier, but “his” ship was the USS Dorthea L. Dix, a transport ship that carried troops and supplies on the way in, and carried wounded on the way back again.  I’m not sure exactly when Robert joined her crew, but the Dorthea L. Dix earned six battle stars during the war in support of the Normandy invasion, the invasion of southern France from the Mediterranean, then with Robert aboard, passed through the Panama Canal, on Christmas Eve, when Robert was 18 years old, and into the Pacific Theater where they travelled to San Francisco, Pearl Harbor, the Aleutian Islands, and then landed troops in support of the battle at Okinawa, carried a ship load of the wounded back to San Francisco, and then transported troops back and forth from the Philippines until the end of the war.  Robert often told the story of their transit of the Panama Canal and he was fiercely proud of his service.  For the rest of his life he attended his ship’s reunions from Norfolk, to Boston, to South Carolina, and many other places.  He told his daughters that his time in the Navy were some of the best years of his life.

While he was at sea, Robert knew that his mother and his sisters were struggling, and so he sent half of every paycheck home to help care for them.  But what he didn’t know, was that despite her need, his mother was too proud of him to spend any of it.  And so, when Robert returned from the war and went shopping for a new car, she gave it all back.

After his return from the war, Robert started working at Babcock and Wilcox, got married, had three beautiful daughters, then got divorced.  But despite their separation, Robert was always a good dad.  Not long after his divorce, however, a mutual friend introduced Robert to Sandy, they became friends, and have spent the last 50 plus years having adventures together as often as their busy schedules permitted them to be together.

Robert often missed his daughter Joni.  She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of twelve, had chemo and radiation until she was eighteen and survived.  But then, several years later, because of the damage caused by the cancer and by the chemo, she developed Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, and passed away at the age of twenty-seven.

Robert didn’t have any trouble finding things to do.  He worked at B&W for 45 years (but got “passed up” by his daughter Carol who has 48), but also had a lifelong love of horses.  As a boy he helped a local farmer just so that he could be near his horses.  He got to be so good on the back of a horse that he earned the nickname, “flash.” and, as an adult, he bought ten acres of land on McCallum Ave. in Lexington Township where he put up a barn, put in a garden, helped the neighbors bale straw and, at least for a while, kept a horse of two of his own.  He would go out to his place every day and do a little work, and sometimes spend the entire day there.

Along the way Robert also bought a house on Main Street two blocks from where he was born, and he lived there for 68 years.  He knew everybody, and talked to everybody, and knew everything about everybody.  And because he did, everyone just started calling him the “mayor of Main Street.”

Robert also joined the bowling league at B&W, as well as the bowling league for the Elks club and his teams almost always seemed to win.  He loved to help at the VFW fish frys and steak frys or anything else that they did, and he jumped in to help fellow veterans whenever, and wherever he could.  It seems as if Robert knew how much, during the Great Depression, that his survival had depended on the generosity of strangers, and just how much our nation owed to our veterans.   And so, he chose to give back whenever he could.  He would buy piles of shirts to give to a collection for local veterans, or sponsor veterans at Christmas, he never missed a Memorial Day parade or the services to honor the fallen at the cemetery and he was a regular at Freedom Square for the events held there every Veterans Day.

And his children, and Sandy, will never forget all of their vacation travels together or Robert’s solo adventures.  They often spent time at a friend’s cottage at Berlin Lake where Robert also had a boat and together, they did a lot of fishing and boating together.  They vacationed in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to Busch Gardens in Florida, Milwaukee, Mississippi, and of course, Las Vegas.  Robert loved Las Vegas.  His family went with him at least ten times but if they couldn’t go, he went anyway, and make more than fifty trips there.  And there were also all the times they spent together at the annual Babcock and Wilcox company picnics and amusement parks and other places as well as a few trips to the Mountaineer resort in West Virginia.  When Robert first started going there, they only had horse racing, but in more recent years he also enjoyed the casino.

In the end, as we all are in ways both great and small, Robert Crum was shaped by the world, and the time, into which he was born.  He was a member of what has been called our Greatest Generation.  He, like his best friend, and many others, answered the call and went to war to keep the world safe and he continued to give of himself throughout his entire life.  He worked hard, but always took the time to enjoy himself, even finding joy in his love of horses, and growing a garden.  But most of all Robert Crum enjoyed the times when he could be with his family and friends, to care for them, and show them the love that he had for them.  His life may have been difficult in the beginning, but it was in those times of struggle that he was shaped into a man of faithfulness, honor, and love.  His family and his friends will remember his presence, his service, his generosity, and his love and if his example has taught any of us anything, then he has been a part of shaping our world as well.  May we be as Robert was, may we live our lives so that we leave the world a better place than the one into which we were born.

 

Obituary for Robert G. Crum

Robert CrumRobert G. Crum, age 94, passed away on Saturday July 4th at the Gables of Canton Assisted Living.

He was born in Alliance, Ohio to Muriel (Elder) Crum on November 28, 1925. He attended Alliance High School before serving his country honorably in WWII in the United States Navy. His death is a fitting tribute to his patriotic spirit from the service to his country to pass away on the day of Independence of this great nation.

Robert was employed with B&W Tube in Alliance as a general foreman for 44 years until retiring in 1988.

He enjoyed bowling, fishing, horses, and traveling to Robert Crum2Las Vegas.  He was a life member of BPOE #467 and a Life member of the VFW Post #1036. Robert was a 75 year member of Christ United Methodist Church.

In honor of his military service, Robert is a “Hometown Hero” with his veteran’s banner at the corner of Union and Wayne, commemorating his dedication and service to his country. He was also selected with the distinction for the Honor Flight for WWII veterans with a trip to the nation’s capital.

Those left to cherish his memory include his daughters, Carol (Robert Sloan) Tallman of Boardman, and Sheryl (Jeff) Lain of Louisville; and longtime partner Sandra Stauffenger of Alliance.

He is preceded in death by his mother; daughter Joni Mastriacovo; and sisters, Maxine Lastivka and Shirley Carberry.

Funeral service will be held at Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral home on Friday July 10th at 11:00 a.m., with Pastor John Partridge officiating. Friends may call one hour prior to the service. Interment will be held at Bunker Hill Cemetery. For the safety of the Crum family and visitors, please adhere to social distancing, and bring your own mask.

Memorial contributions may be made in Robert’s name to Christ United Methodist 470 E. Broadway Alliance, Ohio 44601, or to the VFW Post #1036.

Arrangements are entrusted to Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home 75 South Union Ave Alliance, Ohio 44601.

Trading Treasure for Soup

Trading Treasure for Soup

July 12, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 25:19-34                Romans 8:1-11           Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack is on his way to the market to sell the family cow, and on the way, he is persuaded to trade the cow for a handful of magic beans instead.  If this were not a fairy tale, anyone who hears the story would be shocked at his foolishness and could easily understand that he has just doomed his entire family to starvation.  But the story is memorable because of his foolishness.  In the real world, even a child would have understood the seriousness of the situation and no one would ever agree to trade an entire cow for a handful of beans.

Or would they?

On May 24, 1626, Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan for the equivalent of $24 worth of beads and trinkets.  But both sides thought the other was stupid.  The Dutch couldn’t imagine that the Indians would sell the land for so little, and the Indians, who believed that land belonged to everyone, couldn’t imagine that the Dutch would give them stuff for something that couldn’t be owned.

On April 30, 1803, The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed in Paris.  With that signing, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents an acre.  I’m sure that seemed like a lot of money in 1803, but it doesn’t seem like much today when there are individual buildings, even private residences, that sell for that much.

Likewise, the United States Secretary of State William Seward was widely mocked for what the headlines called “Seward’s Folly” when he purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, on March 30, 1867.  But today, between the oil fields on the North Slope and the incredible natural beauty of Alaska, by today’s standards I don’t think you could find anyone who doesn’t think we got a pretty good deal.

All those stories end up turning out pretty good for the folks who are buying.  Even Jack wins in the end when he brings home the goose that laid golden eggs.  But most of us know that in real life, foolishness doesn’t always turn out well.  And scripture tells us that the people of the ancient world had learned that lesson just the same as we have.  One of the places where they learned it, and retold it to one another, and to us, is in the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:19-34 where we hear this story:

19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram [northwest Mesopotamia] and sister of Laban the Aramean.

21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So, she went to inquire of the Lord.

23 The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
    and the older will serve the younger.”

24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. [which means hairy] 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[which means “grasps the heel” or culturally it meant “he deceives”] Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom [which means red].)

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So, he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So, Esau despised his birthright.

Esau, like many people, was short-sighted.  He wanted what he wanted for today.  His birthright, this inheritance of two-thirds of his father’s wealth, as well as eventually becoming the caretaker of all his father’s dependents, was too far away.  Planning for a future that was decades away was too difficult, too intangible, too fuzzy, too nebulous.  Today he was hungry.  What did he care about an inheritance he wouldn’t get, and responsibilities that he didn’t really want, that he wouldn’t even see for twenty or thirty years?

We see many of our friends and family members do similar things.  Students sometimes have difficulty focusing on today’s test for a grade that they won’t see for fifteen weeks, or on classes they don’t like that are needed for a diploma they won’t see for two or three years. We know people who choose to make payments on expensive cars instead of driving cheaper ones and save for their retirement.  People who choose to live above their means and live well, rather than live modestly and prepare for their future.  And there are whole industries to help people cash out of long-term settlements so that they can spend next year’s money today.  And all of us have struggled with eating what’s good for us, and getting enough exercise, for a healthy future when the goodies on the menu look so tasty and tempting.  It’s hard to give up what we want today in exchange for something that we can’t have for two, three, or even four decades in the future.

And so, Esau sells his inheritance to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup.

In our daily lives, we make decisions like that every day.  Of all people, farmers probably live with that reality more than most.  Planting is a lot of work, and the results won’t be seen for many months.  Likewise, during the winter, farmers must busy themselves maintain, repairing, and replacing machines, tools, and other equipment that won’t be needed until the spring, because in the spring, they will have many other things that need to be done.  Jesus knew that and he uses that understanding as the basis for the parable that he taught in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

 18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus knows that the harvest is months away.  He knows that it’s hard work.  He knows that many of the seeds that are planted either won’t grow or won’t produce.  He knows that all that failure makes it even harder to focus on the future.  But he reminds us that despite all the failures, there will be successes.  And the seeds that grow, the successes that are seen, will more than make up for the seeds that fail.  Even though much of our effort will seem wasted, and even though we may not see the results for a long time, our successes will make all the effort worthwhile.

And not only does that speak to us about our work as evangelists and sharers of the Good News of Jesus Christ, it also speaks to us about the way that we live our lives.  In Romans 8:1-11, Paul reminds us that while there are great rewards for following Jesus, because some of those rewards do not come to us in our present lives, it can be all too easy to lose our focus and think too much about the present.

8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Much like our retirement savings, or planting seeds in the spring for the fall harvest, we must keep our focus on the future and live today as if the future matters.  Yes, there is and exchange being made.  We are making a deposit on a future that we cannot see.  But we are not buying a handful of magic beans.  Instead, Paul says, we live according to the Spirit so that we do the things that God wants us to do rather than live only according to the things that we think feel good.  There are many tempting goodies on the menu that aren’t healthy for us or for our future.  It is important, for our health, for our retirement, and for our eternity, to stay focused on the things that are really important, even when those things are so far in the future that they are hard to see.

The last thing we want to do, is to sell our inheritance in exchange for a bowl of soup.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/2Bsf-OzlAtM

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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.

Escape from “Try-Fail-Repeat”

Escape From “Try-Fail-Repeat”

July 05, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese proverb

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67   

Romans 7:15-25a                  

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

If you do a search online for quotes about falling down, or about failure, you will be bombarded with results and it isn’t difficult to understand why.  Failure is as common to the human condition as breathing.  We learn to stand, and to walk, by falling down and pushing ourselves back up again.

And often repeated, and likely ancient, Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

But sometimes simply trying again isn’t enough.  As much as we might want to win an Olympic gold medal, most of us will never win one.  For couples struggling with infertility, simply trying again may never be enough.  And those of us in the church, who have spent years, even decades, trying to follow the teaching and the example of Jesus Christ have sometimes despaired over our repeated inability to get it right.

So, what should we do?

Are we doomed to continually repeat our mistakes?

Will we ever be good enough?

Is there any hope for us?

Of course, there is.  But first, let’s begin by remembering the story of how Abraham sent one of his servants on a quest to find a wife for his son Isaac.  Knowing that the Canaanite people, among whom he lived, worshipped different gods than he did, and had different values than he did, Abraham sent his servant back to Ur, among the Chaldean people, to Abraham’s own extended family to search for a wife for his son.  And when the servant arrived there, he described his mission this way in Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

 42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’

46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So, I drank, and she watered the camels also.

47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’

“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’

 And when her family had heard the story 58 …they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

Why is that important?  Simply because the odds against success of Abraham’s servant were astronomical.  Without GPS, or maps, or telephones, or mail, or photographs, or even a good sketch, the difficulty of even finding Abraham’s family was overwhelming and the chance that a woman there would be suitable, and available, and that both she, and her family, would be agreeable for her to leave them forever and marry a man she had never met, in a country none of them had ever been to, was almost completely impossible.

Failure was almost inevitable.

But Abraham trusted God.

And Abraham’s faith was so obvious, and evident in his daily life, that his servant understood the power of Abraham’s God and the power of an earnest prayer to that same God.  And so, Abraham’s servant prayed… with an almost impossible set of conditions… and God answered.

And, at the end of the day, the family asked Rebekah if she trusted that the servant really was who he said that he was.  Did she trust that her grandfather’s brother really did have a son that was her age?  Did she trust that Isaac was a man to whom she could tolerate being married?  All those things are built into the question when her family asks her, “Will you go with this man?”

And Rebekah trusts God, and says, “I will go.”

The odds of failure were astronomical.

But God.

When the God that created the universe by speaking it into existence is a part of the equation, the odds don’t matter.

And then, with the coming of Jesus, the world begins to understand better how God chooses to use his power and how much God cares for the people of his creation.  In Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus says:

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus says that the people of his generation acted like the children who played in the marketplaces.  The children weren’t happy because the adults wouldn’t play their games or sing their songs, and the adults weren’t happy because John the Baptist and Jesus wouldn’t play by the rules of their games either.  Much like we often see in our culture today, their critics wanted things both ways and spoke ill of them no matter what they did.  John didn’t drink or socialize, and they said he was a demon.  Jesus drank and socialized, and they said he was a drunkard and a friend of the wrong kind of people.   But Jesus ignores the criticism and invites the world to find comfort and rest by following him. 

Are you tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations?  Are you tired of all the arguing?  Are you tired of the Coronavirus?  Are you tired of politics?  Are you tired of the burdens and expectations that government and culture pile on you?  Are just tired of being tired?

There is a different way.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.”  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

But how does that work when I seem to keep repeating the same mistakes?

How does that work when I can’t ever seem to be good enough?

Friends, you are not alone.  This is not a new a new question.  In Romans 7:15-25a, the Apostle Paul admitted to wrestling with the same frustrations, inadequacies, and failures and he explains it this way:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul says that as hard as he intends to do good, and as hard as he tries to do good, he cannot manage to do the good things that he wants to do.  And, at the same time, as hard as her intends not to do evil, and has hard as he tries not to sin, he cannot manage to stop sinning.  Paul’s understanding is that human beings are not inherently good, that good does not live, at least exclusively, within us because we are consumed by our sinful nature.  As much as we want to do good, as hard as we try to do good, our lives become an inescapable, rotating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.  Paul says that the rules and laws that we know in our mind are at war with the sin that is at work within us.

But as disastrous as this might sound, this is exactly where the story turns around.

There is rescue.

There is an escape.

Our rescue from the repeating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat is found in Jesus Christ who rescues us from ourselves and the sinful nature that lives within us.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from trying to live up to everyone’s expectations.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from all the arguing.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the fear of the Coronavirus.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the drone of politics.

And it is Jesus who can rescue us from the burdens and expectations that government and culture piles on you.

Are just tired of being tired?

Abraham trusted God and sent his servant on an impossible mission.

Abraham’s servant trusted that God could lead him to the woman that God had chosen.

Rebekah trusted that God had brought Abraham’s servant to her and said, “I will go.”

Jesus asks us to do the same.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.” 

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It’s time to get off the carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.

Come to Jesus.  Trust him.  And discover how good it feels to finally…

               …rest.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/wcWZHMTCHIU

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

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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.

Slavery and Sacrifice

Slavery and Sacrifice

June 28, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 22:1-14                        Romans 6:12-23

 

There is an old joke that says, “Many people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.”

We’re good at telling God what we think that he should be doing and how he should be doing it rather than accepting the God is God and we are not.  We get stuck in our understanding of scripture, and in our interpretation of modern culture, all because we expect God to do, and to say, what we think God ought to be saying rather than conforming our lives to the things that God actually said.  But as discouraging as that might be, we are comforted, at least a little, by knowing that we are not the first people to do that.

In the story of Genesis, more than once, Abraham trusted God in a limited capacity.  What I mean is, despite God’s promises to care for, and protect Abraham and Sarah, on several occasions, not least of which was when he made a baby with his servant, Abraham tried to use his own resources and ingenuity to fix God’s problems rather than fully trusting that God would fulfill his promises.  And although God is omniscient, which means all-knowing, perhaps it is this habit of “helping God out” and not fully trusting that makes God test Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22:1-14.

22:1 Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

For most of his life, God has asked Abraham to trust him and we remember Abraham because of his great faith and trust, except that despite his trust in God, too often Abraham tried to stack the deck and help God out.  But now, God wants to know, maybe God wants Abraham to know, or God wants future generations, us, to know that Abraham has finally put his whole faith and trust in God… without holding back.  God asks Abraham to sacrifice the one son that he has left, the one son that would be the father of God’s people, the son of Sarah, who was now even five or six years older than she was when Isaac was born.  In asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God is really asking him to sacrifice everything.  Every hope, every promise, everything.  We can only imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind.  It was against God’s own law to sacrifice another human being.  Sarah was now older than she was when we knew that she was old and “far past the age of childbearing” and Abraham was probably now over one hundred years old.  How was God going to keep his promises if Isaac was dead?  How could Isaac become the father of God’s people?  None of it made any sense.

But Abraham trusted.

Abraham did what God told him to do and God worked it all out.  And in the end, the thing that Abraham sacrificed on that mountain wasn’t Isaac, but it was his own, last, tight grip on control.  Abraham finally let go of himself, his need to be sure, and his need to have a backup plan.  Abraham sacrificed an offering of self, and finally put his whole faith and trust in God.

If we’re honest, we will admit that we’re like Abraham.  We like to be sure.  Trusting God is unsettling because there is too much that we don’t know.  But that’s kind of the point of trust, isn’t it?  But the thing is, human beings always seem to want to put their faith in something and trust in something, even if that something isn’t God.  And it is that habit of ours that makes the story of Abraham real and relevant to us three thousand years later.  In Romans 6:12-23, Paul explains it this way:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We all have a choice.

Paul says that every human being eventually chooses to enslave themselves to someone or to something and our natural desires, given free reign over us, will drive us into slavery to our own selfishness, greed, pleasure, and wickedness.  But, like Abraham, God is asking us to make a sacrifice, to offer ourselves, to offer our desires, dreams, hopes, our everything, to him in exchange for our rescue from death, our second chance, and the new life that we have been given.  Rather than choosing to be slaves to greed, or slaves to selfishness, or slaves to greed, money, and pleasure, God calls us to choose different kind of slavery altogether.  God calls us to give ourselves to him, to put our whole faith and our whole trust in him, so that we become slaves to righteousness, slaves to doing what is right, rather than slaves to wickedness and sin.

The sacrifice in the Genesis story was never really about Isaac.  It was all about Abraham’s stubborn grip on control.

We are all confronted with the same question that confronted Abraham.  Like Abraham, God is asking each of us where our ultimate allegiance lies.  Is our allegiance on self-reliance and control?  Do we swear our allegiance to the security of our bank and investment balances?  Have we put our faith and trust in politicians, political parties, nations, and powerful armies, and overwhelming weaponry?  Will we enslave ourselves to selfishness and sin?  Will we keep our grip on control and hold too tightly to our doubts?

Or will we trust God?

Completely.

May God grant us the grace, and the courage, to surrender ourselves and become slaves to doing right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/epselMx9Ao4

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

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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.

What is Your Charge Condition?

runnin-on-empty-1532397In our house we have two places that we can find batteries.  New batteries, still in their packages, are in a box under our computer printer.  These are generally all pretty good except for a few cheap ones I got for free.  Used batteries, and all our rechargeable batteries, are in the basement on our “recharging table” that I built when all our kids each had a dozen toys that used batteries.  The charging table once had three different battery chargers where we could charge everything from triple ‘A’s to ‘D’ cells and 9V rechargeables.  And, just to be sure, we also have a battery tester that can measure the charge level in all of those sizes as well as in any button cell batteries that we might use in our bathroom scales, hearing aids, or whatever else.

And while this is obvious to anyone who has ever used batteries, the reason that we need a battery tester is that you can’t know a battery’s charge condition, that is, how much charge is on (or in) a particular battery without testing it.  But we humans aren’t all that different.  We put on a good face to the world, but we keep what’s inside hidden.  We might reveal our hearts to a few people who are closest to us, but we rarely talk about our emotional energy level, or our personal “charge condition.”  There are times, as parents, as laborers, and as human beings, that life simply takes a toll on us.  Times when we seem to just keep on giving, and the world keeps on taking our energy, until we feel as if we are running on empty and have nothing left to give.

Social Distancing isn’t helping.  While it’s possible that introverts may suffer less, extroverts gain energy through personal contact, from engaging in conversation, and from just being present with other people.  But the pandemic has stolen that from us.  If we’re lucky, we are still working, but we are working from home, or our employers have instituted policies that help us keep our distance from one another.  And while that might help to keep us safe from the Coronavirus, it drains us of the emotional energy that we need to survive and thrive.

If I need a battery from our charging table, I know that the batteries that are on the charger are good ones.  Current has been trickling into them so that when we need them, and their energy, they are ready.  But the batteries that have been sitting in a box, separated from the thing that fuels them, are anybody’s guess.  But they all look the same on the outside.  You can’t tell by looking at them.

And spiritually, we are fighting that same battle.  Because of the Coronavirus, and because of social distancing, we aren’t gathering, we aren’t worshipping together, and some of us aren’t even bothering to spend time on spiritual matters at all.  Without that weekly meeting, without those human interactions, it becomes all too easy to neglect our spiritual health altogether.

And as a result, our emotional and spiritual batteries are running down.  We increasingly feel drained, weak, and empty.  And in that condition, we won’t be ready to go when we, and our full strength, is needed.  When we feel drained and empty, we are less likely to stand up for the oppressed, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to do the work of the church, or to be Jesus to the world around us.

We must fight back.

Once we pay attention to our charge condition, it becomes easier to make it a priority.  The batteries on our charging table only need a little trickle of current to be prepared.  But they need to be exposed to the current for the charger to do any good.  We need that exposure too.  We need to find ways to charge our emotional and spiritual cores.  We need to fight.  Do whatever works for you.  Arrange to call a friend for an hour one, two, or three days every week.  Plan a Zoom meeting with your family for no other reason than just to talk.  Open your Bible.  Attend Sunday school via Zoom.  Read a Psalm every morning, and one chapter of the Gospels in the evening, read a hymn, sing a song by yourself, watch a worship service on YouTube (even if it’s Tuesday).  Write notes to your friends and to people who you know are isolated and lonely. 

We are not alone.

We must fight together.

We will get through this, but if we neglect our spiritual and emotional “charge condition” we will continue to drain our batteries and run on empty.

Do it.

Pick up the phone.  Open your Bible. 

Do something.

Do whatever it takes to charge your emotional and spiritual batteries.

Because we cannot survive or thrive if we’re empty.

 

 

 


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Eulogy and Obituary for Linda Montgomery

Eulogy for Linda Montgomery

June 22, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

This is hard.

Being here is hard.  Watching this family suffer… is hard.  Losing a friend… is hard.  Not being able to have the celebration of life that Linda deserves, is hard.  All of this is hard.

Everyone that has ever met Linda Montgomery has a story that they remember, and they all want to tell about it.  We have already heard several of those stories.  And, most importantly, as I sat down with Linda’s family this week, they shared their stories with me for almost two hours.  It wasn’t boring or even difficult, but much like it has always been whenever anyone has ever talked about Linda, the stories about her, the love that they had for her, and the joy that she brought into their lives, just flowed out of them.  Everyone who met Linda, felt loved by her because she cared about everyone around her whether they were an old friend or a total stranger.  And in Linda’s world, strangers became friends almost immediately.

The difficulty that I have, is that between the stories that I heard, and those that have been emailed to me, I could stand up here and share with you for hours, and if we opened this microphone and offered you the opportunity to share, we could double that again.  But the reasons that everyone has great stories that they want to share, is because Linda cared about them.  She genuinely cared about everyone around her, she loved them, and more often than not, she put their needs ahead of her own.

One of Linda’s great loves was Mary Poppins, and like Mary Poppins, Linda was “Practically perfect in every way.”  She sang, she danced, and she made everything fun.  Linda literally sang her way through life and made up songs about whatever she was doing regardless of how trivial the task.  And, much like Mary Poppins, Linda brought a new and different energy to any room into which she would step.  In Mary Poppins, Mary and the children stop in the park to feed the birds and to make the acquaintance of the bird lady.  In Linda’s story, she was both Mary and the bird lady.  She loved birds, she loved watching the birds, and feeding the birds, and teaching her children and grandchildren, and anyone else, about the birds.  There was always a bird book near the window facing the bird feeder so that they could identify any unfamiliar birds that visited.  And she got terribly excited when a goldfinch stopped to have a snack and say hello and she made sure that Owen had a good set of binoculars so that he could see the birds too.

And loving birds was only a small part of Linda’s love of nature.  She loved the outdoors and was always happiest there.  She grew up camping and anytime that she went missing, everyone knew that you could probably find her near the fire circle.  And perhaps it was her time spent near the fire circle when she nurtured her ability to make the perfect smore.  She could toast a marshmallow any way that you liked it, from golden brown to crispy, to burnt.  Whatever was perfect for you, she could, and would, toast one just the way you liked it. She loved the water, but she loved being near the water and not on the water.  Whenever she was in a boat, she had white knuckles from holding on much too tightly.  But time on the shore had a much more relaxing and calming effect.

Linda’s father was a photography hobbyist and enthusiast and his love of photography infected her as well.  While she didn’t care to have her own darkroom or develop her own pictures, she was rarely without two or three cameras so that, wherever they went, she could get the perfect shot.

Linda always wanted what was best for her family, she did whatever she had to do, so that her children never knew how tight their money was, and she knew that she could never afford to send Jessica to college so she got work at Mount Union as a housekeeper so that, as staff, she would get a discount.  From there, she worked her way to the supply room, the key room, and the physical plant.  Then she had a heart attack and afterwards the university moved her to a less active secretarial position.  Somewhere along the line, she became “the duck lady” that could herd nesting ducks away from campus buildings and back to the lake.  Later she split her time between the physical plant and the chaplain’s office, and then finally full time at the chapel where, everyone knew that her gifts seemed perfectly matched to her position.  Mary Poppins, in the movie Mary Poppins Returns says, “Everything is possible, even the impossible.” And, Like Mary Poppins, Linda was known at UMU for doing the things that others thought were impossible.

One of things that often stood out, no matter where she went, was that Linda always put the needs of others ahead of her own.  Although she was often critical of herself, no matter who came in her office, she loved them.  Students who were far from home felt like they had a mom they could go to and no matter who she met, she liked to find the things that interested them.  Even when she was undergoing chemo, she was so focused on caring for others, and the needs of others, that many people didn’t even know that she was sick.  And even with all the things that she had on her mind, her friend Sarah Sherer told me that Linda agonized over whether she should retire or not because she didn’t want to leave anyone in the lurch.  She resisted taking sick days or Family leave days even when all of her friends and coworkers were urging her to do so, and to take care of herself, because she wanted to be sure that everyone else was taken care of first.

But as much as she cared for everyone, Linda’s family was everything to her.  As much as she gave of herself as work or at church, she did so many times over at home.  When she discovered that there was a Miami Dolphins playoff game being played while they were in Florida, despite the fact that she was not a Dolphins fan, and despite being undoubtedly expensive, and despite her dislike of driving in heavy traffic, Linda spent all day on the phone, found some available tickets, bought them, and drove to Miami so that Amanda, who was a fan, could have the once in a lifetime chance to see them in a playoff game.

Linda worried too much. She always knew what the weather was in Columbus before Amanda did and would call and warn her to take her umbrella, or to wear her galoshes, or a scarf, or whatever it is that mothers need to tell their children when the weather is bad.  All our moms did that, but Linda made an artform out of doing it long distance.  She worried about Amanda, and that created the need for Amanda to get an Instagram account and what she calls her “Amanda picture of the day.”  Every morning, Amanda would take a picture of herself, and send it to her mom, to reassure her that she was still alive and was doing alright.  This happened every morning, without fail, and if she was late, then Linda worried even more.

She was known for hot chicken sandwiches and cheesy potatoes, She and Sarah often made soup and salad for lunch for some of the faculty, staff, and students after chapel each week, and Linda always knew how to organize it and that chicken and rice certainly ought to be on the menu.  She wasn’t into fancy recipes, but she was a master at comfort food.  She, and her family, were obsessed with ice cream but she never drank alcohol.  This, of course led to a crisis for Amanda when she discovered that Linda was eating Rum Raisin ice cream.  In response to Amanda’s dismay at seeing her teetotaling mom “having alcohol,” Linda just explained that alcohol in ice cream “didn’t count.”

Linda was known for many things.  She was always smiling, rarely angry, she always made sure that the toilet was clean before company came, she had bright shining eyes that everyone noticed and remembered, even strangers would comment that she just smelled good, and somehow she made her favorite Clinique perfumes “Happy” and “Happy Heart,” smell different than they did on anyone else.  Her laugh, the “Linda cackle,” was well-known, could be heard from a considerable distance, often summoned friends who recognized it from around corners, and warmed the hearts of everyone withing earshot.   She loved all things Irish and, whenever the church basement sale received Irish themed items, they generally found their way to Linda before the sale ever started.  She was the favorite aunt that took them to the zoo and bought Evan his favorite dinosaurs and Ben said, “She was always comforting to me.  She always made me feel calm and endlessly happy, like being a kid all over again.  Being with her, and at her house, always relaxed me no matter what bad or stressful things were going on in the world.  I can’t think of someone who is more genuinely happy for others, so proud and thankful for her family, and so strong despite those fears and “quirks” she inherited from Grandma!”

There is so much more.

I know that I can’t tell you all of the stories that I have been told by Lynn, Jessica, Craig (whom she adored), Amanda, various church folk, Sarah, Ben, and Drew.  I apologize for not including them all.  I will add all of them to the text of this eulogy when I post it on by blog, but we just don’t have the time to share them all here.

For you who are her family, I hope that you remember that Linda Montgomery loved Jesus, and loved others like Jesus.  Linda loved others even at the expense of herself and her needs.  But as much as she loved others, she loved you more.  You were her reason to live and her reason to love.  You were her passion.  It was always your happiness that made her happiest.  Mary Poppins said that when the wind changed, it was time to go, even though the children were never ready for her to leave.    Like Mary Poppins, none of us were ready for Linda to leave.  But perhaps, it was just time.  Hold on to the love that Linda had for you.  Remember her laugh, her joy, her smell, her smile, her eyes, her love for others, and her love for you.  It was you who made her happy.  Hold on to the joy, the happiness, and the love that she gave to you.

And, because much of Linda lives on through you, I hope that you will share her love, her joy, and her happiness with the world around you.

Because life is hard, and all of us need more Mary Poppins-es and Linda Montgomerys in our lives.

Linda was indeed, “practically perfect in every way.”


Precious Memories

Linda Montgomery

Rev. Chris Martin

“Precious memories how they linger; how they ever flood my soul. In the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.”

Linda Montgomery was indeed a precious person. Regardless of the situation in which she found herself, Linda always wore a smile on her face. She showed kindness and compassion to everyone she met, always seeing the goodness in others, choosing to overlook anything less.  Her relaxed laughter made strangers into friends the moment she met them.  Linda was an easy person to love because she had the gift of putting people at ease in her presence.  While she was involved in so many things at Christ United Methodist Church, much of what she did was accomplished behind the scenes. She never sought recognition for what she did for others, preferring instead to work alongside others to share her talents and abilities.  Many of us at Christ Church knew her as the “reception” lady.  Often when there was a reception after a special program at church, Linda would not only solicit home-baked cookies from others, she would bake dozens-upon-dozens herself. Her emphasis was always on home-baked.

When the “Threads of Love” group formed to make prayer shawls for members and friends of the church who needed some additional love and concern, Linda took an active interest in this ministry. She was also instrumental in selecting and procuring a cabinet in which to store the prayer shawls until they were distributed.

When Lynn took over the responsibility of maintaining the church building and property, Linda was right there with him sharing in keeping everything clean and polished. Lynn and Linda had fun working together, often laughing as they completed their tasks.  Most of the conversations I shared with Linda were when I would stop at the church on Saturdays and she would be helping Lynn put the finishing touches on things so all would be ready for Sunday morning.  Those were truly precious times as Linda would talk about her daughters, Jessica and Amanda, and, of course, Owen.  I also remember Linda holding baby Owen in the back of the sanctuary during worship.  What joy he brought to her heart.  Jessica, Amanda and not-so-little-anymore Owen, your mom and Oma loved you more than life itself and still does as she watches over you now from her place in heaven.  Lynn and Linda loved and cared for each other in such a beautiful way, especially in the last months of Linda’s illness, when Lynn did everything he could to comfort and care for her.  Indeed, “Precious memories how they linger; how they ever flood my soul. In the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.”  Amen.

Chris Martin,

Pastor of Visitation

Christ United Methodist Church

Alliance, Ohio


Drew Shuster

Subject: Aunt Linda

I don’t have a particular story, but I did want to say that I will miss her laugh and her kind heart.   She had the kind of laugh that always made me laugh.   I will miss hearing her laugh at our family gatherings especially at Christmas when we always have such fun playing games and doing funny gift exchanges as a family.  She loved all of us kids so much and she always made sure we knew it.   Evan also wanted to say that she bought him his favorite dinosaurs when they were out together at the zoo and he will always think of her when he is playing with them.


Ben Shuster

Subject: My Aunt Linda remembrance

I just know that my mom and Grandma’s friends would always joke how Aunt Linda reminded them of Grandma Rickard — there was no mistaking she was Grandma’s daughter.  When I was a boy I loved going to Grandma’s house of course!  I always felt so at home there, a home away from my home.  Grandma would laugh and sit and watch us boys go crazy, say funny things, with love and happiness written all over face.

When Grandma passed, and as I grew up, and it became “Aunt Linda’s house” — every time I’d go visit I would think “wow, she really is looking more and more like grandma!”  Her laugh more like grandma’s, the way she’d sit and watch and laugh at us being silly adults.  And she became an Oma herself and it was official!  She was the new “Grandma.”

Since my dad passed away and we moved away, I’ve always felt so uncomfortable in Alliance — but not at that house on Glenwood, and not with Aunt Linda.  She was always comforting to me.  She always made me feel calm and endlessly happy, like being a kid all over again.  Being with her and at her house always relaxed me no matter what bad or stressful things were going on out in the world.  I can’t think of someone who is more genuinely happy for others, so proud and thankful for her family, and so strong despite those fears and “quirks” she inherited from Grandma!

I’ll keep remembering her like I remember my childhood — happy, laughing, joking, peaceful.  And I’ll plan to teach Alex what she taught us — that no matter how tall the odds or what fears we might have, you face them strong and you fight as best you can because your family loves you and will support you no matter what.

We love you Aunt Linda aka Oma!


Sara Sherer

UMU Director of Residence Life

Thoughts about Linda

Before actual “stories” I will say that the things that stood out to me most about Linda were how much she loved to laugh… and she had a great laugh.  She had a servant’s heart – she worried about other people working too hard, but she never stopped.  She loved her family and worried about them, but she was so proud of her girls, and her nephews and sister.  But, she just cared about people and was a great listener.  She was an awesome co-worker.  She always found a way to get things done, even when other people told you they couldn’t happen.

Stories:

  • When I first started working at Mount Union, I didn’t know my own office phone number… I thought I did, but I didn’t.  I had never lived anywhere where there were 2 exchanges in the same city… so I thought all Alliance phone numbers began with 823…. but my office line didn’t.  So, one time Linda called my office and told me that she called a friend and realized that the last 4 digits were the same as a co-workers… and her friend asked, is your co-worker Sara?  Can you tell her to stop giving out my number??
  • Similarly – I used to re-record my voicemail message every week.  We had to, to update who was the emergency contact on campus.  I hated it recording it and often it took several “takes” before I got all the way through the long message without saying something wrong.  Well, one day, I got a voicemail from Linda and she was just laughing so hard.  When I recorded my voicemail, I thought I was starting over with each of my do-overs, but Linda told me that each and everyone of them were recorded, back to back… and that it had taken me 8 attempts that time and she had listened to every single one, laughing harder with each of my attempts.
  • Then there was the time that I donated a coat to the church basement sale and in the coat pocket was a campus key!  Thank goodness Linda recognized the key and figured out it was mine (I was pretty new to church at that time) and got it back to me! That would have been an expensive loss!
  • I think that it may have been Susan Diser who originally invited me to come to choir… but it was sitting with Linda and Lucinda and Diane in the alto section that made it so much fun. The altos always got into trouble with Lanny, the director.  I’ve missed all of them in choir!  (although the altos still probably are the most unruly section!)  The biggest problem I had, besides getting in trouble with the altos, was that we sat beside the tenors, so often I would find myself singing tenor along with Lynn instead of the alto part!
  • Linda was the first person that Ian and I ever visited (outside of family).  I was on maternity leave (and living on campus) and Linda was at home recovering from a heart-attack, so I loaded Ian up in his stroller and we walked to visit Linda.
  • Similarly – I think that Linda was one of the first people to ever meet Mark… the week after he was born was VBS at church (combined with St. Joe’s that year) and Linda and Lynn agreed to pick up Ian and take him to bible school every night.  When she came the first night, she came in to meet Mark, but made a big fuss over Ian becoming a big brother and brought him a stuffed animal dog – of the golden-retriever variety.  Ian immediately named him Sandy and he was the precious stuffy that had to go on everywhere with us.  I was pretty certain Sandy would end up going to college with Ian.
  • For the last couple of years, Linda and I have planned and provided light lunches, often soup and salad, for a small group of students/faculty/staff after chapel service most weeks.  She was a great partner!  I needed a decision maker.  At the beginning of a semester I sent a whole list of fancy soups that I could make… and the one that Linda requested first was chicken and rice!  It was such an “old standby” that I almost didn’t put it on the list.
  • She agonized about whether or not to retire.  She didn’t want to leave anyone in a lurch.  She fought against taking sick days and eventually FMLA even when we were all urging her to take the time off and take care of herself.  She wanted to make sure that we were all taken care of first.

Obituary for Linda Montgomery

Linda Montgomery

Linda Rickard Montgomery, age 59, of Alliance, passed away on June 18, 2020 at the Cleveland Clinic due to complications after courageously fighting leukemia and lymphoma.

She was born June 25, 1960 in Alliance, Ohio to Kenneth and Marjorie Rickard. A graduate of Alliance High School, class of 1978, Linda worked at the University of Mount Union since 1995 where she held many positions, but finally finding her perfect niche in the Dewald Chapel. She was planning to retire this month.

Linda was a member of Christ United Methodist Church where she spent many years as part of the choir and Threads of Love. She also served as the head of the reception committee and a member of the Friendship II Sunday School class. Linda was also a long-time member of Rainbow Girls and the Eastern Star.

Linda loved camping and being outdoors, spending time with her family, Christmas, bird watching.  She was always smiling and bringing joy to others, especially with her famous laugh, the “Linda cackle”.

Survivors include her longtime partner, Lynn Goldrick; daughters, Jessica (Craig) Crider of Salem, OH, and Amanda Montgomery of Columbus, OH; grandson, Owen Crider; sister, Susan (Dieter) Kahle of Solon, OH; nephews, Drew (Erin) Shuster of North Ridgeville, OH, and Ben (Erin) Shuster of Arlington, VA; great nephews, Evan, Isaac, and Alexander.

She was preceded in death by her parents.

A private funeral service will held.  She will be laid to rest beside her parents at Alliance City Cemetery.

Memorial contributions can be made in her name to American Red Cross (monetary or blood donations) http://www.redcross.org or Christ United Methodist Church 470 Broadway St. Alliance, OH 44601.

Arrangements are entrusted to Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home, Alliance, Ohio.  Friends may register online at www.ctcfuneral.com.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Linda Montgomery, please visit our floral store.

 

Free to be Unfriended

Free to be Unfriended

June 21, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 21:8-21           Matthew 10:24-39                 Romans 6:1b-11

 

There is a meme circulating on social media that says, “I was asked if I was willing to lose friends over politics and I said, I’m willing to lose friends over morals.  Big difference.”  At the same time, I have had a number of friends who occasionally comment that they have been unfriended, or have unfriended others, because of their particular views regarding the upcoming election, or the Coronavirus, or over the national struggle with discrimination and hatred, or some other thing.  It is difficult for many of us to disconnect ourselves from people who have been friends in real life, or even who have become friends virtually, and it is just as hard when they feel the need to disconnect from us.  As human beings, we yearn for a connection with others and that makes enduring the separation caused by the pandemic even harder.  Something inside of us yearns for connection and want to be liked.  It is almost as hard for us as adults as it was for us on the playground when one of our playmates turned their backs on us and said, “I don’t want to be friends with you anymore.”

But from the time we were on that grade school playground until now, many of us have learned several truths about friends.  First, not everyone wants to be our friend.  Second, not every friend wants what is best for you.  Third, sometimes we find that our lives are going in such dramatically different directions that we either leave some friends behind, or they leave us.  When that happens, as it has from childhood, we find that the experience can be painful, but still sometimes necessary if our lives are to continue moving in the direction that we have chosen.

But what does any of that have to do with the scripture, with church, or with our life of faith?  Quite a bit.  As we read the stories of God’s people, it doesn’t take long to find many examples of times when they had to leave behind their friend or families so that they could follow God in a new direction.  We begin this morning in Genesis 21:8-21 where we find Abraham unable to overcome the animosity that has grown between the two mothers of his two sons.

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day, Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So, she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Abraham made a mistake.  Although he was trusting that God would fulfill his promise to give him children and make him the father of nations, because God seemed to be taking too long, Abraham decided to help God out and make a baby with one of his servants.  Then, later, when God fulfills his promise through his elderly wife Sarah, the two birthmothers do not get along.  Abraham is the father of both children, but he cannot control the jealousy, envy, fear, anger, and hatred that are boiling between the two of them.  Abraham wants to protect both of his sons but cannot find a way for both to live in the same household.  But while he is worrying, God promises that he will care for, and protect, Hagar’s son so that he too will become the father of a great nation.  And so, with what I imagine is great reluctance, Abraham sends Hagar and his firstborn son, away from their encampment and out into the desert wilderness.  If we were to consider this without God’s promise of protection, we would be outraged at Abraham’s cruelty.  And even so, it is difficult to imagine the wrenching emotions that were experienced by everyone involved as half of the family was sent away into what had to look like certain suffering and death.

But God had called Abraham to travel a road that they could no longer travel together.

And while it is one thing to watch as this happens to Abraham, it is a lot more personal when we hear Jesus warn us to be prepared to do the same thing in Matthew 10:24-39.

24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Much like we heard last week, our goal is to become.  Jesus says that the goal is for his followers to become like him.  And, since the world has hated him, and even called him the devil incarnate, then we should not be surprised if, and when, the same thing happens to us.  We are called to live like Jesus and not to be afraid of the consequences of doing so.  We are warned that by following Jesus we have chosen to follow a different, and sometimes difficult path.  Sometimes we will be hated for being like Jesus, and sometimes the path that we follow will carry us away from, and destroy our relationships with, our friends and closest family members.  But despite the risk, the pain, and the loss, we must have the courage to stand up for what is right and follow the path to which we have been called.  Do not be afraid to be associated with Jesus.  Do not be afraid to be unfriended.

But by becoming like Jesus, there is one more thing that we are called to leave behind and doing so might even be harder than leaving behind our relationships or being unfriended.  In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 6:1b-11) he describes it this way:

6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Because we have chosen to follow Jesus, because he has poured out his grace, mercy, and forgiveness on us, and because we have taken up the goal of becoming like him, we must also leave behind our sin, and the life of sin that we once led.  Let’s face it, although we all sin differently, we each have sins that are familiar and comfortable.  But the call of Jesus Christ is a call to courage.  We must have the courage to leave our old self behind and become something, and someone, new.  We must stop sinning and become as good, and as righteous, as we possibly can.

For many of us, following Jesus sets us on a course that goes in a radically different direction than the one we were headed in our old lives.  But even when the change is less dramatic, we often find that our path is just enough different that we either leave some friends behind, or they leave us.  When that happens, although we find the experience to be painful, it is still necessary if our lives are to continue moving in the direction that we have chosen.  And it may be that the hardest things that we leave behind are our old lives, and the sins that have become comfortable and familiar.

We have been given a great gift.

We have been given a second chance.

Let us have the courage to leave behind whatever, and whoever, we must, so that we can be like Jesus.

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ep_vM5BP0hY

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

The Anti-Blessings of God

The Anti-Blessings of God

June 14, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 18:1-15                  Matthew 9:35 – 10:23                Romans 5:1-8

 

 How would you feel if you prayed that God would protect you and pour out blessings on you, and what you got was trouble, suffering, and pain?  Would you feel protected and blessed?

What if you prayed, in the middle of your pain, for the suffering to end, and it just kept going, and going?  Would you feel as if God answered your prayers?

And imagine that you spent your entire life praying for God to answer one specific prayer, one that everyone around you seemed to have answered, and after a lifetime of prayer, you gave up simply because the answer to your prayer was no longer even possible.  Would you feel blessed?

Contrary to what we might want, and contrary to what some television preachers might tell you, God isn’t a genie that dispenses wealth and happiness in answer to our prayers like some kind of cosmic vending machine.  God is more complicated than that just as our lives are more complicated than simplistic sayings like “earning a living” and “raising a family.”  Life can be hard, but we worship a God who understands our needs better than we do and who dispenses blessings that are far more complex than those things for which we might have asked.  Rather than giving us things that we think we want; God blesses us with gifts that he knows we will need.  Unfortunately, we often find that these “anti-blessings” are gifts for which we would never have prayed and are gifts that we didn’t want.

In Genesis 18:1-15, we hear the story of how Abraham met God, and was given a gift for which he and Sarah, his wife, had prayed for decades.  But now, as Abraham and Sarah had given up on that prayer, after both were long past the age of having children, God begins the fulfillment of an almost forgotten promise.

18:1 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs [about 36 pounds] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

God visits Abraham decades after he changed his name from Abram, which means “father of many,” to Abraham, which means “father of nations.”  By the time of this visit, Abram and Sarah are in their eighties or nineties, or as the passage notes, “already very old, and Sarah was well past the age of childbearing.”  And yet, God honors his promises, and when the visitor returns a year later, the impossible has happened and Sarah, the octogenarian, has given birth to a son named Isaac.  This is amazing, and miraculous, but imagine the pain that the two of them endured for generations.  Imagine introducing yourself as “the father of nations” but having no children.  Why did God allow that to happen?  Isn’t the creation of these circumstances extraordinarily cruel?  What could God possibly have had in mind?

We will come back to that, but now, let’s consider the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples, and the warnings that he gave them, and us, at the same time in Matthew 9:35 – 10:23.

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

 10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you; it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because he saw people who, like sheep, were lost, aimless, alone, and suffering from a total lack of unity.  To combat that isolation, Jesus sent the disciples into the world to cast out spirits and heal the sick.  And while that sounds a bit like sending gallant knights on a brave quest, this blessing, and these gifts, come with a warning that would turn your hair white.  Jesus warns the disciples, and us, that the world isn’t going to be appreciative or grateful for the message that we carry.  Instead, Jesus frighteningly compares those that carry the message of the kingdom of God to sheep among wolves.  The disciples are warned that they will be arrested, judged, hated, beaten by their own churches, persecuted, and made homeless when they do what he has sent them to do.  But, at the same time, they will be given gifts from God, be accompanied by God, and be used by the Spirit of God.

These anti-blessings are gifts that none of us want.  Jesus isn’t promising that his followers will have wealth, comfort, happiness, and career advancement.  He is promising misery, suffering, pain, and death.  These are not the things that you would find on a recruiting poster, these are the things that wake you in a cold sweat run screaming into the night.

And so again, just as we did with Abraham, we ask ourselves, “What could God possibly have in mind?”

We find some of the answers in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 5:1-8).

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul explains to the church that the things we find through our relationship with Jesus aren’t wealth, prosperity, and comfort.  What we find in Jesus… is peace with God.  Paul says that if we want to learn perseverance, we learn it through suffering.  If we want to build character, we build it through persevering through suffering.  And if we want to find hope, we find it while we are journeying through suffering and building character.  If you ask someone if they would like to learn patience, most will say yes.  But we all know that the only way to learn patience, is to live through difficult circumstances that require it.  The same is true here.  While everyone wants to have hope, and character, the path we follow as we learn them takes us through dark places that are filled with pain and suffering.

So why did God allow Abraham and Sarah to endure, and suffer, for fifty or seventy years while they waited for God to fulfill his promise?  Perhaps it is because God needed a man and woman with a specific set of skills and gifts to be the parents of Isaac.  Perhaps God needed parents with perseverance, character, and an abundance of hope.  God called Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of his new nation, but first he needed them to become the kind of people that Isaac, Israel, and the world, would need.

The same applies to the disciples and to us.  God calls us as we are, but to do the work that he has called us to do, it is often necessary for us to become the people that he needs.  And the journey from where we are to where God need us to be often passes through pain and suffering so that we can learn perseverance, character, and hope.

So yes, God just might be answering your prayer for his blessing when you are on the receiving end of trouble, suffering and pain.

And yes, when your suffering lasts longer than you had hoped, and even long after you prayed for it to end, God may just be answering your prayer in ways that you hadn’t expected.

While none of us wants these kinds of anti-blessings, God might just be allowing them today so that we can become the people that he needs tomorrow.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/8ywdXlDfGjI

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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.

Why Are We Here?

Why Are We Here?

(Trinity Sunday)

June 07, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a       Matthew 28:16-20       2 Corinthians 13:11-13

  

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that we’ve probably asked ourselves, and others, these kinds of questions.  And at their core, all of these can be summed up by the question, “Why are we here?”  Why are we attending church?  Why are we following Jesus?  I mean, what’s the point of it all?

And thankfully, the answer is straightforward and not that difficult to find.

Let’s begin our discussion at the very beginning of the discussion, in the first chapter of Genesis, at the very beginning of God’s story (Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a).

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,

First, we note that “In the beginning… God.”  And then we see, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  And then, if we skip ahead to verse 26, we see, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”  All of these, even from the beginning, indicate that while God is one, God is God and Spirit.  While there is only one God, God is also something more than singular.  But we also see that the intent of our creation was for us to share the image of God.  That doesn’t mean that we were created to be godlike, or to be little gods, or to become like God.  But it does mean that we were intended to share the character of God, to be like him in his generosity, compassion, faithfulness, kindness, and love.  Humanity was created and called to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wind animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground” with the same nurture, love, care and benevolence that God has for us.  We weren’t called to subdue the earth by domination and destruction, but through gentle care and careful nurture.

And that understanding of our creation still applies as we read about the coming of the Messiah, as we watch and learn from the example of his ministry, as we witness his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, and as we read about his last moments with his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus offers his last words of instruction as a reminder of their, and our, mission on earth in his absence.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Particularly with today being Trinity Sunday, we are reminded, much as we were as we read from Genesis, that our God is one but, at the same time, is something more than singular.  We do not worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three gods, we worship one God, but acknowledge that, in ways that we cannot fully grasp or understand, God exists in the three persons of the Trinity.  And within the trinity, Jesus declares that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him as he watches over, rules, and sits in judgement of humanity, our planet, and the entire universe.  Our mission, as his followers, and his expectation of us, is that we are to go out into our communities, out into our states, our nations, and into the entire world in order to make disciples, baptize them, and pass on the wisdom, teaching, and commands that Jesus gave to us.

But why?

Why is this our mission?

What is the goal of such a mission?  What is our purpose?  What’s the point?  Why do we need to be the church to get the job done?  Why do we need to work together?  And, despite Paul’s habit of writing incredibly long sentences and intricate explanations, in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 he offers a remarkably short, succinct summary of why we do what we do when he says…

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

So, what’s the point?

Restoration is the point.  God’s purpose and goal for his mission on earth, and therefore ours, is to restore the relationship between God and his people.  To restore the relationship between God and us, the people who know him so that we can have the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have, and to restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and  become estranged from him.

So important is this goal, that all three persons of the trinity have a role in working toward it and that mission has been given to us as well.  And in these two bullet points we find the answers to all those questions we asked at the beginning of this message:

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

“Why are we here?” 

All of it.

Number one, we are here so that we can restore our relationship with God to the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have.

And number two, we are here so that we can learn how we can restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and become estranged from him.

Along the way, by gathering in community, we can encourage one another, support one another, and work together to that all of God’s children can live in peace.

And if the chaotic events of the last week tell us anything, it is this:

We have a lot of work to do.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/blhbTcrm2sw

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

 

 

*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.