Why Do You Belong?

Why Do You Belong?

by John Partridge

Written September 15, 2022 for the October Chimes Newsletter

NOTE: I wrote this last month for our church newsletter, got busy, and neglected to post it here until now. But, in a way, I’m glad I did because it reminded me to follow up. And I needed the reminder because although this was sent to everyone at Christ Church, I haven’t (yet) had a single reply. And I really do want to hear your answers. So go ahead and read what follows, but when you’re done, let me know WHY do you choose to attend church where you do?


I started thinking about my topic for this message and thought it would be a reminder to invite others to church, your neighbors, friends, co-workers, and other people that you might casually encounter during your day.  But as I thought about what that reminder might sound like, my train of thought went from “Invite your friends” to “What should we say?” to “Why do we like it here?”  And so, although my intent is still to encourage every person at Christ Church to be invitational, I realize that we don’t automatically know how to do that.  We freeze up when we try to think of something sparklingly witty to say, or even just when we desperately try to find something to say that doesn’t sound stupid or silly.

Toward that end, I thought I should start my asking you all to think, not about how you would invite someone else, but to think about why you choose to come here.  Some of you come here because you’ve been members for more years than I have been alive.  Others of you come because your parents and grandparents and other extended family all come here.  I get that.  On the surface.  But I also know that there is a deeper reason.  There have been times when people left Christ Church.  There were times that were hard, and that were sometimes… unpleasant. 

And yet you persisted.  Why?  What is it about Christ Church that attracted you here?  What is it that made you stay when others were leaving?  What is it about Christ Church that makes you choose to worship here rather than in churches that are closer to your homes, or might otherwise be more convenient?  Christ Church has a lot to offer, but I’m not going to share my ideas with you just yet.  I want you to think about your deeper reasons for being here because those are the reasons that you will want to have prepared when you have an opportunity to invite someone to visit here.

For this month, that’s it.  That’s my invitation to each one of you.  Don’t answer for your children, or for your parents, or for anyone else.  Just think about your answer.  Why are you here?  Why have you stayed here?  Why do you like it here?  What is it about Christ Church that gives you joy?  Don’t answer right away.  Think about for a day, or a week.  Then I want you to write it down.  I want you to write it down and put it somewhere that you can look at it from time to time, in the bathroom where you’ll see it while you brush your teeth or use it as a bookmark for the book you’re reading, but put it somewhere that you’ll see it, and by seeing it, you’ll begin to internalize it.  That way when the opportunity presents itself for you to invite someone, you will know why you want to come here and why you like it here.  That it.  There’s no need to overthink it and make it difficult.  When you invite people to church, the easiest thing to do is to tell them why you like it here.

And, after you’ve done that, if you feel like sharing, I’d love to fill this space in a month or two with a bunch of your answers.

Blessings,

Pastor John


That’s it. Please respond in the comments, or by email, snail mail, or hand me a note at church, but let me know what you think. Why do you go to church in the place you have chosen? Why are you here?  Why have you stayed here?  Why do you like it here?  What is it about Christ Church (or wherever you go) that gives you joy? 


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Is Covid Over?

Is COVID Over?

Our Easter Sunday worship service this year had a better attendance than in 2019.  This year’s official count was one hundred and three years ago it was ninety-three, and attendance at our Easter Vigil service was three more than the last time that we were able to have one.  Does that mean that our worries about Covid -19 are over, and our church is “back to normal”?

Well, no. 

At the very least, it’s too soon to tell.

Yes, we do seem to be past the worst of it.  And yes, many of our members and friends do seem to be finding their way back to in-person worship.  But I’m not ready to say that we’re completely out of the woods and our concerns about Covid-19 are behind us. 

While the war in Ukraine has pushed Covid out of the daily headlines, the pandemic, and the virus that caused it, is still causing trouble around the world.  Most recently, China has been dealing with multiple outbreaks in several places, locking down entire cities, shutting down businesses, closing ports, and creating more disruption to the supply chain which, in turn, causes problems for people, and businesses, around the world.  And China isn’t the only country that has had problems.  Several European countries have had surges in their case counts, health officials in the United States have seen spikes in several areas and are still warning that we might see additional problems in some places.  So, it may be too soon to throw away our supply of masks, although we can all hope that we won’t need them.

The good, even extraordinary, news is that things are getting back to some sort of normal.  Many, though not all, of our members and friends are returning, in-person, on Sunday mornings.  And, more importantly, although attendance hasn’t quite returned to where it was, it is getting better.  Moreover, using Easter attendance as a benchmark suggests that we’re doing pretty well.  Some churches have suffered significant declines during the pandemic that look as if they may be permanent, but indications are that we seem to have weathered the storm… so far. 

At this point, we have returned to doing most of the things that we were doing before.  Our committees are all meeting, we’re holding most of our activities, and we’re almost back to “normal.”  And the good news is that the necessities of the pandemic taught us some things, such as Zoom, that we continue to use to allow increased participation and save some of us from extra trips into Alliance.  But we aren’t yet where we want to be. 

“Almost” isn’t good enough.

While our Easter attendance is certainly encouraging, and our weekly attendance is getting better, we aren’t yet back to where we were.  And, honestly, where we were still isn’t where we want to be.  Some of our members still don’t feel safe going out in public, and that’s okay.  After worrying for more than two weeks while Patti was in the hospital last fall, I completely understand why being in a large group, like in church, might concern some folks.  And, knowing that the virus is still spiking in some places suggests that it could happen here, again, too.

So, what should we do?

First, have hope.  With the arrival of effective vaccines, things are much better, and, over the course of the last two years, our doctors and hospitals have become much at treating this illness, survival and recovery rates have increased, and promising new Covid-specific antiviral medicines seem close to approval.

Second, stay safe.  We understand that all of us are different.  Each person, and each situation, is different.  So, do what you need to do to stay safe, and to feel safe.  We will continue to offer online options for those of you who are unable to get here in person and we will welcome you back when you are ready.

Third, don’t stop being who you are.  Christ Church is an amazing and awesome place that is filled with amazing and awesome people.  We are known in our community for our outreach and love for our neighbors and that is an incredible reputation so don’t stop doing the things that we’ve always done.

And fourth, don’t stop inviting people to Christ Church.  What we have here is great, but people won’t, and can’t, know how wonderful it is unless someone like you points it out to them.  Every time it comes up in conversation, and sometime when it doesn’t, invite your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, hairdressers, barbers, classmates, and anyone else you encounter to visit us.  Carry invitation cards with you in your wallets and purses.  Don’t keep our church a secret.  Go out of your way to sing the praises of Christ Church everywhere you go.  And, since we now have such a strong online presence, and our livestream compares very favorably to other churches, inviting those people to check us out online is a good option.

Because our goal isn’t to get back to “normal.” 

Our goal is not to survive.

Our goal is to be better than ever.

And to grow the Kingdom of God.

Blessings,


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Remembering the Darkness

Remembering the Darkness

April 15, 2022*

(Good Friday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12               John 18:1 – 19:42                   Hebrews 10:16-25

The service of Good Friday is different than most. It isn’t a service that includes preaching in the traditional sense. Instead, it is a time of remembering the ancient promises of God and the stories of the darkness that preceded the joy of Easter. It is in remembering the darkness where we find the real joy of Easter’s dawn and the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection.


Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

52:13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53:1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.By oppressionand judgment, he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people, he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makeshis life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of lifeand be satisfied
by his knowledgemy righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Hebrews 10:16-25

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

John 18:1 – 19:42

18:1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So, the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So, this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken, 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.


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

A Message for Easter Week

A Message for Easter Week

For two years, I have begun this letter with the phrase, “This is an unusual time” and continued by encouraging everyone to endure, and to overcome the challenges that lay before us.  And, while this year is still far from ordinary or usual, it is at least a bit more ordinary than the last two.  This year we will be together in our sanctuary.  This year we will have lilies that we can smell and friends that we can see, and touch. 

If we have learned anything from two years of mask wearing, social distancing, overcrowded hospitals, case count watching, and involuntary separation from friends and family, it is the value of community.  While we did what we could to cling to what bits of human connection that we had through phone calls, video, and social media, none of those things could ever take the place of handshakes, hugs, and face-to-face, unmasked conversation.

In an odd, and completely unintentional way, this experience also helps us to better understand how much we miss the contact with our loved ones who have gone on to live with Jesus, or how much better it will be to see them again, face-to-face, and to physically feel a hug from Jesus.  Our experience with loss over the last two years can help us to see what we are missing and what joy we stand to gain when, and if, the day arrives for us to walk through the gates of heaven and be reunited with those whom we have lost.

But presently, let us prepare our hearts for this season of holy week and Easter and use that time to draw closer to God and to one another.  And this year, after a two-year absence, I encourage everyone to make plans to join us in the sanctuary and share the joy of resurrection along with the joy of once again being together.

No, the pandemic isn’t completely over, and no, we’re not completely out of the woods just yet.  But things are safer than they have been, and they are returning to normal.

I hope that you will make plans to be here as we celebrate Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Saturday, and our celebration Easter morning.  I hope that we will once again see one another face-to-face, shake hands, and even get a few hugs (can you tell that I missed those)?  And I hope that each of you will take this opportunity to invite your friends, your family, your neighbors, and everyone else, to be a part of that celebration with you.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Giving up COVID for Lent?

An image of a crown of thorns

Giving up Covid for Lent?

This year, our season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, on March 2nd.

But what will that look like?

Lent is a time to remember and to reflect.  Spring is coming.  And with its arrival, we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.  Ordinarily, we see Lent as a time to prepare.  A time to give up a favorite treat, food, or activity to remind ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice and to reflect on him whenever we think about our abstinence from the thing that we “gave up” for Lent.  But over the past two years we’ve all given up so many things, my heart almost breaks when I think about giving up anything else. 

Our hearts ache for the return of “normal.”

And isn’t that sort of the point? 

And so, let’s think about Lent, and our preparation for Easter with that in mind.  Last year, we couldn’t be together for Lent.  We held Ash Wednesday online, but in dispensing own ashes, and marking our own foreheads, we missed out on pieces that felt crucial to our sense of belonging and normalcy.  This year we are worshipping in person and this year we will hold Ash Wednesday in person (and since we noticed that our attendance at our virtual Ash Wednesday far exceeded our regular in-person service, we will also have a livestream).

As we walk through the scriptures of preparation during Lent, you will notice that then, like now, the disciples were passing through a season of radical change.  Their routines were disrupted.  They were separated from their families, from Jesus, and often from one another.  By Easter morning they were heartbroken, frustrated, grieving, and longing for a return to normal.  And while our circumstances are vastly different, our own experiences over the last two years certainly make us appreciate what they were going through. 

And, assuming the progress of the pandemic continues the downward trend that we’ve been seeing, let’s plan to be together on Easter.  Let us use this time to start breaking the habits of the pandemic.  Rather than “giving up” for Lent, let’s start “adding back.”  Let’s try to attend church on Sunday rather than on Monday or Tuesday (remember YouTube tells me when you’re watching), try to get back in the habit of watching “live” at 10:15 instead of watching in the afternoon and try to attend weekly instead of skipping weeks.

In short, let us use this season of lent hopefully, and prepare ourselves for a return to as “normal” and Easter as we can muster.

Let us commit to a season of preparation so that we will arrive on Easter morning renewed, refreshed, equipped, expectant, and joyful.

My hope is that we can journey together during this season of anticipation and arrive, together, joyfully on Easter morning.

Blessings,

Pastor John

Christ United Methodist Church

When Weakness is Power

When Weakness is Power

July 04, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              Mark 6:1-13               2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Everybody loves kittens.  Okay, I know some people are allergic, but the internet is crazy about cats and kittens, and before the internet, you could be certain that stories about tiger cubs, lion cubs, stray cats, kittens, and other cute furry animals would be popular on shows like National Geographic and Wild Kingdom.  So, imagine with me that you are watching a nature show on television.  In this scene, we watch as a playful pair of lion cubs wrestle with one another, in the middle of large plain of grass.  Suddenly, the two cubs are confronted by a pack of jackals.  The cubs stand to their full height and make tiny meowing roars, but the jackals continue to close the gap between them.  Then, as the kittens growl and roar, the jackals suddenly stop, retreat, and then quickly run away.  The camera then widens its field of view to show us that while the jackals had been closing on the kittens, their parents, full-grown adult lions, had crested the hill behind them.

Everyone watching wondered who, or what, had made the jackals run away because it was obvious that the kittens were no threat.  The kittens were too weak, too small, and too powerless to be a threat to an entire pack of jackals.  And it is precisely because of their weakness that we all knew that someone, or something, else had been behind the fear that we saw in the pack of jackals. 

Many of us have seen similar stories on television but I want you to keep them in mind as we read today’s scriptures that tell us more about weakness, power, faith, and grace.  This morning we rejoin David as he is proclaimed king over Judah, and all of Israel, in 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10.

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

After the death of King Saul, the people look to David.  They have seen him.  They recognize that for years, it was David that led Israel to victory against her enemies on the battlefield.  They recognize that God had anointed him as Israel’s shepherd and king.  And, for the first time, all twelve tribes, representing the nations of Judah and Israel, unite as one nation under a single king.  And, we are told, that David, and the nation of Israel, grew in power and influence, not because David was intelligent, or wise, or strategically brilliant, but because God was with him.

Whenever Samuel, or anyone else, tells the story of the great King David, the credit for David’s greatness is always given to God.  David is known as a man after God’s own heart, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and a person of great faith.  And that is how we are told that a humble shepherd grew to become the greatest king in the history of the nation of Israel.

But we can find another, even more startling example of this same principle, in Mark 6:1-13 where we hear the story of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

This story takes a couple of surprising turns.  First, Jesus, the man who fed crowds of thousands, healed lepers, the lame, the blind, and even raised the dead, is said not to be able to perform any great miracles in his hometown, because the people there had little faith.  Jesus had faith, the disciples had faith, but the people who needed healing could only see Jesus as a tradesman and the son of people they knew.

The second surprising thing is that Jesus then sends his disciples out to do the same thing that he has been doing.  Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding villages to preach a message of repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons armed with nothing but a walking stick, and without food, money, or even a change of clothes.  And, if you’re wondering why this is amazing, think about who these disciples were.  We are often tempted to say that Jesus could perform miracles, and do all the things that he did, because he was the Messiah, the Son of God who was born of a virgin to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  But the disciples were uniformly and universally normal.  They were born in the usual way to the usual sorts of parents and were normal folks who make their living as fisherman, tax collectors, farmers, and other regular jobs.  Until they met Jesus, there was absolutely nothing amazing about them.  But now, they go out into the countryside, and perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did without Bibles, reference books, college educations, money, or even food.  The only things that the disciples had, was faith… and God.

And, just in case you haven’t connected the dots of these two stories and extended that line down to us here in the twenty-first century, let’s read 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, where Paul draws that line for us.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul said that when he prayed to be healed, God said “no” because grace is enough.  And grace is enough because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  We’ve been hinting at that for the last fifteen minutes so let me say that again.  God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, Paul says it in the first person, “I delight in my weaknesses” because “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Paul says that he can happily brag about his weaknesses so that the power of Jesus Christ can rest on him.

What does that mean?

It means that we are kittens.

Whenever we are full of ourselves, and we think we have it all together, and we think that we can do it all ourselves, we are like those kittens growling in their little kitten voices at a pack of jackals.  But when we know that we are kittens, when we are willing to have faith in the big God that stands behind us, then the entire world will see that it wasn’t us that did the amazing and miraculous work.

The prophets and writers of the Old Testament made every effort to be clear that David was a great king because of his faith in God and because of the power of God that worked through him.  We can make excuses that Jesus was able to perform miracles and do all sorts of amazing things because he was the Son of God.  But then we are faced with his inability to do miracles around people that had no faith, and we are additionally confronted with the ordinary disciples who went out into the countryside with nothing more than a walking stick and were able to perform the same sorts of miracles that Jesus did.

Like David, Paul understood that the power to change the world isn’t power that we ordinary humans have.  The power to do miracles, save souls, change hearts, preach the gospel, and change the world is entirely in the hands of God.  Kittens don’t scare jackals but grown lions do.  You and I don’t scare demons, or have the power to heal the sick, clothe the naked, and seek and to save the lost, but God does.  When kittens scare jackals, everyone knows that a lion stands behind them.  And Paul knew that the same is true for us.  We are strongest when we embrace our weakness and allow God, and his power, to work through us instead of trying to do things all on our own.

On the surface, it seems to be contradictory.

Weakness is power.

When kittens roar, the world sees the lion behind them.

When we, in our weakness, let go of ourselves and allow God to change the world through us, the world will see the lion behind us.

Let us admit, and embrace our frailty, ignorance, and weakness, and have the faith to let God work through us.

Let go… and let God.

I pray that through our faith, the world will see the lion behind 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.  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.

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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Real Freedom (and Pandemic Paul)

We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.” 

But that’s exactly what we’re doing.

It’s become a cliché to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”  But this week, I’ve been thinking church should be asking itself what Paul would do.  Of course, anyone who has spent any time in church or Vacation Bible School has heard about Paul the Apostle.  Paul was born in Tarsus which was a part of what is now the nation of Turkey.  But despite being born far from Rome, Paul was born to parents who were both Jews and Roman citizens. 

There were privileges that came with being a Roman citizen.  It was as if the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights only applied to citizens, and you carried those rights wherever you went, anywhere in the Roman world.  Non-citizens didn’t have the same rights and slaves certainly did not have them.  Romans could not be beaten or treated harshly, and while they could be arrested, they couldn’t be tried in any court outside of Rome but had to be returned to Rome, or to a Roman court, for trial.  In modern language, citizens were privileged.

But Paul didn’t always use that privilege.  Paul found that sometimes his privilege, his rights, his citizenship, and even his freedom, was a disadvantage when sharing the message of Jesus with the people around him.  In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul said:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Even though Paul was not a slave, he sometimes gave up the rights that he had so that he could be heard by the slaves and share the message of Jesus with them.  Even though Paul knew that following Jesus released him from some of the dietary restrictions and rules of the Jewish faith, he would follow those customs when he was with the Jews so that they would be able to hear his words when he shared the gospel.  But when Paul was living among the Greeks and other people who were not Jewish, he would follow their customs for the same reason. 

Wherever Paul went, he did whatever he could to allow people to hear his message.  And that often meant giving up something important.  Paul found that his rights, his privileges, and even his freedom, got in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.  Slaves wouldn’t hear a message that was preached by someone who used their citizenship and their freedom to act better than them.  Jews wouldn’t listen to someone who was an outsider and violated their religious laws.  And people everywhere feel more comfortable around a person who respects their customs.

But what does that mean to us?  What would Paul do if he lived among us today?

As we near what we hope is the end of this pandemic crisis in the United States, we are hearing a lot about rights and privileges.  We have a right to move about freely.  We are free to choose whether we will wear a mask.  And those persons who are vaccinated are being granted special rights and additional freedoms. 

But is exercising those freedoms the right thing to do?

I’ve seen churches advertising that they are “Open and Mask-less.”  Vendors are selling signs saying that vaccinated persons are welcome in their church.  And I’ve seen churches that say things like, “All are welcome.  Unvaccinated persons must wear masks.”  I understand that these are the rights that are given to us under the United States Constitution, and the privileges of having access to the Covid-19 vaccine.  But will exercising these rights prevent us from sharing the message of the gospel?

It was once common for churches to ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves.  That custom made me so uncomfortable that I vowed never to return to any church that made me do it.  And so, I worry that requiring unvaccinated persons to wear masks will make them feel unwelcome.  We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.”  But that’s exactly what these signs are saying.  Anything that draws a line between “us” and “them” is exactly what Paul spent his life trying to avoid.

If Paul were writing today, I wonder if his words wouldn’t be, “Though I am vaccinated, and am free to do as I wish, I have made myself to be unvaccinated, to win as many as possible.  To the unvaccinated, I have become unvaccinated to win the unvaccinated.  With the mask wearers, I have worn masks, to win those that wear masks.”  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

We have rights.  But what if using them turns people away?  In the twenty-first century, like Paul, we must be careful that our rights, privileges, and freedoms do not get in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Edit

Vaccines, Bananas, and Christianity

Vaccines, Bananas, and Christianity

Our current environment of pandemic has returned the word “Vaccine” as a regular term of discussion in ways that it hasn’t since the national fight against Polio in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Everyone is talking about the safety of the various vaccines available, when and where a person might be able to get one, whether they have started, or finished, the vaccination process yet, and how soon vaccination rates might it possible for our lives, and our churches, to return to something resembling the “normal” that we had a year and a half ago.  Vaccines are something that are designed to protect us and keep us safe.  If we are vaccinated, we hope that they will either keep us from contracting the disease or, if we do contract it, will prevent us from becoming as sick as we otherwise might have.

But as we think about immunizations, it might also be useful to remember that Christianity is not a vaccine.  Our Christian faith is not something that we take once, or occasionally, to protect us from evil, from misadventures, or even to protect us from God’s condemnation.  Bad things do happen to good people.  Christians are afflicted by the forces of evil.  And Christian faith means more than periodically showing up to church, or putting money in the offering plate, or memorizing Bible verses.  Instead, Christianity, and Christian faith, is a lifestyle to which Jesus calls us and, having accepted that call, it becomes a way in which we choose to pattern our entire lives.  Christian faith shapes how we make friends, how we go on vacation, the clothes that we choose to wear, the places that we choose to spend our money, the occupations, and careers that we consider for our life’s work and influences nearly every aspect of our lives.  Christianity is less about what we do, and more about who we are as human beings.  When we choose to follow Jesus, we announce our intention to pattern our entire lives upon the life that Jesus modeled and taught.

But while Christianity is not a vaccine, our churches, and their members, can, sometimes, act a vaccine against it.  While we are good about bringing our children, grandchildren, to church, and even occasionally inviting friends and neighbors, we often fail to “make the sale” and ask them to follow Jesus and become his disciples.  The result is that having come to Sunday school a few times, memorized the occasional Bible story, and otherwise had a “little bit of Jesus,” rather than becoming committed followers and disciples of Jesus, they become vaccinated against Christianity instead.  Rather than discovering a Jesus that is worth following, they spend their lives thinking that, like a flavor of ice cream, they tried it, but didn’t find it to their liking.

In my mind, it’s a bit like our daughter Lina’s adventure with bananas.  When we first met her in China, we tried feeding her bananas, she smiled, she liked them, and wanted more.  But one day, as we attempted to give her some bitter tasting medicine, we tried to hide it in a spoonful of bananas.  She could taste what we were doing and rejected both the medicine and the banana.  And after that single experience as a ten-month-old infant, she wouldn’t eat bananas again for almost two decades.

Too many of our churches, or their members, do this same thing to the children, grandchildren, and visitors that come through our doors.  They come to church, or meet church members in secular places, and come away with an experience that leaves a “bad taste” in their mouth.  And those bad experiences, whether they happened in church, at work, at school, or anywhere else, can prevent them from returning to church, or to faith, for decades, and sometimes forever.

As we celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus, let us recommit ourselves to being true disciples who look and act like Jesus seven days a week, everywhere we go, and in everything that we do.  Let us live so that others will want what we have, and not be vaccinated against it, or are left with a “bad taste” that might keep them away.  After all, it was Jesus who commanded his followers this way:“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

I pray that we may be known for our love.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Juggling Morality

Juggling Morality

(or, Schwarzenegger’s Choice)

January 17, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Samuel 3:1-20                     John 1:43-51              1 Corinthians 6:12-20

In the Terminator movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is a line of dialog, “Come with me if you want to live,” that has been repeated in nearly every movie in the series.  It became so well known and so repeated among fans that it was picked up and used, unaltered as well as adapted, in other movies, television shows, and video games from Supernatural, to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to the Lego Movie, Finding Nemo, and even Casper (the friendly ghost).  In each scene, as well as the parodies, that line of dialog marks a moment of decision between two paths and is often a choice between life and death.  But even though there are no killer cybernetic robots from the future to be found anywhere in scripture, we do find those exact kinds of pivotal, life-changing, moments of decision when the people in the stories are faced with decisions that will change their lives forever.   The first of these that we find today is found in 1 Samuel 3:1-20, where both Eli the priest, and his young assistant Samuel, are each faced with choices that will change them, and all of Israel, forever.

3:1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night, Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So, he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

We understand this story better if we read the previous chapter of Samuel because, there we find that Eli’s sons are terrible priests who abuse those who come to worship under them, they steal from God, and they profane the sacrifices of God.  Eli knew what they were doing, and other than mildly admonishing them, did nothing.  Worse, God had already sent a message to Eli that his entire family would be judged, and his family line would come to an end, because of the behavior of his sons, and still, he did nothing.  In this story, God calls someone new.  God had earlier told Eli that if nothing changed, another priest would be raised up who would have the courage to speak the truth and here, God does exactly that as he calls to Samuel in the night.

I suspect that Eli knows exactly what God is doing when the boy Samuel comes to him, and he encourages Samuel to answer, to listen, and to be obedient.  And Samuel does exactly that.  Samuel chooses to listen to God and to obey him.  But Eli, despite God’s warnings, despite knowing that God was preparing judgement against him, still chooses to do nothing.  Eli chooses to ignore the sin of his sons and the injustices for which they were responsible.  Both Samuel and Eli chose between life and death.  Samuel chose to listen.  Eli chose not to listen.  Samuel chose obedience and life, while Eli chose disobedience and death.

And then, as Jesus begins to call his disciples to follow him, we hear this story in John 1:43-51:

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus said, “You believebecause I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, youwill see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Much like the call of Samuel by God, and through Philip’s introduction, Jesus calls Nathaniel to follow him. Nathaniel is, at first, skeptical that anything good could come from a hick town like Nazareth, but even before he has a chance to speak, Jesus knows everything about him, his honestly, his integrity, and even where he was sitting when Philip invited him to come with him to meet Jesus.  At this moment, Nathaniel had two choices, he could pretend that this was not incredible and impossible and go home and tell his friends that he had met Jesus.  Or he could choose to upend his entire life, leave his job and his family.  Nathaniel immediately recognizes that only the Messiah could do what Jesus had just done and makes the choice to follow Jesus regardless of the cost.

But what does that have to do with us?

If we have already chosen to follow Jesus, then why am I wasting my breath repeating these stories?

And the reason is simply that the choice of following Jesus is one that is in front of us every day and one that we must make many times over the course of each day and untold thousands of times each year.  In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), he explains it this way:

12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.

The argument that Paul was, apparently, hearing, was that since we are already forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection, then we can do whatever we want.  But, while Paul agrees that we are forgiven, he explains that we simply cannot do whatever we want, because not everything that can be done, should be done.  Or in other words, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that doing so is a good thing. 

The argument that was used two thousand years ago, sounds almost identical to some of the arguments that we hear today.  In Corinth, the people said, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.”  Or, in other words, I am hungry, so I eat.  But, in the end, both the food and my stomach will be buried and return to the dust from which they were created.  We hear almost the same things today when people rationalize their behaviors.  We hear “I was hungry, so I ate it.”  We hear, “I wanted it, so I bought it.” And we hear things like, “if it feels good do it,” and “the heart wants, what the heart wants.”  But not everything that our bodies want, and not everything that feels good, is good for us, and not everything is what God wants for us.

Paul says that we are thinking about it in the wrong way.  We ought not think that we can do whatever we want because we are already forgiven, we should, instead, remember that, as forgiven people, we have become, as the body of Christ, a part of Jesus and our sin, drags Jesus into the mud with us.  We would never dream of buying Jesus a hooker, or asking Jesus to participate in an extramarital affair, but that is exactly what we do when we sin.  Instead of saying, “if it feels good, do it,” we should flee and run far away from any sort of immorality and sin.  We are, Paul says, the temples of the Holy Spirit.  So, if you wouldn’t do something in church, you probably shouldn’t be doing it at all.  Because our lives were purchased on the cross, they belong to Jesus and not to us, so the way that we treat our bodies is a reflection on how we are treating God.

Every day, in a hundred ordinary decisions, we make choices about how to live our lives and how we will honor God.  Eli and Samuel made very different choices, and those choices carried them in vastly different directions.  Nathaniel gave up everything when he chose to follow Jesus, and his life was transformed because of it.

Like them, every day, we choose whether we will honor God.

And whether you hear it in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice or not, you can imagine Jesus saying…

… “Come with me, and live.”

It really is a choice between life and death.

What will you choose?


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

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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.