A Date with the Gallows

A Date with the Gallows

September 26, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22               Mark 9:38-50                         James 5:13-20

Do you watch movies?

Have you seen Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean?

There is a literary device that has been used in many books and movies and was used to good effect in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  The literary device to which I refer is one in which one of the main characters has been sentenced to death by hanging and awaits their appointment with death and their date with the gallows.  In The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow stands in line and waits for his meeting with the executioner until Will, and then Elizabeth, intervene to save his life.

As we read such stories or watch such movies, we imagine what it would be like to be in such a position ourselves.  How would we feel if we were sentenced to death and were only waiting for our date with the gallows or our appointment with death?  And imagine how much worse it would be if everyone that we knew, everyone of our family, friends, and community, were similarly condemned?  How would we feel?  What would we do?  It seems impossible, but that is exactly the situation that Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai, and all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire, faced.  An enemy of the Jews, Haman, was a close aide to the king, and had deceptively persuaded the king to sign an edict that doomed every Jew in the Empire.  But Esther had a plan.  Even though the mere act of appearing in the king’s presence without an invitation could be punishable by death, even for the queen, Esther dares to do so anyway.  And when the king rescues her, invites her in, and allows her to speak, she invites him to dinner for further discussion and then in Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22, we hear this:

 7:1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

9:20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Once the truth was known, and the consequences of the king’s edict, and Haman’s treachery, were understood, the king found a way to turn the tables.  The Jews were saved, Haman was hung on the six story tall gallows that he had built, and the sorrow of the Jews was changed into joy, and their tears transformed into gladness.

But sometimes it is hard to tell one side, or one team, from another.  It’s a bit like trying to watch, or even to play, a football game in which all of the players, from both sides, are wearing the same uniform.  That is the situation in which the disciples find themselves in Mark 9:38-50.  They thought they knew which side they were on.  There was Jesus, and then there was the twelve, and then there were the handful of people that generally hung out with them.  But suddenly their entire understanding of “us” and “them” is disrupted.

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck, and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Jesus takes this moment to teach a two-part message.  First, “us” is not so easily defined as “Jesus and the twelve.”  Jesus says that even if someone wasn’t physically following Jesus but was doing “deeds of power” in Jesus’ name then they couldn’t say anything bad about Jesus and must have been connecting to the power of God through Jesus’ name.  For us, that means that we shouldn’t always be so certain that we know who is “us” and who is “them.”  

The second part of that instruction hits even closer to home for the disciples, and probably does for us as well.  Jesus says that not only are there people on our side that we didn’t know about, but we also need to be careful not to drive people out of the kingdom of God by doing, or saying, something foolish.  Our words, and our actions, can sometimes be the things that cause others to trip and fall, or to step off the cliff into unbelief.  And Jesus says that we must not be a stumbling block, we must not be the reason that someone else stops believing.  Worse still, Jesus’ description offers us a terrifying picture of what might happen to those who cause others to stumble.

Finally, Jesus reminds us that, like salt, we were created with a purpose.  And, just like salt that isn’t salty, we cease to be useful if we fail to do the things for which we were created.  Salt that isn’t salty was typically just thrown out and used to fill in potholes on the walking path outside your house.  We wouldn’t want God to have that kind of opinion about our usefulness.

Instead, we should strive to be about God’s business and to do the work that Jesus has left for us to do.  Jesus’ brother James has this to say in James 5:13-20:

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James reminds us that while we are trying to be useful, one of the things for which we were created is to connect with God through prayer.  Pray for the sick and the suffering, sing when things go well, and ask for forgiveness when we fall short.  If the prayers of Elijah could stop the rain for three years and then start it back up again, then we know that our prayers are sufficient to bring the wanderers and the prodigals home again and return the lost to a closer walk with Jesus.

Never forget that rescuing God’s the lost children is the purpose for which we were created.  Without Jesus, we are like those pirates and other characters in books and movies who were waiting for their date with the gallows, or like the Jews who waited for their destruction.  Without Jesus, death awaits us all.  But when we return the lost to Jesus, through prayer or through the actions of individuals or through the work of the church, we change sorrow into joy, and tears into gladness.

Let us not sit idly and watch as others wait for their date with the gallows.

Instead, may God find us busy doing the work of rescue and restoration.


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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.

Death of Rebellion

  • Video of this message can be found here: https://youtu.be/8z2YGP8TvsA
  • Death of Rebellion

    August 08, 2021*

    By Pastor John Partridge

    2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33                John 6:35, 41-51                    Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

    How do you feel about rebellion?

    Are you a rebel?

    As citizens of the United States of America, we often talk about rebellion because our nation was founded upon our willingness to rebel against the rule of King George and the nation of England, and even to fight and die in rebellion against them for our independence from them. 

    And layered on top of our national historic association with rebellion, in recent years many of us, and certainly our children, have grown up watching the Star Wars saga unfold in a host of movies, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, fan films, and other products.  And in the whole of the Star Wars drama, the bad guys are from the evil Empire and the heroes are those who fight for “The Rebellion.”

    But what exactly is rebellion?

    Simply put, rebellion is resistance against any established authority, control, or convention.

    The Rebellion in Star Wars fought back against the rule of the Emperor and the galactic empire, the American colonies fought back against undue taxation without representation and other oppressive systems of King George and the British Empire, but we also find ordinary rebellion in those of us who disobey our parents, choose not to wear masks during a pandemic, or who cut in line at the grocery store, or who check out with 14 items on the “12 items or less” aisle, or those of us who simply choose to drive five miles per hour over the posted speed limit.  But of the multitude of ways that we can rebel, and an almost equal number of things against which we can rebel, the one that is important for us to consider on Sunday morning is that of our rebellion against God.

    We begin this morning by returning to the story of David, but we’ve skipped ahead a few decades.  Here, David’s son, Absalom, has grown to adulthood and become physically attractive, persuasive, influential, and politically astute.  Over time, he deliberately cultivated relationships with many of Israel’s leaders and elders and began to poison them against his father David and lead them toward policies that he favored instead.  Absalom finally rebels against his father and used his accumulated influence to execute a coup.  Absalom’s coup was temporarily successful, but he overplayed his hand.  David barely escaped Jerusalem with his life, but many of his generals and much of Israel’s military remained loyal to him and that resulted in a civil war for the control of the nation of Israel.  And that is where we rejoin our story in 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33.

    The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

    David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

    Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

    15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him, and killed him.

    31 Then the Cushite [messenger] arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

    32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

    The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

    33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

    Despite David’s orders to be gentle and merciful with Absalom, and despite Absalom being found alone and helplessly hanging in a tree, David’s commanders took it upon themselves to order Absalom’s death.  I am certain that they believed that Absalom was unavoidably likely to cause trouble for their king if he was left alive, but in killing him, they caused the grief of a loving father who loved his son unconditionally.

    What is also certain, is that the rebellion against David died with Absalom.

    But other forms of rebellion continued and in John 6:35, 41-51 we find leaders, elders, and others from Jesus’ hometown resist and rebel against his authority because they watched him grow up and can’t believe that he could possibly be who he says that he is.

    35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

    41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

    43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

    For the people of Jesus’ hometown, it was difficult, and perhaps even almost impossible, to believe the things that Jesus was saying.  Jesus said that he came down from heaven, but they knew his parents, they saw him in their arms as an infant, and they watched him grow up.  They knew where he came from… didn’t they?  They knew that he was a carpenter, a builder, a contractor, and the son of a man who did the same thing, and so how do they begin to believe that he could be “the bread of life”? 

    Many of them couldn’t.  And so, they resisted.  They rebelled against his authority. 

    They rebelled against Jesus and against God, and in this case, we think about the spiritual aftereffects and not the physical ones, but like Absalom, their rebellion caused their death.

    When human beings rebel and reject God, the repercussions can be deadly.

    We don’t want to rebel against God, but we’ve also been taught that Christianity brings great freedom to do as we please without being required to rigorously follow a bunch of rules.  As it turns out, that’s exactly what Paul was worried about and in his letter to the church in Ephesus, he tries to explain how we should follow Jesus without rebellion, but also not fall into the trap of the Pharisees who made lists of strict and unbending rules to govern their behavior.  (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2)

    25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

    29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

    5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

    Notice that Paul doesn’t lay out a bunch of rules to follow.  He doesn’t say that we need to say prayers at sunrise or sunset, or attend church services, or observe a list of holy days, or make pilgrimages, or commit to a year of missionary service to the church, or to donate money, or refrain from walking or cooking on the Sabbath, or any kind of restrictive rules like the Pharisees had.  Instead, Paul says that we follow Jesus when we tell the truth, and he cautions us not to allow our anger to cause us to sin.  It’s worth noting that Paul doesn’t say that it is a sin to be angry, it isn’t.  But when we are angry, we must be careful how we direct our anger and where we allow our anger to lead us.  We learned from Jesus that we should be angry about things like poverty, injustice, abuse, and other things that God condemns.  But our anger must be directed in constructive ways.

    Paul goes on to say that we shouldn’t steal, we should be productive citizens who do something useful so that we have the resources to share what we have with others.  We should control our language so that what come out of our mouths is wholesome and beneficial to those around us.  We should rid ourselves of bitterness, rage, anger, fighting, slander, and malice and instead be kind, compassionate, and forgiving.  Despite his history as a Pharisee, and his familiarity with a religion of rule-following, Paul doesn’t even begin to tell us what to do, but instead tells us what kind of people we should strive to become.

    Ending our rebellion against God hasn’t ever been about following a bunch of rules.

    Ending our rebellion has always been about becoming.

    As we become… more and more like Jesus… …rebellion dies.


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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.

    Freedom

    KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

    Freedom

    April 04, 2021*

    (Easter)

    By Pastor John Partridge

    Mark 16:1-8                           Acts 10:34-43                         I Corinthians 15:1-11

    We are three months early.

    Three months from today, July 4th, is our nation’s birthday and a grand celebration of freedom and independence.

    An in that sense, our celebration today, on April 4th, is three months early.  But our celebration today is the celebration of a freedom that is far grander, and far more amazing, that our independence from King George and the nation of England.

    The freedom that we celebrate today has been the subject of our sermons for the last seven and a half weeks and even then, we’ve barely scratched the surface of why our remembrance of this day is the cause of so much joy, gladness, and celebration.  But make no mistake, like the celebration of July 4th for the citizens of the United States of America, the Easter celebration for the citizens of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ, is a celebration of freedom.  I’m going to briefly recap the last seven weeks and remind you of a few of the freedoms that we are celebrating in a little while, but first I want to read words of Mark 16:1-8 and add to our remembrance of the story of Easter that our youth began this morning in our sunrise service.

    16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

    But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

    “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

    Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

    As the two Marys and Salome walked to the tomb, they were worried about what Jesus body would smell like, they were worried that the stone was too large for the tree of them to move, worried that there might not be anyone to help them move it, and worried that the Roman soldiers, or whomever was guarding it, would refuse to help them, or even refuse to allow them to re-wrap Jesus’ body with the spices, incense, and aromatic tree sap that they had brought with them.  But upon their arrival, the two-thousand-pound stone had already been moved and they worried about why it had been moved.  But when they entered the tomb to look inside, instead of finding Jesus, they found a messenger from God whose first words were, “Don’t be afraid.”  But after he had given them their instructions and sent them on their way, they were still trembling, confused, and afraid.

    But that initial reaction changed as they met Jesus face-to-face and realized that Jesus was alive.  As time passed, they began to understand the things that Jesus had taught them, including the things about death, burial, and resurrection that had always been confusing.  They began to understand that everything that they had seen, had happened exactly as Jesus had said that it would happen, and exactly as the ancient prophets had described hundreds of years earlier.  And, by the time that Peter stays in the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius in Caesarea, he has processed the lessons that he learned from Jesus in an even deeper way (Acts 10:34-43).

    34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

    39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

    Peter realized that Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament had begun something entirely new and changed the way that God’s people would engage the world around them and change the way their entire relationship with God.  The new covenant, this new contract with God, was a contract without favoritism, without nepotism, without racism, and without judgement except for the judgement of the one person who understood us best, and who was perfect, just, and infinitely wise.

    And just a few decades later, Paul, having learned from the disciples, as well as through his own experience, and having had even more time to process what he had learned, seen, and heard, writes to the church in Corinth to help them to understand what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus meant to them, and still means to each one of us (I Corinthians 15:1-11).

    15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

    For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

    Paul reminds us that it was by this gospel, this story of life, death, and resurrection, through which we were saved… if we hold firmly to what we have learned.  Paul knows what his life was like before he met Jesus.  Paul knows that he is utterly undeserving of God’s rescue, let alone the honor of being counted among the disciples of Jesus Christ.  Paul remembers that he had been so anti-Jesus that he had become known as the hunter of Christ followers who had them arrested, tortured, and worse.  And because of who he was, and the life that he had once lived, Paul understands the depth of God’s mercy and grace.

    Through the story of Easter, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul had found freedom.  And that freedom has flowed down through history to us.  It is a freedom that is far grander than anything that we celebrate on July fourth.  It is more than our freedom from King George and the nation of England.  It is more than the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

    The message of the gospel is a message of many freedoms. 

    Mary, Mary, and Salome learned that it is a message of freedom from fear.

    Peter learned that it was a message of freedom from favoritism, nepotism, and racism.

    Paul learned that it is a message of mercy, grace, and freedom from our past.

    And as we’ve learned over the last seven and a half weeks, it is a message of freedom from corruption, rescue from the flood, freedom from the Law of Moses, freedom from the demands of other gods, a message of keeping God at the center of our lives, freedom from the misplaced priorities and wisdom of the world, freedom from our failures, freedom from our guilt, freedom from suffering, freedom from sin, and even freedom from death.

    And that is why we repeat the story every year, and why Easter should be filled with joy.

    The message of Easter was a story about freedom long before the events of the Revolutionary War and long before July fourth had any meaning to the citizens of North America.

    We celebrate Easter because today is the day when God gave us the immeasurable gift of freedom.

    Happy Easter everyone.


    You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/JpemgjB6bIY

    Did you enjoy reading this?

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

    Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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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.

    Whiners Executed.

    Whiners Executed

    March 14, 2021*

    By Pastor John Partridge

    Numbers 21:4-9                     John 3:14-21                          Ephesians 2:1-10

    Throughout history, one of the things that human beings seem to be incredibly, repeatedly, and reliably, good at, is complaining.  It isn’t difficult at all to imagine that the soldiers who crowded into the Trojan Horse were complaining about the cramped spaces and the smell of the guys next to them.  We’ve read stories about how even as the troops sailed ever closer to the coast of France on D-day, they complained about the weather and their seasickness.  Any student of history can tell you that no matter what nation you examine, no matter what system of government was in place, the people of every nation have always found reasons to complain about their leadership, and the same is true of virtually every church, every corporation, every union, and every employer… even when we are self-employed.  In good circumstances and bad, in feast and in famine, in joy and sorrow, no matter where humanity finds itself, we always seem able to find something to complain about.

    And the people whose lives are recorded in scripture were no different.  But from them, we learn that we should be careful about what we complain about.  In Numbers 21:4-9, we read the story of the people of Israel, recently freed from 400 years of slavery and bondage in Egypt and discover that the joy of receiving their freedom faded quickly from their memory.

    They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

    Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people.

    The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

    For four hundred years, the people of Israel had prayed that God would rescue them and bring them freedom.  But when God answers their prayers, it doesn’t take much time at all before they begin to complain about the conditions of their freedom.  Worse, they blame God, and Moses, for causing their suffering.  As a result of their whining, God sends poisonous snakes to slither among the people, and many of those who are bitten, die. 

    The people cry out to Moses, repent of their sin, and in answer to his prayers for the people, God instructs Moses to construct bronze snake, and lift it up on a wooden pole.  And anyone who had been bitten, and had faith in God, could look at the snake and would be saved from death.

    The people had sinned when they blamed God for causing their problems by answering their prayers and they suffered and died, because of their sin, when they were bitten by the snakes that came among them.  But God provided a way for the people to be saved if only they would have the faith to believe in the power of God and look up to the bronze figure as God had commanded.  And that imagery is recalled in John 3:14-21 as John compares God’s rescue of Israel in the time of Moses, to God’s rescue of the world through the crucifixion of Jesus.

    14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

    16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

    In the time of Moses, anyone who believed that God could save them from the venom of poisonous snakes could look up to the bronze figure of a snake and be saved.  And John says that now, anyone who believes that God can rescue them from sin and death can look up to Jesus on the cross and be saved.  In both cases, God provided a way for his people to be saved, if only they had the faith to believe.  Jesus did not come to earth to condemn us for our sin, but to save us from it.  All that is needed is for us to believe in Jesus and in the power of his death and resurrection to rescue us.  Anyone who believes in Jesus is not condemned but has been given the gift of life for all eternity.

    The Apostle Paul explains it this way in Ephesians 2:1-10:

    2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    Just in case we were tempted to think that we had anything at all to do with out rescue, Paul disabuses of that notion by bluntly saying, “you were dead.”  Much like the people who had been bitten by snakes and already had a fatal dose of venom circulating through their bloodstream, we had already consumed a fatal dose of sin and were just waiting around to die.  Because we lived the way that the culture of the world lives, and lived only to gratify our desires, we were deserving of, and already condemned to, death.  But God chose to be merciful and demonstrate his great love for us through grace.  Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God opened a path for us to be rescued from death.  Paul emphasizes that our rescue is a work of God’s grace, kindness, and love and the only part that we play in our rescue is in looking up to Jesus and placing our faith in him.  Our rescue is God’s undeserved gift to us and not anything that we could ever earn through works of any kind.  And, because our rescue is a work of God, because we are a new creation through the work of Jesus Christ, our life’s purpose is to do good for the people, and for the world, around us.  God has rescued us so that we could do the work that he has planned, prepared, and intended for us to do.

    Although human beings have always been extraordinarily good at complaining, and just as good at being selfish, committing sin, and offending God, we need not sit as people condemned and wait for our execution and death.  Instead, we have been rescued by God’s grace, kindness, and love, and have been given a new life, a life whose purpose is to do good and to do the work of the kingdom of God.

    During this season of Lent, let us stop complaining and look up to the cross.  Remember God’s grace, mercy, kindness, and love, and recommit ourselves to doing good for the people, and for the world around us, so that everyone might hear the good news, be rescued, and receive God’s incredible gift… of life… and love.


    You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/EmHE8dCyeEc

    Did you enjoy reading this?

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

    Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

    Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.



    *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.

    Where is Your Center?

    Where is Your Center?

    March 07, 2021*

    By Pastor John Partridge

    Exodus 20:1-17                      John 2:13-22                          1 Corinthians 1:18-25

    Throughout our lives, there are many times when the center becomes important.

    The most important actor is said to be center-stage.  Children that want to feel important are trying to be the center of attention.  When we ride a bicycle, design, or fly an airplane, the center of gravity is critical.  In rocketry the relationship between the center of gravity and the center of pressure determines whether you fly or crash.  If you are setting a project up on a lathe, you must carefully calculate where the center of the work-piece is or, wherever the chuck and the spindle are set will quickly become the center regardless of whether you intended it to be that way.  If you are trying to walk across a balance beam, or a tightrope, or even just a log across a creek, keeping your center of gravity over the beam, rope, or log is the key to crossing successfully.  In all these things, and in a great many others, it is the center that is important, and keeping the center in the right place is critical to arriving at your destination safely and achieving your goal.  With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that scripture says the same thing.  If we want to arrive at our destination safely, and achieve our goals, it is critical that we center our lives in the right place.

    We begin this morning with what many people consider to be some of the simplest rules for life, the Nine or Ten Commandments (depending on how you count them) found in Exodus 20:1-17. 

    20:1 And God spoke all these words:

    “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

    “You shall have no other gods before me.

    “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

    “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

    “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

    12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

    13 “You shall not murder.

    14 “You shall not commit adultery.

    15 “You shall not steal.

    16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

    17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

    Obviously, I could preach an entire series of sermons on these basic instructions, but this morning I want to focus on just two or three.  Depending on you how you count them, “You shall have no other gods before me.” and “You shall not make for yourself an image…” is either one, or two, commandments but either way, the instruction is clear.  Our relationship with God is important and God will not accept second place.  And that relationship is also why God sets aside one day each week for us to rest, to remember, and to spend time together when he commands us to, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

    God insists, even requires, that we keep him, and our relationship with him, at the center our lives.

    And one of the best-known illustrations of the seriousness with which God takes our obedience to that commandment is found in John 2:13-22, where Jesus arrives in God’s temple in Jerusalem, and finds the Court of the Gentiles, the place of prayer for non-Jews, filled will merchants, bankers, and livestock.

    13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

    18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

    19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

    20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

    Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the freedom of the Jewish people and to give thanks to God for his strength, wisdom, and guidance in leading Moses and the people of Israel out of their captivity in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  But in a place that had been deliberately set aside as a place for Gentiles to meet God, Jesus finds it filled with people who have put profit before prayer, wealth before worship, and greed before God.  In this place that was supposed to be the center of praise, prayer, and worship, Jesus finds the leaders of the church breaking commandments 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, and, if we include the events of Easter, we can add commandments 6 and 9 as well.

    Jesus is so offended by this violation of God’s house that he drives out the animals, scatters the money across the courtyard, and flips over the tables of the vendors and bankers.  And, rather than dispute their wrongdoing or profess their innocence, the offenders ask Jesus what authority he has to rebuke them, and Jesus responds by offering his own death and resurrection as proof.  But, of course, not even his disciples understood his meaning until after the events of Easter had unfolded.  But, when they remembered what Jesus had done, and what he had said, “they believed the scriptures and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

    The mistake of the vendors, the bankers, and the church leaders was that they allowed something other than God to become the center.  Certainly, in a temple that was dedicated to the worship of a Jewish God, the court of the Gentiles was used less frequently than any other.  It was entirely possible that, particularly during a Jewish feast or festival such as Passover, that few, if any Gentiles would be using the space set aside for them.  But God had deliberately created a place for them.  And when the church decided to use that space, they moved God aside and placed practicality, profit, convenience, and greed in the center of their lives and in the center of their worship in his place.

    It is that idea of centered-ness that helps us to understand some of the other difficult things that we find in scripture as well as in our spiritual lives.  And this is the idea that allows us to understand what Paul is saying to the church in Corinth, and to us, in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 when he says:

    18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
        the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

    20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

    There have been times when I read this passage and puzzled a bit over what Paul meant by destroying the wisdom of the wise when much of scripture points toward, and sings the praises of, wisdom.  Similarly, it is difficult to say bad things about intelligence, or intelligent people, so if I didn’t also know some particularly foolish intelligent people that would also be difficult.  But Paul goes on to criticize the teachers of the law, philosophers, and preachers and it can be hard to make sense of what he’s getting at.  But, if we look at this passage through the lens of centered-ness, it comes into better focus.

    The message of the cross is foolishness to the people who are perishing.  Or, put another way, the message of the cross doesn’t make sense to the people who have rejected Jesus.  But while that rejection can come in many forms, and while some of those forms can occasionally be surprising to us, at their core, all of them have the same root cause, the removal, or the absence of God at the center.  Those who seek wisdom without God in the center become foolish.  Those who study to become learned and intelligent but who do not keep God at the center will be frustrated.  The teachers of the law and scripture, who shift God away from the center and allow rules, or politics, or power, or anything else to take God’s place in the center has, ultimately, rejected God.

    Without God at the center of our lives, our strength, our philosophy, our wisdom, our religiosity, all fail.

    Not only are we commanded to keep God in the center, and not only is Jesus deadly serious about maintaining that centered-ness, but our very lives also depend upon it.

    Allowing God to drift away from the center means that we have rejected him and allowed something other than God to take his place.  And rejecting God… is death.

    If you are trying to walk across a balance beam, or a tightrope, or even just a log across a creek, keeping your center of gravity over the beam, rope, or log is the key to crossing successfully.  In all these things, and in a great many others, it is the center that is important, and keeping the center in the right place is critical to arriving at your destination safely and achieving your goal.  If we want to arrive at our destination safely, and achieve our goals, it is critical that we center our lives in the right place.

    As we continue our journey through Lent, I urge you to think about where your heart is and to reflect upon the condition of your inner being as you answer the question of the first four commandments:

    Where is your center?


    You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/g88ngwoGI64

    Did you enjoy reading this?

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

    Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

    Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


    *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.

    Death by Distraction

    Death by Distraction

    January 31, 2021*

    By Pastor John Partridge

    Deuteronomy 18:15-20          Mark 1:21-28            1 Corinthians 8:1-13

    On several long car trips, I have seen signs along the highway that remind drivers to put their phones down and to avoid distracted driving.  Not long ago, that wasn’t something that we even thought about.  We didn’t have phones in the car, or computer screens for navigation, or many of the other things with which today’s driver can be distracted.  We had a handful of radio buttons and maybe a box full of cassette tapes and the highway signs only reminded us to fasten our seat belts.  But while our children, radios, and fast-food lunches always had the potential to draw our attention away from the highway, today’s abundance of electronic devices distract us in similar abundance and our distraction at seventy miles an hour in heavy traffic can become deadly in the blink of an eye.  Our life, and the lives of those around us, depends upon us keeping our focus on the important things and not being distracted by the army of ephemera that nags at the edges of our consciousness.

    But scripture tells us that our spiritual lives are much like that, and worse.

    In Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Moses warns the people of Israel that they must listen to God and not be distracted.

    15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

    17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

    Moses warns the people that while it is critically important to listen to God’s prophets and to obey God’s commands and instructions, they must be careful not to be distracted by people who only pretend to speak for God.  He says that there will inevitably be people who speak fake and false prophecy for their own benefit, or who attempt to speak for other gods to distract God’s people and shift their focus from where it should be.  Just as it is when we are driving, God’s people are at risk any time that our attention turns away from the main thing.

    In Mark 1:21-28, an evil spirit comes into the synagogue and is afraid of Jesus. 

    21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

    25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

    27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

    The impure spirit knows who Jesus is and is afraid of his power, but it also is trying to begin a discussion with him that is a distraction from Jesus’ main message.  But Jesus knows the importance of keeping his focus on the main thing and does not allow the impure spirit to distract the people in the synagogue from the message that he is teaching.  The spirit tries to steer the discussion in the synagogue to one about Jesus’ intensions toward the spirit world, but while Jesus’ presence and his message will ripple into their world, what happens to demons and impure spirits is not the focus of Jesus’ ministry.  The message of Jesus isn’t about the destruction of evil spirits, but about the rescue of the lost and the salvation of the living.

    But what application does that have for us today?

    Of course keeping the main thing, the main thing means sharing Jesus’ message about rescuing the lost and the salvation of the living.  That is, after all, the mission of the church and the mission of every follower of Jesus Christ.  But keeping the main thing, the main thing can mean more than that as we see in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.  In that place, there were people who had converted from Judaism, people who had been Christians for some time, and people who had only recently converted to Christianity from idol worship. 

    In Corinth, most of the meat that was available had been sacrificed to some idol at the pagan temples and then sold later in the meat market.  Similarly, the traditional place to hold many weddings, celebrations, and other gatherings was at those same pagan temples.  So, among the people of the church, there was a dispute.  If Christians stayed away from the idols and pagan temples, they would miss the weddings of their friends, and be excluded from many celebrations and business opportunities.  If they refused to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, they might rarely eat meat at all.  And so, in the middle of this dispute, Paul writes these words to the church (1 Corinthians 8:1-13):

    8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

    Paul recognizes that the more mature believers understand that the idols aren’t real.  They know that our God is the only god that there is and that gods made of stone and metal had no real power.  Whether they attended an event at the pagan temple or ate meat that had been sacrificed there made no difference.  But many of the newer converts, who had grown up in that system, still believed that setting foot in a pagan temple, or even eating the meat that had been sacrificed there, gave power to those gods, and gave them power over you.

    And what Paul says, is that “We possess all knowledge.”  Yes, we know that these are false god.  Yes, we know that attending your nephew’s wedding at the pagan temple makes no difference.  We know that eating meat, or not eating meat, makes no difference.  But, if we read the rest of this passage, Paul encourages them not to do these things anyway.  Why?  Because even though idols and false gods have no power, and even though believers in Jesus Christ had every right to attend social gathering and eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, exercising that right caused harm to fellow believers whose faith was not yet as mature as theirs.  Attending those gatherings, and eating that meat, caused less mature believers to doubt their faith and possibly leave the church.  Paul says that more important thing is not what knowledge we have, or what rights we have, but that we do not cause harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  For Paul, it wasn’t an issue of knowledge or of rights, but of keeping the main thing, the main thing.

    Even two millennia later, this idea flows into everything that we do.  One of the foundational principles of the Methodist movement is “Do no harm” and it is often a check for us to keep the main thing, the main thing and to keep our focus where it belongs.  Even though we have every right to hold in-person worship, we must consider what harm we might cause to fellow believers by exercising that right.  Even though we may personally feel that we have every right not to wear a mask in public, do we cause harm to the people in the community, and to fellow believers, and to their faith, if we choose to exercise that right.  Paul’s message to the church in Corinth, and to us, is just because we have the right to do something, doesn’t mean that we should exercise that right, or that exercising that right is a good thing. 

    The more important principle is to do no harm.

    When we drive our automobiles down the highway, we understand that the full focus of our attention is required for the task at hand, and that our distraction can lead to our death, or to the death of others.

    Moses warned that God’s people needed to test the people who claimed to be prophets and only listen to those that proved to be real because being distracted from God’s message could lead to death.

    When Jesus preached in the synagogue, he did not allow the impure spirit to change the subject and distract him from the focus of his message.  The main thing, had to remain the main thing and the most important message wasn’t about the future of the spirits, but about rescuing the lost and calling God’s people to repentance and obedience.  Paul knew that throughout our daily lives we run the risk of distraction and death.

    We must constantly struggle to keep the main thing the main thing.  To keep our focus on the mission of the church, to rescue the lost, and to preach a message of salvation and the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And in the process of doing that, we may occasionally need to set aside our rights, to surrender to God some of the things that we feel like we have earned for ourselves because the main thing isn’t about exercising our rights, or about doing things just because we can do them. 

    The main thing is to do no harm to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the community around us.

    Because despite living in a country where we hold our rights to be incredibly important, sometimes our rights are a distraction from our main purpose, focus, and mission.

    And distraction is death.

    Let us keep our focus on rescuing the lost and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

    And let us continue our struggle to keep the main thing, the main thing.


    You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/QV5D2PTS5Cw

    Did you enjoy reading this?

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

    Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

    Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


    *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.

    Never Again

    Never Again*

    November 01, 2020

    (All Saints Day)

    By Pastor John Partridge

    Matthew 5:1-12                     1 John 3:1-3                           Revelation 7:9-17

    In J. Rachel Reed’s book, K-9 Korea: The Untold Story of America’s War Dogs in the Korean War, she says,

    “Aren’t we as a society better, stronger, when we have these best examples of humanity to rest our hopes on? And aren’t we better when we can look at the failures of humanity and vow, ‘Never again’?”

    I think that’s a great question.  Aren’t we better when we look at our failures and vow, “Never again?”

    Many of us have done exactly that.  We’ve failed and made some bone-headed decisions, we’ve chosen poorly, we’ve chosen quantity over quality, we’ve worked too much and played too little, we’ve said “yes” when we should have said ‘no” and “no” when we should have said “yes” and a made a host of other regrettable decisions and afterwards many of us learned from our mistakes and promised ourselves, “Never again.”

    And, as we celebrate All Saints Day and remember those members, family, and friends that are no longer with us, we also remember, and hold on to, the words “never again” and the deeper meaning that they have to us from our understanding of scripture.  We begin this morning with the words of Jesus, and his sermon of the Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:1-12.

    5:1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

    He said:

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
        for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are those who mourn,
        for they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek,
        for they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
        for they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful,
        for they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are the pure in heart,
        for they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers,
        for they will be called children of God.
    10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
        for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Jesus proclaims blessings upon the people who are typically looked down upon, ignored, and pushed aside by the ambitious and the powerful as well as those who are struggling with loss.  And it is in these words that Jesus reminds the entire world that God cares more about peace and purity than power, more about comfort and compassion than cash, and more about mercy and morality than money.  Jesus reminds us that God is proud of you when you do the right thing, even if the world persecutes you and lies about the things you did.  And, while it never seems to difficult to imagine, during this election season it seems easier than ever to understand how the people can manipulate and twist the truth into anything they want it to be.  But as long as you are honoring God, and working toward the goals of God’s kingdom, then God calls you blessed and promises that, while persecution and unpleasantness may come to you on earth, blessing and reward have already been set aside for you in heaven.

    John the Apostle puts it this way in 1 John 3:1-3,

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

    John says that God loves us so much that we will be called the children of God.  God claims us as his own and the world misunderstands us, and our motives, because they do not know him.  But because we live here and have not yet passed over from this life into the next, we cannot yet see what our new life will look like.  But we do know that when Christ appears, or when our lives end and we go to live with him, we will see him as he really is in all his glory.

    And in Revelation 7:9-17, John also writes about his vision of heaven and a hint of what we will see there after our time on earth has ended.

    After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

    “Salvation belongs to our God,
    who sits on the throne,
    and to the Lamb.”

    11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

    “Amen!
    Praise and glory
    and wisdom and thanks and honor
    and power and strength
    be to our God for ever and ever.
    Amen!”

    13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

    14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

    And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

    “they are before the throne of God
        and serve him day and night in his temple;
    and he who sits on the throne
        will shelter them with his presence.
    16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
        never again will they thirst.
    The sun will not beat down on them,’
        nor any scorching heat.
    17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
        will be their shepherd;
    ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
        ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

    While John speaks specifically about the saints of God who were killed during the great tribulation, we are given a glimpse of heaven and of God’s love and compassion for his children.  What’s more, it is here that we find those words that we’ve said to ourselves.  On earth we’ve learned wisdom by saying “never again” to the bad decisions of the past, but we are unable to do anything about some of the hardest parts of our lives.  In this life we often can’t do anything about pain, suffering and death, but John says that once we begin our new lives God says, “never again.”  Never again will there be hunger or thirst.  Never again will there be scorching heat, or bitter cold.  Never again will there be mourning, crying, pain, sorrow, suffering, or death.

    And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

    And so today, as we celebrate All Saints Day, and as we remember those whom we have lost in the past year, as well as all of our friends and loved ones who have been lost to us, we also rejoice in the new life that they have with Jesus Christ.  Because we remain on earth, we also remember our calling to faithfulness, righteousness, mercy, and compassion.  We remember that, as followers of Jesus Christ we must continue his work as we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak for the voiceless, care for those who have no one to care for them, and in every other way possible to preach the Gospel, rescue the lost, and be Jesus to the world. 

    But, at the same time, while we continue our earthly struggles with frustration, hunger, thirst, pain, persecution, suffering, grief, and death, we look forward to the day when we too can rest from our labor and say…

    … “Never again.”

     


     

    You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/6ge6H8IvMao

    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.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

    Eulogy and Obituary for Thelma Greiner

    Eulogy for Thelma Greiner

    May 20, 2020

    by Pastor John Partridge

     

    Thelma wanted to have an excerpt of a poem shared at her funeral that was often memorized by grade school children in her day. She memorized it, and although I will share an excerpt of it, Thelma likely memorized all of it.  It became, and remained, a favorite of Thelma’s for her entire life and she often would mention it or recite parts of it.  It was a favorite of Joe’s as well.  If you’d like to read it later, I’ll attach a copy of the entire poem when I post it online.

    It is called Thanatopsis.  Thanatopsis which is a Greek word that means meditation on, or contemplation of, death.  It is an elegy that attempts to console humans given that everyone must die.

    Thanatopsis

    by William Cullen Bryant

    So live, that when thy summons comes to join

    The innumerable caravan, which moves

    To the mysterious realm, where each shall take

    His chamber in the silent halls of death,

    Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,

    Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed

    By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,

    Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

    About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.


    We should have been having a birthday celebration today.  With the Coronavirus lockdown in place, many of the cards for the card shower were, and are, already on the way.  It seems ridiculously simplistic to say that this isn’t what any of us wanted to be doing today.  But we are here for the same reason that those birthday cards are in the mail, because Thelma Greiner invested her life in the lives of others.  Friends, church members, and people whose lives Thelma touched, took the time to send cards and well-wishes because her happiness mattered to them.  She invested her life in schools, and her sorority, and in church, and in her community, she loved them, and they loved her back.  And, as her family, you know that better than anyone.

    Although her family always came first, Thelma was passionate about, and dedicated to, many other things.  She was an involved and integral part of Christ Church from the time a neighbor offered to bring her, she belonged to the original “Friendship” class, met her husband there, and continued her membership, and her involvement, throughout her entire life.  She was just as dedicated to teaching her students, and to the profession of teaching, whether she was teaching the alphabet and modeling clay in kindergarten, discussing Greek and Roman gods, or conjugating Latin verbs.  Retirement didn’t change that either because teaching never left her.  It was who she was, and it was always a part of her life.  But that passion, dedication, and commitment, carried over into everything else that she did.  Whatever she committed to do, she did wholeheartedly, dove in and became completely involved, and was willing to assume whatever kind of responsibility and leadership was needed.  Thelma was the person who got along with everyone and who didn’t get upset when things didn’t go exactly according to plan.

    Thelma Shultz was born in North Jackson, Ohio and was always connected to her family, and to her family heritage, because she made the effort to stay connected.  She took her family on holiday visits to the family farm in Greenville, Ohio, visited family in Kansas and Florida, and took her family to the World’s Fair.  She taught everyone the family history, of which she was so proud, and made sure that they knew that they had family that came to the American colonies with William Penn, and others that arrived through Ellis Island.

    Part of Thelma’s attachment to Christ Church, was the handsome young man, Joe Greiner, whom she met, while attending church, and later married.  Thelma was two years older than Joe, and that bothered her so much that she started telling everyone that there was only a one-year age difference.  Obviously, the difference of one year wouldn’t have mattered to her family, but they didn’t find out the truth until she was celebrating a birthday in her nineties and confessed that she was actually a year older.  Thelma and Joe both attended, and graduated from, Mount Union and married in 1945 after Joe graduated from dental school and became an oral surgeon, and before the US Army sent him to Fort Smith, Arkansas to work at the POW camp there.  After the war was over, Joe would remain in the Army Reserves, get called to Fort Knox and active duty during the Belin crisis and, over the years, many of their family vacations would be planned around Joe’s training.  When Joe went to command school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then Thelma and the family would visit family nearby, and so on.

    After Joe was suddenly taken from her in 1975 at the age 58, Thelma led the family alone, but she stayed just as busy, if not busier, than ever.  She continued to travel, but now, instead of Joe, she had Melinda by her side.  And later, her good friend and companion Wayne Jenkins travelled with her, especially to see Melinda and Art in Florida.  They enjoyed traveling and visiting together and were both were welcomed as extended members of the families of the Grainers and the Jenkins.

    But no matter how many groups she was involved with, or how many projects that she had, or how much traveling she was doing, Thelma was always there for Mike and Julie.  She was always supportive, always helpful, and didn’t miss anything.  She saved articles about her family, and programs from their school and church activities, and maintained them in her scrapbooks.

    Throughout her life, Thelma also had great affection for an “almost” family member, Charles Schulz.  Although his name and her maiden name were not quite spelled the same, she always felt as if they should have been related and virtually adopted him into her life as an honorary relative.  She loved the cast of characters from Schulz’s Peanuts comics, liked his sense of humor, and appreciated the wit and wisdom of his sayings so much that she often shared them with her family and others.  She often repeated saying like,

    “Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening; it just stops you from enjoying the good,”

    “The smile on my face doesn’t mean my life is perfect.  It means I appreciate what I have and what I have been blessed with.  I choose to be happy,”

    and, “Happiness is anyone and anything that’s loved by you.”

    Thelma not only repeated these sayings, but her life embraced them.  She had Peanuts saying, and memorabilia to decorate her room for every season and every holiday.  And she especially liked to show off her tiny Schroeder piano that played his music when she touched the keys.

    In the end, Thelma knew that her life wasn’t perfect, but she appreciated what she had for as long as she had it, and she appreciated the blessings that God gave to her.  Many of those blessings are here in this room today.  Although this day may not what we had hoped, the birthday cards that have been sent, and more that will likely come, as well as cards and letters of support and grief that you will receive, all stand in mute testimony to the love that Thelma shared for her church, her community, the people around her, and the love that they shared in return.  But I hope that you will never forget that more than any other activity, more than any other people, she loved you and she invested her life in you.  Thelma Greiner loved her Jesus and had confidence in both him and in her eternity.  She lived so that when the summons came to join the caravan to the mysterious realm, she went with an unfaltering trust…

    “Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

    About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

     


    Obituary for Thelma Greiner

    Thelma GreinerThelma Greiner, age 103, of Alliance passed away Wednesday May 13, 2020, at Crandall Medical Center in Sebring.

    She was born May 20, 1916, in North Jackson, Ohio to Albert J. and Emma V. (Spell) Shultz.

    Thelma grew up in Alliance, graduating from Alliance High in 1935. She graduated in 1938 from Mount Union College and was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority. She spent her life as an educator in the Alliance, Columbus, and West Branch school districts.

    She was a member of Christ United Methodist Church for 93 years, where she was active in the Crusaders Sunday School class and United Methodist Women. Thelma was active in the community as a charter member and past president of Stark County Dental Auxiliary, past president of Alliance Garden Club and the Belleflower Garden Club, Postscript, past president of Alpha Chi Omega Alumnae, member of City Panhellenic, and Alliance Country Club. She also served as a former board member of the Alliance Woman’s Club, and the YWCA.

    Survivors include her son, James J. (Jill) Greiner of Alliance; daughter, Melinda (Art) Bradley of Warne, NC; grandchildren, Michael (Jamie) Greiner, and Julie Greiner.

    Preceding her in death were her parents; and husband, Dr. Joseph C. Greiner who passed away in 1975; sisters, Kathryn Plajer, and Lilyan Johns; and friend Wayne Jenkins.

    The family wishes to thank the Crandall Medical Center caregivers and staff for their kind attention and compassion.

    A private service will be held on May 20, 2020, with a memorial service to be held at a later date. Interment will be held at Alliance City Cemetery.

    In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Christ United Methodist Church 470 E. Broadway Street Alliance, OH 44601.

    Arrangements are entrusted to Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home 75 S. Union Ave., Alliance, OH 44601.

    Arrangements are by Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home, 75 S. Union Avenue Alliance, OH 44601.

    https://www.ctcfuneralandcremation.com/obituary/Thelma-Greiner


     

    Thanatopsis

    By William Cullen Bryant

     

    To him who in the love of Nature holds

    Communion with her visible forms, she speaks

    A various language; for his gayer hours

    She has a voice of gladness, and a smile

    And eloquence of beauty, and she glides

    Into his darker musings, with a mild

    And healing sympathy, that steals away

    Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts

    Of the last bitter hour come like a blight

    Over thy spirit, and sad images

    Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,

    And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,

    Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—

    Go forth, under the open sky, and list

    To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—

    Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—

    Comes a still voice—

    Yet a few days, and thee

    The all-beholding sun shall see no more

    In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,

    Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,

    Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist

    Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim

    Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,

    And, lost each human trace, surrendering up

    Thine individual being, shalt thou go

    To mix for ever with the elements,

    To be a brother to the insensible rock

    And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain

    Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak

    Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.

    Yet not to thine eternal resting-place

    Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish

    Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down

    With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,

    The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,

    Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,

    All in one mighty sepulchre.   The hills

    Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales

    Stretching in pensive quietness between;

    The venerable woods—rivers that move

    In majesty, and the complaining brooks

    That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,

    Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—

    Are but the solemn decorations all

    Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,

    The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,

    Are shining on the sad abodes of death,

    Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread

    The globe are but a handful to the tribes

    That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings

    Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,

    Or lose thyself in the continuous woods

    Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,

    Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:

    And millions in those solitudes, since first

    The flight of years began, have laid them down

    In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.

    So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw

    In silence from the living, and no friend

    Take note of thy departure? All that breathe

    Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh

    When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care

    Plod on, and each one as before will chase

    His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave

    Their mirth and their employments, and shall come

    And make their bed with thee. As the long train

    Of ages glide away, the sons of men,

    The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes

    In the full strength of years, matron and maid,

    The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—

    Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,

    By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

    So live, that when thy summons comes to join

    The innumerable caravan, which moves

    To that mysterious realm, where each shall take

    His chamber in the silent halls of death,

    Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,

    Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed

    By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,

    Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

    About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

     

    The Dead Live

    The Dead Live

    March 29, 2020*

    By Pastor John Partridge

     

    Ezekiel 37:1-14                     

     

     

    Have you ever felt like you were so exhausted that you were just “Done”?

     

    Have you ever been a part of a club, or a church, that was so downtrodden and so beaten up that everyone was ready to give up and surrender to the inevitable?

     

    Maybe even now, in the middle of this time of Corona virus “Social distancing” and “stay at home” orders, many of us are dealing with significant anxiety, isolation, frustration, and loneliness.  I have heard many people both inside and outside our local congregation, express concern about how churches might survive during and after this crisis. 

     

    We feel as if a part of us has died.

     

    And the danger is that these feelings can lead to a loss of hope.

     

    And so, with that in mind, imagine what it must have been like to be an Israelite in captivity in Babylon.  Their nation was devastated, their temple destroyed, and their people had been either brutally killed, or captured and dragged nearly two thousand miles, on foot, to be sold as slaves.  In the middle of this darkness and despair, some of the remaining priests of Israel were trying to minister to the needs of the people but it was understandably hard.  You can imagine them praying and asking God how they could possibly minister to the needs of the people when they were separated from everything that was familiar and when even the priests were losing hope.  And it is in that moment, that God comes to Ezekiel in a vision with an important message both for the priests and for the people.  And, as it happens, as we are all separated from one another, separated from our beautiful church building, and prevented from worshiping together, I think God’s message to Ezekiel may resonate with us in a special way today as well.  Listen to what God said in Ezekiel 37:1-14.

     

    37:1 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

    I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

    Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

    So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

    Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

    11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

    God spoke to Ezekiel at a time when the people of Israel were beaten down and had given up hope.  And God’s message to his people was that he would open their graves, put their dry bones back together, breathe his own breath into them, bring them back to life and lead them home.

    God’s promise was that he would bring life from death, that the dead would live, and that there was hope in the middle of their hopelessness.

    God was never limited by the armies of Babylon, or by powerful governments, or thousands of miles of separation, or even by death itself.  What we are experiencing is difficult, but it is not anything that is too difficult for God.  While the promises that God made to Ezekiel were not specifically written for us, they still inspire us and fill us with hope for our future together.

    Like the people of Israel, our exile is temporary.  Normal life will return.  Our church will meet in worship, together, again.  Our trust is not in governments or in dollars.  Our trust, and our hope, is in God.  And we know that God has the power to return what has been taken from us so that we too will know that God has spoken.

    Today we may feel like “dry bones” but our God is in the resurrection business.

    As we often remind ourselves at this time of year, “It may be dark on Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

    There is no denying that these are difficult times, but God has not forgotten us.

    I continue to encourage you to stay connected with one another by whatever means you have available.  Use your video chat or pick up the telephone and talk to some of your friends.  Be sure to check on those folks who might be isolated or vulnerable.

    And, whatever you do, hold tight to your faith, remember that this, of all times, is the season of resurrection, and…

    …hold on to hope.

     

     

    Have a great week everybody!

    Today’s Responsive Reading (from Psalm 130)

     

    Leader:

    Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
        Lord, hear my voice.
    Let your ears be attentive
        to my cry for mercy.

     

    People:

    If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
        Lord, who could stand?
    But with you there is forgiveness,
        so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

     

    Leader:

    I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
        and in his word I put my hope.

    People:

    I wait for the Lord
        more than watchmen wait for the morning,
        more than watchmen wait for the morning.

     

    Leader:

    Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
        for with the Lord is unfailing love
        and with him is full redemption.

    People:

    He himself will redeem Israel
        from all their sins.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    You can find the livestream of this message here: https://youtu.be/ybcPf-d2IOQ

    A longer version with music can be found here: https://youtu.be/TDaEo5i_Rk8


    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.

    What Happens When We Die?

    Note: I have often asked our church youth and adults to ask me any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general and I would answer them.  Often that happened at youth group meetings.  This one came from a friend.


    Question: A friend is asking a good question on Facebook and I think you would have a good answer. “Do you believe that when we as Christians die, we go immediately to be with Lord in Heaven, or do we sleep until He comes back for all of us and reunite with everyone who has passed?

     

    My best answer is… maybe.

    In theological discussions there are plenty of people, and denominations, on both sides of this issue and many of them are way smarter than I am.  But, that said, I think that we do, and we will, and there are several good reasons to think so.

    First, there are several verses that may lead us to believe that we fall into some sort of “soul sleep” until the return of Jesus Christ, our resurrection. the final Judgement.  One of these, which is commonly read at funerals (I have used it a great many times) is 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, which says:

    51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

    Paul’s use of the word “sleep” might make us think that we will be sleeping between our death and resurrection, but we need to remember that Paul, and other writers, often used the word sleep as a kinder, gentler, way of saying die, death, or dead.  If we read that verse again with that in mind, Paul is simply saying that at the time of the last trumpet, not everyone will be dead.

    On the other hand, many people use Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:8 as proof that we do not sleep, but that passage is problematic too.  It says,

    8:1 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

    In some translations (such as the New American Standard) it is rendered as “…to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”  But that passage, alone, doesn’t confirm anything definitively.  In that passage, Paul is talking about looking forward to wearing his new body, which many believe that we won’t get until after the judgement.

    Confused yet?

    So far, what we have is ambiguous and more than a little confusing.  It isn’t hard to see why even theologians argue about such things.  But remember that I said this passage… alone… doesn’t confirm anything definitively?  The thing is, this passage isn’t alone.  While this may not be a profound theological argument, there are a couple of other verses that come to mine when I think about this.  The first is Revelation 6:9-11 which says:

    9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

    Here, before the judgement, under the altar of God, are the souls of the martyrs who are waiting for justice and judgement.  If we all sleep, then how did these folks get here?  Are we to believe that only the martyrs see God before the judgment?  It seems arbitrary and a little cruel that they would be singled out as the only ones who are awake, who are watching the events of the earth, and who must suffer and wait for justice.  It seems more likely that everyone is awake, but the martyrs get “front row” seats.

    And then in

     

     

    Hebrews 12:1 after an extensive list of the saints and heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 we hear this:

    12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

    The implication of this verse following immediately by a deliberate listing of the saints and heroes of God is that these people are alive, and aware, and watching the things that we are doing.  Similarly, Jesus often referred to Abraham, and others, in the present tense and not in the past or future tense.  Jesus was deliberate in saying that Abraham worships God… at this present moment.

    And remember that moment when Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-3 where we hear:

    17:1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

    Peter, James, and John watch and stand witness as Moses and Elijah appear in front of them and minister to Jesus.  Are we supposed to understand that God woke them from their sleep just for this one moment, that they somehow understood who Jesus was and what was going on, did what they had to do, and then fell back asleep?  Or, isn’t it easier to understand that they have been awake the entire time, carefully watching the unfolding spectacle of time, the birth of the Messiah and the entire Gospel story, and then answered the call of God to enter back into our story?  The second one makes a lot more sense to me.

    There are many more passages like this.

    So, yeah, while not everyone agrees about this, I think that when we die, our trip to God’s side is immediate and there is no “sleeping” in between.

     

     


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