Real Power Reversed

Real Power Reversed*

October 25, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Deuteronomy 34:1-12       1 Thessalonians 2:1-8    Matthew 22:34-46

Our current focus on the upcoming election has many of us thinking about power.  We think about who has power in our system, how that power is distributed, and whether the people in power use it well or poorly.  Often, during campaign speeches, press releases, debates or 30 second sound bites, modern candidates seek to corner their opponents, goad them into saying something stupid, or trick them into saying things that will alienate their supporters.  And it may not surprise you to discover that these tactics are not new.  In today’s scripture readings, we find the political leaders of Jesus’ day doing exactly those same things.  But God isn’t playing by the rules of human culture, society, and politics.  God has plans that upset the halls of power, unseat the powerful, and reveal that the rules of real power are completely reversed from our human expectations.  We begin in Deuteronomy 34:1-12, as God honors a promise made in past generations, makes a new promise to future generations, and the torch of power is passed from Moses to his successor, Joshua.

34:1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried himin Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak, nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spiritof wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So, the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

God had promised the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Moses sees that land from a distance as the descendants of Abraham are about to cross the Jordan River and take possession of it.  At the same time, God tells Moses that his descendants are included in that promise even though he himself will not be among the people to cross into that new land but will die and be buried in Moab.  But before his death, Moses laid hands on Joshua, blessed him, and passed on to him the blessing of God and the spirit of wisdom that God had given to him.  But, and this is important, despite the blessing of God, and the spirit of wisdom that Moses passed on to Joshua, no prophet in Israel was ever like Moses had been.  No one ever had the kind of power that Moses had, or was able to perform the mighty deeds that Moses had done.  Moses was believed to be the pinnacle of all God’s prophets.  No one who came after him, regardless of their great acts, was ever seen as reaching that status.  But Jesus turns that status quo on its head.

In Matthew 22:34-46, Jesus has a conversation in which the Pharisees attempt to goad him into saying something stupid and in that conversation, Jesus turns the tables and completely upsets the conventional wisdom of political power.

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
  “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees were rival political factions, much like our present-day Democrats and Republicans, with some significant religious differences thrown in as well.  Although they sometimes worked together, there was no love lost between them.  This passage begins with the Pharisees hearing how the Sadducees had been embarrassed by Jesus when they had tried to trick him and so, naturally, they decide to set a trap for Jesus as well in an attempt to succeed where the Sadducees had failed.  But much as he did with the Sadducees, Jesus deftly evades the trap the Pharisees had set, expertly answers their question, and then turns the tables by asking them a question that they can’t answer.

Remember the conventional wisdom that no prophet had ever done the things that Moses had done.  Then recall that Jesus had been performing miracles (or soon would) that even Moses had not done.  And then take note that the conventional wisdom about Moses had also been applied to King David, and from there into a general rule of thumb that no child was ever greater than his father.  So that, according to conventional wisdom, no ancestor would ever be as marvelous, or as devoted, powerful, godly, or as holy, of David.  And so, Jesus asks the Pharisees that if this is so, how is it that David refers to the coming Messiah, who must be his descendant, as “Lord.”  The Pharisees, of course, are caught in their own trap.  Jesus has revealed that the conventional wisdom about power is wrong and if the Pharisees agree, then they contradict their own teaching.  But if they disagree, then they contradict scripture.  And that is why the passage ends by saying that the Pharisees could not say a word.  They were trapped.  They were stuck.  And no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

The coming of Jesus was a disruption of the status quo, and overturned the conventional wisdom about power, authority, and many other things.  Jesus performed miracles that even Moses couldn’t perform, he pointed out that when the Messiah came, even the great King David would call him Lord and recognize him as greater than himself.  And with his death and resurrection, Jesus upset the conventional wisdom and understanding of death itself.  But as we look deeper into the teaching of Jesus, we begin to understand that the entire structure of real power was being upset, overturned, changed, and redefined. 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, we discover that the Apostle Paul modeled these changes as he, and his missionary team, lived and worked among the Greek church in Thessalonica.

2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young childrenamong you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

Paul begins by reminding the people that his visit to Thessalonica was productive and produced good results despite the abuse that they had suffered when they had previously visited Philippi which is about a hundred miles to the east.  Paul says that even though they had suffered in Philippi, and even though they faced strong opposition in Thessalonica, they persisted in preaching the gospel message.  Paul credits the success of their mission team to the authority that they had been given by God, that they always preached in a way that was humble, honest, straightforward, and honest.  They didn’t suck up to people or flatter them to make them feel important and they didn’t do anything to get rich at the expense of other people. 

Instead, rather than using the authority that they had been given by God and by the church, they used the authority of children, which is to say that they acted as if they had no authority at all.  Paul then compares the method of their ministry to the way that a mother cares for her infant children.  Obviously, the mother has all of the authority, and has much greater strength than her children, but it is her love for them that guides her to use her strength to guide her children and care for them gently, tenderly, and with compassion.

This style of leadership is patterned after the life of Jesus and is a complete reversal of how we normally see power and authority exercised in the culture of the world from before the time of Jesus until today.  For the followers of Jesus Christ, this is a representation of how real power should be used and speaks to us about how we should use our power, and how we should minister to the needs of others in our communities both as individuals and as the church.  Jesus doesn’t say that we can’t have power or authority, but that we should upend the conventional wisdom and use our power, authority, and influence with gentleness, tenderness, compassion, and love.

As we follow Jesus, our patience will be tested.  Our tolerance will be tested.  Our compassion, our will, our strength, courage, compassion, and every other part of our humanity and our mission will be tested.  But, just as Paul and Jesus were tested, we must pass those tests with grace and gentleness so that we are known to the people around us not as the church with an iron fist, but as a people with a loving heart.

I pray that we might be known as a people with a loving heart.

 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/VjzbCWP7gao

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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.

Pastor’s Report 2020

(Note: What follows is a copy of my report included in this year’s Charge Conference paperwork)


Pastor’s Report – 2020

If you wanted to deliberately turn the life of the church upside-down, you could not have imagined a better tool than COVID-19.  Virtually everything changed.  And yet, they didn’t.  Our committee meetings changed, but once we got comfortable with Zoom, and social distancing protocols, most of our committees are still meeting.  We aren’t using our church building on Sunday, and yet, we’re still “having church” every week.  Sometimes via YouTube, sometimes in our church parking lot, sometimes both and two out of three Sunday school classes are still meeting weekly via Zoom (and it’s the younger group that isn’t).  We can’t pass offering plates on Sunday morning, and yet, our offerings are often as good, or better, than they were last year.

The weekly community dinners have changed but have never stopped.  The first week after the lockdown, one sponsoring church cancelled, but the people of Christ Church immediately stepped up, improvised, and prepared a carry out meal so that those who rely on us were fed.  Since then, our regular church hosts, as well as few others, have all stepped in, and stepped up, and our weekly Tuesday meals have continued, and have… grown.  In the last month, the lines have been longer, and the number of guests has increased.  Occasionally, the food has run out, but the word has spread, everyone is adapting, and more food will be prepared for the next meal.

Obviously, there are things that we can’t do.  Our mission trips to Harrisburg, Liberia and Big Creek, Kentucky have been postponed until it is once again safe to do so, but we have already collected an enormous pile of things to take with us to Kentucky simply because our members have taken advantage of this time and used it to do some Spring cleaning.  Similarly, gifts in support of our trip to Liberia are continuing to appear in our church offerings so that, when the time comes, we will be ready.  And, as our Outreach Committee discussed these changes, they deliberately looked for how the needs of our community might have changed and how we might be a part of caring for new communities or new areas of need that were caused by, or exacerbated by, the pandemic.  And so, while some planned and budgeted gifts are not needed, we have shifted gifts, and fund-raising efforts to new places where the needs are great.

Although things sometimes seem to have turned upside down, the mission never changed, and the church has continued to be the church.  We have changed, we have adapted, we are learning new things every week, but we are still here.  Our membership has remained connected in new ways, and we see new names participating in our online forums.  In short, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are housed, and we continue to look for ways that we can be the church, and places where we can be Jesus to the people around us.

The church is still here.

The mission continues.

We continue to seek Jesus Christ and to share his love with the people around us.

We could do nothing less.


I hope that all of you remain well.  I encourage you to continue our mission, continue to be the church, and continue to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world around you.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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The Death of “Normal”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The old “normal” isn’t coming back. 

Feel free to grieve its loss.

But there is hope.

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

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

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Failing Church

 

Failing Church

September 06, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 12:1-14          Romans 13:8-14                     Matthew 18:15-20

Now that schools are starting again, despite the unusual differences in procedure due to the Coronavirus, most of us are happy to have left that chapter of our lives behind us.  While we might look back fondly on our school friendships, or on our school activities, few, if any, of us really enjoyed taking tests.  And, although as adults, they come to us less frequently, we still don’t like tests.  And maybe that’s one of the things that we like about church.  We can still develop close friendships, participate in many enjoyable activities, learn new things, study what we want and when we want, show compassion for others, and a host of other things, but, and this is important… we don’t have tests.

Or do we?

There are, repeatedly, throughout scripture, quizzes, tests, plumb lines, measuring sticks, or whatever you want to call them, that we can hold up as we look at ourselves in the mirror.  Most often, these are the tools that we use to check ourselves, and to measure our progress, as followers of God and as followers of Jesus Christ.  These are the ways that we measure how we are doing, and how well we are progressing on our journey to be more like Jesus and the people that God created us to be.  But sometimes these tests are not only for our personal use but are important measures that God intends for wider use in our homes, businesses, and communities as well as how God may evaluate our progress.

The first of these we will examine this morning is found in Exodus 12:1-14, as the people of Israel prepares for their liberation from 400 years of slavery in Egypt:

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lambfor his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

God commands his people to prepare a meal as a visible sign to themselves, and to all the people around them, in a way that was different from ordinary meals.  Everything about this Passover meal is designed to imply speed and haste.  The animals are cooked over the fire nearly whole, with the organs still inside, without bothering with pots of boiling water or separating the meat from the fat.  Bread is made without yeast to save time waiting for it to rise, leftovers are burnt rather than trying to save them, and the people eating are dressed as if they are to immediately depart on a journey with their cloak tucked into their belts, sandals on their feet, and a walking stick in their hands.  Today’s version of this might be a command to eat with your raincoat tied around your waist, your running shoes or hiking boots on your feet, and your car keys in your hand.  The picture is not only one of a people ready to leave at a moment’s notice, but one that was different from the ordinary and one that any observer would be certain to notice.  Sure, we might be dressed that way as we grabbed some carryout from McDonalds, but that isn’t how we’d typically eat at home or at a church dinner. 

God not only commands the people to do these things for the night of their liberation, but for them to celebrate that liberation every year forever.  And the Jewish people have done so… for the thirty-five hundred years.  This Passover celebration then becomes measuring stick.  It is an outward and visible sign of obedience to God that is different from the world around them as well one that can be seen by everyone.

And if you are tempted to think that such things are limited to the Old Testament, look at the difficult measuring stick that Jesus left for us in Matthew 18:15-20 where he says:

15 “If your brother or sistersins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will bebound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beloosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Jesus tells his followers that correcting one another is not only normal, it should be expected, and that it is the task of every person, as well as the task of the entire gathered church body, to see to it that we all follow Jesus with diligence and that we all get along with one another.  This is a difficult teaching for us.  We don’t like confrontation, but Jesus commands us to confront one another with our sins, as a visible sign of obedience, so that the followers of Jesus will be visibly, and increasingly, different than the people around us.  Long before the term was attributed to modern efforts at quality assurance, the followers of Jesus Christ were called to subscribe to a regular cycle of continuous improvement.

And that cycle of improvement isn’t just something that we should do casually, but as a serious occupation of our minds.  In Romans 13:8-14, Paul says:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul reaffirms Jesus’ instructions for his followers to settle the differences between them so that we can build bonds of love and trust between the members of the church and between other believers.  Once again, these things are visible signs of obedience to God.  Our efforts to settle the differences among us, correct one another when we stray, and our love for one another should all be visible signs to the people around us that our relationship with Jesus Christ makes our community of faith different from the rest of the world.  These things are to be active practices within the body of Christ.

It is as if they are a test, or a measuring stick, for us individually and as the church.

Paul says that it is time for us to “wake up” from our slumber and take action because the return of Jesus Christ is nearer now than it ever has been.  We cannot sleep our way through the Christian life, but we are called to action, to “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”  For the followers of Jesus, these things are to be like the annual Jewish Passover celebration.  We are called to be different.  We are commanded to practice outwardly visible signs of our obedience in ways that make us stand out as different from the rest of the world.  We are to be united in our faith, argue less, love one another, and love others more than the people around us.

As much as we worried about taking tests in school, we really should worry about this.

After all, whether individually, or collectively, the last thing we want to do, is to fail at being the church.

 

 

 


 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/3CuJTJZEkl4

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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.

Brotherhood and Betrayal

Brotherhood and Betrayal

August 09, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

  

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28            Romans 10:5-15                     Matthew 14:22-33

  

The news makes me sad.

Whether I watch the evening news on television or read it on my computer, in recent months the news just makes me sad.

While our news has almost always been dominated by bad news rather than good news, it seems that, lately, the news stories that we see, and read, are either reporting on, or contributing to, a sense of division within our nation.  We seem to be increasingly divided between white and black, between Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, (and whatever else), Conservative and Liberal, masks and no-masks, face-to-face school and distance learning, and on and on it goes.  Things have gotten so bad that it seems like our only options for peace are to only associate with the shrinking number of people who agree with us on everything, or to become media hermits that just start to tune the world out and increasingly retreat into a tiny, quiet world of our own creation.

But are those our only options?

What should we, as individuals and as a church, be doing?

Does God want us to retreat from the world?  Or are we called to do something else entirely?

Let’s begin by returning to the story of Jacob, which has now leapt ahead in time as we hear the story of Jacob’s twelfth son, Joseph. (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28)

37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So, Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver [about 8 ounces, about $195 at this week’s spot price] to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Joseph was obviously Jacob’s favorite.  He was, by far, the youngest child and was born to Jacob’s favorite wife, and Jacob gave Joseph a special robe of some kind.  This has been translated as a “coat of many colors” and in this reading it was translated as an “ornate” robe, but the truth is, the word that is rendered as “ornate” or “of many colors” is a word that is otherwise unknown to our modern Hebrew experts.  We don’t know what that word is, exactly, but whatever it is, the coat that Jacob gave to Joseph was special, it stood out, it marked him as the favorite, and it inspired and focused the pettiness, envy, and jealousy of his brothers to the point that they were willing to consider murdering him.  Reuben, the oldest, tries to calm his brothers enough to spare Joseph’s life and throw him into a cistern rather than kill him, and plans to return for him later.  But before he can, the rest of Joseph’s brothers decide to sell him to a caravan of merchants in their way to sell spices and other goods in Egypt.

Clearly, the bonds of brotherhood were betrayed and broken.

But, if you know anything at all about the story of Joseph in Egypt, this story in no way glamorizes that betrayal or the behavior of Joseph’s brothers.  Their actions are surprising, shocking, and become a cautionary tale to the world about the sins of hatred, betrayal, envy, and jealousy and the lifetime of danger, regret, and sorrow that flow from their actions.

In contrast, we can look at any number of stories from the life of Jesus but, for today, let’s look at Matthew 14:22-33, where Jesus and the disciples moving on after the execution of John the Baptist and Jesus’ feeding of fifteen thousand people (which is often called the “feeding of the five thousand.”  Remember that in that story, Jesus was trying to get away from the people to spend some time alone with God, and so after the people are fed, and finally go home, probably as evening and darkness approach, Jesus still wants to spend some time alone with God in prayer.

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

While, at first, this might not sound anything at all like the story about Joseph and his brothers, I want to think about the ways in which Jesus treats the people in this story, and in the story of the Jesus feeding the people who had come to hear him preach.  In every instance, Jesus treats the people in these stories with compassion, sympathy, and love even when the difficulties that the people found themselves in were caused by their own choices.  The people were hungry because they had traveled a considerable distance to see Jesus, stayed longer than they intended and, except for one young boy, did not bring anything with them to eat.  Peter was the one who stepped out of the boat, and it was Peter’s fear and lack of faith that caused him to sink, and yet, Jesus feeds the hungry people and he reaches out his hand and lifts Peter back into the boat.  The disciples, event the fishermen, are all afraid when they think that they see a ghost walking on the water, but Jesus soothes them and calls for them to take courage.  And, because of Jesus miracles, as well as his compassion, concern, and love for them, the disciples know that he must be the Son of God.

But how do we connect these dots?  What do either of these stories have to do with us, particularly in the twenty-first century, in the middle of a global pandemic, and a remarkably divisive culture war?

To connect those dots with today, I want to look at what Paul wrote to the church in Rome in Romans 10:5-15.  The church in Rome was a mixed-race church.  There were not only people who had come from all over the Roman Empire, there were a mixture of men and women, slaves, and free persons, as well as Jews and Gentiles who sometimes struggled to get along and find space for one another without the wrestling with the same kinds of jealousy and envy that Joseph’s brothers had felt.  And one of the things that they wrestled with, was how they should understand the laws of Moses and the writings of the prophets (what we call the Old Testament) and how the law applied to their lives in light of the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ.  Paul says:

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Paul explains that the shift from the prophets of old, to the teachings of Jesus Christ, was a shift in the way in which we seek righteousness.  Before, the pursuit of righteousness was an academic one.  We had to remember what all the rules were and how to follow them correctly.  But with the coming of Jesus, our pursuit of righteousness became an issue of the heart.  The word of God now lives in our hearts in such a way that we are saved by faith and express that faith by sharing it with others.  There is no longer a difference between Jews and Gentiles and, because Jesus saves everyone who puts their trust in him, neither group has an advantage over the other.

But Paul’s advice to those fighting against division wasn’t for them to take sides, or for them to retreat from the world, but to send them out into the chaos of the world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone who hadn’t yet heard it.

In a world filled with division, strained relationship, envy, arrogance, and chaos, the church, then and now, cannot retreat.  We must, as never before, move forward and share the good news.

Who do you know that needs to hear it?

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/gwzpTdJV0JU

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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.

Church Can’t Save You

Church Can’t Save You

August 02, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 Genesis 32:22-31                   Romans 9:1-5             Matthew 14:13-21

 

It seems like everyone is always looking for the easy way out.

You can’t blame us.  Easy always seems better than hard.  But often, the only way to get from “worse” to “better” is to travel down the hard road.  If you want to be an accountant, an engineer, or a nurse, there’s no easy way that doesn’t involve going to college.  And, if you want to be a doctor, then the only path that gets you there goes through medical school and some grueling years as an intern and a resident.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

As we do battle with the Coronavirus, we know that developing a new vaccine from scratch typically takes five to ten years.  We also know that there has never been a successful vaccine against any of the other viruses in the coronavirus family.  But a vaccine is the “easiest” path forward that most of us can see, so we’re going to spend a lot of time, money, and effort in hopes that our best doctors and scientists can do what’s never been done before.  And others are pinning their hopes on a variety of unproven drug therapies that might work, that might not work, or that might be more dangerous than the virus they’re trying to fight.

But, as is often the case, the easy way, may not be the best way.  In fact, the easy way, may not get us anywhere near our intended destination.

And the same is true in the spiritual world.  The easy road may not lead us to the place we had hoped.

But before we get to that, let’s go back to the story of Jacob, and rejoin his story as he prepared to meet his long-estranged brother Esau, from whom he stole his father’s birthright. (Genesis 32:22-31)

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, [Israel means “struggles with God”] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face [Penial means “face of God”], and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

 God appears to Jacob in human form (which, in theological language, is called a theophany).  All night long, Jacob wrestles with God and, in the morning, demands a blessing from him.  Because of our understanding of the events of the New Testament, the name that we usually use for God in human flesh, is Jesus.  So, if you want to bend your understanding of time and space a little bit, we might think that Jacob spends the night wrestling with Jesus.  And, if you think that’s impossible, consider John 8:56-59 where Jesus argued with the leaders of his church saying:

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

 In any case, Jacob wrestles with God, receives God’s blessing, and is given the name, Israel, or wrestles with God, that will remain with his family for thousands of years.  Then, in Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus performs miracles as a sign that he is the fulfillment of that blessing, and the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and one of those is the spectacular moment when Jesus feeds ten to fifteen thousand people, possibly more, with the contents of one small boy’s sack lunch.  This story begins immediately after the execution of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In the gospel stories of his miracles, Jesus demonstrates his command and authority over time and space, over the wind, rain and weather, over disease, demons, and death, and, in this story, over the laws of matter itself.  The contents of a small boy’s lunch, five small loaves of bread (probably small flat breads like a pita) and two fish are multiplied to feed five thousand men, and all the women and children that had come with them.

And so, as we come to church, we often arrive at the belief that everyone who believes the story of Jesus, is adopted into the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and, like the people of Israel, we inherit the blessings of God.

Not so fast.

Let’s not be too hasty.

It was exactly that line of thinking, in the time of the disciples, that led the Apostle Paul to weep over the Jewish people of Israel.  In Romans 9:1-5, we hear him explain it this way:

9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Paul says that he weeps over the people of his own race, the people of Israel, who are, as we know, the genetic and philosophical descendants of Jacob and the inheritors of his blessing.  But Paul’s grief was that the people believed that this was all that was necessary.  They believed that being the heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was enough. 

But it wasn’t. 

Even though Paul was the ultimate Jew, who was born into the right family, who followed all the right rituals, who went to all the right schools, and had all the best teachers, Paul knew that his genetic lineage was not enough.  Paul knew that the Jews of his day were excluding themselves from God’s kingdom and from God’s blessing by their failure to believe, and to follow, Jesus Christ.  As evidence, Paul points to Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael and, by inference, to Jacob’s twin brother Esau.  Even though they were genetically connected to Abraham and to Isaac, the blessing of God did not automatically flow to them.  Even though Ishmael and Esau believed in God, they did not follow God in the way that Isaac and Jacob did, and so, God’s blessing did not come to them, or to their families, in the same way.  And Paul says that this same rule applies to all the Jews when it comes to their belief in Jesus.  Paul’s message is that the promise of God does not come to us because of our family ties, or our genetics, or our church membership, but only to those who choose to accept the gift, follow God, and live a life patterned after that belief.

In more modern language, we need look no further than Billy Sunday, a professional baseball player and internationally known evangelist of the early 20th century, who said,

 “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

Just as Ishmael and Esau walked away from God’s blessing, Paul wept as he watched his own Jewish race, whom he loved more than life itself, walk away from the blessings of God because of their failure to accept, and follow, Jesus.

And Paul’s message for us is pretty much the same.  We aren’t saved because our family was saved.  We aren’t saved because we believe in God, or because we go to a Bible believing church, or because we believe that Jesus was a real person, or because we believe that the stories in the New Testament actually happened.  We are saved, and we receive the blessings of God, because we have put our full faith and trust in Jesus, and allow that faith to change the way that we live our lives, as we pattern our lives, our behavior, and our actions after the life and the teaching of Jesus.

So yes, church is important.  And yes, I am convinced that every person who believes in Jesus must belong to a fellowship of Christian believers (whether you call that a church or not).  But going to church is not the easy way out.  Going to church will not save you no more that going to a garage will make you an automobile.

Each person must put their full faith, and trust in Jesus, and then live a life that reveals Jesus to the world around them.

That is not always going to be the easiest path.  But it’s the only path that leads to the destination that matters.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/vElLkqp1aZ0

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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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.

Blessings, Weeds, and Suffering

Blessings, Weeds, and Suffering

July 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 Genesis 28:10-19a                 Romans 8:12-25                     Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

If we can’t have church, how can we be the church?

If I am a member of the church, is there something that I should be doing for the church?

Can my faith in Jesus help me to understand, or even just to cope, with the craziness and suffering that is going on because of the Coronavirus (or anything else)?

In the middle of the chaos caused by the Coronavirus, some of the questions that gets kicked around revolve around the church.  What should the church be doing?  What should its members be doing?  Does our faith in Jesus Christ make any difference in how we ought to respond to the world, to the news, or to our leadership?  And, while I certainly don’t have all the answers, and we surely won’t have time to talk about all of the possibilities, or all of the relevant scriptures, today’s lectionary passages are enough to give us plenty to think about.  We begin in Genesis 28:10-19a, where Jacob has an encounter with the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham and in which God reiterates a blessing that he had promised to Abraham, and by doing so reemphasizes that the promise had not only been passed down to him, but that it would continue pass through his descendants.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel.

God meets Jacob and he promises that he will give the land, upon which he sleeps, to Jacob and to his descendants.  But more than that, God promises that those descendants would multiply, spread out in all directions, and become so numerous that God’s blessing would flow through them and into the entire world.  Of course, as Christians, we believe that not only has this prophecy been fulfilled by the growth and expansion of the Jewish nation, but also specifically through Jacob’s descendant Jesus.  And therefore, from our perspective, the blessing of God flows through Jacob, down to Jesus, and through Jesus, flows into the world of today… through us.

But so, what?  Why does that matter?  What difference does it make if we are numbered among the descendants of God’s blessing to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  It matters, and it makes a difference, because the world is also full of weeds.  What do I mean by weeds?  Listen to what Jesus had to say in the parable found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

 36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven, in other words, the world in which we live, is like a field that has been planted.  The good seed is the people of the kingdom of God and that seed was planted by Jesus.  The weeds are the people who are controlled, or manipulated, or deceived, by the evil one, the enemy of God.  In the fields, and in the world, and even in the church, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat.  But as the plants mature, it becomes obvious what kind of fruit they will bear.  This is a story about God’s judgement at the end of time.  Jesus says that the angels will know which people are bearing good fruit and which are weeds and that the weeds will be pulled out, sorted, and separated from the good fruit, and burned in the fire.  As we have seen in other passages, when we become mature, we will be known, and judged, by what kind of fruit we produce.

But what does that have to do with being the descendants of Jacob, and the followers of Jesus?

The “So what” question is answered by Paul in Romans 8 and there he also explains what our faith matters in times when life is difficult, during pandemics, or worse. (Romans 8:12-25)

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

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.

 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

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

Paul says that, as the church, we do not have an obligation to live well or to pursue comfort and the satisfaction of our fleshly desires.  But we do have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, to live as if our faith really mattered, to do the things that Jesus taught, be the kind of people that Jesus has called us to be, and to do the work that that Jesus has called us to do.  Paul reminds us that we are God’s children.  We are the adopted sons and daughters of the family of God.  We are the heirs, the inheritors, of God’s blessing, and co-heirs with Jesus.  But being heirs with Jesus means that we not only share in God’s riches and glory, but that we also share in the suffering of Jesus.

The present suffering of this world, our present suffering in this world, no matter how bad things get (and Paul was absolutely, intimately, familiar with just how bad things could get), simply do not compare to the glory that we will see as our reward and as our inheritance.  But for the present, we live in a creation that is the frustrated, tangled, twisted, perverted, and corrupted reality of the creator’s perfect creation.  Yes, we are enduring the chaos caused by the Coronavirus.  Yes, our culture is in turmoil.  Yes, our own denomination is tearing itself apart.  Yes, there is unemployment, and suffering.  Yes, our lives are chaotic, unsettled, and uncertain.  But Paul, and the people of his time, and his world, knew chaos and suffering too.  We live in this present, but like Paul and the church that he knew, we live with the hope that creation will one day be redeemed, rescued, and liberated from its bondage to decay.  We look forward to the day when, not only the world, but we too will be redeemed and made perfect.

Through Jesus, we are the descendants of Jacob, and the inheritors of God’s blessing.  And while we live in a world that is filled with weeds, enemies, frustrations, disasters, bad governments, and outright evil, we look forward to something so much better that we are able to look past the suffering of the present and into a future filled with glory and light.  But while we are here, in this present time, we have an obligation to be and to do.  We are called to live according to the Spirit of God, to be the kind of people that Jesus called us to be, to live the way that Jesus lived, and to do the work that Jesus did.  We are called to live lives that look like Jesus, lives that reveal Jesus to the people around us, to love the people around us like Jesus did, and to do the work that Jesus did.  Yes, the fields are full of weeds, but until the time comes for the harvesters to separate the weeds from the wheat, our calling is to nurture the seeds that have been scattered.  Those seeds surround us in our families, in our community, in our places of employment, and everywhere we go.  Many of those seeds can still be saved.

Although we aren’t meeting together in a church building, we have never stopped being the church.  Every day, whenever, and wherever we can, we must look for opportunities to be Jesus to the world.  We must do what we can to relieve the suffering that we see; and help the people around us who are struggling in any way that we can.

Despite the chaos that surrounds us, we must keep moving forward. 

This week look for ways that you can help.  Send a card, call, donate food, mow someone’s grass, buy groceries for an unemployed neighbor, maybe even pay somebody’s rent.  In big ways or small ways, let us answer the call to show the love of Jesus to those around us.

And let us keep our eyes…

…on hope.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Y8cHcw79Uuo

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

Fear or Faith?

I am not afraid.

If you read my blog last week (Who Will Be the Canary?), you probably noticed that while I look forward to returning to worship in our church sanctuary, I prefer to err on the side of caution.  And, as I noted in my greeting yesterday morning, I find it a little odd that we are being told that it is safe to return to corporate worship (with proper spacing) but day cares, sports teams, and others are being told to limit activities to groups of ten.  Similarly, hospitals nursing homes and other care facilities remain closed to visitors and family members.  In that environment, I am just not convinced that it is responsible to put nearly one hundred of us in a room together.

I realize that there are several schools of thought on this issue.  A few of my colleagues believe, and have made it clear in online forums, that such cautiousness will harm church attendance and membership.  But I am not so sure.  In 2016, the entire Chipotle restaurant chain lost customers and revenue when 55 customers were sickened by the e coli bacteria in seven states.  The damage to sales (attendance) took years to repair.  An outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in your local church would be a major media event and, if we’re going to use church attendance as a measuring stick, would have an even more profound impact than cautiousness.  In any case, while we are making plans to return to corporate worship in our sanctuary, I think it’s more important to put the safety of our members ahead of worries about attendance.

But I am not afraid.

While there have been many posts on social media that churches (and pastors) should simply have faith, and trust that God will protect us, this isn’t an issue of fear versus faith.  While I have seen reminders about how God protected Daniel in the lions’ den or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, I don’t think that they apply here.  Yes, they all had great faith and, yes, God protected them, but at the same time, Daniel didn’t volunteer to be thrown to the lions.  And, realizing that Shadrach and company were bound hand and foot prior to their attempted incineration says something about their willingness to participate in the experience. 

Yes, Bible heroes the likes of Moses, Gideon, and David are lifted up as people of great faith, and they were.  But it pays to remember that they were also cautious.  Moses was content to raise sheep, for forty years, until God commanded him to return to Egypt and promised him divine protection.  Gideon led Israel’s revolt against the occupying Philistine army, but God spent days convincing him that the voice he heard really was God, and that God really was promising that Gideon wouldn’t die in the attempt.  Yes, David volunteered to fight against the giant Goliath, but David had spent years training with a sling and stones and had used them to fight against a lion, a bear, and other wild beasts before he did.

Being cautious doesn’t mean that we lack faith.  It just means that we choose not to risk our lives foolishly. 

Let us take the time to understand our enemy and the weapons we have at our disposal to fight against it.

Let us be careful, cautious, and listen for God’s voice.

The heroes of our faith did these things too.

 

 

 


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Who Will be the Canary?

Whether we know it or not, some of us are about to be asked to a “canary in a coal mine.”

While that phrase is probably familiar to many of my friends from coal country, let me offer you some brief historical background.  In the years before more advanced technology, the people who dug wells, mined coal, and worked underground often ran the risk of being overcome by carbon monoxide or other toxic, but odorless, gasses.  To defend themselves, these laborers began to carry small birds, often a canary, with them underground.  Since the birds were small, they would be overcome by the presence of toxic gases, or simply a lack of oxygen, before their, much larger, humans owners would.  These underground laborers knew that if the canary lost consciousness and fell off its perch, they were already on borrowed time and needed to head for the surface.

That brings us to this present Coronavirus pandemic, social distancing, and for my purposes, church worship.  Soon, as state health advisories are relaxed, church members will begin to ask, or even press, for pastors to resume congregational worship.  Some churches in our area have already set a date, in the next couple of weeks, to do so.  Certainly, we will do things differently.  We will offer hand sanitizer, our staff will be dizzily disinfecting everything in sight, we will space ourselves out in the sanctuary, we will refrain from shaking hands, and we might even eliminate singing for a while.

But should we?

I know what our congregation looks like, as well as all those parishes in which I have served and been a member or regular attender.  And all of them were, and are, full of wonderful saints who belong to any number of vulnerable populations.  Our churches are full of mature citizens, elderly persons, cancer patients, a variety of immune suppressed brothers and sisters, as well as those suffering from asthma, heart and kidney disease, and other health issues.  Opening our churches for congregational worship puts all these vulnerable friends at risk.

Think about your own friends, family and other saints in your church.

Which of them would you choose to bury before year’s end?

I’m certain that, like me, you’d like to avoid that.

But by rushing to be first, by opening as soon as we are “allowed” to do so, or as soon as state or denominational health advisories are relaxed, we are volunteering to be the “canary in a coal mine.”  Like those coal miners, we don’t have the technology to measure our safety.  We don’t have a test, or a meter, or a buzzer that will tell us when it’s not safe.

As reasonable as the voices around us may sound, everyone is guessing.

We think… that it’s probably… safe.

But the people who tell you that it’s probably safe will be watching the churches that go first to see what, if anything, happens.  And, as sincere as they might be, and as reasonable as their voices may sound, they won’t be the ones burying your friends, family, and saints of the church.  You will.

I miss our church family.  I miss our community.  I miss our hugs, and handshakes, and covered dish dinners.  I miss the choir, and coffee and donuts, and everything else.

I completely understand why you would want that back.  I do too.

But whomever goes first, is volunteering to be the canary.

And it’s worth remembering that, for the canary, it doesn’t always end well.

Like you, I look forward to welcoming our community of faith into the church sanctuary again.  I long for a return to “normal.” 

But I have no desire to be first.

My friends, my family, and my church are far too valuable to be used as a lab experiment to see if it’s truly as safe as some bureaucrat, government official, or scientist thinks it is.

You can volunteer to be the canary if you want to.

Feel free to go first.

But I’m in no hurry.

 

 

 


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Leaders: Shepherds or Thieves?

Leaders: Shepherds or Thieves?

May 10, 2020*

Mother’s Day

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 10:1-10              Acts 2:42-47                  1 Peter 2:19-25

 

There is a common theme in the movies, in literature, and even in computer hacking that should sound familiar.  If you can impersonate one of your enemy’s leaders well enough, you can fool them into giving you all kinds of information.  And you might even be able to take control of something valuable.  Computer hackers have been known to call in to the information technology or computer department at a company headquarters pretending to be the CEO, or the president, or some other corporate official, act as if they forgot their password, and try to convince someone to either give them the password over the phone or reset their password in a way that gives the hacker access to the company computer network with the access of that corporate officer.  Likewise, we’ve all seen movies where someone masquerades as a military general, or someone else in order to steal something, to rescue someone, or to save the world or something. 

 

In short, if you pretend to be someone’s leader, and can fool them well enough, long enough, you can do a lot of damage and can steal almost anything you want.  And as familiar as that theme is to us in literature, in movies, and real life, it ought to make sense when we read almost that same story in scripture, and we do in John 10:1-10, when Jesus accuses Israel’s Pharisees of impersonating real leadership.

 

10:1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.

 

Jesus’ accusation is that the leaders of Israel are only masquerading as leaders so that they can steal what they want, destroy what they want, and kill whomever they want, so that they can benefit themselves rather than offer leadership that genuinely cares for the people for whom they are responsible in the way that a true shepherd cares for their sheep.  Jesus explains that this is why many people do not follow the example of the Pharisees.  It is because the people, also known as the sheep, are smart enough, and sensitive enough to the calling of God, to know that these are not true shepherds.  Likewise, this explains the popularity that Jesus has, because the people recognize the care of the true shepherd in him.

 

But recognizing Jesus as our shepherd, and as the true shepherd of God, has implications for every one of us not only in what we believe, but in how we act and how we respond to the actions of others.  In 1 Peter 2:19-25, the Apostle Peter says this:

 

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

 

That means that, as followers of the true shepherd, we are called to do what is right, and what is best for everyone, regardless of the cost (much like many of our Mother’s sacrificed what they wanted so that we could have the things the we needed and wanted).  There is, of course, no commendation if we are punished for doing wrong, but we our actions are commendable before God if we are punished for doing what is right.  Because we were once lost, and because we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, we are called to be like him and to do what is right regardless of what it costs.

 

Well that sounds nice, and it certainly applies to those of us who find ourselves in leadership, but what does it mean otherwise?  Most of us are not being persecuted for our faith.  What does it look like to bear the cost of doing what’s right?  How does doing what is right apply to the ordinary business of day-to-day living for ordinary people?  And Luke offers an answer to that question in Acts 2:42-47 where he says:

 

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

Simply put, the followers of Jesus Christ made it a habit to be together, to share meals together, to share the stories of what they had seen God do in their lives, in the lives of the apostles, and in the lives of others.  And they not only shared these things, they shared all that they had.  They used what they had to meet the needs of others, not just the needs of those who belonged, but the needs of “anyone who had need.”  I know most of our parents taught us to share, but this is different.  This takes sharing to another level.  This kind of sharing costs something.  The followers of Jesus Christ sold some of the things that they had, and they sold off property, just so that they could give it away and care for those in need.  They invited people with nothing to eat, to eat with them, in their homes because their faith was sincere. 

 

Clearly, this goes far beyond giving from our excess, or even giving a tithe, or a tenth, to the church.  This was truly sacrificial, costly, giving.  But the end result was that their hearts were glad, they praised God, the people of their communities noticed what they were doing and universally thought well of them, and God blessed what they were doing.  “The Lord added to their number… daily… those who were being saved.”

 

As we read scripture, both today and any other day, we often find that we are both sheep and shepherd.  We are sheep because we follow Jesus as our shepherd, but whenever we have leadership over others, whether that is over employees at work, over students at school, over our children at home, over volunteers at church, or anywhere else, we are called to lead like Jesus.  Because Jesus sacrificed to do what was right, we are called to lead sacrificially as he did.  We must do what is right, and good, for those under us, and those around us, even when doing what is right costs us something.  We are called to be loving, …and giving, …and caring, even when doing so costs us something. 

 

Because, in the end, Jesus says that there are only two kinds of leaders… shepherds… and thieves.

 

We are surrounded by examples.  As we open our newspapers and watch the evening news it often isn’t difficult to find people in positions of leadership that seem to use their authority to enrich themselves and get what they want regardless of who gets hurt.  But occasionally, we see people who stand out in stark contrast to that kind of leader.  Occasionally, we see people who are willing to take a stand for what’s right.  To stand up for the people that work for them or for the people they represent.  Unfortunately, that kind of selfless leadership shouldn’t be so unusual.  It’s something that every follower of Jesus Christ has been called to do.

 

We each get to choose for ourselves, every day, what kind of leader we will be.

 

Will we be shepherds? 

 

Or will we be thieves?

 

It shouldn’t be that hard, but I pray that we will all choose wisely.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/zVDiugvyzu4


Did you enjoy reading this?

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