Faithless Faith

Faithless Faith

February 05, 2023*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 58:1-9a                        Matthew 5:13-20                   1 Corinthians 2:1-12

I’m not sure when it was, but at some point, things started to get weird.  Maybe it was decaffeinated coffee that started it, or maybe it was wireless phones, but now we have clear Pepsi, sugar-free sugar, driverless cars, pilot-less airplanes, and crab meat without crab.  You can go to a planetarium and look at the stars, or climb into a booth to get a tan, without once going outside, you can buy paper that doesn’t use wood, a drum set that doesn’t have drums, eggs that don’t contain eggs, download an electronic file of music from your favorite artist’s latest album without actually possessing, you know, an album, check your calendar that doesn’t exist on an actual calendar, thanks to Zoom we now have meetings without actually meeting, you can buy gift cards that don’t have a card, and of course we can’t forget meatless meat.

But our modern familiarity with these sorts of paradoxes doesn’t change the fact that sometimes having a substitute for the real thing is very different than having the real thing.  This is exactly the thing for which God condemns Israel in Isaiah 58:1-9a when he says…

58:1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Just like meatless meat, God calls out the people of Israel for going through the motions of following God, without following God.  They fast and they pray, and fully expect God to answer their prayers, but while they’re fasting and praying, they completely ignore the commands and teachings of God and act just like everyone else in the world around them.  They say they follow God but make no attempt at all to act the way that God acts.  They pray that God would bless them, but they fight with one another and abuse their employees.  They follow God without following God. and end up with a faithless faith. 

Instead, God says, that the people of God should act the way that he has taught them to act.  We should fight against injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, offer shelter for the wanderers and the migrants, clothe the naked, care for every member of our families, and just act like the people of God, and then God will have our backs.  Following God requires that we act the way that God acts and do the things that God teaches us to do.

We hear this same message from Jesus in Matthew 5:13-20 when he says…

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Salt that isn’t salty is fine if all you want is gravel, but it’s completely useless if what you want is salt.  Faithless faith, or unfaithful faith, is useless and isn’t faith at all.  Like a lamp on top of a lampstand, God’s people were designed to stand out from the crowd and are intended to be noticed by the world around them.  God has called us to be obedient and do the things that he has taught us to do, and doing those things, by design, will make us stand out from the crowd.  Christians that blend into the crowd of our culture, or who just go through the motions, and have an incognito faith can only do so by not being the kind of people that God has called us to be and ultimately become unchristian Christians, or people with a faithless faith.

Remember that the Pharisees, despite dedicating their lives to rigorously following every letter of the law of Moses, were regularly criticized by Jesus for not having the character of God.  In Luke 11:42, Jesus says,“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.  They were so scrupulously careful to obey the law that they tithed, not only from their income, but even gave a tenth from the herbs that grew in their garden.  But while they were counting the dill and the mint leaves in their garden, they were overlooking injustice and had developed a worship of God that was mechanical rather than loving.

So, if even the Pharisees, who devoted their lives to their strict obedience to God, got it wrong, what should we do so that we can do a better job of having the right kind of relationship with the Jesus that we claim to follow?  There is a lot of advice about that, from many different writers of the New Testament, but for today let’s look at the example of Paul that we find in his first letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 where he spells out a bunch of things that we don’t need to do:

2:1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.

Paul begins by listing some things that are not necessary to do the will of God, or for ministry to the people around us, and those are things like eloquence, human wisdom, strength, courage, or persuasive words.  Paul says that he didn’t have any of those things.  He wasn’t good with words, he was filled with great fear when he attempted to speak to the people of Corinth, and he described himself as weak.  But God used his weakness, his fear, and his other shortcomings to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit so that the faith of the church would not rest on the wisdom or personality of the preachers, but on God’s power.  The wisdom that we have is not human wisdom, but God’s wisdom that has been revealed to us through his Spirit and the strength that we have is not our strength but God’s strength.

The point, however, is that we cannot be the meatless meat of the church.  We cannot have a faithless faith that goes through the motions and follows all the rules but forgets the character of God and fail to act the way that God acts.

To do the will of God, we must not have an empty faith but we must be the people who fight against injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, offer shelter for the wanderers and the migrants, clothe the naked, care for every member of our families, love our neighbors, bring healing to the wounded, have compassion for those that are struggling, and act like the people of God.

Following God requires that we act the way that God acts and do the things that God teaches because having a substitute for the real thing is very different than having the real thing.  Because when we talk about what we have, there is no doubt that our friends and neighbors will notice the difference between sirloin steak and meatless meat.


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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 quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Neighbors Know?

Neighbors Know?

January 22, 2023*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 9:1-4                Matthew 4:12-23                   1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Patti and I have a friend who was once talking to his next-door neighbor on his phone while searching for a particular kitchen gadget.  His neighbor, looking out her kitchen window, which window was opposite his kitchen window, and only six or eight feet away, told him, on the phone, in which drawer he would find the thing for which he was looking.  Yikes.  Our friend and his wife bought a curtain for their kitchen window the very next day and they moved to a suburban neighborhood with much larger lots as soon as they were financially able to do so.

Obviously, that’s an unusual occurrence, but few of us could argue that our neighbors probably know things about us that few other people know.  They see us come and go, they know our schedules, they know when lights in certain rooms typically are turned on and off, they notice when we aren’t home and when our schedules change from our normal habits.  I am almost certain that many of your neighbors know that you are here this morning and that you typically go to church on Sunday mornings because they’ve seen you leave and return, and probably noticed that you were dressed for the occasion.  But what else have your neighbors noticed?  That’s a loaded question that I want you to think about while we consider our scriptures for this morning.  We begin in Isaiah 9:1-4, where we hear God’s prophet share yet another prophecy about the future messiah.

9:1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.

In a moment, we will hear many of these same words reflected in the gospel of Matthew, but before we do, notice that God says that the messiah’s arrival will be as if the sun had dawned on a dark and dreary world. Light would come to darkness, joy would come to sadness, enemies would be shattered, oppression would be thrown off, and burdens would be lifted.  And by quoting extensively from that passage in Isaiah, Matthew proclaims that Jesus was that messiah, that the new day Isaiah spoke of had finally dawned, that the light had come, and that the future was already looking brighter.  Matthew 4:12-23 says,

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James, son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

Matthew begins by quoting enough of the passage that we read from Isaiah, that every Jew who read, or heard his words would immediately recognize it as a messianic prophecy, but in doing so, Matthew connects Isaiah’s description with Jesus, and therefore identifies Jesus as the promised messiah.  But next, Matthew says, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.””

A light had dawned.  Hope was reborn.  The Spirit of God, working from within the body of Jesus Christ, was at work in the world… and people noticed.  When Jesus said, “Follow me,” Simon and Andrew, and James, and John, dropped what they were doing, walked away from their jobs, away from their family businesses and away from their families that depended on them and followed Jesus.  And Jesus travelled across the region of Galilee teaching, healing, and proclaiming the news that the rescue of God’s people had come.

When the Spirit of God came, people noticed. 

And, as odd as it may seem, I think that is at the core of what Paul is trying to say in his first letter to the church in Corinth.  The people in the church weren’t getting along, and Paul’s criticism is that their division is getting in the way of what God was trying to do among them. (1 Corinthians 1:10-18) Paul said:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Paul’s point is that we should be united in purpose and not be divided in ways that distract us, and distract our neighbors, from our primary mission of spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To those of us who have heard, and have accepted him, that message carries the power of God.  This is the power that was seen, and felt without words, by the disciples that Jesus called and by the people who came from all over the region of Galilee to hear Jesus teach, preach, and heal.

But, as we have been discussing for the last several weeks, this is also the same Spirit of God that came upon you on the day of your baptism, that lives within you, and that goes with you everywhere you go.  And, just as people noticed, and felt, the presence of the Spirit of God in Jesus, and in the disciples, they are going to notice that same spirit in each one of us.  Your neighbors may not know where you keep your gravy boat, but they do know things about you.  You can bet that they know whether you go to church on Sunday, they know if church attendance is an occasional or a regular thing, and they know if the way that you live your life reflects the teachings of scripture even if they’ve never opened a Bible.

The problem that Paul was addressing in the church at Corinth was that internal division and arguing was distracting the followers of Jesus Christ from their mission, and at the same time was disguising the Spirit of God from the people around them.  Like us, Paul knew that the people in the church weren’t perfect, but his encouragement then, and now, is for the people of the church, for us, to do better.  Your neighbors, your friends, and the people around you know things, and notice things about you.  They notice when you mow the lawn two days later than usual, they notice when you forget to take the trash to the curb, they notice when you’re caring for your grand-dogs, and they’re going to notice the Spirit of God that lives within you.

The kingdom of heaven has come near… because it lives in each of you.

Our mission is to do the best we can not to disguise his Spirit and screw up what God is doing.

And so, the question we need to ask ourselves is this:

Do your neighbors know?

And if not, why not?


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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 quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

The Ghost of Baptism Past

The Ghost of Baptism Past

January 15, 2023*

(Baptism of the Lord)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 42:1-9              Matthew 3:13-17                   Acts 10:34-43

In Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits over the course of an evening.  These visits, by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, serve to remind Mr. Scrooge about the real meaning of Christmas, and of life, rather than his miserly devotion to the accumulation of wealth at all costs.  In a way, today’s message borrows from that format as we visit scriptures from before, during, and after the life of Jesus Christ, that tell us something about the deeper meanings of baptism in our past, our present, and in our future.  We begin with God’s promise of his spirit, eight centuries before Jesus’ birth, found in Isaiah 42:1-9.

42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

Isaiah says that the coming messiah will be filled with God’s spirit and bring justice to the world but will be so gentle that he will not do any further damage the most fragile among us.  Moreover, God will not only call his people to right living, but will hold their hands, call the Gentiles to become a part of his family, and will rescue those who are imprisoned by jailers or by their infirmities.

Last week we talked about how God would use the Messiah to open the doors of his kingdom to the Gentiles, but for our purposes this morning, take a moment to notice how Isaiah declares the promise to put God’s spirit in and upon the Messiah that he would send.  And with that in mind, we move forward to the moment of Jesus’ baptism, and the moment when God fulfills that promise in Matthew 3:13-17.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus tells John that he has chosen to be baptized even though he, as the perfect messiah, had no actual need of baptism.  Rather, Jesus chooses to be baptized because it is necessary to fulfill God’s promises that the Messiah would be called to righteousness and to model obedience to God for all who would follow him.  And the moment that he rises out of the waters of the Jordan River, the heavens open, the Spirit of God descends, lands upon Jesus, and God audibly proclaims this love for, and his satisfaction with, Jesus and the work that he is doing.

But if the words of Isaiah speak about the spirit of baptism past, and the Spirit of God at the Jordan River appears as the spirit of baptism in Jesus’ present, then what does that leave us for the spirit of baptism future?  For that, let us jump ahead another few years to a month or two after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and we find Peter as he speaks to a gathering international crowd, Jews, and Gentiles from across the known world, on the day of Pentecost in Acts 10:34-43.

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Paul’s point is that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and then appointed us to follow in his footsteps.  When we choose to follow Jesus, are baptized, and join God’s family as the brothers and sisters of Jesus, we, like Jesus, are baptized and filled with the Spirit of God.  We are therefore empowered by God, to go out into the world and do the work of Jesus Christ and the work of God’s kingdom.  Jesus commands us to preach to the people his future, and of our present, to tell them that Jesus is the one whom they will face on the day of judgement, that it is Jesus about whom the prophets were writing, and that forgiveness comes to everyone who believes in him and puts their faith in him.

In the story, A Christmas Carol, the overnight experience with the three spirits of Christmas past, present, and future, transformed Ebeneezer Scrooge and changed the direction of his entire life.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, our experience with the Spirit of God through baptism, past, present, and future, is similarly transformational.  Just as the spirits did in A Christmas Carol, God does not intend to leave us in the same sorry state in which he found us.  Baptism is a transformational moment when we receive the anointing and the presence of the Spirit of God, and we are commanded by Jesus Christ to be his witnesses, to share the good news with the people around us so that they too can be rescued and adopted into God’s family.

Ebeneezer Scrooge wasn’t visited by the spirits of Christmas so that he could stay the same miserable creature that he always was.  Likewise, we were not baptized to that we could stay the same as we were and do the things we had always done.  Our baptism is transformational. 

God does not intend for us to stay the same.

God intends for us to change the world.


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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 quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Hidden Knowledge

Worship service live stream: https://youtu.be/KLDg65hiMqU

Sermon only: https://youtu.be/vcZ29fLNsxM

Two Minute Benediction – “The Explosion of Epiphany” https://youtu.be/QHE4D8cyeNA

Hidden Knowledge Podcast
The Explosion of Epiphany

Hidden Knowledge

January 08, 2023*

(Epiphany)

By Pastor John Partridge

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

If you watch the headlines, or start surfing the internet, you will occasionally see fantastic headlines or posts in the comment sections of your friend’s posts, claiming that the church is repressing the truth, that there are banned books, deliberate conspiracies of secrecy, and all sorts of hidden knowledge.  Over the centuries and millennia, many groups have launched new heresies, cults, and religions claiming that they had access to hidden knowledge that no one else could obtain.  In every case, their claims are heaping piles of hogwash. 

While I was in seminary there were several times when the tabloid style headlines claimed that there was some new revelation from a “newly discovered” or “hidden” gospel that had recently come to light, and our professors would just tiredly point out that the artifact in question had been known to theologians for centuries and that dozens of books had already been written about it.  The early church fathers, in the first centuries after Jesus, repeatedly fought against sects that preached that they alone held secret knowledge and every time, what they really held was some misinterpretation of scripture that everyone already knew about.

But in today’s scripture, Paul seems to claim that there is indeed secret knowledge about Jesus.  Or that there was, past tense, secret knowledge.  Or maybe he just seems to be saying that, and we need to slow down and read it again more carefully.  In any case, before we get to Paul, let’s back up eight hundred years, and listen to the prophet Isaiah in this passage from Isaiah 60:1-6, where he says:

60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you:
    All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
    and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant,
    your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
    to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land,
    young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
    bearing gold and incense
    and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah tells of a day when God will send a light into a world that is filled with darkness, a king so filled with the glory of God that nations and kings will flock to worship him and to listen to him.  But think about what he said for just a moment.  Yahweh was the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He was the God of one family who made up the twelve tribes of Israel, but Isaiah says that a king is coming who will be so great, that other kings, and other nations will bow down and worship him.  These would, by necessity, represent people who were not family, who were not sons and daughters of Abraham, and who were not, therefore, Jewish at all.  That represents a significant change from the status quo of a people who traditionally looked down on, and avoided, Gentiles as much as possible.  But then comes the Christmas story, the birth story of Jesus, and in Matthew 2:1-12, we hear the first fulfillment of Isaiah’s words:

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people, Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Magi, high ranking government officials representing at least one foreign government, travel to Bethlehem to deliver gifts and worship the new king that they saw foretold in the stars.  We retell this story every Christmas, and it seems so familiar that it has become ordinary.  But the familiarity of the story causes us to forget how big a deal this really was.  These men were not Jews, or members of the twelve tribes of Israel, in any way the children of Abraham.  They were foreigners, strangers, outsiders, and Gentiles.  Jesus was barely old enough to walk when, through him, God had already begun to use him to fulfill the promises of scripture and to invite the outsiders and foreigners into his family.  And after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, that fulfillment explodes into the world as we can see in the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:1-12:

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

And here is where Paul discusses the mystery of faith that was revealed to him.  It wasn’t some sort of “secret knowledge” or any information that had been hidden in code in the Hebrew alphabet, or the writings of scripture.  The mystery was that Jesus did exactly what God had told everyone that the Messiah would do.  Jesus was the agent, rescuer and king of his people that invited the outsiders, the outcasts, and the foreigners into Abraham’s family just as Isaiah had written.  The mystery really wasn’t what God did, or that he did it, because through Isaiah and his other prophets, God had made it abundantly clear that these were his intentions all along.  The mystery of history was how God would bring fulfillment to these scriptures.  The revelation was that God chose to do these things through Jesus Christ. 

Paul’s great calling was to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles, but also to connect the dots that had been written by the prophets and show the Jews that this was what God had intended all along.  The big deal that we miss in the Christmas story is that, for us, the climax isn’t the birth of Jesus, the Messiah of the children of Abraham.  The big deal is the arrival of the magi who announce to the world that the doors have been opened to the Gentiles.  The arrival of the magi is the moment in scripture where God fulfills his promise to invite the outcasts, outsiders, and foreigners to be adopted into the family of Abraham and be grafted into his family tree.

The big deal in the story of magi, is that this is the moment when the story really matters to us because the moment that those outsiders, outcasts, foreigners, and Gentiles are invited in, is the moment when you and I become a part of the Christmas story, and the moment when we were invited to become a part of God’s family.


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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 quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Power in Distress

Click here to watch the livestream of this worship service: https://youtu.be/l-G8XgQToQw

(Note: Due to technical issues, no podcast is available for this service)


Power in Distress

January 01, 2023*

(New Year’s Day)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 63:7-9              Matthew 2:13-23                   Hebrews 2:10-18

When the magi arrive in Jerusalem, Matthew includes a curious phrase in his description of King Herod’s reaction.  Matthew says, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-3)

Herod was disturbed… and all of Jerusalem was disturbed with him.

Obviously, there are many reasons why King Herod would have been disturbed, but why would the entire city be disturbed with him?  Historically and biblically, we know that Herod was incredibly paranoid about maintaining his grip on power.  He had at least one of his parents and some of his children killed because he felt threatened by them.  He was not a nice man.  And so, it isn’t surprising that he was disturbed by the arrival of the magi and their question about a new king being born.  There are several theories that have been forwarded about why the entire city would have been disturbed with him, and the simplest of these is that when the king wasn’t happy, everyone worried because… he was not a nice man.  There are other theories, and I have a favorite, but that will have to wait for another day.

And that leads us to our Old Testament reading in which we find that God, in addition to being good, kind, and compassionate, also feels distress when his people are distressed.  We begin this morning reading from Isaiah 63:7-9 where we hear this:

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
    he has done for Israel,
    according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will be true to me”;
    and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy, he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them
    all the days of old.

God’s reaction to his feeling of distress, was to bring healing to those who were distressed. God chooses to bring rescue and redemption to all of humanity so that he could relieve our distress.  This is unlike how King Herod reacts to distress in Matthew 2:13-23 where we read this:

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

When God feels our distress, he feels distress as well, and chose to send a rescuer to relieve us.  But when Herod feels distress, his solution is to kill as many people as necessary to comfort himself that he has removed the source of his distress.  Throughout the story, God’s focus is on rescuing Mary and Joseph, rescuing Jesus, his appointed rescuer, and through him rescuing all of us.  The focus of God is on us, while the focus of Herod is only on himself.

We see that same focus in Hebrews 2:10-18 as God, through the rescue and restoration available through Jesus Christ, removes yet another source of fear and distress for his people, and for all who would come to him.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again, he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

God perfected Jesus Christ through the suffering that he endured on earth, but because of his perfection, God created a path for his people to be purified, perfected, and made holy.  And through that holiness, we can become the brothers and sisters of Jesus, the children of a holy and perfect God.  Once again, if God was anything at all like King Herod, he could have easily eliminated his distress by eliminating us.  But instead of doing that, God chose to set us free from our anxiety and fear of the future by eliminating the power of death itself.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that to accomplish that, God had to become like us.  Not a little bit like us, but exactly like us, fully human, so that he could make atonement for the sins of his people.  Jesus had to become like us, suffer like us, be tempted like us, fear like us, dream like us, feel loss like us, mourn and cry like us, worry like us, feel pain like us, bleed like us, die like us, and in every other way… know what it is to be human.  And because he has done those things, he knows what it is like to be us and he is able to offer us help, rescue, and restoration as no one else can.

When King Herod was in distress, he killed people until his worries went away.

But when God felt the distress of humanity, he suffered death himself so that he could rescue us and remove our distress.

And that is why, like Isaiah, we should be and say, I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us – yes, the many good things he has done for …”

…Us.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Who Cares?

Note: What follows is specific to Christ Church, but if you attend elsewhere, please feel free to consider how it might apply to you in your ministry context. How can you be a part of something new?


Who Cares?

January 2023 Newsletter

Do you read your alumni newsletter as soon as it arrives?

Do open your newspaper, or internet news first thing every morning to check on the scores of your college teams?

Do you have season tickets to the Mount Union football games, or did you sit in the cold to watch the Raiders play their post-season games this winter?

In essence, what I’m asking is, do you care about what’s happening on campus?  Whether it’s Mount Union specifically, or Ohio State, Ohio Northern, Wittenberg, or wherever you went to school, my question is the same.  Do you have a passion for young people who are on university campuses?

Specifically, I’m asking, do you care about their spiritual well-being?

This week our Staff – Parish Relations Committee was discussing, and nominating persons who we… guess… have a passion for university students.  Our goal is to form a small team that will consider how Christ Church might take a more active role in campus ministry.  Just because we are a mile away and not right on the edge of campus, like the folks at Union Avenue, doesn’t mean that we don’t have a role to play.  But what is that role?  What would campus ministry look like for us?

Does that sound like a conversation in which you would like to participate?  It doesn’t matter if you are a snowbird, or if you don’t drive at night, what matters is that you have a passion, that you care about the spiritual care of the young people on campus.  If that’s you, please let me, or Sara Sherer, know who you are.

Our church budget has a line item for hiring a new staff person that will help us with campus ministry (along with applying for a grant from the East Ohio Conference).  But this isn’t something that we can just contract out.  We can’t hire someone to do ministry for us, we must be in ministry with them.

But is that the right thing to do? 

Is campus ministry a good fit for Christ Church?

Those are exactly the questions that we need to answer.  And, if you can help us find those answers, if you have a passion for the University of Mount Union, or if you care about the spiritual well-being of the students on campus, then please raise you hand and let us know so that we can put you on our team.

I am excited for the exciting things that Christ Church is doing.  I think that God has new and wonderful things in store for us in the future.

I hope that you will be a part of it.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Light, Incognito

Due to technical issues, only the benediction was recorded. Click here to watch: https://youtu.be/3xpW5ZC5-YQ

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Light, Incognito

December 25, 2022*

(Christmas Day)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 52:7-10                        John 1:1-14               

It is well known that Keanu Reeves, despite his stardom, lives an almost ordinary life.  Despite living in an eight-million-dollar home in Hollywood Hills (that he bought for five million dollars in 2003), he is regularly seen riding his motorcycle to run errands, doing ordinary chores like grocery shopping himself and, when in New York, regularly rides the subway with everyone else, without bodyguards or entourage, rather than hiring a car service or a limousine.  At the other end of the spectrum are the stars that are so overcome by their stardom, and so overwhelmed by their fans, that they rarely go out in public without trying to do so incognito, or in disguise. 

We can all picture the old movie trope of traveling incognito by wearing a trench coat, floppy hat, and dark sunglasses, but what if more movie stars did what Keanu Reeves does?  What if they traveled incognito, as themselves, and just disappeared into the crowd by setting aside their stardom and being ordinary?

The idea of traveling incognito is really at the core of the Christmas story.  We begin this morning with the promise of the coming messiah found in Isaiah 52:7-10 where we hear these words:

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
    you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
    in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
    the salvation of our God.

Isaiah and the prophets told Israel, and the world, that the messiah would come to bring good news, peace, glory, grace, and truth.  There was no reason for anyone to miss the arrival of something so well announced, anticipated, and expected.  But that’s exactly what happened.  In the gospel of John 1:1-14, we hear John’s telling of the story of Jesus’ arrival.

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John says that the Word came, that word was with God, and that was word was indeed God in human flesh.  Jesus, the Word, was with God at creation, was the agent of creation, and personally made everything that exists.  He was the light of the world that God sent to shine light into the darkness.  But before he came, just to make sure that no one missed it, God sent John the Baptist to announce his arrival.  But despite centuries of prophecy telling of the Messiah that would come, despite the angel of God announcing his arrival and a heavenly host singing praises on the hillsides of Bethlehem, and despite the announcements of John proclaiming that the long-awaited messiah had arrived, the world still missed it.  The savior and rescuer of the world was not incognito any more than you can say that a light in the darkness is hidden.  And yet, the world that he created completely missed him.

But not everyone missed him.  The creator of the universe came to earth and lived among mortal human beings.  Some of them saw.  They witnessed his light, his glory, his grace, and his truth.  And those witnesses spent their lives telling others what they had seen.  But today the world has the same problem.  The rescuer of humanity still travels in broad daylight but incognito from the world.  He is not hidden just as a light in the darkness is not hidden, and yet the world does not see him. 

And so, as it was before, the mission of telling the world falls to his witnesses.  We who have witnessed his grace, his glory, his gentleness, compassion, care, and love are still called to tell the world what we have seen and heard.  Every day, Jesus lives among us. He is not incognito.  He should not be missed by the world around us.  Our mission is the same as those who witnessed his birth and his life two thousand years ago, to spend our lives telling others what we have seen.

Merry Christmas everyone.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Appearances

Click here to watch the livestream of this worship service: https://youtu.be/mE0MlqNZ-Jc

Click here to watch this sermon: https://youtu.be/R_ynOZyQRtg

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Appearances

December 24, 2022*

(Christmas Eve)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 9:2-7                Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)              Titus 2:11-14

Scriptures read during worship by various volunteers:

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

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. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God, and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Appearances

By Pastor John Partridge

In our scriptures tonight we heard stories about appearances.  These were not the kind of appearances that we think of when we say, “keeping up with the Joneses” or “Keeping up appearances.”  Those are superficial things.  The appearances that we heard tonight were actual, physical arrivals, when new things appeared.  In Isaiah we were told to expect the appearance of light to people who were walking in darkness, the appearance of freedom to people who were shackled, yoked, enslaved, and burdened, the appearance of peace to those who were accustomed to violence, war, and oppression, and the appearance of a peaceful and stable, homegrown national government to a people who were accustomed to being on the wrong end of conquest and shifting global military powers and national allegiances.

In the Christmas story from the book of Luke, we heard about the appearance of a newborn baby to Mary and Joseph, the appearance of an angel, and then the appearance of a great heavenly host, to a group of shepherds who were spending yet another chilly night in the countryside.  But there were more appearances than that.  Titus 2:11-14 says that…

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.

Among all the other things that appeared on that first Christmas morning, there was more.  In addition to all the “appearances” that we heard in Isaiah and in Luke, Titus tells us that we mustn’t forget that alongside all those things, grace, salvation, and rescue appeared on that first Christmas morning.

Titus argues that there is a reason why the Christmas story matters to us two thousand years later.  God didn’t just send Jesus to earth to create a nice story for us to remember.  God sent his son with a far larger purpose, and Titus reminds us that God’s purpose, the purpose behind all the nice stories of Christmas, was to purify us. 

Why?

Because we’re not perfect.

We worship a God of perfection and purity while we live lives that are anything other than perfection and purity.  And so, at Christmas, God begins to create a way for us to be with him.  At Christmas, God creates way for us to belong, a way for us to be good, and a way for us to be eager to do good.

Christmas isn’t about God trying to impress us or make us feel good.

Christmas is about God creating a path to transform us so that we can become good, and so that we can belong.

Merry Christmas everyone.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Finding the “You” in Prophecy

Click here to watch this worship service: https://youtu.be/qkMOT7n9ewY

Click here to watch this sermon: https://youtu.be/BrfITEjrIg8


Finding the “You” in Prophecy

December 18, 2022*

(4th Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

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

There are two words that I want to talk about this morning.  The first is “appointment.” The appointment of which I am speaking, is not the like a doctor’s appointment, but used in the sense that the President of the United States appoints members of his cabinet.  Our church has an appointment system.  Pastors serve under appointment and every year the bishop of each Annual Conference sets the appointments of all the pastors under their supervision.  We sometimes have some say in the matter, but whenever, and wherever the bishop appoints, that is where we will serve.

The second word that I would like for you to consider this morning is “enlistment.”  I served as an enlisted soldier in the Army.  It was my choice to sign my contract, and it was my choice to take my oath of service, but once I did so, once I chose to enlist, there were obligations that came as a part of that package.  You cannot enlist, and then afterwards refuse to obey legal and proper orders from your superiors.  Once enlisted, you become a part of a hierarchy and a cog in the machine that makes up the military system.  Enlistment is voluntary, but once enlisted, you become a part of something bigger than yourself and owe an obligation of service to that system.

Why are these definitions important?  Well, eventually I hope that will be clear, but first, let’s begin with the story of Isaiah 7:10-16, where the prophet Isaiah meets with King Ahaz.  Ahaz, the king of the southern tribes of Judah, is afraid because he has refused to ally himself with the northern tribes of Israel, Syria, and several other countries that had decided to fight against the nation of Assyria which was, at that time, a world superpower.  Because Judah had refused to join their alliance, they worried that Judah would fight with the Assyrians and attack them from behind when they were busy fighting the Assyrians from the north.  And so, before that happened, they marched together to attack Judah even though Judah had never threatened them.

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 had already decided what to do and he didn’t really want God’s opinion.  He covered for himself by saying that he did not want to put God to the test, even when God commanded him to ask for one.  Ahaz didn’t want to know what God wanted because, like many of us, he didn’t want God to tell him something that he didn’t want to hear.

Ahaz had already decided what to do before he asked God.  He had already stripped his palace, the temple, and all of Jerusalem, for anything valuable, and had sent a gigantic bribe to the Assyrians to convince them to send an army to defend him.  Ahaz had already decided what to do, and he didn’t want to hear God’s plans because he was afraid that God might want something different than what he wanted.  But instead, God promises that before a child, born in that year, perhaps to a young woman who was Isaiah’s fiancé, was old enough to eat curds and honey, and old enough to know right from wrong, the kings of Israel and Syria would be defeated, and their nations destroyed.

As you might already suspect, this prophecy was eventually also thought to apply to the messiah. And we hear echoes of Isaiah in the birth story of Jesus contained in Matthew 1:18-25.

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.

Joseph had a problem.  His fiancé was pregnant, and he wasn’t the father.  It might have been two thousand years ago, but everybody knew how babies are made. What made that a problem was that Joseph lived in a patriarchal culture of honor.  That means that first, since he was the man, it was his responsibility.  If he did it, it was his fault.  If he didn’t do it, it was his responsibility to fix it.  The second problem is that in a culture of honor, having a pregnant fiancé before the wedding causes you, and your entire family to lose honor.  That, in turn, means higher prices at the market, whispers behind your back, and lost customers for your business.  Since it wasn’t his fault, the expectation was that Joseph would divorce her for breach of contract.  Being a nice guy, he had, in fact, already decided to do this quietly rather than calling her out for being a woman of loose morals in public, shaming her, and causing a loss of honor for her family.

But hearing from God in a dream, Joseph, unlike King Ahaz, chooses obedience.  Joseph chooses obedience over honor, over family, over business, over money, over convenience, over practicality, and over expediency.  There were a dozen, or two dozen, reasons Joseph to divorce Mary, but rather than doing so, Joseph chooses obedience as the higher calling.

But why is any of that important to us outside of being a nice traditional story about the birth of Jesus?

And the answer to that comes from the words from the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:1-7 where he says:

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.

In this passage we encounter the words whose definitions we discussed at the beginning.  First, Paul has been called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel.  Second, we find that Jesus has been appointed with the powers of the Son of God through his resurrection from the dead.  And third, that because we have chosen to follow him, Jesus has given us grace and appointed us as apostles of the gospel message.  When we enlisted as his followers, we were appointed to call all the Gentiles, that is, to call just about everyone that you know, to the work of obedience that come through faith.

If you read the title of this message, this is where we find the “you” in prophecy.  God proclaimed that a virgin would conceive and bear a child… and she did.  God declared that he would send a messiah into the world… and he did.  And God promised that he would send good news of great joy for all the people to the ends of the earth… and then he called you and I to do it.

The message of Christmas isn’t just that a baby was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.

The message of Christmas is that God sent his Son, with the intention of sharing the good news of the gospel with everyone so that he could save the entire planet.  But the work that began on Christmas morning two thousand years ago isn’t finished.  God has called us, and that includes every one of us who has enlisted in his service.  And God has appointed us to share the good news of the gospel, and to call all the world to the work of obedience that comes through faith.

When I enlisted in the Army, I submitted to the authority of the Army.  I did not retain personal authority to decide what I would do.  I would go where the Army said that I would go and do what the Army said that I should do.

When I chose to be ordained, I submitted to the authority of the bishop of the East Ohio Annual Conference.  I go where the bishop says go, and I serve where the bishop appoints me to serve.

And the same is true of us when we choose to follow Jesus Christ.  Once we have chosen to follow him, he is the one who appoints and so, as his followers, we must go where he calls us to go, and do what he calls us to do.  And if we are to be obedient to that call, then we must carry the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth and call the entire world to the work of obedience that comes through faith.

Christmas was never intended to be an ending.  It isn’t just a nice story.  It is instead, the beginning of an adventure that calls all of us into a life of obedience to God.


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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 quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Humbug!

Humbug!

Christmas 2022

by John Partridge

Another year has passed, and we are only a short time away from Christmas. With my return to school this Advent season has seemed to be even more of a whirlwind than before even though we no longer have children home and the demands of sporting events and Christmas concerts. And despite the busyness, perhaps because of the busyness, it feels less like Christmas than usual. This week I intend to decorate.  Being festive for the holiday season is typically not my “thing” but I feel the need to do it just so that the visible signs, the decorations, and the lights, can help to prepare me, and bring me into the spirit of Christmas.

It isn’t uncommon for me to feel a bit of humbug during this season, and I once played a lot of Christmas music to fight against it. But music isn’t as easily accessible to me as it once was.  But although I know that some of you are die-hard Christmas people who start decorating before Halloween, play Christmas music almost year ‘round, put up five Christmas trees, and own a Christmas sweater for every day in December, I suspect that I’m not alone.  I’m pretty sure that there are others of you who fell like Christmas has snuck up on them and who are struggling with a bit of ‘humbug.”  It doesn’t yet *feel* like Christmas. 

Maybe it’s because the kids aren’t at home, or because we haven’t gone to a Christmas concert, because we haven’t had time to decorate, or because there’s an empty chair at the table that held a loved one last year, or because… well, because life happens, and all sorts of things happened to us since last year. I get it. It’s happened to me.

But whether that resonates with you or not, I invite you to fight against the humbug. We still have some time left.  Come to church, listen to the choir, sing some carols, enjoy our decorations, push yourself to do some decorating of your own, even if you only have the energy to put up a construction paper Christmas tree, then do it.

Put Christmas Eve on your Calendar and come and enjoy a celebration of the Christ child with us at 7:00 pm. And remember that this year, Christmas falls on Sunday so plan on being here at Christ Church, or wherever you worship, on Christmas morning. It isn’t a surprise.  It happens every seven years.  But rather than thinking of it as an inconvenience, consider it an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Jesus on his birthday.  It’s a bit like children who are born on February 29th.  They have a birthday every year, but they only get to celebrate on their actual birthday once every four years.

Don’t let Christmas sneak upon you.  Talk to your families.  Plan to join us on Christmas morning to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  We won’t be long.  I promise that the sermon won’t be long.  But I hope that all of you will decide to come to the party and celebrate with Jesus on his birthday. 

Don’t be a humbug.

I look forward to seeing you on Christmas Eve on Saturday, and the next day on Christmas morning.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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