Broken Trust

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Broken Trust

September 18, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1               Luke 16:1-13              1 Timothy 2:1-7

When our children were just beginning elementary school, our school district had a problem.  They had too many elementary school-age children and not enough space to fit them all.  That is not a unique problem.  The problem was that they had an additional elementary school building that was in good repair, that they couldn’t use.  Immediately behind the district administration building was an empty elementary school whose steam plant was active and supplied heat to the administration building. The problem, and the reason that the school was empty, was asbestos. 

Before the school could be safely filled with children and teachers, the district would need to spend a half a million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  At the same time, they couldn’t tear it down because it provided heat to the administration building and because… it would cost a half million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  The obvious solution would have been to ask the taxpayers for a one-time, emergency, tax levy to raise the half million dollars that would be needed to remove the asbestos and return that school to its useful purpose.  But, because taxpayers have been lied to by politicians for so long, it was impossible to pass a temporary tax levy because no one trusts a politician when they say that a new tax would be temporary.

The trust between taxpayers and their government has been broken so repeatedly, that we now simply assume politicians are lying most of the time.  Frank Sonnenberg said that “Trust is like blood pressure. It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly.” And Dr. Jane Greer had this to say about trust, “Broken trust forces us, first, to acknowledge a painful reality we may have chosen to ignore, then, to make some difficult decisions.” That’s exactly what the taxpayers of our school district did.  They made some difficult decisions, which caused more problems and more difficult decisions later.  It is this cycle of broken trust that has complicated the administration of our government, the operation and conduct of our churches, our schools, and it creeps into every facet of our lives.

And, as we read the words of Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1, what we hear underneath the words of a nation mourning from its captivity in Babylon, is the pain of the trust that was broken between the people of Israel and their God.

18 You who are my Comforterin sorrow,
    my heart is faint within me.
19 Listen to the cry of my people
    from a land far away:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King no longer there?”

“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
    with their worthless foreign idols?”

20 “The harvest is past,
    the summer has ended,
    and we are not saved.”

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?

9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
    for the slain of my people.

Jeremiah speaks for his people and says that they faint with sorrow over the loss of their nation and their God but, at the same time, he is angry that his people broke their trust with God and aroused his anger by abandoning him and worshiping the idols of another nation.  The people are saying that “the harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”  The realization of reality is finally hitting them that God isn’t going to bail them out easily and quickly this time and that they are not going home any time soon.  Jeremiah says that with this realization, horror grips him and there is no comfort, no physician, and no healing to be found as they mourn what they have lost, come to grips with their new reality, and weep for all those who died because of their rebellion and broken trust.

And then in Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a story about an entirely different kind of broken trust but compliments the man who does wrong because of the lesson that the church should learn from him about how we can operate within a system that often struggles with trust issues.

16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels[about thirty tons] of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus praises the dishonest man for his shrewdness in using the tools that he had available to him.  Despite being fired, he had time left, and tools at his disposal, to prepare for, and to secure resources for his future.  Clearly his actions amount to fraud and theft, and certainly Jesus expects that we will not do those things.  But, although we are held to a higher standard, and expected to be trustworthy and live up to our promises to our employers and the people around us, we are encouraged to use the tools that we have been given by our employers, by our community, our leaders, our governments, and by our Constitution, to further the cause of the kingdom of God.  We are to prove ourselves trustworthy with what we have been given here, so that we can demonstrate to God that he can trust us with real wealth and true riches in heaven.

But how do we connect that story with the heartbreak experienced by Jeremiah and the people of Israel during their captivity in Babylon?  We begin with the idea that the phrase “we cannot serve two masters,” can be about money, it can also be about other things that take the place of God.  In a letter to his young friend and protégé Timothy, Paul briefly describes the relationship that we should be cultivating with the powers that surround us. (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth; I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Paul urges Timothy and the church to pray for kings and the people in authority in their governments even though, like now, those leaders had often broken trust with the people over whom they ruled.  Some had not only broken trust but had actively persecuted their citizens.  And yet, Paul’s encouragement isn’t to rebel, or to resist, but to pray for them, and to do whatever they could do to live peaceful and quiet lives of integrity and honesty that were both godly and holy.

Our goal is to peacefully coexist with our government, not to put our trust in the government and not to break our trust with God by putting our faith in money, power, or government officials.  Neither should we abdicate our responsibilities to God or entrust our government with do the work that God has commanded us to do.  Our calling is to shrewdly use the freedoms and the tools that we have been given, but to remain faithful to our God, to our integrity, honesty, and to the promises that we have made. 

The missionary journeys of Paul and the other disciples were made possible by the infrastructure and the safety and freedom to travel brought about by the Roman empire and its military.  In his letters, we sometimes see Paul use his Roman citizenship as a tool to accomplish his mission for Jesus Christ, but Paul never concedes that Caesar is lord, and he never puts his faith and trust in the Roman government.  For Paul, citizenship was a useful tool, but his loyalty was always firmly in Jesus Christ, and his faith and trust always belonged, without question, to the kingdom of God first.  We are similarly challenged.  Finding the balance that Paul had will be as challenging to us as it was for him.  But our calling is to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, to put our whole trust only in God, and to shrewdly use the rights, freedom, citizenship, money, and other tools at our disposal to further the interests of God’s kingdom wherever we can.  At the same time, we must live lives that are trustworthy, honest, filled with integrity, and remain faithful to the promises that we have made so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

If he were here, I am certain that Paul would confess that finding that balance, while living in a powerful military empire, was challenging, and doing so is likely to be similarly challenging for us in twenty-first century United States.  But one thing we can learn from Jeremiah is that getting that balance wrong can have devastating, and sometimes eternal, consequences.


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

What Grows in Your Garden?

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What Grows in Your Garden?

August 14, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 5:1-7                Luke 12:49-56                        Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2

Do any of you do any gardening?

If you attend here at Christ Church, you may know that we have a community garden on the other side of our parking lot.  Each Spring, with the help and support of our church trustees, we prepare our garden plots for planting and divide our various plots among those who are interested in using that space.  Sometimes, we are blessed to receive donated plants that we similarly divide amongst our gardeners. 

But if you’ve spent any time farming, growing vegetables, or flowers, you know that everything doesn’t always go according to plan.  Sometimes the free plants that we receive mature into something quite different than the label that arrived with them.  And buying your seed from trusted vendors does not always assure immunity from suffering from the same problem.  A year or two ago, Patti and I purchased seeds for spaghetti squash and while it was obvious that what grew was from that family of viny plants, those vines produced several different squash-like plants that mostly were not spaghetti squash.

Our gardeners also know that the row closest to the parking lot uses the same space used by the driveway of the house that once stood there.  That space is full of rocks and bricks, is almost impossible to rototill or dig, or plant and so we’ve covered it up with plastic and mulch rather than struggle to grow plants in soil that only wants to grow grass and weeds.

But our struggles in our community garden are not unique to us.  These kinds of problems have been shared from the time that human beings first began to cultivate crops.  And it is our familiarity with these sorts of problems that helps us to understand the illustration that God uses in his words to the nation of Israel in Isaiah 5:1-7.

5:1 I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
    judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
    than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
    why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
    what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
    and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
    and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
    neither pruned nor cultivated,
    and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
    not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
    is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
    for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

The owner of the vineyard cleared the land, planted the best grape varieties available, cleared out all the stones, built walls to keep the vines from being trampled, added a watchtower so that a guard could oversee the entire area and, in anticipation of the crop that would one day come, he even carved a winepress out of stone to use at harvest time.  The owner of the vineyard worked hard in anticipation of a positive future result.  But regardless of his intent, his effort, his care, and his investment, the soil of his vineyard only produced terrible tasting grapes or grapes that were rotten, or moldy, or otherwise unusable.

And so, much like we covered the soil of our old driveway with plastic and mulch, God says that he is giving up on his vineyard.  He is going to tear down the walls, the watchtower, and the hedges and abandon the land and let it go wild and be used for local wildlife or not at all.  But the frightening part of the story is in hearing that the garden in Isaiah’s story is Israel and Judah.  God planted his people with care, effort, and investment but instead of growing a crop of justice and righteousness, harvested only violence, bloodshed, and distress and God says that he isn’t going to continue wasting his resources on bad fruit and poor soil.

But eight hundred years, and a lot of history later, God plants Jesus in that garden to shake things up and put things right.  And in Luke 12:49-56, Jesus says this:

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

God plants Jesus as the Prince of Peace, but Jesus knows that his arrival will cause dissention and division, quarrels, separation, and violence.  People will not agree on who he is, or why he came, or how we ought to worship him.  But his coming, and the division that it causes, is a necessary part of repairing the damage to God’s vineyard so that it can grow a crop of justice and righteousness as he intended. 

Jesus continues by reminding the people that while they know how to read the signs of the weather, they know that a wind from the desert will bring warm air, and that a wind from the Mediterranean Sea will bring rain, they still pretend that they haven’t seen Jesus’ miracles or heard his teaching.  Jesus said things that no one else had said, and did things that no one else had done, and still people pretended that they couldn’t see the signs that God was showing to them. 

But what does all that mean to us?

What does God’s vineyard and Jesus’ lecture about reading the signs mean to this church, and this people, in this present time?

In Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, Paul explains it this way:

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

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. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Paul reminds his churches that God has done all sorts of incredible miracles because of the faith of his people.  And not only were there extraordinary miracles, but there were also miracles that happened as a partnership between God and his faithful followers who fought enemies, decided court cases, were thrown into fires, fed to the lions, and all sorts of other things.  But there were others who were not rescued but were tortured to death, were beaten, flogged, ridiculed, imprisoned, and put to death in all sorts of terrible and ugly ways.  God’s people were sometimes poor and homeless despite their faithfulness. 

And regardless of whether God rescued them, or performed miracles for them, or if they were allowed to suffer, none of them, in this life, received the blessings that God had promised because what God has promised is a life that is better than anything imaginable on this earth.  One day all of us who have been followers of Jesus Christ and who have been faithful to God will, together with God, be a part of something better.  Every day, we are surrounded by those people of faith who came before us and they are watching us and cheering us onward so that we might throw off the sin that trips us up, remain faithful, and run this race with perseverance with our eyes locked only on Jesus.

In Luke’s story, we heard Jesus explain to us that not everyone is going to agree, or even like it, that we have chosen to follow him.  Following Jesus is a choice that will cause people to disagree and sever their relationships with us.  Following Jesus isn’t going to always bring peace and prosperity, but will sometimes make us unpopular, be tormented and ridiculed, get arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and worse.  But through it all, whatever life brings us, we must remain faithful and steadfast, with our eyes only on Jesus, and run our race with perseverance.

Because, at the end of the day, God is still planting a crop of justice and righteousness among his people and the question that God asks us is the same question he was asking the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah.

What’s growing in your garden?


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

Two Big “Ifs” of Christianity

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Two Big “Ifs” of Christianity

August 07, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20                    Luke 12:32-40            Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

If you have ever programmed computers, you know that on the first day of your first programming class, you learn about the IF-THEN statement.  It is just what it sounds like.  The IF-THEN statement asks the computer to check some value and if that value is what you want, then you instruct it to do some other thing.  For example, IF the turnstile rotates one time, THEN add one to the memory location tracking the number of customers.

But outside of computer programming, we deal with if-then situations all the time.  If I want to earn interest on my savings, then I need to take our money out of my mattress and put it in the bank or invest it somewhere.  If we want to have a less difficult visit to the dentist, then we should brush our teeth every morning and do the things that our dentist asks us to do.  If we don’t want to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, then we need to stop and buy fuel when the needle moves to toward empty.

We understand if-then decision making because we make those sorts of decisions every day.  But sometimes those “ifs” can be big and dangerous.  If we smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, then we run an exceedingly high risk of cancer and other health problems.  If we drive our automobile over one hundred miles per hour, then the odds of dying in the event of an accident are almost 100 percent.

We can find if-then choices throughout our laws and in every contract ever written.  They say, if you do this for us, then we will do that for you.  Or, if you do this to us, then we will do this to you.  And, not surprisingly, this is also the kind of language that God uses to explain our choices to us and, in Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, we find two really big “ifs” in God’s words to Israel, and despite the passage of time and the coming of Jesus, they remain important advice and instruction to which we should listen. 

1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah, son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

By describing Israel’s leaders and people as Sodom and Gomorrah, God accuses them of all sorts of sin and injustice.  And because of their actions, God says that he doesn’t care about their sacrifices, gifts, offerings, religious holidays, festivals, celebrations, meetings, gatherings, or even their prayers. 

What God really wants is for his people to stop doing evil, to defend the oppressed, to speak for the legally voiceless such as widows and orphans who, without a male family member, couldn’t even speak for themselves in court.

After that, God presents the two big “ifs” to his people.  “If you are willing and obedient,” then “you will eat the good things of the land.”  “But, if you resist and rebel,” then “you will be devoured by the sword.”  If you follow God, and do what God commands, then he will give you all sorts of blessings.  But, if you choose to ignore God, and do things your own way, then God will withdraw his protections and his blessings and let you face the world, and all the evil in it… alone.

The temptation for the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah, as well as the time of Jesus, is a temptation that still afflicts us in the twenty-first century, and that is to deceive ourselves into thinking that God isn’t watching, or that the return of Jesus Christ won’t happen any time soon.  Sure, we understand that Jesus is coming back, and we say that we believe that he is coming back, but do we really act like we expect that to happen any time soon?

That is exactly the point that Jesus is making in Luke 12:32-40 and as he makes his point, Jesus offers a warning to the people gathered in front of him that is just as relevant to us today.  Jesus said…

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks, they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus cautions us that we cannot act as if we are going to live forever.  When we say that we trust God, we must act as if we trust God, and that includes how we treat our wallets and our giving to the poor.  God’s call isn’t for us to give what is leftover or, only what we feel that we can spare, but to give to the poor as if we trust God to care for us like we say that we do.

That hits kind of close to home, doesn’t it?

Jesus continues by saying that we cannot act as if the master isn’t coming back until tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or sometime after we die.  We must take God at his word and behave as if we expect Jesus to return at any moment.  We must act as we would if we genuinely intended for Jesus to find us busy with the work of his kingdom upon his return.

Paul revisits this same idea in Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 by reminding his listeners about people who had great faith such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, and using those examples to illustrate how faith might look if applied to our lives if we choose to be obedient.

11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed, and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

God promised Abraham an inheritance that only his descendants would see, and yet he persisted and remained faithful.  And through that, and other examples, Paul reminds us that our promise is for a future that we may never see in this lifetime.  We look forward to something better, we look forward to a better future, but it is a future in a kingdom that is not of this world.  We may never see health, or wealth, or prosperity in this world, we will face trials, temptations, loss, betrayal, and all sorts of struggle in this life but through these examples, Paul reminds us not to give up hope.

Instead, we, like Abraham, must remain faithful as we hope for a future that we might only see in brief glimpses or shadows in this life.  We must act as if we trust God.  We must give to the poor, share with others, and seek justice as if we believed what we say that we believe.  We must keep watch for the return of our master, Jesus, and conduct our affairs as we would if he might return this very afternoon and we wanted him to find us busy caring for his kingdom and his kingdom business.

Because, in the end, we still face those two big “ifs” that we heard in the words of Isaiah.

If you are willing and obedient,” then “you will eat the good things of the land.”

But, if you choose to ignore God, and do things your own way, then God will withdraw and let you face the world, and all the evil in it… alone.

Where will Jesus find you when he returns?

Choose wisely.


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

An Adulterous Wife

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An Adulterous Wife

July 24, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Hosea 1:2-10              Luke 11:1-13                          Colossians 2:6-19

I want to be clear that despite the title, today’s message applies to both women and men.  My title could have easily been, “An Adulterous Spouse” but aside from being admittedly more “clickable” on the internet, there are scriptural and linguistic reasons that it can, and should, be gender specific.  And I hope that by the time we’re finished, everyone will understand why.

With that out of the way, for those of you who are already married, I want you to remember what it was like when you were still looking for a spouse.  And for those of you who are not married, and who wish to eventually be married, or even if you can’t ever imagine wanting to be married, I invite you to imagine what it would be like to search for a person with whom you can share your life and build your dreams.  So, whichever group you might be in, think about what qualifications you might look for in a life-partner.  As a group, we would have a wide variety of potential requirements or at least highly desirable traits that we would be looking for in another person.  But, without much difficulty, I would imagine that among those qualifications, absolutely none of us would list “likely to cheat” among the dreams and ambitions that we have for our future spouse.

But that is exactly what God told the prophet Hosea to add to his list.

As shocking as that might be, let’s read the story and find out why.  We begin in Hosea 1:2-10 as God uses a highly unusual method to make a point, over the span of a generation, and send a message to the people of Israel that includes illustrations with whom they must live and interact on a regular basis.

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.”

Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword, or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.”

After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.

10 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’

God’s instructions to Hosea, as he searched for a wife, was to choose a woman who already had a reputation for cheating and who was likely to cheat on him after he married her.  This was hardly what Hosea expected when God had called him to be his spokesman and prophet.  I am certain that Hosea expected that following God would include living a godly life that followed the Law of Moses, living a righteous life and, one would assume, having a wife that was similarly righteous.  But God’s call, in this case, is for his prophet to marry a spouse that will cheat, leave him for extended periods of time, sleep with other men, and bear children with questionable parentage.  And, despite the unexpected nature of God’s command, and despite how unusual, difficult, and complicated that it would make Hosea’s life, he did as God instructed.

This wasn’t a project that Hosea could complete in a week’s time.  This wasn’t the usual kind of mission that God gave to his prophets of “Go to this place and say these words to this group of people.”  Instead, God’s words were coming to the people of Israel as a demonstration, or an illustration, which was seen, every day, in the lives of Hosea and his family.  God’s point was that Gomer’s unfaithfulness to Hosea represented Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, and so every time that she wandered off, or was missing from Hosea’s life, or was carrying a child that may, or may not, have been fathered by Hosea, everyone was reminded of their unfaithfulness to God.

Worse, the names of Hosea’s children were a daily reminder of Israel’s failures.  The name of Hosea’s first son reminded the people of Israel that when Jehu was anointed as king, he took it upon himself to massacre the previous king, the king’s mother, and his entire family.  Hosea’s daughter reminded the people that they were no longer loved by God, that God had withdrawn his blessing from them and would now give his blessing to the nation of Judah.  And Hosea’s second son reminded Israel that because they had abandoned God, God would now abandon them.  Every day, in ordinary, daily interactions from school to grocery shopping, to gossip, the people were confronted with their sins against God simply in the act of speaking or remembering the names of Hosea’s children.

That is a sad story, but it is also a warning.  King David certainly knew that story and the lessons of that story were on his mind when David chose not to act on opportunities to take King Saul’s life.  Even for us in the twenty-first century, it reminds us that our God is not just a god of love that loves everybody but is also a God of judgement, with high standards, who will remove his blessing from those who turn their backs on him.

I’m sure that someone will want to remind me that God’s standards of judgement changed with the coming of Jesus.  But they didn’t.  After the birth death and resurrection of Jesus, God did not change.  God’s standards did not change.  God’s definition of sin did not change.  What changed is that when we stand before the judgement seat of God, Jesus has already paid price for the sins that we have committed.  And it is because of that change that we are indebted to Jesus and why we live our lives in ways that express our gratitude to him.

How we do that, as well as warnings about how not to do that, are what Paul is talking about as he writes to the church in Colossae in Colossians 2:6-19 where we hear these words:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self, ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Paul reminds us that receiving Jesus as our savior and choosing to follow him is just the beginning.  We must also continue to live lives in him that are rooted in him, built up in him, and which are strengthened in faith and overflowing with thankfulness.  Next, Paul warns us about where our life and discipleship can go astray.  He says that we can be taken captive by our dedication to traditions that flow out of deceptive philosophy and spiritual forces that are not godly and which do not point to Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who saved us, and it is Jesus who is in authority over every senator, president, king, prime minister, emperor, czar, ayatollah, or anything else and it is Jesus who has authority over every angel, demon, ghoul, ghost, goblin, or any other physical or spiritual creature.  Our sins condemned us to death, but we are alive because of the sacrifice, and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  

Christianity is more familiar and more recognizable to the people around us than it was in Colossae in the time of Paul.  Our holidays and our celebrations are not as alien and strange to our neighbors and friends than they once were, but still, people often find what we do to be out of the ordinary.  They don’t understand why we pray, or why we fast, they think we’re weird, or even lazy because we don’t want to do certain things on Sunday, or at Christmas, or Easter.  They think it’s a waste for us to give gifts and offerings to the church when we could use them to buy a car, or jewelry, vacations, or fun toys. 

But Paul says that we should ignore their judgement because the little things that we do as a part of our worship are shadows of a larger reality.  They remind us that that the world is bigger than what we see and that the governments and powers of this world are not ultimate powers of the universe, that the physical world still bends to the reality of the spiritual world, that God is in control, that Jesus sits on the throne of heaven, and that all that we are, and all that we have, belongs to him.

Paul reminds us that there will always be false teachers who think too much of themselves, who claim to have visions, or claim special spiritual insight, and who will lead us toward the worship of angels and other false beliefs.  Those people, Paul cautions, have lost their connection to Jesus, the head of the church, and the head of the body of Christ.  And like our physical bodies, when the head is disconnected, growth stops, and death soon follows.

The accusation of Hosea three thousand years ago remains relevant.  The adulterous wife that he was talking about wasn’t ever a woman, it was always the church.  Both then and now, it was always us.  Because the church is the bride of Christ, we can see ourselves as the wandering Gomer as we wander, become faithless, and pursue other interests and put other gods, other hobbies, money, cars, houses, work, or anything else in first place instead of Jesus.  To put anything other than Jesus in first place, with priority, is to risk losing our head.

Stay close to Jesus.  Live your lives in Jesus.  Stay rooted and grounded in him, be strengthened in the faith that you were taught, and be overflowing with thankfulness.  Test everything.  Don’t hold on to traditions that aren’t godly.  Keep hold of worship, and all our little spiritual rituals, holidays, and practices because each of them reminds us of who we are, and whose we are.

God hasn’t changed.  God’s standards haven’t changed.  God’s definition of sin hasn’t changed.  And the need for us to remain faithful, and the importance of faithfulness, hasn’t changed.  Because when we stand before the judgement seat of God, the only thing that will save us…is Jesus.

We are the bride of Christ.

Don’t leave him at the altar.

Don’t be… an adulterous wife.


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

No Point in Waiting

No Point in Waiting

June 01, 2022

By Pastor John Partridge

It occurred to me that many of us, myself included, have often used the pandemic and our current denominational stress as excuses to put off doing the important work of the church.  We decided that we didn’t want to invite people to church because, well, we weren’t having in-person church, or because we were only having parking lot church, or because we were afraid that they might not want to come because they’d heard about the division within our denomination.  But the problem with that kind of procrastination, is that it’s and excuse that never ends.

Every one of us has heard Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit song, “Cat’s in the Cradle.”  In it, the man telling the story always promises his son that he would find time for them to be together, but he never did.  And at the end of the song, the son is exactly the man that his father was, and repeatedly promises that one day they will find the time to be together.  But sadly, we all know that they never will.  We hear a similar tale in Robert Bloch’s story “That Hellbound Train.”

In it, a young hobo, Martin, makes a deal with the devil and exchanges a trip to hell for a watch that will allow him to stop time at the happiest moment of his life.  And at each of his happiest moments, his wedding day, the birth of his children, Martin debates whether he should use the watch and stop time or if an even happier moment is yet around the corner.  And, in the end, Martin never manages to use the devil’s watch before he dies.

Our reaction to our current crises seems to be the same.

We all thought Covid was going to go away in a few weeks, or months, and here we are, more than two years along that road, and still the end is not yet in sight.  We keep hearing promises that our denominational confusion will end at “the next General Conference,” but I remember that my pastor and mentor, Linda Somerville, had the same hope when elected as a delegate to the 2000 or 2004 General Conference.  Even now, even as churches are choosing to leave our denomination and form another, I simply do not believe that the end is anywhere in sight.

What I’m trying to say, is that there is no point in waiting to do the things that we know that we must do.  We know that our church must continue to do the work of Jesus Christ, we know that we must continue to reach out, to be agents of healing and hope, and to continue the mission that Jesus Christ has given to us in Alliance, in Ohio, and in the world.  We know that we must grow, we know that we must become an invitational church, we know that we need to reach out to our neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends.  We know that we must show them the love that Jesus has shared with us, and invite them to be a part of Christ Church, and a part of Christ’s eternal kingdom.

There’s never going to be a “perfect” time.  We don’t know when, or even if, this pandemic is going to end, or what the new normal will look like on the other side of it.  We have no idea when, or if, the division within our denomination will end, or if it will just transmogrify into some new kind of debate. 

There’s no point in waiting.

There is no benefit to procrastinating or kicking the can down the road.

The only thing that makes any sense, is for us, to do the things that God has called us to do…

            …today.

Blessings,


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Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

A photograph of palm branches
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Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

(Palm Sunday)

April 10, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 19:28-40

Today we begin the final week of our preparations for Easter.  We remember the time that, as the church, we refer to as “Holy Week.”  This is that time of remembrance that begins with the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we remember today as Palm Sunday but continues with Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest, illegal trial, crucifixion, death, burial, and his resurrection on Easter morning.  I hope that you will join us, not just for the bookends of Palm Sunday and Easter, but for the entire journey through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Saturday, and then, after we have walked through that season of frustration, anger, despair, and darkness, to arrive together and celebrate the joy of Easter morning.

But this morning, we remember the story of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover as recorded in Luke 19:28-40.

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead, went, and found it just as he had told them.  33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.  36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

For such a short passage, there is a lot going on.  First, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village ahead of them.  He knew that they would find a colt that had been tied out, he knew that it was such a green colt that it had never been ridden, and although this last one is hardly surprising, Jesus also knew that the owner of the colt would want to know why they were taking it.  Just as Jesus had seen Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him to follow Jesus in John 1:48, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village.  But what is even more surprising, and to my skeptical and sometimes a little cynical mind, even more miraculous, was that the owner of the colt allowed the disciples to borrow it.  Think about that for a minute.  We take it for granted because it was Jesus, because we are reading the Bible, and because we’ve heard the story dozens of times. 

But seriously?  The disciples meet a random stranger, whose horse or donkey has only recently had a baby.  That baby hasn’t been ridden, it wasn’t old enough to take to the trainer, or to start working at its training, two total strangers off the street start untying it, and the only explanation they offer is that their boss needs it.  Seriously?  If you owned a new car, that the dealer just delivered to your house on a flatbed trailer, and you hadn’t even had time to drive it yet, how likely are you to loan it to a total stranger?  Think about that.  If your dog had puppies and they had barely started eating solid food, what the chances that you’d let a stranger “borrow” one?  This wasn’t just a baby, horses and donkeys were valuable and they typically only have one baby every 12 to 18 months.  So, as I think about this story, and think about what we all know about human nature, I think that although there might be more to the story than Luke chose to tell us, I also think that this might just be one of the greatest miracles in the Easter story next to the resurrection itself.

In any case, the owner allows the disciples to borrow the colt, they bring it to Jesus, throw their outer garments over it’s back, and Jesus rides it.  And that, if you know anything about horses, may also be a significant miracle.  Ask your friends who know horses, what’s likely to happen if you just jump on the back of a horse that’s never been ridden.  The odds are good that, outside of that rider being Jesus, that such a story isn’t going to end well.

And as Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives toward the gates of the city of Jerusalem, the crowd that was with Jesus began to praise God, in loud voices, for all the miracles that they had seen.  They pulled palm branches from the trees and laid them in the road in front of Jesus, and if Palm branches weren’t handy, they laid down their own shirts so that even the animal upon which Jesus rode would, symbolically, not get its feet dirty.  And more than that, they began to shout an historic welcome found in scripture, notably in Psalm 118, that the people of Israel had used as kings entered the city of Jerusalem.  They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” and they said, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 

And the Pharisees who saw what they were doing, and who heard what they were shouting were displeased.  They recognized that the disciples were offering Jesus a king’s welcome.  They understood that these symbols were used, and were reserved for, the recognition of kings.  And they knew that not far away, inside of the city, sharing a wall with the temple itself, was the Fortress Antonia and a detachment of Roman soldiers.  They knew that those soldiers were there to keep the peace, they knew that the only king that could ever be accepted was Caesar, and they knew that blood had been spilled the last time someone claimed to be the king of Israel.  The arrival of Jesus, and his disciples’ cries proclaiming him to be king, was threatening to upset the status quo.  And the people who had the most to lose from a change in the status quo were the Pharisees.

They insist that Jesus tell his disciples to stop before too many people hear, or at least before the wrong people, the powerful people, the people with swords, could hear them.  But Jesus stares them down and declares that if the disciples keep quiet, the stones along the sides of the road would cry out instead.

And so, the actions of the disciples, and Jesus’ refusal to stop them, combined with all the previous interactions that Jesus had with the Pharisees, had reached a climax.  The Pharisees could no longer look the other way, there was no longer any doubt, they absolutely knew that Jesus was going to upset the status quo.  If Jesus lived, more people were going to follow him.  And if those people were going to label Jesus as a king, it was going to stir up the worst kind of trouble.  The deal that the Pharisees and the other leaders of Israel had made with Rome was that they could remain in power if they helped Rome to rule over Israel and if they helped them to keep the peace.  If the disciples proclaimed that Jesus was a king, then this contract would be broken, and the Romans would blame the Pharisees.  It was their necks, their jobs, their careers, their lives, that were on the line.  It was no longer an intellectual argument.  In this moment, the Pharisees had to choose between themselves, and Jesus.  And they knew what had to happen.

Jesus.  Must.   Die.


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

Religious Extravagance

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Religious Extravagance

April 03, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 43:16-21                      John 12:1-8                Philippians 3:4b-14

What do you think of when I say the word… extravagant?

We buy things that we need, but how nice those things are often depends upon how much money we have available to spend on things that don’t matter.  We might need a watch, but we could buy a cheap one at the dollar store that will keep time, or we can buy a decent Timex that will last longer.  But when we have a little more disposable income, we might consider buying an Apple watch or a Garmin sport watch that not only keeps time but counts our steps, calories, tracks our heartrate, and a bunch of other things.  And there are some people who have enough money that they can wear a year’s salary, or even the value of a house, on their wrist with wildly expensive watches made of gold and platinum.  But do you know what those expensive watches say at three o’clock in the afternoon?  They say that it’s three o’clock.  The difference between a Timex and a Rolex isn’t that the time is different, or that expensive watches somehow give their wearers twenty-five hours in a day instead of the usual twenty-four, the difference is in their level of extravagance.

We could say that a house with four bedrooms is better than a house with one bedroom if you have a larger family.  But at some point, as homes grow larger and pass three thousand square feet, four thousand, five thousand square feet, and even larger, at some point we’ve crossed a line from utilitarian and into extravagance.

And so, if I were to ask you what comes to mind when I say the words “religious extravagance,” I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you began to think about the mansions that we’ve seen on television that belong to a variety televangelists and other religious leaders who have capitalized, in one way or another, on their position, power, or notoriety.  But is religious extravagance about 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets? 

As we consider that question, let’s begin by remembering what God said through his prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:16-21.

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

As I read that passage, I divided it into four sections that each said something different.  The first, asks God’s people to remember what God is capable of doing and all the amazing, awesome, powerful, and even impossible things that God has done.  The second, simply says that while we should remember what God has done, we should not live in the past or get stuck there.  The third, says that as we keep the first two things in mind, the big news is that God is doing something new.  Now, God is doing the impossible.  He is making a road through the impassable wilderness and bringing free flowing water to the desert.  The fourth thing explains why God does everything that God does.  The reason that God does extravagant miracles, achieves the impossible, blesses his people, feeds them, and cares for them, is not just so that they will give thanks, but so that they will tell the world about his greatness.

But in John 12:1-8 we see an entirely different sort of extravagance as the time of Jesus’s crucifixion draws near.

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor.  Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pintof pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied.  “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

For perspective, let’s consider the value of what Mary did for Jesus.  It’s one thing to say that she anointed Jesus with perfume that cost a year’s wages, but it’s another thing entirely to put that into language that is personally meaningful to our wallets.  Thinking about a year’s wages in a vague sort of way sounds like it might be a lot, but we feel a punch in the gut when we put that into numbers that we understand.  And a number that most of us can understand is the median income.  The “median” is the annual income at which half of all wage earners made more, and half made less.  And in the United States, the median income in 2021 was $79,900.  So, when we say that Mary poured $80,000 on the ground, we feel that it a different way than saying that it was worth about a year’s wages.  John uses this as an opportunity to criticize Judas for being a thief, but it’s hard not to think, as Judas suggested, about how much food, clothing, rental assistance, bus passes, or other things that we could buy for the poor with $80,000.  Mary’s gift was not just costly, it was extravagant.  But Jesus understands and explains to everyone present that there was a limited time that anyone could give such a gift, and while God’s intent was that this gift should have been for Jesus’ burial, Mary chose to give her gift to Jesus while he was still alive rather than after he was dead.

And in Philippians 3:4b-14, the Apostle Paul frames the discussion about extravagance differently.  Rather than reminding everyone about the extravagant gifts that God has given to us, or about the extravagant gift that Mary gave to Jesus, Paul explains how his life changed because of his reaction and response to God’s extravagance.  Paul says:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul begins by reminding his readers that for all the worldly reasons that people can have confidence, trust, and even arrogance, Paul has all of them… in abundance.  Paul had money, possessions, accomplishments, power, authority and more.  He was born into the right kind of prestigious family, he mixed with the right kinds of prestigious people, he followed all of the church’s rules in a very public way in the sect of the Pharisees, and even among the Pharisees, he was outstanding in his passion, zeal, and herculean efforts as a defender of the faith and a warrior for the church as he persecuted those who followed Jesus, and he did all these things so well that no one could find fault with his theology or practice.  Paul was beyond a rising star in the leadership of the church and was on track to be among those in the very highest levels of the Jewish church and the leadership of Israel.

But Paul after he met Jesus, he threw it all away.

Because he chose to follow Jesus, Paul lost his position in Jewish leadership, was cast out of the Pharisees, excommunicated, banned from the Temple, and we suspect that he may have even been disowned by his family.  Paul says that he has now given up anything that he once considered to be valuable because the value of knowing Jesus was worth more than anything that he had before.  In fact, what Paul received when he put his faith in Jesus was so extravagantly valuable that in comparison, everything that he had before was worth no more than garbage to him.

The value of what Paul received from God through faith in Jesus Christ is so valuable, that even after he has given up everything that he had, Paul still looks forward to the future and presses onward so that he can become whatever God called him to be, and to do whatever God called him to do.  Paul freely admits that Gods work in him, and through him, is not yet finished, but he continues to do the work of Jesus Christ, and to press on so that he can earn the reward that God has prepared for him.

Isaiah said that our mission it to show the world how amazing, wonderful, and awesome God is, and not spend our time and money showing people how awesome we are.  The goal is to get the people around us to give thanks to God and give praise to him, not to give thanks and give praise to us.  Mary shows her gratitude to Jesus by giving him the most extravagant gift that she can imagine.  It is a gift that is her life savings and represents her pension and her rainy-day fund all wrapped up in one package.  Paul says that God’s gift to us, the gift of his own son, Jesus Christ, is such an extravagant gift, that nothing that we have, and nothing that we can do, can ever begin to show God how grateful we are.  Instead, Paul’s response was to give up all that he had and spend his entire life giving of himself to do the work of God’s kingdom.

My friends, religious extravagance isn’t about churches that seat tens of thousands, or 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets.  Those sorts of things point people in exactly the opposite direction that God wants us pointing.  Religious extravagance is demonstrating to the world that what God has given to us in Jesus Christ is so valuable that we will give, or do, anything to show God our gratitude and to do the work of the kingdom of God so that, as God said through Isaiah, the world would proclaim God’s praise.

When the followers of Jesus Christ are extravagant, every part of that extravagance should point to God so that the world sees the wonders of our amazing God… and not us.


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

Life and Death Reversed

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Life and Death Reversed

March 27, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Joshua 5:9-12                         Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32              2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Some of you know may that we used to own a 1948 Farmall Cub tractor. I did not grow up in a home that worked on cars, motors, or machinery of any kind, and although my maternal grandfather was known to do be pretty handy, I didn’t learn any of those things from him. But with the arrival of that antique tractor, and a 1970’s era Cub Cadet, with not a lot of money, and a need to maintain our seven-acre mini-farm, I learned. I had all the manuals, I joined an online antique tractor forum, I asked lots of questions, and I learned. I got to the point where I split that tractor completely in half, replaced the clutch, and put it all back together.

There was still a lot that I didn’t, and don’t know, but I learned. And along the way, I gained an appreciation of the guys that could pull an abandoned piece of rusty iron out of a barn or a field, free a seized engine, sandblast the rust, replace, repair, renew, and eventually restore something that most people would see as a lost cause and transform it into a piece of art that looked like it just came off the showroom floor.

Now, on YouTube, I occasionally watch videos of people who rescue old tractors, bulldozers, and other things that have been left to rot away at the side of a road, out in the forest, field, desert, or other places. I love to watch shows like This Old House, and I’ve watched videos of a guy that bought an old missile silo and is transforming it into a home for his family. The transformation that happens as hopeless, discarded relics are restored so that they look and run as if they were new is nothing short of amazing.

And those are just machines and houses.

But what if we could do that for people?

What if lives could be rescued instead of tractors and houses?

And that’s the point of our message today as we begin in Joshua 5:9-12

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So, the place has been called Gilgal to this day. [Note: in Hebrew, Gilgal sounds like “roll”]

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day afterthey ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

For many of us, God’s word to Joshua hinges on the word “reproach.”  God says that he will roll away the reproach of Egypt for the people of Israel and, since “reproach” isn’t a word that we often use, many of us will read that and miss a good portion of the point. Reproach means criticism or disapproval. Egypt’s opinion of the Israelites was that they were “just slaves” and incapable of caring for themselves, that they needed overseers to guide them, direct them, and care for them even if their care was cruel, harsh, and unwanted. The Egyptians believed that the slaves who fled to freedom would surely wither away and die. But that wasn’t God’s plan. God brought the people to a place where they could plant and harvest crops and care for themselves. And on the day after Passover, the day after they started eating the food that they had harvested for themselves, God stopped providing food for them. God had finished his work of transforming them from slaves into a free people, and now he set them loose to care for themselves.

But in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, we read about an entirely different sort of transformation. In this story the transformation isn’t from slavery to freedom, but from ignorance to understanding.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The accusation against Jesus was that he was hanging out with, offering hospitality to, and even fraternizing with disreputable people who were enemy collaborators and outcasts. Sharing meals with people was seen as an act of intimacy that should only be enjoyed by your closest friends and it was shocking that Jesus would offer this level of inclusion and intimacy to people who were social pariahs.

And in reply to that sort of accusation, Jesus tells a story about a son who disrespected and dishonored his father, his family, and his community in every possible way. The son is so selfish and self-focused, that he says that he wished that his father was dead and wants to receive his inheritance now. This means that his father’s entire estate would be divided into thirds so that his older brother, as the firstborn, would receive two-thirds, and the younger one third.

But what he was demanding wasn’t just the money that he would, eventually, inherit, it represented his father’s security, his family honor, his retirement, and his assets that allowed him to care for his family, dependents, and employees. But not only did the son demand, and take, the money, he treated that money carelessly. He was shortsighted, thought of his present pleasure and comfort without any concern for the future. He did not plan and had no vision, and the price of his short-sightedness is that he ended up with nothing. No money, no home, no pride, and no purity. He ends up homeless, doing a job that no one else wanted, a Jew feeding religiously unclean pigs.

And in his misery, he realizes what he had given up and what he could have had if he had not been so selfish. He decides to beg for his father’s forgiveness and ask to hire him as a servant because he knew that what he had done was unforgivable. He understood that there was no hope of ever again finding acceptance as a family member, but even as a servant he would have food, clothing, and a place to live.

“And while he was still a long way off…” the father saw him. His father had been watching, waiting, and hoping that his son would one day return to him. There had been no word, no letters, no phone calls, no emails and for all that he knew, his son was dead. But, despite his hurt, disappointment, dishonor, and humiliation he still he watched the road and hoped that one day his son might return. And when he does, he casts aside propriety and does what no self-respecting eastern man would do, and he pulls up the hem of his robe like a little boy and he runs to put his arms around his son, he interrupts the prepared speech about being a servant, puts a ring on his finger, and welcomes him back into the family.  And, when the older son remains bitter, and complains, the father explains that relationships aren’t about money, but that there is joy in restoration and reconciliation.

And that is the same lesson that Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 when he says:

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Although he doesn’t mention it by name, Paul uses the imagery of Jesus’ parable of the lost son to explain how that story matters to the people of his church, and to us. Before we became his followers, we saw Jesus as someone who was a philosopher, preacher, and teacher. But as we chose to follow him, we are transformed. We are transformed in our opinions, attitudes, mind, body, and soul just as the lost son, in realizing what he had lost, suddenly gained more than he ever expected or imagined. When we became the followers of Jesus we became a new creation, death had been reversed, we were once dead, but are now alive. We are reconciled, renewed, restored, welcomed, included, and embraced into our new family as brothers and sister of Jesus Christ.

And that’s just the beginning because just as the lost son had to build a new life after his return to his family, our work begins when we come faith. Paul says that because we have been reconciled, we have all been given the message, mission, and ministry of reconciliation. We are sent into the world, as ambassadors of God’s kingdom, as if God were sharing his message through us. We cry out to the world to be reconciled to God, to realize what we lost because of our selfishness, to return to God, to his family, and be restored to life as a new creation.

You have to admit that restoring old pieces of unwanted, abandoned, and hopelessly rusted machines is an amazing process to watch. But rescuing and restoring unwanted, outcast, abandoned, and hopelessly lost people is way better.

God doesn’t send us to rescue the people around us because we’re good, or because we’re loyal.

God sends us to rescue the people around us because he once rescued us.


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

God Was Not Pleased

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God Was Not Pleased

March 20, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 55:1-9                           Luke 13:1-9                 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Have you ever had a bad boss? 

Wherever we go, wherever we work, play, or volunteer, we learn things.  Sometimes we learn how to do things with excellence from good mentors, bosses, trainers, drill sergeants, coaches, pastors, and others.  But sometimes the lessons that we learned were lessons in how not to do things from some of those same kinds of people who did things badly.  In one of my military non-commissioned officer training courses, I had learned that a supervisor should never, ever, reprimand a subordinate in public and humiliate them.  Correction and reprimand should always be done as privately as possible.  But in my last engineering job, I witnessed several supervisors contribute to a semi-toxic work relationship by doing exactly that. 

While I learned that this was the wrong thing to do in the military, if I had any doubts about it, watching that negative example unfold in front of me, and seeing the fallout from it in employee retention and morale resolved those doubts forever.  If we’re smart, we learn from both good and bad examples.  We can learn how to do things, and how not to do things.

And, as we read the stories preserved for us in scripture, we see those same kinds of lessons, both good and bad.  There are examples for us to follow, and examples of how not to follow, things we should do and things we shouldn’t do.  In Isaiah 55:1-9, we hear God’s invitation to follow and a calling to become a part of the covenant that God made with King David, but also a reminder of our limitations.

55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God invites the world to come, drink from the water of life, to drink wine and milk, and to eat bread at no cost.  God asks why we spend our money and our time on things that do not, and cannot, satisfy us and invites us to listen to his teachings so that we might live.  God promises to make and eternal contract with his Messiah, Jesus, just as he did with David so that we can, like David, be an example, witness, and role model that will draw others to God.  Our calling is to seek God while we have the chance and to do what we can to encourage others to turn back to God. 

But is everything in life a sign from God?  Is everything that happens to us something that is sent to us, or caused by God?  Generally, no.  While God is involved in leading and guiding our actions and those of the people around us, God isn’t the cause of everything.  Random events happen, accidents happen, people make choices, both good and bad, God isn’t always the cause of those things, and that’s what Jesus tries to explain to the people in the story found in Luke 13:1-9.

13:1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Pontius Pilate was a paranoid madman who, historians theorize may have been driven mad by the degenerative effects of brain damage from an advanced syphilis infection.  Pilate had murdered a group of Galilean worshippers as they brought sacrifices to God and people were speculating that God must have been punishing them for being terrible sinners.  But Jesus says no.  Everyone, Jesus says, is a sinner and everyone must repent of their sins before God, or we will all die.  The people who were murdered by Pilate, were not being punished for their sins by God, and nor were the people who were crushed when a tower collapsed.  Random things happen.  Accidents happen.  Jesus knew, as we’ve all seen in recent weeks, that crazy despotic leaders do crazy despotic things.  Death is coming for us all sooner or later.  But if we want to find ourselves on the right side of God’s judgement, we must repent of our sin, turn from our wicked ways, and do the best that we can to reproduce our faith and bear fruit for God.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul emphasizes the need for us to make good choices.  Some people can be given every opportunity to know the truth about God and still make poor choices.  He notes these examples in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13:

10:1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptationhas overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be temptedbeyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Paul reminds his congregation that there were people who knew Moses, who were rescued by God from slavery in Egypt, who saw God’s presence in the cloud during the day and a pillar of light at night, who saw the Red Sea part and walked across its bottom, who ate the manna that God provided, who saw all the miracles, and who had every opportunity to follow God, but still God was not pleased with most of them.  Despite repeatedly seeing God and his miracles in person and despite having their entire lives transformed by the acts of God, they still did not have faith and chose to do evil, act immorally, to worship an idol in the form of a golden calf, and to complain about God and the food that he provided them.  And Paul says that these things happened as examples and warnings for us.  How often have we heard someone say that they would believe if only God would somehow reveal himself to them, and yet here were thousands of people who saw God, who saw God’s miracles, and experienced God in ways that most people can only dream about and still they fell away, made bad choices, and put their faith in other things.

But that doesn’t mean that we are without hope.  Paul says that while we must be careful not to fall away, and while temptation is common to every human being who has ever lived, God is faithful.  God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability to stand up against it, God will provide a path out of your temptation and, if you only take the time to ask, God will help you to endure.

Role models come is all shapes and sizes.  There are good role models, bad role models, good bosses, bad bosses, good examples, bad examples, models that we should follow, models that teach us what not to do, and examples that warn us of the consequences of making bad choices.  Years from now, when others look back on our lives, I pray that what they remember is not, “God was not pleased” but rather, that we are remembered for our faith and that God found joy in what we did.

But these things don’t happen in a vacuum.  Good bosses don’t happen by accident.  Good bosses made good choices and had good training and good mentors.  And like them, making good choices and strengthening our faith requires good role models and constant, thoughtful, preparation.

What will you do this week to strengthen and deepen your faith?

What will you do to draw closer to God?

What will you do to stand up against temptation?


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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.

Doing What Counts

Doing What Counts

March 02, 2022*

Ash Wednesday

By Pastor John Partridge

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17                     Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21             2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:10

Old Testament Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble,for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,“return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heartand not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,declare a holy fast,
    call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders, gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
    Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

_____________________

In our scripture reading from Joel, we heard God’s prophet cry out to the people to fast, pray, weep, and “Return to the Lord” because, obviously, the people of Israel had wandered from God and were doing things that they shouldn’t have been doing.  But what is it that they should have been doing?  If God is keeping score, then what should we be doing?  What should we not be doing?  And, how do we make our time, and our actions, count?  To begin, let’s start in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, where Jesus gives us some great examples of all of these.  Jesus said…

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus says, ‘Don’t do things for show.’  Actions that count aren’t hypocritical.  The followers of Jesus should never do things just because those things make us look good.  Getting your picture in the paper, and ten seconds of fame on the television news, with one of those oversized checks because you gave a lot of money to the poor is great, but in God’s eyes that doesn’t count because, at least at some level, you did that for yourself and not for God. 

If you’re going to fast, or give up something for Lent, that’s great, but don’t go on social media and tell all your friends that you’re doing it… or it doesn’t count.  If you’re going to do things to benefit others, or do things to build your relationship with God, then do them, but don’t do them, and make a big deal about doing them, just so you can look good to the people around you.  When you do that, then looking good to the people around you is your reward because in God’s eyes, it doesn’t count.

The bank account into which you want to make deposits is a heavenly one and not an earthly one and so the deposits we want to be making are deposits that build up God’s kingdom and not deposits that grow your earthly reputation.  In 2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:10, the Apostle Paul puts it this way:

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be a sin offeringfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul says that we are called to represent ourselves the way that ambassadors for another country would.  We should be aware that everything that we do reflects our king and his kingdom and so everything that we do should draw us closer to God and strengthen our relationship with him.  Paul says that we should “put no stumbling block in anyone’s path,” so that people won’t turn away from God, or stop listening to the message of Jesus Christ, because of the things that we said and did.

Instead, the things that we should be known for are things like endurance, courage, faithfulness, hard work, suffering, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, and sincere love.  When people think of us, they should remember truthful speech, the power of God, righteousness, persistence, joy

Generosity, and an unusual yet consistent combination of actions and attitudes that point to God, and give credit to God, while avoiding credit for ourselves.

If you join the Army to get rich, you made a mistake.  People join the military for a lot of reasons, but they describe it as “serving” our country for a reason.  For all the things that you might get out of your service, getting rich definitely isn’t one of them.  And as we enter the season of Lent, we are reminded that following Jesus is quite similar.  If you’re following Jesus to get rich, or to get famous, or to be popular, or to grow your business, or most anything that can benefit yourself, then you’re doing it wrong.

Our calling is not to do things that benefit us.

Our calling is to do things for others so that we can be a benefit to God and his kingdom.

That is how we do things that count.


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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.