Shades of Rip Van Winkle

Note: Recently, as he was going through our father’s files, my brother Steve came across a column that Dad had published in a newspaper in December of 1970. As we end our season of Advent in 2020 fifty years later, it seems just as important, just as relevant, and just as contemporary, as it was then.

Shades of Rip Van Winkle

Guest Post by Rev. Stanley Partridge

One of the most delightful stories told is the one by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle.  After his very long sleep, he returns to his native village which is supposed to be the most familiar place that he knows.  As was his custom, he goes to the tavern.  There instead of finding the face of King George on the swinging sign, he sees the face of a man whom he comes to know as George Washington.  Most people have enjoyed the story, but not everyone discerns the moral of it.  In truth, Rip Van Winkle slept through a revolution.

The American Revolution is dwarfed in comparison to the era in which we are now living.  The times of which we are a part is the greatest period of revolutionary ferment the world has seen.  Wherever we may turn, the fires of strife in one form or another are blazing, and far-reaching changes are under way.  Many political foundations which seemed so secure a few decades ago, are now shaking and sagging before our eyes.  The vast colonial empires, so familiar to the older generation, are now becoming an eclipse and who can tell the shape of the new world that is just emerging?

Tragically, too many people today are unaware or just do not care about this global war of ideas, and like Rip Van Winkle, they are sleeping through a revolution.  It was at a crucial point in the ministry of Jesus, that of the Sadducees and the Pharisees combined their forces against him.  They said to him, “Show us a sign from heaven that you are under God’s authority.”  Our Lord answers, “Why do you ask me for a sign? You are the experts in signs.  In the evening when the sky is red you say that it is going to be a fine day tomorrow.  In the morning if it is red and lowering you say we are in for a stormy day.  You know how to interpret the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”  They were like Rip Van Winkle too, in that they were asleep to the great potential of the man that was before them.  They knew all the “Tricks” of the Roman political games and missed the one who would tower above men of all history—unique, solitary, and majestic.

These searching words of Jesus, “You cannot interpret the signs of the times,” apply to us also, for there are many on business, industry, politics, economics, yes and even the Church who can read most of the signs of our times but cannot see, or refuse to see, what is obvious.  How long can the world seek for PEACE and refuse demands for “clean air” and “pure streams” and a better living environment when the only god they know and have known is a god created in man’s image.  This age of materialism calls us all to bow down to its demands and has lulled us into a peaceful sleep of lethargy.

Our greatest need today is to begin to bridge the yawning gap between our profession of belief in human freedom and justice and our lamentable practices that discredit us in the eyes of the world and one another.

This is the season of Advent, a time when we again take time to remember that there was a man who came to bring to the world a new lifestyle that wasn’t meant to be encumbered with the trivia of life.  He comes to bring to us the things in life that want most but won’t turn to him to find.  He comes bringing peace, love, joy, and contentment, but we go our merry way attempting to find peace, love, joy, and contentment in any other place than in him.

Here is a goal for all of us: To follow in the footsteps of Christ our Lord who, when he was reviled, reviled not again, who kept loving men who hated him, who died for men who were unworthy of his sacrifice.  But you see, he released a Spirit in the world that alone can draw people together in the bonds of human love and peace under the over-arching care of an eternal God.


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* 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.

Passing the Joy Test

Passing the Joy Test

December 13, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11              1 Thessalonians 5:16-24;       John 1:6-8, 19-28

It is probably no surprise to anyone to hear that we are living in an unusual time in history.  But what I mean in saying such a thing, is that we are living in a time when we can see the freight train coming.  We are as an American society in the twenty-first century, very much in the position of the damsel Nell Fenwick who has been tied to the railroad tracks by Snidely Whiplash and is desperately hoping for the arrival of Dudley Do-Right to come and rescue her.  We can see the freight train of rising virus cases caused by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year gatherings and we can anticipate the terrible consequences but there is little, or nothing that we can do to stop the train.  The only things that we can do… is hope.

But, as unusual as this might be, it is not unique in history.  As I have mentioned in recent weeks, the prophet Isaiah lived in just such a time.  In about 700 BC, Isiah and the people of Israel watched as the Assyrian Empire grew in power, influence, and military might and the Assyrian King Sennacharib had already brought his armies to the gates of Jerusalem.  Through God’s grace, Israel was saved, but Isaiah knew that those armies would be back, that Israel and Judah would be captured, marched to Babylon, and held in captivity for seventy years.  They saw the train coming down the tracks, they could anticipate the terrible consequences, and they were tempted to despair.  But, as difficult as it must have been to hear about God’s judgement and the impending destruction of their nation, because Isaiah also prophecies their eventual return to Israel and proclaims Israel’s rescue and the coming Messiah, Isaiah’s message is ultimately a message… of hope.

Even though they saw the train coming, and they knew that hard times were coming, they knew that God cared about them and that God had a plan to rescue them.  We hear a part this message in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11:

61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples.  All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Isaiah speaks about the coming Messiah, we hear a message that we will hear again from John the Baptist, and we hear a message from a God who loves justice, and who loves and cares for his people.  And that message, given to a people who watched as the freight train of the Assyrian army grew ever closer, shined like a beacon on a dark night and for hundreds of years, through invasions, captivity, destruction, suffering, sorrow, and death, this was a place where they could find hope.

And then, in John 1:6-8, 19-28, Isaiah’s vision becomes reality as John the Baptist announces the imminent arrival of Jesus.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John proclaimed that the time had finally come for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and that while he was not the messiah that God had promised, that messiah was already standing “among” them.  After hundreds of years and many generations, the prayers of Israel’s people were being answered.  God’s rescuer and redeemer had arrived, and the hope of the people was transformed… into joy.

Well, at least it did for some of them.  John rejoiced, as did many of the people, but not everyone.  It was the people that Isaiah had talked about who found joy in the coming of the messiah.  It was the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, prisoners, those in mourning, the grieving, the people who suffered from injustice, robbery, and wrongdoing, it was the outcasts, the least, and the lost who rejoiced.  But the wealthy, and those whom the system served, and whose success had been tied to the success of the system saw the coming of the messiah as a threat to their success and to their way of life.  This disconnect between the haves and the have-nots grew until it exploded into violence, crucifixion, and death in the Easter story as the system struggled to maintain the status quo.

And later, long after the resurrection of Jesus, the church remembered the lesson of joy and in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica and gives them these words of instruction:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Rejoice always.  Find joy in the story, in the message of Good News, and in the prophecies of God.  Give thanks, at all times, for the things that God gives you, even when those times are difficult.  Do not cast aside the prophecies and promises of God just because you think that God is taking too long, or that there is too much pain, or too much suffering, or that your circumstances are too hard.  Instead, test the prophecies of God to find the truth.  Test them against what you know about God.  Hold on to what is good because we know that God is good.  Reject every kind of evil, because we know that God is never found in any kind of evil deeds.  Our God is a god of peace who is always faithful and who always keeps his promises.

In some ways, our joy is a test.  The coming of Jesus was intended to upset the apple cart and to disrupt the status quo.  We are called to rejoice in that disruption and not be so married to our success, to our wealth, our culture, and to the status quo that we become like Israel’s leaders and reject Jesus simply on the basis that his existence will be disruptive and make our lives more complicated.  Secondly, we are invited to test all of God’s prophecies because we know that God is always good and so we know that what God wants for us is good and that we can reject anything that is evil as not being godly.

The coming of Jesus at Christmas is intended to bring good news of great joy.

Let us rejoice.

But let us remember to find joy in the right things.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/0s49_c1xx5E

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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.

We Need YOUR HELP for Christmas Eve

As I mentioned in the announcements yesterday (if you missed them click here), we are working on several things to make our Virtual Christmas Eve service as special, and as “normal” as possible.  But to do that, we NEED YOUR HELP.  Both of these things are a part of the candle lighting that we traditionally have at the end of the Christmas Eve service.

  1. Each Christmas Eve we look forward to seeing our sanctuary fill with light.  But, if you can’t physically BE there, how will we do that?  Let’s just say that we have a plan and we intend to light a candle in the sanctuary for EACH ONE OF YOU in a way that you can watch.  But to do THAT, we need to know how many of you will “attend” our Christmas Eve service.  So, whether you have attended our worship services in person, or if you’ve been worshipping with us virtually from wherever you live, or if you have visited for Christmas Eve in the past, or if you intend to visit for the first time on Christmas Eve, please DO THIS:  a) Send an email to Pastor@CUMCAlliance.org and tell me that you are coming.  b) Tell me how many will be with you, and c) tell me their names, or at least a name for your family group (ie. “the Schultz family”).  Names may not be strictly necessary, and we may not use them for anything, but it will help me to keep track so I don’t count people twice.  Then, when we record the candle lighting portion of our service, we will light a candle for EACH ONE of you to represent that you ARE THERE with us.
  2. This one is harder but I hope that you will try.  Record a ten second (more or less) video of you lighting a candle.  Maybe even dress up a little like you would if you were there.  Start with a lit candle in front of you on a table (or chair, or whatever you have) and then, holding a second candle, light it from the first one and hold it in front of you.  Click here to see a short video from Bob Wallace demonstrating what we have in mind.  If there are more than one of you, feel free to make a video for each of you or, record everyone taking a light at the same time or, pass the light from one person to the next just like you would have if you were standing in “your” pew at church.  The plan is to edit all of your videos together so that on Christmas Eve we get to SEE one another lighting our candles.  I hope that we will get to see ALL of you.  If you need help, ask a friend of help you, but PLEASE send us a video.  When you’re done send your completed videos to: rlwallace@mac.com and put <Candle Light Video> and YOUR NAME in the subject line. 
  3. DEADLINE: In order for us to have some time to record and edit these videos, please try to send your emails and videos by DECEMBER 15th.

Obviously, we’ve never done this before, so it may not turn out exactly like we planned, but if it’s going to work at all, we will certainly NEED YOUR HELP.

We literally cannot do this without you.

Blessings,

John Partridge

Pastor

Christ United Methodist Church

470 East Broadway Street

Alliance, Ohio 44601

www.CUMCAlliance.org

www.PastorPartridge.com

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Watch… and Hope

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Watch… and Hope

November 29, 2020*

By John Partridge

Isaiah 64:1-9            1 Corinthians 1:3-9         Mark 13:24-37

Have you met anyone that you know lately?

Many of us have been so isolated because of the coronavirus that we don’t get to talk to very many people but when we do, one of the common thoughts that we share is, “what a strange time this is.”  Our isolation, in fact, is one of the big worries that we have about quarantines, self-isolation, and social distancing.  Social, isolation amplifies our feelings of loneliness, abandonment, depression, and hopelessness which, in turn, increases the likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide.  And all these things, as well as our fear of disease, sickness, and death, are what makes living through a time of pandemic so hard.

But the people of scripture were familiar with hardship.

At the time of Isaiah, the Assyrian empire was on the rise and its armies were marching across the region toward Israel and Judah exactly at a time when those nations were declining in influence and military power.  Worse, Isaiah carries a message from God that Israel will be defeated, destroyed, and her people carried off into seventy years of captivity and slavery in Babylon.  Life was about to get more difficult than anyone had imagined, and everyone’s plans and dreams for the future were about to be erased and dramatically rewritten.  But before Isaiah ends that bleak message, he also includes these words (Isaiah 64:1-9):

1Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
    and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
    and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
    you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
    no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
    who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
    you were angry.
    How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
    or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
    and have given us over toour sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
    do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
    for we are all your people.

As doom approaches Israel, the prophet Isaiah prays that God would come down and reveal his power to the world just as fire unleashes its power and is revealed to anyone, and anything, that comes close to it.  Fire cannot hide the effects of its heat and, Isaiah knows that likewise, God’s power is so great that its effects cannot be hidden from the world.   When God comes down from heaven, nations quake and mountains tremble.  But Isaiah also knows that our God is different than other gods.  The God of Israel does not use power to bring death and destruction, but to help and to heal people who do what is right and who remember to follow and obey the ways of God.

But God’s love and care for the righteous is exactly the thing that has brought judgement and destruction to Israel’s doorstep.  Isaiah confesses that for too long, Israel has persecuted and sinned against the true followers of God and brought harm to them.  It was that sin against the good and the righteous that angered God against his people and caused him to turn his face from them.  Israel had entered a time when God simply refused to rescue them from themselves and allowed them to stew in the mess that they had created.  As such, Isaiah’s prayer both confesses their guilt, but also begs that God would not stay angry at them forever.  Despite their guilt, Isaiah has hope for the day that God would once again return to rescue them because, regardless of what they had done, they remained God’s chosen people.

And then, in Mark 13:24-37, at a time that was nearly as familiar with difficulty and hardship as in the time of Isaiah, Jesus picks up the Old Testament theme discussing the day of judgment and the coming of the Messiah.  At that time, Israel was no longer captive in a foreign land, but they were ruled by a foreign government, watched over by a hostile army, and paid heavy taxes to Rome.  And in that time, just as they had in the time of Isaiah, the people of Israel prayed for God’s Messiah to rescue them.  And Jesus said…

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that itis near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Jesus reinforces God’s promise that the Messiah would return in judgement and declares that at that time, God would finally reveal his power and glory to the world and would gather his people from the ends of the earth.  But until then, Jesus reminds us that although no one can know the day or the hour of his return, the end of the world will not come completely without warning.  Just as we watch the trees during the winter, and we recognize that Spring is coming when the trees begin to bud, in the same way we will know that judgment and the end of the world is coming if we are alert and watch for the signs.

Similarly, Jesus warns his followers, and us, that we are like the servants that have been left in charge while the owner of the house is away.  We do not know when he will return, but we must watch for his return, remain at our posts, and continue to do the work that he has given us, so that we will not be found slacking when he returns.

And so, once again, God’s promise and prophecy bring hope to his people, both in the time of the New Testament and in the twenty-first century, as we look forward to the return of God’s messiah the rescue of God’s people, and the final redemption of the world.

But as is often the case, as we look forward, we often worry about how which side we will find ourselves on Judgement Day.  And so, the very passages of scripture that were intended to give us hope, are the very passages that cause us concern and steal our joy.  But Paul knew that people in the church were going to worry about that and so as he wrote to the church in Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, he reassured them by including this reminder:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul reminds us that it in, and through, Jesus Christ that we are enriched in every way and given our abilities to speak, to preach, to tell stories, and to carry the gospel message to the people around us.  It is through God’s gifts of speech and knowledge that God confirms the truth of our testimony.  Further, while we wait for the return of Jesus Christ, we are given all of God’s spiritual gifts to aid us in sharing the gospel and in carrying out the mission and vision of Jesus Christ.  What’s more, Paul says, is that it is Jesus, and his power, that hold us steady and firm in the against the temptations of the world, so that we will be found blameless when Jesus return and we stand in judgement.  And finally, Paul reminds us of the faithfulness of the God who called us to follow Jesus and who adopted us as his children.  If God has done all these things, and if we continue to diligently work for him while he is away, then we have nothing at all to fear when he returns because we know that on that day, the world will finally be put right, justice will be done, the broken will be repaired, the lame will walk, the blind will see, disease, suffering, poverty, and death will come to an end, and the world will finally know… peace.

And that is why, from the time of Isaiah, to the coming of Jesus, and even until today, the consistent message of scripture is that the coming of the Messiah, and the day of judgement, is not a message that should cause us fear or concern.  Instead, the message of the power of God, the birth of his Son Jesus, and the promised day of judgement was, is, and has always been…

…a message of hope.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/9XG6erKs3go

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.

Because He Did, We Do.

Because He Did, We Do

December 24, 2019

(Christmas Eve)

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

MEDITATION:

In case you somehow didn’t notice, this is Christmas Eve.  But so, what?  Why do we come together and retell the story every year?  Why does it matter?  Why do events that happened more than two thousand years ago matter to us in the twenty-first century at all?  I mean, isn’t it just a nice story that we tell children?  Why should a bedtime story be so important? 

But it does matter.  And yes, it does matter to adults and children alike.  And what’s more, not only is it worth repeating, and not only is it foundational to our faith, this story demands something from us.  Because we are the people who walked in darkness and saw a great light.  We are the people to whom a child has been born.  We are the people who have been rescued, by him, from sin and death.  We are the people who have been put under his authority, and when we accepted Jesus as our rescuer and savior, we chose to follow him and obey his commands.

So, what is it that Jesus requires of us?

We all know that’s not a simple question.  We read scripture at home, and we come to church every Sunday, and sometimes more, so that we can study together, and learn together and help one another to do understand and to do what Jesus wants us to do.  But for tonight, let’s listen to the words that we find in Titus 2:11-14, where we hear this:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Salvation and rescue have been offered to all people.  And because we are the people who said “yes” to Jesus’ offer of rescue, then we are called to say “no” to ungodliness and instead live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives even if, and even when, the world around us preaches that God is dead, and it’s okay to do anything that feels good.

Titus reminds us that Jesus came to earth, lived among us, died, and rose from the dead so that we could be redeemed from a life of wickedness and evil, and so that Jesus could be at work purifying us so that we would be eager to do good.

Although it is a beautiful story, we don’t just celebrate on Christmas Eve because it’s a beautiful story.  We celebrate Christmas Eve because it is important for us to remember what he did and for whom he did it.  The Christmas story is the beginning of God’s invasion of the earth as he works to reclaim his people and call them back to him.  Jesus didn’t just come to save some random shepherds, a handful of disciples, and a few others.  Jesus didn’t come just to fulfill the promises that God gave to the Jews through his prophets.  Jesus came to rescue all of us.  Jesus came to rescue humanity.  Jesus came to rescue everyone.  Christmas brings a message filled good news of great joy for all the people.

But the work of telling all the people about that good news isn’t finished yet.

If nothing else, Christmas should remind us of two things.  First, that we are called to live as if our faith is important.  To live the way that Jesus lived.  To set aside the wickedness that is so common to the world and to live godly lives of purity.  Simply put, we need to look like, and live like, Jesus.  And second, because Jesus came to rescue all the people, and all the people haven’t yet heard his story, we must be in the business of making sure that they do.

Because Jesus did, we still do.

We love the Christmas story.  It’s awesome.  It’s far more than just a children’s bedtime story.

It is good news of great joy for all the people.

Every one of us should go out from this place and make sure that everyone, that all the people, hear that good news.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

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

 

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

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

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

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

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

 

 

 

 


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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.

Given Grace to Give Grace

Given Grace to Give Grace

December 22, 2019*

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 7:10-16                            Matthew 1:18-25                               Romans 1:1-7

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to know the future?

Sometimes it might be a good thing.  When we’re going through difficult and challenging times it might be nice to know that things are going to turn out well for us.  When we worry about our children or grandchildren, it might be nice to know that they will eventually find their way, get an education, find a good job, and become responsible, productive, people of faith who love God.  Certainly, if we knew what the stock market was going to do next year, or even next week, we could make a lot of money.

But, on the other hand, would you want to know that your difficult and challenging times were only going to get worse?  Or that your children and grandchildren were not going to find their way?  Would you want to know the future if it was full of bad news?  Probably not.  And that’s exactly why Israel’s kings usually cringed whenever the prophets of God came to visit them.  God’s prophets had a reputation of only showing up when there was bad news and were sometimes thought of as harbingers of doom.  King Obadiah called Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”  God’s prophets knew that it wasn’t popular to know the future if the future wasn’t filled with good news.

And that’s a part of what is going on in the story we’re about to read, as Isaiah shares God’s words with King Ahaz of Judah in Isaiah 7:10-16.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

Ahaz remembers that the people of God are not supposed to put God to the test, and that is so ingrained in him that he won’t do it even when God asks him to do it.  God tells Ahaz that he will accomplish whatever it takes to prove to him that the things that Isaiah is saying will truly happen.  But, since Ahaz refuses to ask for such a sign, God names one instead and says that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, if you think about that for a minute, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds a little weird if the only meaning is the one that we remember at Christmastime because a that wouldn’t have answered King Ahaz’s question at all.  But, many of God’s prophecies had not one, but two meanings and two fulfillments.  The first would be one that made sense in the immediate future and the second would make sense in the more distant future.  This is one of those times.  The first meaning was that a young, unmarried woman, quite possibly a woman that both Isaiah and King Ahaz knew, such as the woman who was betrothed to Isaiah, who we would think of as Isaiah’s fiancée, and future wife, would, in a short amount of time, become pregnant and have a baby.  The second meaning, of course, is the one with which we are more familiar and that is one that became understood as something that would happen with the coming of Israel’s messiah.

And so, in this passage, God promises Ahaz that before Isaiah’s baby is old enough the choose right from wrong, traditionally about 12 or 13 years old, those who were attacking him, the kingdoms of Aram and the northern tribes of Israel, would come to an end.  And, while that sounds like good news, if you read the rest of that passage it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those times where things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, in any case, the second meaning is God’s promise of a messiah who would rescue his people for all time.  And it is that fulfillment that we see in the story of Matthew 1:18-25 where we hear these words:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Just as God had promised to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, the rescuer of humanity, God’s messiah, is born to a virgin.  But Joseph was terrified.  The woman to whom he had been pledged in marriage was pregnant and it was clear that he wasn’t the father.  At that point, Joseph had three choices and none of them were particularly good.  Since having sex before marriage was prohibited under the law of Moses, and it would seem obvious to most people that this is what Mary had done (since that was the ordinary way in which pregnancy happens), Mary would not only be seen as violating the law, but also as bringing disgrace to her family, bringing disgrace to Joseph’s family, and also breaking the contract that bound the two of them together. 

Joseph’s first option, under the law, was to publicly humiliate Mary and announce what she had done, and possibly even have her stoned to death (although that rarely, if ever, actually happened).  The second choice would be to quietly divorce her on the grounds that she had already broken the contract between their families.  The third choice was probably the worst choice of all, and that was to go ahead with their marriage.  This option would bring disgrace, humiliation, and financial hardship to both of their families, and would make Joseph, his father, and all of his family look stupid for going ahead with a marriage to a woman who had violated her promise even before their wedding. 

But even though all these choices seemed like bad ones, Joseph, being a nice guy, thought that he would choose the one that was the least damaging to everyone.

But God had other ideas.

God tells Joseph, in a dream, not to be afraid, that Mary had really not slept with anyone else, that the child she was carrying was actually the child of God and would become the one who would rescue God’s people from sin.  And when he woke up, Joseph did what God told him to do and in doing so, models for us some of the best characteristics of God, God’s people, and humanity.  In order to do what Joseph does requires extraordinary trust, abundant love, a mountain of faith, a pile of forgiveness, a large measure of grace, and more an ample amount of hope.

But what is it that we should take away from these stories?  How does the story of Christmas guide us as we live our lives in the twenty-first century?  And, even though he lived two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul understood a part of that answer as he wrote to the church in Rome as we see in Romans 1:1-7.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds everyone in the church that the Gospel message, the story of the messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, was a story that God promised, through the prophets, hundreds of years before it happened.  It was because of God’s love for us that he created a way for us to be rescued from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  Just as Joseph rescued Mary by taking her home to live with him, just as Joseph chose hope, love, and grace, so did God.  Just as Joseph showed mercy and grace to Mary, God showed mercy and grace to us by sending his Son to rescue us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we received these gifts from God and, Paul says, because we have received these gifts from God, through Jesus Christ, we are, in turn, called by God to share this Good News with the rest of the world.

Paul is clear that the message of Jesus Christ was never just a message for the Jews, but has always been a message for the Jews, the Gentiles, and for the entire world.  And while I am sure that Paul didn’t intend for this to be Christmas message, it certainly is one because when Paul says that the Gentiles are being called to belong to Jesus Christ it reminds us of this:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:8-10)

Good news.  For all the people.

We have been given grace, so that we might give grace to those around us, to the people we love, to the people we fear, to the people we hate, to the insiders, to the outsiders, to the connected, to the outcasts, to citizens, to foreigners…

…to everyone.

The world would not have heard the message of Jesus if Joseph didn’t have enough faith and trust in God to show mercy and grace to Mary.

And two thousand years of history hasn’t changed that.

One of the clear messages in the story of Christmas is that we are called to share God’s mercy and grace so that everyone around us can hear the message of Jesus.

As we leave this place, let us remember that we are God’s agents of grace.

 

 

 


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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.

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

December 15, 2019*

(Third Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 35:1-10                             Matthew 11:2-11                               James 5:7-10

What feelings come to mind as you think about Christmas?

What emotions get stirred within you?

Most of us immediately begin to think of gamily gatherings around the Christmas tree, and opening presents, and families that get along with one another and are reunited at Christmas time.  For many of us the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds about right when it says…

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Tidings of comfort and joy sounds like a good summary for our feelings as well as for the message of the Christmas story.  And, quite often, that’s close to the truth for some of us.  Naturally, there are those among us whose childhoods were not idyllic, or who are struggling with unemployment, or homelessness, or divorce, or any number of other things that tend to make our emotions complicated.  But the message of scripture reminds us that Christmas itself, although filled with “good news of great joy,” is also more than just a story of comfort and joy. We begin, once again, with the promises of God given through the prophet Isaiah.  (Isaiah 35:1-10)

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah declares that the coming of the messiah will be a time of gladness, rejoicing, and joy and compares it to rain in the desert that brings hidden flowers to bloom which is, once again, a symbol of resurrection with life exploding out of what looked lifelessness.  But while Israel waits for the coming of the messiah, Isaiah urges them to “be strong, do not fear, your God will come.”  Be strong, be patient, because we worship a God who always keeps his promises.  And then, in verse five, Isaiah shares the memorable words that Jesus would use to reassure an imprisoned John the Baptist.  Jesus uses these words of Isaiah to tell John that he is indeed the messiah that God had promised.  We hear that story in Matthew 11:2-11:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The Messiah had come, John the Baptist announced his arrival, but John was not experiencing comfort and joy.  Instead, he was rotting in prison.  I’ve visited the site where John is reputed to have been imprisoned, and whether that’s the actual site or if it was remotely similar, it was basically just a cave with bars on the door that would be cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and would probably have pools of water on the floor whenever there was a hard rain.  And in that environment, John begins to worry that Jesus isn’t doing the things that he thought the messiah was supposed to be doing. 

But rather than reassure John that comfort and joy would be coming soon, Jesus simply tells John’s followers to say that Isaiah’s words were being fulfilled.  The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  The messiah had come, but that didn’t guarantee that the suffering of the world was going to end (just yet) or that John, or anyone else, was going to find comfort and joy.

Jesus then speaks to the crowd and declares that John is the greatest prophet, indeed the greatest human being, ever born in Israel or anywhere else.  And yet, John would endure suffering, imprisonment, and death before he received any kind of comfort and joy.  How do we make sense of that?  If the coming of the messiah was the fulfillment of God’s promises, why don’t God’s people find the comfort and joy we thought we were supposed to get?  At least a part of the answer comes from James, the brother of Jesus in James 5:7-10 where we hear this:

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The coming of the messiah is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end.  James says that it’s like a farmer planting crops.  The seeds have been planted but now we must wait for the harvest.  While we find comfort and joy in knowing that the crops have been planted, we still must wait, patiently, until the harvest.  In the same way, we are comforted in knowing that God has already begun to fulfill his promises.  The messiah has come.  We do find comfort and joy in the story of Christmas.  But, at the same time, just as a farmer must wait for the rain, we must continue to wait patiently for coming of the messiah.  On that day, we will receive unimaginable gifts of comfort and joy, but until then we understand that life will still be full of discomfort, pain, and suffering.

Our calling, today, is to be patient, not to grumble, but to care for one another. 

Be patient.

Stand firm.

Because the Lord is near.

“Fear not then”, said the Angel
“Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might”
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

 

 

 

 


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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.

A Don Rickles Christmas Story

A Don Rickles Christmas Story

December 05, 2019

(Meditation for Communion at Copeland Oaks)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 3:7-18

I probably couldn’t use this illustration in a younger audience, but I’m confident that everyone here will understand.  Do you remember when Don Rickles was invited to speak at Ronald Reagan’s inauguration?  There was some concern about what he would say because, well, because he was Don Rickles, the master of the put-down.  But second, because it was no secret that Don Rickles was a Democrat and had actively campaigned for Ronald Reagan’s opponent.  Maybe because that was back when people had some sense, when you could count on an entertainer to do the right thing, and when politicians had a sense of humor, but he was, ultimately invited, he accepted the invitation, and his roast of the president was absolutely hilarious.

But, imagine if you went to hear an evangelist and were attacked in the way that Don Rickles roasted people.  And then, imagine that the roasts weren’t funny, but instead were deadly serious.  It seems difficult to believe that such a thing would be a good formula to reach people and draw them to any kind of faith in God.  But as weird as that sounds, that is almost exactly how John the Baptist preached to the people who came to see him… at least at first.  In Luke 3:7-18, as John the Baptist proclaims the coming of the Messiah and the coming judgment, but also offers helpful instruction… and hope.

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

I cannot remember a single time when I have taken classes on preaching or public speaking, when anyone thought it was a good idea to begin a message by openly insulting and taunting our listeners.  In fact, I am virtually certain that, unless you were Don Rickles, this is a bad idea most of the time.  But this is exactly what John does.  John begins by calling everyone snakes and talks about judgment and the wrath of God.

According to John, no one can be saved because they were born in the church, born to people who went to church, or because they themselves go to church.  For John, the only real measure of godliness is the fruit that grows out of repentance.

Today, some of us would wonder what the fruit of repentance would look like, and the people in the crowd felt exactly the same way.  John’s answer is to share what you have, with people who don’t have any.  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked.  But even that isn’t enough because some people want to know specifics.  Tax collectors, who were widely considered to be cheats, scoundrels, and enemy collaborators, are told to just do their jobs as honestly as they could.  Soldiers, who were, in fact, the enemy, were told to do their job, not to take money they weren’t entitled to take, and not to accuse innocent people.  It is interesting to note, that although both groups were widely hated because of what they did, John did not advise them to quit or to change jobs, but simply to do them honestly.

John then tells the people of the coming Messiah who will bring judgment as he separates the wheat (which is fruit) from the chaff (which is basically useless).  And he appealed to the people that they should hear the good news of the coming Messiah.

And, although an important part of the Advent message is a message of repentance and the need to get our hearts right before God, but John tells us that repentance is just the first step.  What comes next, producing fruit, is just as critical.  Fruit trees without fruit will be cut down and burned in the fire.  The wheat and the chaff will be separated, and the useless chaff burned in the fire.  John warns everyone, including us, that our purpose is to live a life of fruitfulness, to do our jobs well, but honestly, and to willingly share what we have with those who do not have.

But despite the Don Rickles style delivery, and despite all the talk about repentance, judgement, and burning chaff, John’s message ultimately is a message of hope.  Although John openly condemned the leaders of the church who put on a good show but used their position for their own benefit while abusing the elderly and the poor, John also made it plain that even those who were widely thought to be the enemies of Israel and the enemies of God, could seek repentance, receive forgiveness, and be restored and welcomed into to God’s family.

Don Rickles’ attacks could be absolutely scathing, but they included just enough truth to be funny.  John the Baptist’s delivery was just as, if not more abusive but as angry as offensive as it might have sounded to the rich, it was a beautiful song of welcome, forgiveness, and hope to the poor, the helpless, hopeless, and the outcasts.

As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to that same mission today.  To challenge the establishment, to confront power, to share what we have with those who are in need, and to sing God’s message of hope to the poor, the hungry, the helpless, the hopeless, the outsiders, and the outcasts.

No matter where we are, no matter who we are, that is Good News worth sharing.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  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 Resurrection of Hope

The Resurrection of Hope

December 08, 2019*

(Second Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 11:1-10                        Matthew 3:1-12                     Romans 15:4-13

 

As we look outside at the beginning of winter, as the leaves have fallen, temperatures have dropped, now there is ice to be scraped from the windshields of our cars, and soon there will be snow to shovel, imagine what it might be like to watch this transformation if you had never seen a winter, nor heard stories of its coming.  Imagine what it might be like for someone who grew up in Africa or in another equatorial country, or if an alien from outer space where to land here.  Imagine their horror as the watched this transformation and imagined that it represented the end of the world.  The trees look as if they have all died.  Life giving heat has left the atmosphere.  And even the skies seem to be dark and foreboding as if they are foretelling of some greater evil yet to come.

Of course, it is difficult for us to even imagine such a thing.  Of course, this is temporary.  Of course, we know that as dark, and as gray, as our world becomes in December and January, we know that Spring is the obvious, reliable, and predictable future.  But that isn’t always the way we think when we are confronted with disaster and it certainly wasn’t what the people of Israel were thinking when they imagined what kind of a future there might be when it became obvious that they would soon be defeated by the Babylonian army.  The gloom and depression were so thick that you could feel them, and the moods of some people were becoming suicidally dark.  But into that gloom, God, through the prophet Isaiah, speaks a message of hope.  (Isaiah 11:1-10)

11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

Isaiah agrees that it seems as if the tree of Israel, and the lineage of her kings, is about to be cut down and destroyed forever.  But even though that tree might be cut down, God promises that, some time in the future, new growth will come from the roots of the tree.  A shoot will come from the stump of the house of Jesse.  In Bethlehem, life will come from death.  There will be resurrection for the nation of Israel.  And not only will Israel return, not only will there be new life in the lineage of Israel’s kings, but in that day Israel’s king will stand above the kings of the world, and the nations of the world will gather around to serve him.

God’s words, spoken through Isaiah, brought the resurrection of hope to the people of Israel.

And the story wasn’t much different eight hundred years later as John the Baptist spoke to crowds of people who were wondering what future Israel might have when soldiers from Rome occupied their nation and ruled over them.  And John begins by reminding the people of the promises God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah. (Matthew 3:1-12)

3:1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John looked weird but people noticed that he wore the same type of clothes that the prophet Elijah had worn.  His food was strange, but by eating locusts and wild honey he kept kosher, followed the law, and made a statement against the excesses of the rich.  John’s appearance was weird, but it was just weird enough that people recognized something godly in him and they came from far and wide to hear what he had to say.  They confessed their sins and were baptized as a symbol of their new ambition to live lives of repentance and holiness. 

But the message that John preached was a message not only about repentance as a one-time act, but a message that real repentance had to look real.  Real repentance isn’t an act, it’s a change in lifestyle that produces the fruits of righteousness.  John was offering baptism as a symbol of repentance, but we know that it is also a symbol of resurrection.  Going under the water is symbolic of being buried and then rising again to a new life of repentance.  John told the people about the coming Messiah who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire because the Messiah was the shoot growing out of the root of Jessie that Isaiah had written about.  Jesus was, at first, a symbol of resurrection, and then became the one in whom God brought real resurrection to his people.

For the people of Israel in the time of John the Baptist, the arrival of the Messiah represented the resurrection of hope.

And then, in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul again explains that it is in our faith in Jesus Christ where we find God’s gift of hope. (Romans 15:4-13)

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Everything that has ever been written in scripture was written to teach us endurance so that with the encouragement of the prophets and the heroes of our faith, we might discover hope.  Paul says that we are called by God to have the same attitude of mind toward one another that Jesus had.  In other words, we are called to see one another in the same way that Jesus sees us.  Not as competition, not as sinners, but as brothers, sisters, co-heirs, and fellow workers who are striving toward the same goal.  We are called to accept one another in order to bring praises to God.

It is this faith, and this lifestyle of repentance, that brings us hope, joy, and peace as we trust in Jesus.  And, as we trust him, we are filled by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we might, even more, overflow with hope.

Our world is just as desperate for the message of hope today as it was in the time of Isaiah and John the Baptist.  As we hear the message of Advent, let us repent, and draw closer to Jesus so that we can be filled with God’s spirit, and overflow with hope in a world filled with darkness, misery, and despair.

May we be the people that God uses to bring about a new resurrection of hope.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Be Prepared

Be Prepared

December 01, 2019*

(First Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 2:1-5                Romans 13:11-14                   Matthew 24:36-44

 

Everyone knows that the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”

As a scout, and as a scout leader, that phrase was often drilled into us not only as a motto, or as a cute saying that you would repeat from time to time, it was instilled in us as a lifestyle.  We were constantly encouraged to think about what was needed, what unexpected thing might happen, and to be prepared, in advance, so that we would be able to cope, adjust, and overcome no matter what happened.  As winter, or other foul weather approached, one of our scout leaders often said, “There is no bad weather in scouting, only scouts that are unprepared for the weather.”  But it went farther than that, our troops constantly emphasized the need, and the importance, of knowing things like knot tying, first aid, and CPR because you never knew when you might need them.  Knowing such things have often proven to make the difference between life and death for someone.  Many former scouts and scouters, decades after their time in scouting, still carry a pocketknife, or a can opener on their key ring, or a Leatherman.  You can almost bet that these are the people who carry jumper cables in their cars and have a first aid kit under the front seat.

But as wise as the advice to “Be Prepared” is to a scout or even to the general public, did you know that this is also the command of God as it relates to our spiritual lives?

As we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, which is known as the celebration of prophecy, we are reminded that there is a consistent message throughout scripture, that warns God’s people to be ready for the end of time and the day of Judgement.  We begin in Isaiah 2:1-5 where God’s prophet tells of the coming Messiah and a time when he will judge the nations.

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah says that “in the last days” God’s temple would be built (or rebuilt) and all the nations of the earth will come to worship him.  And, in addition to declaring that all nations would come, Isaiah also says that many peoples, not many people, but many peoples would come.  Written in this way, the word “peoples” is understood to be an amplification of what was described as “all nations.”  “Many peoples,” can therefore be understood to not only mean the people representing many nations, but also the people from many races, tribes, ethnicities, and other groups who have been absorbed by larger nation states. 

Isaiah warns the people that there is a day coming when God will judge the nations and the people of the earth, and he concludes by saying, “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  Which is, I think, the same as saying…

Be Prepared.

But with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, his followers, who were familiar with the judgement described by Isaiah, wanted to know when that would happen.  But rather than tell them when, Jesus said that no one knows except God. (Matthew 24:36-44)

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus explains that the coming of the last days and the final judgement would be a surprise to everyone just as the destruction of Noah’s flood caught everyone (except Noah) unprepared.  Jesus said that it would be like two people working side by side and one was suddenly taken away without warning. 

Jesus explains the point of his own story by saying that because the judgement will be so unexpected, we should all keep watch just as the soldiers who guard the city stand watch all through the night.  Soldiers never knew when the enemy might come, and their job was to always be prepared for the day that an attack might happen.  Likewise, we must keep watch for the return of Jesus, for the end of days, and for the judgement of all humanity.  In other words…

Be Prepared.

And then, a few dozen years later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and after the Spirit of God entered into his people at Pentecost, rumors would occasionally circulate that the end times had already begun.  Some people attempted to draw people away from the church to some “new” religion by preaching heresies that Christ had already returned.  And so, in that environment, Paul writes to the church in Rome about the end times, but as is often the case, Paul’s emphasis is to answer the “so what” question.  Paul wants the people of the church to know how our anticipation of God’s judgment should change the way that we live.  (Romans 13:11-14)

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul’s message is that “the hour has already come.”  Meaning, it already time to quit coasting.  There is no time for us to procrastinate.  There is already less time now before the return of Jesus Christ than there was yesterday.  The return of Jesus Christ could happen at any minute.  The time for us to stop living in darkness is now.  The time for us to start living like children of the light and as the followers of Jesus Christ, is now.  The time for us to change the way that we live, is now.  Instead of living lives that are indecent, or are spent in wild parties, or illicit sex, or in arguing, or jealousy, now is the time for us to live the way that Jesus lived and do the things that Jesus taught.  Instead of living lives that revolve around satisfying our selfishness, excesses, passions, and lusts, we are called to live lives of restraint, decency, so that the world can see Jesus in all that we are, and in all that we do.

Paul wants the church to understand that people who are genuinely convinced that Jesus Christ might appear at any time, should live so that in the moment of Jesus’ return, he might find us busy doing Kingdom work.

In other words…

Be Prepared.

The call of the ancient prophets, and of Jesus, and of Paul is emphatic and consistent.  The end of time, and the Day of Judgement is coming.  That moment is nearer now than it was at the time of Jesus, or Paul, or at the day we chose to follow Jesus.  Jesus could return at any moment.  And so, as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent and we hear the voices of the prophets, of Jesus, of Paul, and all of scripture, we must also hear the question that is implied by every one of those voices.

Are you prepared?

 

 

 

 


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