A Plumb Line

A Plumb Line

A Sunday meditation

July 21, 2019

By Pastor John Partridge

Amos 7:7-17              

 

Have you ever lived in a small town?

On at least three different times in my life I have lived in small towns.  But I want you to understand what I mean when I say, “small town.”  In these places parents often caution their children to behave while they are in the community just as well as they do when their parents are watching, and they do so because you can be quite certain that even though they are out of sight of their parents, someone that they know will see them, and their parents will hear about what they have done, often before they return home from doing it.

This kind of caution is just the message that God gives to the people of Israel through the prophet Amos.  God says that he will measure his people with a plumb line.  A plumb line is simply a metal weight that hangs at the end of a string but thanks to the predictability of gravity, that line is always dead straight. (Amos 7:7-17)

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
    and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
    with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
    and Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
    and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
    and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
    and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

God tells his children that just because they didn’t see him, doesn’t mean that their father wasn’t watching.  And not only was he watching, but he intends to measure what they are building with their behavior.  His standard is dead straight and perfect.  Israel knew what the rules were, they knew God’s standards, they knew what he expected, but they didn’t follow his instructions so what they were building wasn’t straight. 

It didn’t conform.

It deviated from God’s standards.

But the rest of the story is also important.  When Amos arrives to declare God’s judgement, the king’s advisor, the priest Amaziah, declares Amos to be an enemy.  They don’t want to hear any bad news even if it comes from God.  Israel’s religious and political leaders would rather ignore God than repent and obey him. 

Not surprisingly, ignoring God and pretending that his judgement isn’t real does not prevent God from doing what he promised to do,  In fact, because Amaziah has refused to recognize Amos as God’s prophet, and refused to listen or respond to God’s judgement, Amos declares a personal curse upon Amaziah in addition to the punishment that God had intended for Israel all along.

But so, what?

What does that mean to us in the twenty-first century?

I see two important lessons for us as the church, as a people, and as a nation.

First, ignoring God and his instructions is does not prevent us from being measured by God’s standards. Every nation, secular, religious, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise will be measured by the plumb-line of God.  It doesn’t matter if the highest levels of the government or the highest levels of the church pretend that God is dead.  Pretending that judgement will never come will not stop God’s judgement from coming any more than pretending that a freight train is fluffy will stop it from crushing you if you stand on the crossing.

Second, the leaders of the church, and the leaders of the nations, will be held personally, and particularly, responsible for the way in which they lead their nations.

Even as citizens, how we choose to lead, and how we choose to vote for our leaders, and how we hold them accountable, is important.  It is important that we choose leaders who lead well, and who lead us in ways that do not ignore the instructions and commands of God. 

Just like a child living in a small town, even when our father seems to be invisible and out of sight, he knows what we are doing and is measuring what we are building with our behavior.

We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6).  We know the standards, instructions, and commands of God.

We need to act like it.

 

 


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Wisdom, Truth… Hope

Wisdom, Truth… Hope

June 16, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31                        John 16:12-15                        Romans 5:1-5

 

It seems that our world is increasingly without hope. 

We regularly meet people in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our communities that are struggling.  And certainly, the people in our churches are not immune.

Hope seems to be in increasingly short supply.

We see it on the news almost every day.  People are wondering why the world seems so filled with disaster, hate, mayhem, hunger, fear, and hopelessness.  Even at our church’s Annual Conference this week, as we worked to elect a slate of delegates to next year’s General Conference, amid our denomination’s divisive debate over homosexuality, there were many discussions about the future.  We discussed what the future might look like, and even whether our denomination, or any denomination, has a future at all.

But despite some discussions of what might appear to be dark or grim possibilities, our discussions were also often filled with hope.

Hope.

Hope is something that seems to be in short supply in the world but remains abundant in the church. 

Why is that?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

In Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Solomon speaks about the creation and the beginning of time in this way:

Does not wisdom call out?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
    I raise my voice to all mankind.

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
    before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

Solomon speaks of wisdom as the first creation of God. Wisdom was there before the mountains and the oceans.  Wisdom has been, and is, the constant companion of God in all that he does.  And it is wisdom that stands at the gates of the city and cries out to all of humanity… if we will only listen.

But wisdom isn’t the only voice that is trying to speak into our lives.  In John 16:12-15, Jesus speaks with his disciples and prepares them for a time when he will soon depart with these words:

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 says that after he returns to heaven, he will send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.  The Spirit of God will carry the words of Jesus to us and guide us into the future.

But because we know the story of Jesus, we also know that listening to the Spirit and doing the will of God doesn’t shelter us from suffering.  Just as Jesus suffered because of his faith, we may also endure times of suffering because of our faith.  But our high calling is to always hear the voice of wisdom, to stand up for the truth, and to follow God wherever he leads us.  In Romans 5:1-5, Paul shares this wisdom:

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

This short passage is often quoted because, as short as it is, it is also filled with great power.  We know that life isn’t perfect.  We know that life is filled with suffering.  But we are encouraged as we remember that suffering produces perseverance.  Perseverance produces character, and character produces… hope.  But don’t forget that last part either.  Hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our lives, through the Holy Spirit that has been sent to us by Jesus Christ.   Not only are we being built up, day by day, through our faith in Jesus Christ, and through our daily suffering, but we are also, through the Spirit that lives within us, being filled with the love of God.  Daily, we should be growing in love and compassion for our families, for our friends, for our community, the world, and for everyone around us.

Our life of faith is a group project, a work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Since before the beginning of time, the wisdom of God has cried out to all of creation and to all of humanity if only we would take the time to listen.

And every day, the Spirit of God pours the love of God into our lives and speaks the words of Jesus into our hearts and minds in order to guide us to the truth.

And, as we persist in our faith, and endure the sufferings of this life, we grow daily in character and are filled…

…with hope.

In a world that is increasingly without hope, where we see a rise in opioids, despair, and suicide, we, the people of God, must be bold in proclaiming the truth so that the people around us can discover the great gift that we have received through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We must share with the world the gift…

            …of hope.

 

 

 

 


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

The Ministry of Wow

The Ministry of Wow

June 09, 2019*

(Pentecost)

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:8-17, 25-27               Acts 2:1-21                 Romans 8:14-17

 

Have you ever watched the fireworks on the fourth of July?

Have you ever opened the newspaper and seen the mayor and a bunch of city officials at an important ribbon cutting or groundbreaking?

Have you ever seen the evening news report on a new freeway, tax cuts, or some other big news story about our local, state, or federal government?

Sure, you have.  Occasionally, our government does something that is very public and splashy.  But most of the time, day in, and day out, most of our government’s employees, whether they are employed by the federal, state, or local governments, toil away at computer monitors, check in on endangered children, teach school, clean streets, repair streets, fix leaks, and make sure that many things that we take for granted are so regular and reliable that we can take them for granted.  You rarely see stories in the newspaper or on television about the people who showed up and did their jobs, every day, for thirty or forty years doing ordinary things.

And although God often works the same way, daily caring for our wounds, watching over us, and being so ordinary and predictable that we allow ourselves to take his presence for granted or forget about him entirely, he isn’t always so invisible.  Occasionally, God does something splashy and noticeable.  Sometimes God heals the incurable, moves mountains, or raises the dead.  Sometimes God does things that make us say, “Wow.” 

Pentecost was one of those moments.

Some time before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke with his disciples and explained that after he returned to his father, he would send the Spirit of God to be with them.  That gift… would change everything. (John 14:8-17, 25-27)

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Jesus told his disciples that the words that he said, and the miracles that he performed, were being done because of the father that lived in him and was doing his work through him.  And then he goes on to say that because he is returning to his father, anyone who believes in him will do the same kinds of works that Jesus was doing, and even greater things.  Because Jesus was returning to his father, and because he was sending God’s Spirit to be with us, and live with us, we would do these things, and God would be glorified.  And, not only would the followers of Jesus Christ do these amazing works, but because of the presence of the Spirit of God living in us, we would also receive the gift of peace.

Fast forward to a few weeks after the crucifixion to the day of Pentecost and we find this story from the book of 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.’

Remember that I said sometimes God does splashy things?

This isn’t only a splashy thing, but a whole pile of splashy things.

A sound like a violent wind comes down from heaven, tongues of fire pour into the room where the followers of Jesus have gathered to pray, the fire separates and come to rest on each and every one of them, and then, speaking all the languages of the known world, these men and women go out into the streets and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The people in the streets either heard the sound of the wind or the sound of so many people speaking different languages, but whatever they heard, people came from all over the see what was going on.

Those that came were shocked because the people who were speaking foreign languages were Galileans and, you may recall that Galileans were thought of as uneducated, country hicks.  Remember that even one of the disciples, when he first heard about Jesus, said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Not only that, but remember that just a few days earlier, these same people were meeting in locked rooms with the windows bolted shut, because they were afraid that the Pharisees would have them arrested because of their association with Jesus.  Not long ago, Peter had been so emotionally destroyed that he went back to his fishing boats and was beating himself up over his public denials of Jesus. 

But no longer.

Suddenly, their fear and doubt are gone.  Suddenly they are speaking languages that they had never learned.  Suddenly, instead of hiding behind locked doors, they were speaking in public and Peter raises his voice and lectures everyone on the meaning of the scriptures.

This moment is entirely unexpected, exceptionally public and splashy, and totally transformational for both the disciples and for us.  In that moment, the disciples were changed.  Their fear was gone, they were filled with an urgency to tell the world about what they had seen and heard, and they went out into the streets to do it.  And, as they went, God, through the power of the Holy Spirit that now lived within them, began to do exactly what Jesus had described.  Suddenly they were doing something miraculous.  Suddenly they were doing the work that Jesus had been doings, and even things that were more surprising and unexpected than some of the things that Jesus had done.

But if all of this was not enough, Paul’s letter to the church in Rome describes yet another amazing gift that the church received at Pentecost. (Romans 8:14-17)

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Paul says that the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost was also the symbol of our adoption by God and because we have been adopted, then we are heirs, co-heirs with Jesus so that we will share in both his suffering and in his ministry to all of the world.

Not only was Pentecost a splashy, headline news moment, the effects were not something that wore off and were forgotten.  Instead, the gifts that God gave to the church at Pentecost, were gifts that were passed on from generation to generation.  God’s spirit entered into the followers of Jesus as tongues of fire at Pentecost, but today still enter into each one of us as we are baptized into the service of Jesus Christ.  Two thousand years later we still receive the gift of adoption, and fearlessness, and still we are empowered by God, through the Spirit that lives within us, to do the work of Jesus Christ in the world around us.  Sometimes that work is ordinary and almost invisible, but all of us, working together, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, are doing amazing things as we answer his call on our lives.

Let us continue, with God’s help, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak for the voiceless, stand up for the oppressed, comfort the afflicted, heal the sick, and all of the other things that Jesus did, and calls us to do.

This was the call of the church two thousand years ago and it remains the call of the church today.

And we press on…

…with God’s help…

…through the power of the Spirit that lives within us.

Sometimes we are called to the ordinary, but sometimes, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are witness to the ministry… of Wow.

 

 

 


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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.

Slaves, Felons, and the Church

Slaves, Felons, and the Church

June 02, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 17:20-26            Acts 16:16-34           

 

Here’s a weird question: Is it important to be respectable?

I have read several opinions that say that the ministry of the church started to come off the rails and lost its ability to do the work of the kingdom when it became respectable.  Maybe it was in the third century when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, maybe it was every time that the church was endorsed by royalty, maybe it was when the church became the empire, maybe it was when John Wesley’s followers advanced socially and instead of being coal miners, laborers, and street people, the church was filled with storekeepers, doctors, and bankers, and maybe it was when each of us became more worried about how respectable we looked than we were about doing the work of the kingdom.  And, maybe it was all those things. 

But it wasn’t always that way.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays for his disciples and for everyone who has put their faith in him.  Jesus knows that following him and doing the things that he taught them to do, wouldn’t be an easy thing.  It would be easy to compromise.  It would be easy to be distracted by the world and by the cultures of wealth, greed, lust, comfort and pleasure that surround us.  And so, Jesus prays for them, for us, that God would hold them close so that they would persist, hang on, and endure in their mission until the day that they could meet face to face at the throne of God.  In John 17:20-26, Jesus said,

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus prays that all of those who follow him, and all of those who would come to faith in him through their message, would find unity and become one in their faith.  Then Jesus prays that all these followers would endure until the end so that they could be with him in heaven and see his glory.  But Jesus also prays that because he has made himself known to us, that he would continue to make God known in the world, through us, so that the love of God might be in us, and that Jesus might live within us. 

You might notice that respectability is never a consideration on the part of Jesus.  What Jesus wants for us is to be united together in our faith, that our faith would endure, and that we would make the love of God, through his son Jesus, known throughout the world.  But before I belabor that point, I want to read the story of one Paul’s missionary journeys found in Acts 16:16-34.

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

There is a lot going on in this short passage and many sermons have been written about it in a great variety of themes, but there are a few things that I want to point out that coincide with the title of today’s message.  First, as Paul and Silas and their team preach, they are followed by a slave girl who can foretell the future because of a spirit, or a demon, that inhabits her.  She, and her demon, are well aware of who Paul and Silas are, and whom they represent.  One can only imagine that, although she was telling the truth, it became difficult for Paul and Silas to approach anyone and have sincere conversations about Jesus with this girl constantly shouting to the community around them.  And, at some point in his frustration, Paul orders the demon out of the girl, but doing so has some unintended consequences.  Once the slave girl’s owners discover that her demon, her gift of fortunetelling, and their profits are gone, they press charges against Paul and Silas and stir up the crowd until the judges of the town have them arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail.

Paul and Silas are now outsiders, foreigners, rabble rousers, and felons.  But never once do they stop telling the people around them who they are or why they are there.  During the night they pray and sing praises to God and even though an earthquake shakes open the doors to the prison, neither Paul, nor Silas, nor anyone else, make any attempt to escape.  But, because he knows that allowing a prisoner to escape is punishable by execution, the jailer is prepared to take his own life rather than be tortured to death.  But Paul hears him draw his sword and saves him from himself simply by declaring that everyone is still there. 

Having confirmed that this is true, the jailer understands that what has happened is supernatural.  Earthquakes open door and jam doors shut, but they do not open locks and loosen chains.  Earthquakes do not compel a prison full of felons to remain in place despite having been freed from their chains.  And realizing that this was a supernatural event, and remembering that Paul and Silas had been preaching a message of repentance, forgiveness, rescue and salvation, the jailer immediately wants to hear that message again and know how he, and his entire family, can know the love of Jesus Christ and be saved.

We don’t know whether the jailer had heard Paul and Silas preach in town, or if he had heard the stories about the slave girl, or (most likely) if Paul and Silas had kept on preaching in the prison as well as praying and singing.  But somewhere the jailer had heard that these two foreigners, miscreants, and felons were representatives of a powerful god and were telling others how they could be saved from death.

And he, and his entire household, were saved.

Being respectable was never a part of the story. 

Respectability, or upward mobility, or fitting in with the “right” social circles, was never a concern for Paul, or Silas, or their team.  And although we might be tempted to think that respectability might have improved their witness, that wasn’t what the jailer was looking for either.  The jailer sought out the witness of Paul and Silas because he recognized the truth.  He could see that even though these men were foreigners, strangers, rabble rousers, and felons, they were just as obviously the representatives of a powerful god and carried with them a message of great importance.

The followers of Jesus were never intended to carry a message of respectability.

Our calling has always been to carry a message of truth and love from a God who was willing to send his own son to be born in poverty, be disrespected, and die in humiliation, so that we could be rescued from our own crimes against God, be forgiven, and live with him forever.

The story of Jesus was never respectable.

The story of Jesus’ disciples was never about respectability.

The very real danger is that when we attempt to be respectable, that we will water down the real message or misplace its importance altogether.

Jesus never prayed that God would make us respectable.

Jesus prayed that we would find unity and become one in our faith.

Jesus prayed that we could endure until the end, be with him in heaven, and see him in his glory.

Jesus prayed that, just as he made God known to us, that we would make the love of God, and his son Jesus Christ, known to others.

It is by sharing the love of Jesus with others that we discover the love of God in ourselves and the way that Jesus come to live within us.

Don’t worry about being respectable.

Just focus on the mission.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Never Tire of Doing Good

 

Today we woke up to news that several tornadoes touched down near Dayton.

Sunday, we talked about flooding in Oklahoma and I asked our congregation to consider donating toward the construction and operation of a new high school in Harrisburg, Liberia.  Before that, there was flooding in Iowa and Nebraska and we were raising money for a Habitat for Humanity house here in Alliance, Ohio.  Before that, it was something else, and there was something else before that, and so on.

There seems to be a never-ending stream of need.

There is always someone, or some organization, asking for our money or our time.  And, after a while, we can be tempted to shut it all out, to numb ourselves to the needs of the people around us, and just live quietly in our own world while we pretend that the rest of the world will be okay without our help or participation.  This is not uncommon.  In fact, there’s even a scientific name for it.

It’s called “compassion fatigue.”

The constant demand for our attention, for our money, for our time, and for our effort can wear us down.  We get tired of helping and we grow weary of even being asked.

But this isn’t new to the twenty first century.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica, he writes about people, inside the church, who won’t do their share of the work but still show up to get food and other help from the rest of the church.  It was bad enough that they even instituted an official policy, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  But even so, some of the idle non-workers were spending their time gossiping about everyone else and it was disrupting the entire church.  People were frustrated.  They were tired.  They felt as if they were being taken advantage of.

They had compassion fatigue.

But after Paul calls out the busybodies and urges them to earn the food that they were eating, he sends this message to the rest of the church who were already doing more than their fair share:

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Never tire of doing good.

I know that someone always seems to be asking for something.  I know that sometimes it feels like someone is trying to take advantage of us.  I know that the pleas for disasters and calls to alleviate poverty and suffering from across the country and around the world seem to be almost constant and never-ending.

But it has always been that way and it will almost certainly continue as long as we draw breath.

Three out of the four gospel writers record Jesus words, “You will always have the poor among you…”  (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8).  And these words remind us that until the world is remade at the end of time, there will always be people in need.

But, as the followers of Jesus Christ we have been called to do something about it.  We can’t do everything, but we can do something.  John Wesley put it this way:

Do all the good you can.

By all the means you can.

In all the ways you can.

In all the places you can.

At all the times you can.

To all the people you can.

As long as ever you can.

 

We have been both blessed and called by God to be his agents in the world.  We are the only Jesus that most people will ever see.  We are his hands and his feet in a hurting, suffering, hungry world.

May we never tire of doing good.

 

Blessings,

Pastor John

Not THOSE People!

Not THOSE People!

May 19, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Acts 11:1-18                          

 

How many of you have friends that are so close that they have become family and are included in almost everything that your family does?   Or, how many of you with children, have some of their friends that are so close, that they can show up at your house at almost any time of the day or night, just walk in without knocking, help themselves to whatever is in the refrigerator, plop down on the couch next to you, as you’re watching television, and just look over and say, “Hey.  What’s up?”  Many families have friends like that, but if push comes to shove, we would all have to admit that – legally – they aren’t really family.  In order to legally be a member of the family you must either be born into the family, or you must be legally adopted through a very particular and well-defined legal process.

Church membership is a little like that.  Anyone can attend church here, and if you come for a while everyone will know that you belong here, but in order to “legally” become a member, there is a process that must be followed.  Some churches make the process super easy; others make it harder than it needs to be, and ours is just designed so that you understand how our system of church governance works and are familiar with some of our theology and ways of doing things.

But Jesus’ church was a little of both of those things.  The people of Israel, as the descendants of Abraham, were both a family and a church.  And, after thousands of years of history there were systems and processes in place for everything.  While you might be free to move there from another place, you couldn’t just show up one day and declare that you were a citizen of Israel or announce that you were now Jewish.  It just didn’t work that way.  Either you were born into the family, or you had to follow a particular, and specific, path of education, ritual, and even surgery, in order to become a Jew.  And even then, you, and your family, would probably remain on the outside of much of the culture for generations to come.  Taken together, it was hard to even think about becoming a follower of Israel’s God.  That was not what God had in mind, and one of the things that Jesus came to do, was to fix that.  But changing that culture, and that way of thinking, even among Jesus’ own disciples, was not easy as we see in the story that Luke shares with us in Acts 11:1-18.

11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance, I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

In this story, the followers of Jesus hear a rumor that non-Jews, Gentiles, had heard, and accepted, the message of Jesus Christ and that Peter had been the one who had told them.  And so, when Peter returns to town and re-enters the community of believers, they get in his face and criticize him for doing so.  “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  How dare you have contact with people like that?  How could you?  Good people simply don’t share hospitality and friendship with those people!  It surprises us a little, but the followers of Jesus were so much a part of their culture that they couldn’t separate what they had been taught by their culture from the things that were taught in scripture and by Jesus.  They had been so indoctrinated by their culture, and by their leaders, that they believed what they had learned, even when scripture taught that these things were entirely wrong.  This hits us hard, because we are often guilty of exactly the same misunderstanding.

Peter explains how God called him to do what he had done, but in retelling of his story, we notice how even Peter was stuck in the same cultural pattern.  Peter was desperately trying to be a good Jew and he refused God’s direct command two times, before, on the third repetition, he was finally convinced to break from a lifetime of training, teaching, and practice.

And, at the moment Peter surrendered to the will of God, three men arrive and ask him to go with them.  Gathering six other believers, Peter travels to the home of these Gentiles, preaches the good news of Jesus Christ, the Gentiles believe, repent of their sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But there is something that we skipped past a moment ago.  As Peter prepares to leave his house and travel to the home of the Gentiles, he gathers six other believers to go with him, specifically six other men.  And although this may appear to be sexist, there is a cultural, and legal, reason for his doing so.  First, Peter, plus six others, is seven, and seven is the number of perfection, and that may have had some connotations for good luck or for the blessing of God, but there is something else.  Under Jewish law, the testimony, or witness, of three men is required to establish something as true and factual.  So, when Peter takes six men with him, he is preparing for the possibility that he might have to testify about what happens there, whether that something is an act of God or the commission of a crime of some kind we don’t know.  But in either case, when Peter returns to Jerusalem, and is criticized by the other disciples, Peter testifies to what happens with seven witnesses, one more than twice the number needed to ascertain the legal facts, so that there can be no doubt about what happened in that place.

God is truly at work, and those people have surely been invited into God’s family.

Of course, “those people” are us, the Gentiles, the non-Jewish believers.

If you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that Paul is the one who we generally associate with missionary outreach to the Gentiles, and although that’s true, it is here, that Peter really begins ministry outside of what had been the “normal” outreach to other Jews up to that time.  Although Peter’s calling isn’t to become a missionary to the Gentiles, it was Peter and his six witnesses who proved to the disciples and the gathered church in Jerusalem that reaching out to the Gentiles with the good news of Jesus Christ was something that God was doing and something that God intended for the church to do.  Can you imagine how difficult it would have been, just a few years later, to convince this same group of people that God was calling Paul to carry the message of Jesus Christ into Greece, and Rome, and to nations full of what were thought of as pagan unbelievers if it had not been for the witness of Peter and his six friends?

What Peter discovered was revolutionary and hard to accept, but it was obvious to every witness that God was reaching out to “those people” as well as to the Jews.  It wasn’t just about Israel or the family of Abraham anymore, the boundaries that divide human beings are broken and erased for good.  God isn’t just calling the Jews, or the insiders, but anyone who hungers and thirsts for God and for what is right.

And that all sounds fine… right up until we remember that those words are supposed to speak to us in the twenty first century just as they did in the first century.  The mission of Jesus Christ hasn’t changed and neither has the mission of his church.  These were words that the early church wrestled with and they are words that we are still wrestling with two thousand years later.

Why?

Because no matter how far we’ve come, we still seem to find ways to divide people between insiders and outsiders.  Maybe “those people” are no longer the Gentiles, but we still find ways of labeling them as “hopeless,” as “outsiders,” “lost causes,” and yes, “those people.”

So, think about who “those people” might be for us.  Who are the outsiders, the outcasts, and the unwelcome?  And once we have an idea of who that might be, let’s find ways of reaching out them and inviting them in.

Because that’s exactly what Jesus has called us to do.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Fear

Special General Conference

Fear

This is it.

As I write this, the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church will begin its session at the end of this week.  Delegates from around the world have already begun their journeys to St. Louis for their deliberations.  This appears to be a great watershed moment and the future of the United Methodist Church will be forever changed.

We worry.

Some of us may even experience fear.

I admit to being concerned.  Many of the proposals specifically designed to hold our church together will instead drive the church apart or accelerate its decline. 

So, what will we do?

My advice, to those who have asked me, is to relax (a little).  There are many proposals that the General Conference will consider but they are not obligated to pass any of them.  They might choose one, but it is more likely that they will craft something new from pieces taken from among the various proposals or, at the very least, modify one of those proposals before passing it.  There is also a reasonable chance that they won’t pass anything at all and decide that the best way to keep us together, however unhappily, is not to change anything.  And finally, there is a chance that some elements of whatever may get “kicked down the road” for debate at the regular General Conference in 2020.

But, assuming that the General Conference passes something, then what?

Still, my advice is that we should still not get excited too quickly.

Some proposed changes may require ratification by the annual conferences and that would take a year before the results were known.  But even if a major change were to be passed by the Special General Conference, many of those changes would require Annual Conference action.  And, since our Annual Conference doesn’t meet until June, nothing could happen until then, and understanding the difficulty of preparing that legislation for the Annual Conference, there is a fair chance that we wouldn’t take any action as a conference until June of 2020.  Other actions that are being proposed would open a window for churches to decide and in most cases, we would have a year or so to choose a path forward.

Are you confused?  Of course, you are.

At this point the road ahead looks like a bowl of spaghetti, or a road map of the Los Angeles freeways.  That is precisely why I have been advising folks not to get too excited.  The path ahead, for now, is confusing and unknown.  But, once the General Conference passes something, whether that is next month or in 2020, then the path ahead, and our options, will become much clearer.

And until it does, we will continue to be in ministry to the people around us as Christ Church has for over a hundred years.  For now, we should continue to pray for all of the General Conference delegates.

Trust that God knows what is going to happen.

Have faith that God is in control.

Try not to worry.

And fear not.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

– Isaiah 41:10

 


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