Every year, I am asked to present a report of the year for our annual Charge Conference. It’s really sort of a “what I did last summer” kind of report that asks, “What did your church do for the last year?” Long ago I decided that my answers should not be seen as any kind of a secret, and so I publish them here, and in our church newsletter. I’m excited about the future of Christ Church and its people and I hope that by talking more about it, others might learn about it and join us in our mission to care for the people around us, and around the world, the way that Jesus cares for us.
The official question that was asked this year was this:
Explain how the church is fulfilling its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Review the current year and how you plan to meet your congregational goals for the upcoming years. What specific goals relate to your mission field.
An my answer is as follows:
Christ Church has continued to move forward into a new post-Covid world in which many people remain unsure of attending social gatherings and events with large groups, and church attendance seems to sometimes be among these. In addition, some of those who were regular in attendance prior to the pandemic simply fell out of the habit. But, for whatever reason, we continue do everything at Christ Church with excellence so that, as we invite out neighbors, coworkers, and friends, and as those who previously attended test the waters and find their way back, they will all find a community of faith, love, and support that is filled with hope for the future and for an eternity with Jesus.
Christ Church is also considering ways in which we can be more intentional about attracting and inviting others into fellowship and inclusion in our community of faith. To do that we are exploring opportunities that might exist for each committee and small group within the church as well as potential new ways to reach out to our neighborhoods, new ministries, and even additions to staff. We have already launched a new children’s ministry offering Sunday school and children’s church so that these options are available to all families in attendance and give them the flexibility to choose what works best for them.
And, at the same time, we have not stopped doing what we have always done. Volunteers from Christ Church once again provided free concessions each week at the Alliance Chamber of Commerce Concert at the Caboose series of events and raised $737 in donations in support of the Alliance Area Habitat for Humanity, over one hundred meals pass through our doors every Tuesday through the Alliance of Churches, Scouts BSA Pack and Troops 50 continue to mentor and teach valuable skills to young men an women, our United Women in Faith will again teach cooking skills to our neighbors, we continue to support Red Bird missions in Kentucky, provide education for students in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the list goes on.
Our mission calls us to be a bright shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope to the hopeless, and a place of healing to a hurting world where we can be Jesus to our neighbors and to the world. I believe that Christ Church is not only doing those things, but we are looking for ways to do them better.
I hope that, if you haven’t already, you would join us at Christ Church in-person, or online. Because I have no doubt that together we’re going to change the world.
Imagine that you are driving a fifty-three foot long, fully loaded, tractor trailer, weighing thirty-five thousand pounds empty, loaded with forty-five thousand pounds of cargo, for a total of eighty-thousand pounds. Now imagine that, as you are driving over the mountains of West Virginia, constantly shifting through ten to eighteen gears as you ascend and descend the various mountain ridges along the turnpike, that some critical component of your braking systems fail, and as you steadily gain speed going down one of the biggest and steepest grades on the highway, you now have no ability to slow down.
Quickly your speed passes the posted legal limit, and you move to the passing lane to avoid crushing a family in a minivan. You try downshifting but your speed is already too great and still your speed increases. First eighty, then ninety miles per hour, and now you are desperately flashing your lights, honking your horn, and shouting on your CB radio for other trucks to get out of your way as, despite attempting everything that you can think of, your speed continues to increase. You do everything that you can to keep your mind on the task at hand and not to think about how this will inevitably end.
Still your imagination easily pictures mangled cars and a long plummet down the side of forested mountain valley… and then you see it. A sign along the far side of the road announcing that only a mile away, is a runaway truck ramp. You see it in the distance and quickly shift your truck back into the right lane as you race towards it… and almost before you think about what will happen, you leave the highway, race up and impossibly steep slope and feel your truck sink into the loose sand as it tears away at the tires and undercarriage. Small plants, bushes, briars, and grass fly as you plow up the hillside but… finally… your slow… and come to a stop. Your truck is probably totaled, and it will almost certainly take several wreckers, and maybe a bulldozer and a crane to get your truck off the side of this mountain… but you are alive.
Your day might have ended very differently if it hadn’t been for that small sign at the side of the highway. That small sign gave you the warning that you needed to be. That small sign was the symbol of the rescue that waited silently at the side of the road. It saved your life.
It was the sign of your rescue.
For the rest of your life, whenever you see that sign, or one like it, you will remember. And you will give thanks, not just for the sign, but for your life that you live, and the rescue that it represents.
Sometimes signs are more than just symbols.
Keep that in mind as we read the conclusion of the story of Noah in Genesis 9:8-17 where it says…
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
As God prepared to destroy a corrupt civilization, he warned the righteous and offered a way in which they might be rescued from the coming flood. Today, although we argue whether that flood was truly a global event, nearly every culture, on every continent, has tales about a flood that destroyed the world. But just as God provided a way for Noah and his family to survive, he also promised that there would never be another flood with the same destructive power. And you can be sure, that every time that Noah and his family saw the sign of God’s rainbow in the sky above them, it was more than just a symbol. They remembered their rescue… and gave thanks.
But years passed… first decades, then centuries, then millennia, and people forgot. They forgot the flood, they forgot the ark, they forgot the rescue, and they forgot the promise. Eventually, a rainbow was just a rainbow. And then, Jesus began his ministry by submitting to his baptism with John in the Jordan river. We read that story in Mark 1:9-15.
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being temptedby Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
4 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus didn’t need repentance or forgiveness, but he submits to baptism as a sign of his ministry, and as a sign of God’s rescue, to the people of Israel and to the world. The baptism of Jesus is a sign to the world that God was keeping his promises and that, as he had done for Noah and for his family, God was making a way for us to be rescued from the judgement that was coming. The Apostle Peter describes it this way in 1 Peter 3:18-22:
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.
And so, the disciples themselves understood the connection between the sign of Noah’s rescue and the sign of our rescue with the arrival of the Good News of Jesus Christ and his baptism. Just as Noah and his family passed safely through the waters of the flood, God promises to bring us safely through our life in this strange, difficult, and sometimes hostile world in which we live. Just as the ark carried Noah through the flood to the dry land that eventually followed, the gospel message, and our rescue through our baptism into a new life as a part of God’s family is a sign and a symbol of God’s promise to carry us safely through to the other side through the power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As God prepared to bring judgment upon a corrupt civilization in the time of Noah, he warned the righteous and offered a way in which they might be rescued from the coming flood. And now, as God prepares to bring final judgement upon all of humanity, he once again brings a warning to anyone who will listen and offers a way in which we might be rescued. We remember that long ago, when Noah and his family looked into the sky and saw the sign of the rainbow above them, it was more than just a symbol. They remembered their rescue… and gave thanks. Like them, as we remember our baptism, while it is a sign and a symbol, it is also so much more than that because we see that sign, and we remember our rescue… and give thanks.
As humanity hurtles down the side of the mountain toward certain doom, there is in baptism, a sign at the side of the road pointing toward one last chance to see tomorrow. It may not be the most impressive, amazing, or artistic sign, but it is a sign of rescue, a sign of belonging… and a sign of hope.
Let us remember our rescue and give thanks but let us also point as many others toward that sign as we possibly can so that they too can find Jesus, find rescue, find hope, and arrive, with us, on the shores of a new life on the other side.
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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.