Not Normal (Yet)

Not Normal (Yet)

Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”  And that kind of sums up where we are in our struggle to return to normal from this global pandemic.  Some things are returning to normal but, as it has been for the last fifteen months, “normal” remains a moving target.  Even so, things are getting better and as they do, our church is returning to more familiar routines.  But even as we move toward the familiar, our routines will be different than they used to be. 

What does that mean?

Well, let’s talk about a few of our routines and how they might be different.

  1. We’re moving back to indoor church.  Hooray!  But being indoors isn’t going to be exactly like it used to be (yet).  We are returning indoors, but we’re still concerned about the spread of COVID, so some things will remain different for a while.  Sunday school classes and church committees are returning to in-person meetings, but not all of them.  Not everyone feels comfortable meeting in groups and some committee meetings are sometimes more convenient online, so some of those groups will remain online.

We are going to worship indoors, but worship still isn’t going to be the same as it used to be.  We are going to take the offering differently, we will be space ourselves out more than we used to, we plan to wear masks when we sing, and some people will likely choose to wear masks all the time. 

  • The building isn’t how I remember it.  We’ve made some changes.  Some of them are pandemic related, and some aren’t.  Our trustees have not been hibernating for the last year.  I’ve mentioned before that there were new lights installed above the stairs by the handicap entrance and in the lounge, but most of you will soon be seeing those changes for the first time so it will look a little different.  The trustees have other projects in progress that haven’t happened yet, so you can expect more changes.  In part because of COVID and in-part because of security concerns, we just aren’t going to unlock as many doors as we used to.  Many of you won’t even notice, but we will put up signs and let you know what’s going on so that we can all get used to entering through the doors that are open.
  • Money.  Honestly, this one is entirely up to you.  To everyone’s credit, last year, our giving remained steady even though we stayed home and made the transition to online worship.  But 2021 has not been kind to us.  I’m not sure that there is any single reason that can explain it.  We got out of the habit of coming to church.  We got out of the habit of putting our offering in the plate.  We got worried about our personal finances and cut back.  It could be any of those, or all of those, or a hundred other things.  But our offerings changed.  Dramatically.  I won’t belabor the point here, because our members will soon be receiving a letter that will go into more details.  For now, let’s just say that our budget, our staff, and all sorts of things will be facing substantial changes if 2021 doesn’t start to look more like 2019.
  • Dress. I don’t really know.  But I suspect that over the last year, many of you have grown accustomed to attending church in your bunny slippers.  I’m sure you don’t want to show up half-dressed, but if a year of worshiping online makes you feel like you want to dress more comfortably, I’m pretty sure no one will mind.  I’m sure I’ll go back to wearing a suit at some point, but I admit that I rather liked being able to preach wearing denim pants and hiking boots.  The important thing is that we all get back in the habit of going to church and being together.
  • People.  While we were online, we’ve had a few new people begin to worship with us.  Even though they have been “in church” with us for months, they will be unfamiliar to most of you.  I hope that you will make them feel welcome.  If you are one of those folks that joined us online, I hope that will join us in-person even though almost all of us will be unfamiliar to you.  At the same time, I’m sure that there are a few folks who just got out of the habit of coming to church and won’t be returning.  I hope it isn’t many.  And I hope it isn’t you.  We are the church.  We are the body of Christ.  All of us.  Together.

I’m sure that’s not all.  I’m sure that there are changes I forgot to mention, and others that I haven’t learned about, or that haven’t happened yet.  But life is all about change.  As we return to in-person, indoor worship, things are going to seem more like normal.  But, at the same time, not… quite… normal.  Whenever you feel comfortable, I hope that you will return to worship in-person.  And, until you do, we are working hard to continue some sort of online worship.  Although that may face some changes too.

Whatever happens…

“It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” 


Blessings,

Pastor John


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Hope Squared

Hope Squared

May 23, 2021*

(Pentecost)

 By Pastor John Partridge

John 15:26 – 16:15                 Acts 2:1-21                             Romans 8:22-27

Have you ever experienced a moment in your life when everything changed?

It happens in our personal lives, it happens in warfare, it happens in the lives of nations, and it has happened, just a few times, in the spiritual world as well.

Often, the moment when our first child is placed into our arms changes us forever.  Our goals, our direction, our purpose… everything changes.

In war, we saw moments like those at D-Day, at the battle of Midway, and Tet Offensive.  Something changed in the tempo, the tide, or the will of nations, and the entire war pivoted in those moments.

In scripture we see those same sorts of pivotal moments in the Garden of Eden, God’s covenant with Abraham, the birth and death of Jesus, and on the day we celebrate today, at Pentecost.  It was at Pentecost, with the coming of the Spirit of God, that our relationship with God, and God’s relationship with the world, changed forever.  But before we get too far down that road, let’s remember how it all happened.  Let’s start with the promise that Jesus made to his disciples in John 15:26 – 16:15:

15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

16:1 “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.

I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Jesus promises that after he returns to heaven, he will send the Advocate, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God (whichever adjective you prefer) to testify about him, to encourage us, to help us to remember what we have been taught, to prove to the world that it was wrong when they believed that Jesus was not the Messiah, and to lead us to truths that Jesus didn’t have the time to teach, and which the world was not yet ready to hear.  As if often the case, the disciples had a hard time understanding what any of that meant.  But whether they understood it or not, they did as Jesus told them and, after Jesus ascended into heaven, they stayed together in Jerusalem, worshiping in the temple, and praying together, until the day of Pentecost came… and the world changed… again (Acts 2:1-21).

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesas the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Throughout the Old Testament, and up until this moment in the New Testament, the Spirit of God is something that is said to “come upon” a person for a moment in time.  Prophets would occasionally be filled with the Spirit long enough to prophecy, or to perform a miracle, or in the case of Samson, to lift heavy objects.  But suddenly everything changes.  The paradigm shifts.  Jesus returns to heaven and sends the Spirit to earth, not for a moment, and not into a single person, but for every follower of Jesus, for all time.  Not just the eleven disciples, but all the followers of Jesus, men, and women, probably numbering at least seventy, gather in prayer and suddenly witness fire that roars down from heaven and comes to rest on each and every one of them.  And immediately, the get up on their feet, go down in the street, and tell the world about the story of Jesus in every language, of every nation, of every person that is gathered there.  Some people hear the babbling of so many languages and assume that the speakers are just drunk, but Peter, the guy that denied Jesus three times, and who only days before, was practically terrified of his own shadow, stands up in front of the entire crowd and declares that these things are all happening because God is, even at that moment, fulfilling the promises made to the people of Israel through the prophet Joel by pouring out his Spirit on all people.

But, as we seem to ask every week, who cares?  Why does it matter?  How do the events of 2000 years ago have anything to do with us today?  And in anticipation of those exact sort of questions, once again Paul writes this answer in Romans 8:22-27:

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

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

The story of scripture is a story of hope.  God’s people always had hope.  They had hope in God.  And, through the prophets, they had hope in a savior, rescuer, and Messiah that would come to save them return God’s favor to Israel.

But Paul says that the whole of creation has been groaning, as if it were in labor to deliver a baby, from the time of creation right up until the present time.  And even though we have faith in Jesus, and have been rescued by him, we continue to wait, expectantly, for something better.  We have hope for a better future.  We have hope for our resurrection and our future life in the perfect home that God is preparing for us.  Our hope lies in our adoption into God’s family but hope for the future and resurrection is not our only hope.  While we are still here, while we are still living in our imperfect physical bodies, the Spirit of God that lives within us helps us in all our weakness.  Even when we are so overwhelmed by grief, pain, suffering, confusion, exhaustion, anger, and other human weaknesses, God’s spirit intercedes for us and lifts prayers to God when our minds fail to string words together with any sense and all we can do is groan.  The Spirit knows us so intimately, that even when we don’t know what to say, or how to say it, even when we can’t form words, that spirit intercedes for us, praying to God for us, forming words from our pain, and praying our prayers to God for us when we cannot.

History pivots at Pentecost.

Throughout scripture, the hope of God’s people was distant.  That somehow, someday, God would rescue them.  That maybe God would send a prophet to give them guidance and wisdom.  That someday, the Messiah would come.

And then Jesus came, and we had the hope of a better future in eternity… someday.

But at Pentecost our hope was multiplied.

Not just hope for the future, but also hope for today.

Hope multiplied.

Hope squared.

From the moment of Pentecost until now we not only have the incredible hope of adoption into God’s family, and not only the hope of redemption and eternity, but the knowledge and the hope that right now, in every moment that we live, the Spirit of God is active in our lives, drawing us closer to Jesus, guiding us, granting us wisdom, revealing truth to us, and even teaching us things that we couldn’t bear to hear even a moment earlier.

Pentecost was a moment that history pivots.

The world changed forever.

Not just hope. 

Hope multiplied.

Hope squared.

So much hope that we just have to share it with others.



You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/RobKQxOUi6w

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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.

No Love Without Risk

No Love Without Risk

April 25, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 10:11-18                                    Acts 4:5-12                             1 John 3:16-24

Would you risk your life to save your kids?

It’s a question that every parent understands and it’s one that Jonathan Honey, a father of three from Carbon County, Pennsylvania answered last week as he died trying to save his family from a house fire.  One child jumped from a second-floor window and was caught, barely, by a neighbor that jumped to meet him in the air, Kierstyn, the mother jumped out of a window cradling and protecting their baby, and Jonathan rushed into the house, found the third child, and put them in a closet before being overcome by carbon monoxide.  Kierstyn and the children are all in the hospital with broken bones or burns, but Jonathan lost his life trying to save his family.

It’s tragic, but nearly every parent has imagined what they would do in a similar situation, and nearly every one of us know that we would, without hesitation, risk our lives to save the life of one our children.  It difficult as it is to think about, we accept this reality, and we understand that there is no mystery to it.  We would risk our lives for our spouses or for our children… because we love them.  Our lives change when we have children.  We do everything differently.  We grocery shop differently, we drive differently, we dress differently, we spend our money and our time differently, we do without things that we like, that we want, and that we are accustomed to having so that our children can have the things that they need.  And we do all these things, we turn our adult lives upside down, because we love them.

And it is that understanding of parental love, and risk, that Jesus uses to describe God’s radical and sacrificial love for us in John 10:11-18 when he says:

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

After thousands of years of Jewish and Christian influence, in the twenty-first century, we miss the radical nature of what Jesus was saying.  The gods of the world, in the cultures that surrounded Israel were selfish, arrogant, violent, and uncaring.  The gods of the Philistines had routinely demanded that parents sacrifice their children for the fertility of their fields and good harvests, the gods of Greece and Rome considered humans to be inferior, unimportant, and without consequence except for use as pawns as they battled against one another.  It was common in many of the world’s religions to consider human worshippers to be resources to be spent rather than treasure to be valued.  But in that culture, and within that understanding of the relationship between gods and humans, Jesus proclaims a radical idea that he, and Israel’s God, love us in the sacrificial and selfless way that parents love their children.  Jesus says that he, like a true shepherd, is willing to lay down his life to protect his sheep.

And in Acts 4:5-12, Peter also preaches that because our God is a god of compassion and love, his disciples and followers are willing to risk their own security to care for those in need.  Luke writes this story:

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Peter and John are legally detained by the authorities and forcibly brought in front of the high priest, his powerful family, and the rulers, elders, and teachers of Jerusalem.  All the movers and shakers and powerful people were there.  And the question that they ask is, who gave you the power, or permission, to heal a man who was born lame?  Peter knows that these men have the power to convict them, punish them, or imprison them if they don’t like their answers.  This is a speech that is filled with risk.  And yet, Peter does not mince words and without hesitation, proclaims that they have been dragged into court in retribution for an act of compassion.  Peter goes on to preach and proclaim the name and the power of Jesus Christ and states, unequivocally, that there is no other name than Jesus, there is no other man, and no other god, on the face of the earth that can rescue humanity before God.

Peter and John knew that healing the lame man carried risk.  They knew that telling the truth in front of the power brokers of Israel risked their health and their freedom.  But Jesus taught and demonstrated that love and compassion were always worth the risk.

And in his letter to the churches and believers in Asia, John explains this idea of love and risk in more detail in 1 John 3:16-24 saying:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John boils it down to the simplest of terms.  Jesus demonstrated to us what love is supposed to look like and Jesus gave up his life for us.  That example means that that we should be prepared to give up our lives, for the people around us.  We must be prepared to risk everything for others.  We can’t hold too tightly to any of our material possessions or even to our own lives.  If fellow believers are in need, we cannot just heartlessly keep what is ours and allow them to do without.  Instead, we must be prepared to risk, to give up some of our possession, some of our creature comforts, some of our rights, or whatever else it might take to meet their needs because Jesus has taught us, and shown us, that this is what true love looks like.  Loving with our words and making grand and eloquent speeches is not enough if we don’t risk the things that we have and demonstrate our love through our actions.

Love, real love, true love, isn’t an idea and it isn’t just a feeling.

True love is an action.

And because actions have consequences, we can’t play it safe.

            There is no love… without risk.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/nvhcnF-CUd4

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

The Power of Hope

Promises, Lawlessness, and the Power of Hope

April 18, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 24:36-48                                    Acts 3:11-19                           1 John 3:1-7

There is a photograph that circulates occasionally on internet forums and viewers are typically encouraged to look at it for five or ten seconds before reading the text that follows.  The photo is of a street scene with passing cars, and, in the foreground, several attractive young ladies dressed in somewhat… revealing attire.  But, after looking at the picture and reading the text that follows, you are asked if you noticed that one of the cars was being driven… by a dog.  Of course, no one usually notices that particular detail and is compelled to look back at the photograph.  Sure enough, right in the center of the picture, the car driving down the street has a dog in the driver’s seat.

But, as unusual as that is, why does almost no one, male or female, notice that the first time?

And the answer if focus.  Our attention is naturally drawn to people and not to machines, particularly cars and other things that we see all the time.  We weren’t looking for a dog driving a car, so we didn’t see one.

It’s the same thing that creates some absolutely hilarious complaints on the comment cards returned to our national parks.  People complain that they weren’t allowed to touch the lava at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, they complain that there was nothing to see but rocks at Arches National Park (which incidentally has some of the most spectacular 65-million-year-old geological features that you well ever see), they complain that watching water boil at home would be more impressive that seeing the geysers at Yellowstone, that the Grand Canyon is just a big hole in the ground, that Sand Dunes National Park is just a “big pile of sand,” that Yosemite’s snow fed waterfalls stop by mid-summer because the Park Service must be turning them off, that some of the roads were closed by snow at Glacier National Park, and many, many, more complaints about bears, rattlesnakes, mosquitos, and other things that most of us would expect from our visits to these spectacular places.

But the reason that these people were disappointed was… focus.

If you expect a national park to have the same amenities as the Ritz Carlton, you are certain to be disappointed.

And it is that idea of focus that brings us to today’s first scripture.  At first, as we read Luke 24:36b-48, it seems to be the same as the passage that we read last week.  And it is similar.  But before we finish reading, we notice that the focus of our reading is different than before.  And that shift in focus becomes even clearer as we read our other scripture selections for today.

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

As we read Luke’s retelling of the resurrection story, the beginning sounds the same as what we read in John’s account last week, but while the point, the focus, of John’s story was the skepticism and doubt of the disciples and the future generations who would hear their story, Luke doesn’t even mention it.  Instead, Luke focuses on how Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s prophecy and how God was keeping his promises to his people.  Jesus asks for, and eats, food in their presence to prove that he is not a ghost or a spirit, but is indeed, a living, physical, flesh and blood human being.  And, while Luke also repeats Jesus offer to touch the nail holes in his hands and feet, this too is offered up as proof of his humanity and not to dispel doubt.  But in the end, the point that Jesus makes in Luke’s gospel story is that everything that God’s prophets had ever written about the coming Messiah, in all of scripture, had been fulfilled through Jesus, and they were witnesses of all that had happened.

What’s more, Luke’s story includes an emphasis, a focus, on reminding the disciples that a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached, in the name of Jesus, in every nation of the world and would begin in Jerusalem.  And while that part hadn’t happened yet, Jesus still declares that the disciples were his witnesses.  And so, we see that while Luke is obviously telling the same story that we heard from John, the focus of Luke’s story is different and so we see a different message in it.

And even though John’s focus was different, we see from his actions, and those of Peter, in Acts 3:12-19, that they certainly understood Jesus’ message of repentance because of the words that they spoke to the gathered crowd after they healed the blind man at the gates of Jerusalem.

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

Peter and John proclaim to the gathered crow that they understood that the people acted the way that they did, and made the choices that they made, because they were ignorant of the truth.  But, now that they knew the truth, they must repent of their sins, and turn to God for forgiveness.

And even though the focus of John’s gospel story was on the shock, skepticism, and doubt of the disciples, he also understood that the message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness was inseparable from it because in 1 John 3:1-7 he writes these words:

3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

John understands that the most important message of the resurrection story is the message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness but also that having heard that message changes us and how we choose to live our lives.  Once we know, and believe, the story of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that one day we will become as he is, and it is that hope that directs our lives in new directions.  It is that hope that guides our paths away from lawlessness and toward purity and righteousness.

It is that hope that drives us to share our message with the world and with the people around us so that they will no longer be ignorant of the truth, repent, and find forgiveness and hope.

The first step in making the world a better place is for us to become better people.  And the first step we must take to become better people is to repent of our sins, draw close to God, and become, every day, more like Jesus.

That is message that we must share, and that is the message that has, does, and will continue to change the world.

Because while some people will try to describe the message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness as a message of condemnation, in truth it is a message of hope that the world desperately needs to hear.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/0t6-WsacQ0s

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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.

Fear and Peace

Fear and Peace

April 11, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 20:19-31                                    Acts 4:32-35                           1 John 1:1 – 2:2

In his description of soldiers at war, in his novel “War and Peace,” Leo Tolstoy describes how disciplined and trained soldiers would be marched into battle, but once they came under fire would be seized by fear, become a disorganized rabble, and chaotically flee for their lives.  But, once having reached the rear, and being no longer afraid, would once again fall under the discipline of their command, reorganize, and march forward into battle.  But, once they came under fire, would again be seized by fear, and the process would repeat itself.  This observation led Tolstoy to conclude that,,,

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.” (Leo Tolstoy, “War and Peace”)

While the resurrection story doesn’t contain the same sort of warfare that Tolstoy was describing, we do see many of the same human reactions to fear at the beginning.  However, the power of Jesus’ resurrection allows us to see a transformative change in the disciples and other followers of Jesus, particularly as it relates to fear.  We rejoin the gospel story on Easter Sunday evening as described in John 20:19-31.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

When we join the disciples, they are hiding behind locked doors because they are afraid that the church leaders who had rigged an illegal trial to convict Jesus would be looking for them next.  But in the middle of their fear, Jesus arrives and his first words to them are, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus knows that the disciples were missing something, and immediately shares two things with them.  First, Jesus gives them purpose by declaring that the mission that God had given to him was now being passed on to them, and second, Jesus gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit that will empower them and give them the strength that they will need to do that work.

But not everyone was there.  Thomas was not among them when Jesus appeared and, as clearly as they tried to explain it to him, and regardless of the trust that they had built among one another over the last three years of their ministry together with Jesus, he remained skeptical.  And his skepticism remained until he met Jesus for himself and put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand where the spear had pierced him.  But Jesus knew that not everyone would be able to see him and touch him to cure them of their skepticism.  And of those people, to whom the disciples would be sent, Jesus declares a blessing for their ability to overcome doubt and skepticism and find faith.

John declares that his reason for writing this gospel was so that those people, people like us, could hear the story from the eyewitnesses who, saw it, felt it, and lived it, and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing might find life that was unafraid, bold, and courageous.  That transformed life, that started in fear of the church leaders, ended with disciples and followers of Jesus who were unafraid to preach the gospel and share the stories about the things that they had seen, heard, and lived.  And Luke describes how that transformation changed them, as individuals, and as a group, in Acts 4:32-35 saying…

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

One transformation that was caused by the three years of living beside Jesus, and of the resurrection, was that the disciples and followers of Jesus became a family that not only shared their life experiences together, but a family that shared their finances together.  They shifted from claiming that they individually owned their possessions, to recognizing that God owned everything and entrusted their possessions to them.  I don’t think that’s the same as declaring that all their possessions were owned collectively, because the owners of those lands and houses still oversaw and administered the wealth and the possessions that they had, but they now shared that wealth in a new, and deeply generous, way so that everyone in their community of faith was cared for and had the things that they needed.

In 1 John 1:1 – 2:2, a letter that was written to circulate among established churches and gathering places of believers, the apostle John wrote:

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make ourjoy complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from allsin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

John reminds the churches that from the beginning, the disciples, apostles, and followers of Jesus took up the mission of sharing what they knew.  They shared their experiences, what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they had lived, with the people, and the world around them.  They shared the story of Jesus Christ, they shared the story of the resurrection, and they shared the stories and lessons that Jesus had taught them.  John particularly notes that they do these things, not only as an act of obedience, but that by sharing their stories, and by sharing the story of Jesus, they receive joy.  It makes them happy to share with others the things that they had been given.

And just to be sure that no one was confused about what he was talking about, John drills down to the specifics, that the message we share is the message that we heard from Jesus, that God is light and cannot have any part with darkness.  That means that if we want to be a part of what God is doing, and be a part of God’s kingdom, and a part of God’s church, then we must do our best to walk in the light and live the way that Jesus taught us to live.

At the same time, John is clear that he was not perfect, that we are not perfect, and that the church itself is not perfect, that we sin, and that we fail to live up to the truths that we have learned.  But if we confess our sins, Jesus will forgive us and purify us.  It is John’s hope that the followers of Jesus will not sin, but if, and when, we do, we can find comfort in knowing that Jesus is our advocate.  He paid the price for our sins and stands beside the throne of God to speak for us in our times of need and to speak words of forgiveness when we fall short.

Just as the disciples were transformed by the events of the resurrection, when we put our faith in Jesus, our lives are similarly transformed.  Where we were afraid and tossed about by the events of the world around us, we become unafraid, bold, and courageous.  Our faith leads us to repentance, our repentance brings us forgiveness, and that forgiveness takes us to a place of hope, healing, recovery, joy, and peace.

Tolstoy may have been talking about something completely different, but the gospel story, and the story of Jesus’ resurrection assure us that there was truth in his words.

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.”

And, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we no longer fear death, or life, or principalities, or powers, or peer pressure, or anything else because we know that our trust and faith can only lead to joy… and peace.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/M8cRsBa8GVI

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

The Death of “Normal”

“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”

You’ve all heard it.  Sometimes it seems as if we hear someone say it every day.    But you know what?  The old “normal” is dead and it isn’t coming back.  I’ll explain what I mean in a minute, but while the death of normal makes me a little sad, it also gives me hope.

For most of us, getting back to “normal” means that everything returns to the way that it was before COVID-19 turned our lives upside-own and sideways.  But so much has changed and, if we’re honest, we have changed, that there’s no way for us to go back to the way that they were before.  And, if we’re brutally realistic, some things are still going to get worse before they get better.  So, how is any of that hopeful?

First, let me explain why we can’t go back as if this year was a children’s playground “do over.”  Some things have changed that simply can’t be erased.  People we love have died and we can’t get them back.  Businesses have closed that won’t reopen, and more are likely to do so before this is over.  Movie theaters and other businesses are starting to close as the pandemic drags on and while some of them may have enough money to try again when things get better, most of them are gone forever as are the jobs that they created.  But, after six months, our behavior is changing too and, by the time COVID-19 burns itself out or we develop a vaccine, our habits and patterns of life will have changed as well.  People who never used the drive thru at the bank or the pharmacy will be used to it, and many of us will like it enough to keep using it.  Many of us have discovered the convenience of Zoom meetings and, while we might not meet that way all the time, some of our meetings will remain on Zoom and other electronic platforms.  People who didn’t cook at home a lot are learning how, and some of them are getting pretty good at it and are discovering that it’s a lot cheaper (and healthier) than eating out.  Families are spending more time together and more time outdoors.  And every one of those changes, from small ones to big ones, changes how we do business and how we live our lives.

Churches are discovering the same thing.  Churches have had to completely change the way that we fund our operations.  Obviously, there isn’t a weekly offering plate if there is no weekly in-person worship service.  So, with essentially no notice, churches had to find ways of either collecting a weekly offering by mail or doing so electronically.  Christ Church has been blessed to have a congregation that navigated that pivot well, thanks to your adaptability and thanks to finance and computer literate members who had the building blocks in place long before we needed to rely on them.  But some churches haven’t navigated that transition nearly as well, and many of those churches may not survive.  All of us have seen those changes in our Cub Scout pack, our weekly Community Dinner, our collections for the hungry and the homeless, our online worship, and a hundred other ways.

But, at the same time, not all those changes are bad.  Some of us are discovering how easy that donating electronically can be, and we might just like it.  Our move to online worship may have lost a few of our regular attenders but, at the same time, we’ve added a few new “faces” in worship.  Each week there are several people who are “liking,” commenting, and sharing our services online that we haven’t yet met in person.  People are “visiting” our church, and our worship services, that likely would not have physically walked in the door before we were forced to change.  And some of the people we’ve known for years have discovered that our online worship, newsletters, and “Newsy Notes” have allowed them to stay connected even when they are working weekends, sick, travelling, or retire out of state.  The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to shift our perspective.  As much as we love our church building, it’s possible that we are less likely to think of “church” as a building when we are prevented from spending so much time in it.  It might just be easier for us to think about “being Jesus” to the people around us when we don’t physically see the Outreach Committee at church every Sunday and expect them (or the pastor) to be Jesus for us. 

And if those changes help us to meet new people, share the gospel with new friends, reach out to our neighbors, get to know their names and their problems, to love them, and be Jesus to them, that’s certainly not a bad thing and it’s not something that I want to give up when this is over.

It’s time for us to accept that the old “normal” isn’t ever coming back.  But while this pandemic is still a long way from being over, now is a great time for us to think about what our “new normal” will look like when it finally is.  Church in the “new normal” is almost certainly going to remain online in addition to “in-person.”  Some of our meetings are likely to remain on Zoom simply because it’s convenient as well as easier for some of our member who don’t like to drive after dark during the winter months.  Some of us will continue to use the option of giving online. 

But how will we, as the people of God, be changed?  Will we be more loving?  Will we be more compassionate?  Will we be more aware of our neighbors, coworkers, and other people around us?  Will we be transformed by this natural disaster, and by God, into people who are more like Jesus, who love like Jesus, than we were before?  Will our church become known, even more than we were, as a church who cares about our neighborhood and about our community?  Will we, more than ever, act as if we are the ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God?

I hope so.  I see it happening in bits and pieces and it’s growing.  We are, every day, taking baby steps in a new direction.  And, if that new direction carries us closer to Jesus, I don’t ever want to go back to the old “normal.”

I urge you to keep praying for Christ Church, for our church family, for the new names and new faces that we are reaching in new ways, for our neighborhood, our community, our nation, and for the world. 

The old “normal” isn’t coming back. 

Feel free to grieve its loss.

But there is hope.

We will, eventually, pass through this trial and arrive on the shores of a new “normal.”

Let us pray that when we arrive, each one of us, and our church, is more like Jesus than ever before.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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A Difference Making Difference

A Difference Making Difference

May 31, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:19-22        Acts 2:1-21      1 Corinthians 12:4-13

 Whether we hear it from retiring Baby Boomers or job-changing Gen-Xers, Millennials, or GenY or GenZ workers looking for better, or more fulfilling work, one of the phrases that we often hear is “I want to make a difference.”  I have known Baby Boomers to walked away from six figure jobs to go back to their roots and do basic research, or to take jobs at non-profits so that they could focus on doing what they loved, or on making the world a better place rather than just trying to make as much money as they could.  Many of us either won’t have that opportunity, or we can’t afford to make those kinds of decisions, but many of us do find the time to volunteer in our free time in food pantries, to ring bells for the Salvation Army, or train lifeguards for the Red Cross, teach CPR, or volunteer for other charities so that we can help others and give back to our communities.

There is something in us that wants to be a part of something outside of ourselves, to give of ourselves for something other than our own pleasure or profit, and to make life better for someone else.  But sometimes we just aren’t sure how to do that or, we are trapped by the inertia of our lives, or by indecision, and we just get carried along with the flow of life and we get stuck. 

But we are meant to spend our lives stuck in a rut.

Remember that after Jesus’ resurrection, he came to his disciples and told them about a gift.  You might remember that we read the story of John 20:19-22 a few weeks ago:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Remember that in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for breath, wind, and spirit are the same word.  And so, Jesus breathed on them and told them about the holy breath, the holy wind, and the holy Spirit.  And then in Acts 1: 4-5, just before Jesus left the earth and ascended into heaven, he told them not to leave town until his gift would finally arrive.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

And so, the disciples, and the followers of Jesus, stayed in Jerusalem, praying, and worshipping, and sharing stories about what they had done, and what they had learned from Jesus.  And they kept doing that… until the Day of Pentecost.  And we read that story in Acts 2:1-21.

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Although we read this passage every year, we must resist the temptation to think that this is ordinary.  The gift of the Spirit of God was nothing short of transformational in every way.  Everyone changed.  Everyone was empowered.  Everyone was used by God, and everyone used their gifts for the Kingdom of God.  We can see that when they received the gift of the Spirit they immediately went out into the streets and began to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people who had come to Jerusalem, from across the known world, to celebrate the Jewish holiday.  But Peter’s transformation was the most exceptional of all.  Peter, the disciple who denied he knew Jesus three times, the follower who went home to Galilee after the crucifixion, the one who, with the other disciples, would only meet after the resurrection in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked.  Peter was a man who feared being arrested and crucified for following Jesus and he allowed his fear to drive him to deny Jesus, to run away, and to hide behind locked doors. 

But all that changed at Pentecost.

In recent weeks we have seen that after Jesus’ resurrection Peter had begun to change and was becoming increasingly bold and fearless.  And, with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, that transformation is complete.  With the other followers who were gathered in that room, Peter goes out into the streets of Jerusalem, addresses the entire crowd who had gathered around them, and he proclaims that this is the fulfillment of scripture, that the last days foretold by the prophets had arrived and that the Spirit of God had come and was now living in, and among, the people of God.

But impressive as that is, what difference does it make to us?

It certainly might be interesting and exciting to read about the transformation of Peter, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, but what does that have to do with us here in the twenty-first century?

And the answer, again, is everything.

In in letter to church in Corinth, more than two decades after Pentecost, Paul explains it this way:(1 Corinthians 12:4-13)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Remember that Paul is writing to a church in Greece, almost two thousand miles from Jerusalem, and more than twenty years after Pentecost.  But he still speaks about the gift of the Spirit of God being distributed to the followers of Jesus Christ and, he says, “it is the same Spirit” that distributes them.  The story of the disciples at Pentecost cannot be disconnected from our story, nor can we discount the story of Pentecost because it was far away and long ago.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, the Spirit that came to rest upon the disciples at Pentecost, is the same Spirit that comes to us today. 

In the church of the twenty-first century, the Spirit of God still brings gifts to the followers of Jesus and, while those gifts might not be the gifts of speaking in tongues (though they might), we are assured that the gifts of God, to each one of us, are given to us for the common good.  We are given gifts that are to be used for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God.  Those gifts might be any of the examples that Paul gave, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, as well as gifts of service and work.  Those broad categories allow for us to receive gifts that Paul could have never understood.  We might receive gifts of facility with computers or social media, gifts of healing through the use of modern medicine, gifts of auto repair, or any other kind of work or service to others.  But regardless of what gifts they might be, we can be certain that the Spirit of God is still in the business of giving these gifts to all the followers of Jesus Christ.

On the Day of Pentecost, these gifts were transformational.  Once they received the gifts of the Spirit, the followers of Jesus were transformed and changed.  The Spirit made a difference in their lives, and that difference allowed them to make a difference in the world around them.  Two thousand years later, we haven’t simply inherited the gifts that the disciples received, the Spirit of God has carefully selected gifts for each person, and gives those gifts to the followers of Jesus for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God. 

So, what difference does it make?

The Spirit of God is the difference that makes a difference.

The Spirit makes a difference in each one of us, so that we can make a difference in the world around us.

So many people are saying, “I want to make a difference.”  Some quit their jobs, or change jobs, or work on their time off, but many are confused or frustrated because they don’t know how.  The answer is simple.  God has given you gifts.  Take the time to discover the gifts that you have been given.  And then ask God to show you how you can use them for the common good.

You can make a difference.

God intends for you to make a difference.

God’s Spirit has already equipped you to make a difference.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

 

Let’s get busy.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


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

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

The Birth of Hope

The Birth of Hope

April 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:19-38                        Acts 2:14a, 22-32                   1 Peter 1:3-9

 

 

Some of us have known, or might still have, family members who lived through the Great Depression, followed by World War Two.  Eighty years later, we can still see how that experience changed their lives, and their lifestyle forever.  People who watched banks collapse never completely trusted banks again.   People who lived through hard and uncertain times learned to save for a rainy day because they knew, from experience, that sometimes life rains on our parade.   People who found their way through a life filled with ration cards and nationwide shortages of practically everything, learned how to keep a garden, can and preserve their own food, and keep reasonable amounts of many staples, canned goods, and other things in stock, “just in case.”  The experiences that they had living through the Great Depression and World War Two changed them forever and shaped their lives because of the hard lessons that they taught.  And those of us who were their children, grandchildren, or even friends, only had to listen and pay attention to see the deep and enduring impact those experiences had on them.

 

It isn’t surprising then, that the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection would also have a similarly transformational and enduring impact on the lives of the people who lived through them.  And scripture tells us that is exactly what happened.  We begin in John 20:19-31, where we rejoin the disciples, after the resurrection of Jesus, but still so frightened of the religious leaders and government authorities that they only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.

 

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

 

At the beginning, the disciples are afraid.  So afraid, that when they even dare to meet, they will only meet in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked so that no one will see or hear them and know that they are there. 

 

But Jesus.

 

At this point, they already know that Jesus has risen from the dead, but they are still afraid.  And Jesus shows up again, this time there are no missing disciples.  Peter and John are there, and so is Thomas.  And this passage concludes by saying that Jesus performed many other signs so that they, would believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that by believing we could have life in his name.

 

Why is this important? 

 

Because it is after this, and after the events of Pentecost, that the events witnessed by the disciples and the other followers of Jesus, begin to completely transform their behavior.  Nowhere is that change clearer than when we see Peter speaking in Acts 2:14a, 22-32, where this happens:

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:

 

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

 

Peter was the one who was so afraid of the Pharisees and the leaders of the Temple that, three times, he denied that he even knew Jesus.  Peter was the one who was so disheartened and emotionally wounded from his denial, and from witnessing Jesus’s crucifixion, that he went home to Galilee and back to his fishing boat.  Peter, even when he was personally summoned back to Jerusalem at the request of the resurrected Jesus is, with the other disciples, still so afraid of being arrested that they will only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.

 

But that isn’t the person that we see in Acts.  The difference in Peter, and in the other disciples, is nothing short of a total transformation.  It is as if this is a totally different person.  Suddenly, Peter not only stands up and preaches, but he openly confronts the very same people of whom he was so very recently afraid.  Peter not only stands up in public and preaches in front of them, he openly confronts them, and reminds them that they were the ones who killed Jesus, and in his summation says that it is because of what he has seen, and because of what he has heard, and because of the experiences that they have had, that they now understand what must be done.  Like those who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two, the experiences, and the trauma, of the disciples and the first followers of Jesus have transformed their lives.  They are changed forever and will never be the same as they once were.

 

But so, what?

 

What does that mean to us in the twenty-first century, particularly as we endure the changes, and the strangeness, of our collective fight against the Corona virus?

 

For that, let us listen to what Peter thought in 1 Peter 1:3-9 where he says,

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

Peter says that in his mercy, through the experience, and through the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God has given us all a new birth into a new life filled with hope.  And not only hope, but a living hope into an inheritance in heaven that can never be taken away from us.  Although, Peter admits, that in this life we may have to suffer grief from all kinds of trials, including disease and pandemics, through it all we can still rejoice greatly.  It is through our trials that our faith is revealed, proven, and refined as if by fire and it is through those same trials that may result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ is finally revealed at the end of days.  It is because of the experiences, stories, and trials of Peter and the other disciples that we too have seen Jesus, why we too have come to love him and believe in him as they did, and why we are also filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

 

And, from that, I want to draw a conclusion specifically for us as we endure the unusual circumstances of this present pandemic.  Certainly, from everything we know about the Great Depression, and World War Two, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and the story of Easter, we all know that our experiences, especially the experiences of trauma, change us.  Regardless of what we endure, or the illnesses that we suffer, or the friends or family members that are lost, those trials, those experiences, will change us.  These experiences will change us all, whether we go to church, or whether we have faith, or not.  And, if we are paying attention, we will notice that these experiences are already changing us.  Whether this ends in six months, or eighteen months, or in thirty-six months, we will not come away from this the same as we were at the beginning. 

 

We will be changed.

 

But we do have faith.  We have already heard the stories, and we have experienced the difference that faith in Jesus Christ has made in our lives.  We are already a people who are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because we have been given new birth into a new life filled with hope.

 

May these trials prove the genuineness of our faith.  May we be so determined, so hopeful, and so anchored by our faith, that the change that God brings to us through this pandemic is not a change wrought by fear, but a change that only amplifies our courage, our hope, and our joy.  Let us pray that we may we emerge from this experience, and from whatever trauma we are called to endure, like Peter and the other disciples.  Let us pray that we emerge as a people who are more courageous, more fearless, more faithful, and more loving than ever before.

 

May we emerge from this pandemic so much like Jesus that the world cannot help but to stand up and take notice.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Kb9-bPHeny0


Did you enjoy reading this?

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

The Incredible Power of Small

It seems impossible, but there is incredible power in small things.

As we go about our business, as we watch the news, and as we experience life, most of us have accepted the reality that those things that are big will be the winners.  Billionaires will win out over millionaires, a 300-pound football linebacker is a good bet in a barfight, the state will win over a township in a legal dispute, and so on.  Face it, when David faces Goliath, Goliath usually wins.

But increasingly, I am being reminded of the enormous power of the small.

We know this almost unconsciously, but we are prone to ignore it in our conscious decision making.  Here’s what I mean:  Elephants and whales are huge, but there aren’t huge piles of dead elephants or whales anywhere.  Why? Because as soon as the large animals die, the small animals get to work.  Lions, sharks and other predators take their turn, then buzzards, fish, and smaller creatures, and then, beetles and tiny fishes, and finally bacteria and other microscopic creatures set to work.  And in this system, the web of life, each time the creatures get smaller, they grow greater in numbers.  And while a handful of lions may feast on the carcass of a dead elephant, the number of bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic creatures number in the millions and tens of millions.  We take them all for granted, but without them our planet would be overrun with dead things.

Change is like that too.

Sometimes change seems impossible.  The task is simply too hard, or too big, or too expensive, and so change is left untried.

But small is powerful.

When great ships set sail from one continent to another, the most important person on the ship is the navigator.  Over and over, history demonstrates that a tiny error in navigation, an error of one degree, or even a fraction of a degree, multiplied by a voyage of a hundred or a thousand miles, and the ship arrives far from its intended destination.  In our era, as scientists consider how to protect our planet from potentially devastating, city-sized asteroids that may come our way in the future, the answer isn’t enormous rockets with powerful nuclear weapons, but early detection.  If we can discover the danger early enough, small rockets, with tiny nudges, can redirect planet killing asteroids by a fraction, even hundredths, or thousandths of a degree and, over the course of millions of miles, the asteroid never even comes close to us.

As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, we often think of what we can do to make the next year better than the last.  But change is intimidating.  Our problems seem to be too big, too powerful, too expensive, or too difficult.

But remember the incredible power of the small.

Losing weight can seem impossible, but what about a pound a week?  Even a half a pound per week means a loss of twenty-five pounds by this time next year.  Drastic changes aren’t needed.  A half a pound per week can be done, gradually, by eating just a little bit less and walking a little more each day and even then, you might have to work up to it a little at a time.  Making big changes is hard, but don’t be afraid to make a little change today, and then a little more next month.

Saving for retirement sounds impossible.  But don’t let the size of the goal scare you from starting small.  Maybe you can’t afford to save hundreds of dollars a month.  But can you, occasionally, give up your morning coffee?  Or pack a lunch instead of going out to eat?  Giving up a stop for a ($2.00) coffee, twenty days each month and banking that, produces almost $50,000 over thirty years at 7 percent interest.  Packing your lunch two days each week and saving another $20 pushes that number to almost $150,000.  That still won’t get you to a comfortable retirement, but one small change can motivate you to make another, and then another, and so on.

Growing our church and adding a hundred new members sounds impossible.  But, like we saw in the previous examples, it’s our focus on the big things that often prevents us from seeing the power of the small things.  No, we can’t plan a single event, or offer any kind of training that will allow us to instantly add a hundred people on Sunday morning.  But, could you find the time to invite one person to have coffee with you this month?  Could you join a new club, or commit to making one new friend in the next year?  How hard would it be to do something nice for a neighbor or someone you know?  Could you make some hot soup for a neighbor when they’re sick?  There are thousands of ways that we can invest ourselves in the lives of the people around us.

But those small acts, done consistently, are incredibly powerful.

If each member of our church reaches just one person this year, we will touch the lives of more than a hundred people in deep and meaningful ways.  And if only ten percent of those people choose to join our church, we will add ten new families.

Most likely, none of us will run for a national political office, or write a best-seller, or have millions of followers on social media.  But just the same, we have the power to transform our church… even change the world.

We have at our disposal the incredible power of the small.

Join me.

Make this year, a year of slow and steady progress.

We can change the world.

One cup of coffee at a time.

 

_____________

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 


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Changing the World with Muddy Boots

It’s a good thing I brought my new boots. Yesterday, my old boots (comfortable friends with lots of miles and one National Jamboree) fell apart (again). Thankfully, I had recently purchased a new pair (with Patti Partridge ‘s help and a gift from my Mama) and broke them in over the last couple of weeks. So yesterday, even though it rained all day (with a few short breaks) and all night last night, my feet stayed dry throughout the chaos of welcoming 38 or so troops from around the world. Our subcamp staff is nothing short of amazing. Of the 24 of us, only five are American, four (I think) are from the UK, one from Australia, one from Canada, and the rest from non-English speaking countries from around the world. We were able to greet almost every troop in their own language. As well, the flexibility and patience exhibited by the troops, even after traveling great distances, and being on buses for sometimes eight to ten hours (or more) has been incredible. Today, all these young people are exploring, meeting one another, playing games together, and shaping a new world. Sure, it’s hot, wet, dirty work but maybe these young people can go home and tell others that the world *can* live together in peace. Yes, we’re all having a great time. But our hope is that we’re changing the world and moving us all toward a better future at the same time. Isn’t that worth a few muddy boots?    
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.