When Weakness is Power

When Weakness is Power

July 04, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              Mark 6:1-13               2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Everybody loves kittens.  Okay, I know some people are allergic, but the internet is crazy about cats and kittens, and before the internet, you could be certain that stories about tiger cubs, lion cubs, stray cats, kittens, and other cute furry animals would be popular on shows like National Geographic and Wild Kingdom.  So, imagine with me that you are watching a nature show on television.  In this scene, we watch as a playful pair of lion cubs wrestle with one another, in the middle of large plain of grass.  Suddenly, the two cubs are confronted by a pack of jackals.  The cubs stand to their full height and make tiny meowing roars, but the jackals continue to close the gap between them.  Then, as the kittens growl and roar, the jackals suddenly stop, retreat, and then quickly run away.  The camera then widens its field of view to show us that while the jackals had been closing on the kittens, their parents, full-grown adult lions, had crested the hill behind them.

Everyone watching wondered who, or what, had made the jackals run away because it was obvious that the kittens were no threat.  The kittens were too weak, too small, and too powerless to be a threat to an entire pack of jackals.  And it is precisely because of their weakness that we all knew that someone, or something, else had been behind the fear that we saw in the pack of jackals. 

Many of us have seen similar stories on television but I want you to keep them in mind as we read today’s scriptures that tell us more about weakness, power, faith, and grace.  This morning we rejoin David as he is proclaimed king over Judah, and all of Israel, in 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10.

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

After the death of King Saul, the people look to David.  They have seen him.  They recognize that for years, it was David that led Israel to victory against her enemies on the battlefield.  They recognize that God had anointed him as Israel’s shepherd and king.  And, for the first time, all twelve tribes, representing the nations of Judah and Israel, unite as one nation under a single king.  And, we are told, that David, and the nation of Israel, grew in power and influence, not because David was intelligent, or wise, or strategically brilliant, but because God was with him.

Whenever Samuel, or anyone else, tells the story of the great King David, the credit for David’s greatness is always given to God.  David is known as a man after God’s own heart, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and a person of great faith.  And that is how we are told that a humble shepherd grew to become the greatest king in the history of the nation of Israel.

But we can find another, even more startling example of this same principle, in Mark 6:1-13 where we hear the story of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

This story takes a couple of surprising turns.  First, Jesus, the man who fed crowds of thousands, healed lepers, the lame, the blind, and even raised the dead, is said not to be able to perform any great miracles in his hometown, because the people there had little faith.  Jesus had faith, the disciples had faith, but the people who needed healing could only see Jesus as a tradesman and the son of people they knew.

The second surprising thing is that Jesus then sends his disciples out to do the same thing that he has been doing.  Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding villages to preach a message of repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons armed with nothing but a walking stick, and without food, money, or even a change of clothes.  And, if you’re wondering why this is amazing, think about who these disciples were.  We are often tempted to say that Jesus could perform miracles, and do all the things that he did, because he was the Messiah, the Son of God who was born of a virgin to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  But the disciples were uniformly and universally normal.  They were born in the usual way to the usual sorts of parents and were normal folks who make their living as fisherman, tax collectors, farmers, and other regular jobs.  Until they met Jesus, there was absolutely nothing amazing about them.  But now, they go out into the countryside, and perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did without Bibles, reference books, college educations, money, or even food.  The only things that the disciples had, was faith… and God.

And, just in case you haven’t connected the dots of these two stories and extended that line down to us here in the twenty-first century, let’s read 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, where Paul draws that line for us.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul said that when he prayed to be healed, God said “no” because grace is enough.  And grace is enough because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  We’ve been hinting at that for the last fifteen minutes so let me say that again.  God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, Paul says it in the first person, “I delight in my weaknesses” because “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Paul says that he can happily brag about his weaknesses so that the power of Jesus Christ can rest on him.

What does that mean?

It means that we are kittens.

Whenever we are full of ourselves, and we think we have it all together, and we think that we can do it all ourselves, we are like those kittens growling in their little kitten voices at a pack of jackals.  But when we know that we are kittens, when we are willing to have faith in the big God that stands behind us, then the entire world will see that it wasn’t us that did the amazing and miraculous work.

The prophets and writers of the Old Testament made every effort to be clear that David was a great king because of his faith in God and because of the power of God that worked through him.  We can make excuses that Jesus was able to perform miracles and do all sorts of amazing things because he was the Son of God.  But then we are faced with his inability to do miracles around people that had no faith, and we are additionally confronted with the ordinary disciples who went out into the countryside with nothing more than a walking stick and were able to perform the same sorts of miracles that Jesus did.

Like David, Paul understood that the power to change the world isn’t power that we ordinary humans have.  The power to do miracles, save souls, change hearts, preach the gospel, and change the world is entirely in the hands of God.  Kittens don’t scare jackals but grown lions do.  You and I don’t scare demons, or have the power to heal the sick, clothe the naked, and seek and to save the lost, but God does.  When kittens scare jackals, everyone knows that a lion stands behind them.  And Paul knew that the same is true for us.  We are strongest when we embrace our weakness and allow God, and his power, to work through us instead of trying to do things all on our own.

On the surface, it seems to be contradictory.

Weakness is power.

When kittens roar, the world sees the lion behind them.

When we, in our weakness, let go of ourselves and allow God to change the world through us, the world will see the lion behind us.

Let us admit, and embrace our frailty, ignorance, and weakness, and have the faith to let God work through us.

Let go… and let God.

I pray that through our faith, the world will see the lion behind 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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Wealth, Power, and Equality

Power, Wealth, and Equality

June 27, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27               Mark 5:21-43             2 Corinthians 8:7-15

I have two words for us to consider today. 

Wealth… and Power.

Those two words bring with them a whole host of emotions, ideas, thoughts, and baggage of all sorts.  There are elements of our culture and our politics that divisively try to convince us that we should hate people who are rich, which others try to convince us to hate the poor.  We are told that the problems of the poor are caused because the poor are lazy.  But any of us who know poor people, or who have been poor people, certainly know different.  Most poor people work hard. 

We are told that the rich are lazy and make all their money on the backs of the poor.  But the truth is quite different.  Only 21 percent of millionaires received an inheritance of any kind, only 3 percent of millionaires inherited a million dollars, and 84 percent of millionaires inherited less than $100,000.  Some time ago, I heard that the number one vehicle driven by millionaires wasn’t some fancy sports car but was instead the Ford F-150 pickup truck.  What does that mean?  It means that almost every millionaire that you might ever meet, worked for a living, made their money for themselves, and probably still works, and sweats, for a living. 

But that really isn’t my point.  My point is that hating the poor, or envying the rich, isn’t what Jesus has called us to do.  Wealth isn’t a sin, and poverty isn’t a curse.  Likewise, political power, or the lack of it, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The part where we get in trouble, is when we begin to use our wealth and power in the wrong ways.  Scripture is filled with stories about money and power, and this morning we’re going to read two or three examples and look at some of God’s instruction on how we are supposed to use what we have for the good of everyone, and for the good of God’s kingdom.

We begin this morning in 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, where we hear of the end of King Saul’s life, David’s grief, and learn a thing or two about integrity, honor, and being a godly example.

1:1 After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 18 and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

19 “A gazelle[an ancient symbol for a dignitary or important person] lies slain on your heights, Israel.
    How the mighty have fallen!

20 “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

21 “Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there, the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.

22 “From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
    the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.
23 Saul and Jonathan— in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

24 “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
    who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

27 “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”

David grieves for the loss of Saul and his son Jonathan and not just because Jonathan was David’s best friend.  David writes a song, or story of lament and ordered that it be taught to the entire nation.  David declares Saul and Jonathan to the national heroes and pours out honor on their memories, despite the years that Saul had pursued and hunted David.  Saul had often sent the entire army out into the wilderness so that he could find David and kill him. 

But even when David was alone in a dark cave with Saul and had the opportunity to kill him, David refused and gave Saul honor instead.  Even though David had already been anointed as king by God’s prophet, David refused to bring dishonor upon himself, or upon Saul and his family, by taking God’s judgement into his own hands.  And in this story, we see that even though Saul was dead, and even though David would soon be given Saul’s throne and become the king of Judah and a united nation of Israel, David still chooses the path of honor, integrity, and godliness.

And today’s passage in Mark 5:21-43 gives us several more examples in the actions of Jesus and the people in search of miracles. 

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came, and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother, and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this and told them to give her something to eat.

There are several people here that are worth mentioning.  The first that we encounter is the woman who suffered from a bleeding disorder.  Whatever it was had caused her great suffering for more than a decade.  She had gone from one doctor to another, one witch doctor to another, each one tried their own medical experiment, and each one was happy to take more of her money, until she was poor but still suffering.  In desperation, she sets out to find Jesus, thinking perhaps that Jesus was such a great healer, such a great man of God, that if she could just touch him, she would be healed.  And that is exactly what happened.  She reaches through the crush of the crowd to touch Jesus’ shirt.  Some translations say it was only the “hem” of his garment and some have said that the Greek word that is used here is more accurately translated into English not as “hem” but as “fringe,” the dangly threads that would hand from a Jewish man’s clothing.  And she is healed.

The woman touches the barest edge of Jesus’ clothing… and is healed.

But Jesus feels it.  Jesus feels the power of God flow through him and into… somebody.  And once Jesus meets the woman, he declares that it was her great faith that has healed her, and he releases her to go in peace and freedom from her suffering.

But while Jesus was stopped, the child he had been asked to heal had died.  But when Jesus is told that she is dead, he goes there anyway.  But it is important to consider the girl’s father.  We are told that he was a synagogue leader.  From our reading, we know that the synagogue leaders were typically skeptical of Jesus’ power, but Jairus has nowhere else to turn.  His daughter is at death’s door, and he is willing to sacrifice his reputation, his position, and his power to save her.  Similarly, Jesus had every reason to say no to one more religious leader after so many of them had tried to trap him, humiliate him, and worse.  But Jesus honors the man, follows him home, and brings his daughter back from the dead.

But why?

Why did Jesus act this way?  And why does it matter?

And in answer, we turn to Paul’s letter of 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 where he explains this way:

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Paul says that Jesus became poor for us, that through Jesus’ poverty, we have become rich.  Jesus was powerful, but through grace, chose to share that power with the people around him, and with us.  Jesus shared his power to bring healing to the woman who suffered even though she was poor, and Jesus shared his power to bring life to Jairus’ daughter even though he had every right to be suspicious of Jairus’ intensions.  Jesus had power, and by his actions, showed us that the proper use of power is to share it to help the people around us.

Paul said that if we excel, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in earnestness, in passion, or in love, then we must also excel in giving.  Whatever God has chosen to bless us with, we are called to share that wealth with others just as Jesus did.  Our assignment, therefore, is to carry on the work of Jesus, to continue the mission that he began, to seek and to save the lost children of God’s kingdom.  Whomever has much is to share with those who have little.  Sometimes we may be on the giving end, and sometimes we may be on the receiving end.  The goal, Paul says, is equality such that no one has too much, and no one has too little.


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

A Life Out of Focus

A Life Out of Focus

June 13, 2021*

(Trinity Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15                            Mark 3:20-35                         2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Are you acting like a hamster in a cage?

Quite a few years ago, I heard a story on the radio in which the storyteller which, if my memory is good (and that is often doubtful), was James Dobson from Focus on the Family.  But the story that he told was about a pet hamster that they had in the living room, in a cage, on the coffee table.  And for hours, that hamster, who was aware of his captivity, worked tirelessly to escape.  The hamster knew that the cage door that opened at feeding time held the possibility of his escape and continually pawed, poked, pried, and prodded at that cage door in hopes of finding a way to freedom. 

But the storyteller saw something that the hamster didn’t.  On the floor, beside the sofa, not far from the hamster cage, lay the family cat.  The eyes of that cat were locked on that hamster and never left.  If the hamster had been able to find a weakness in his cage or manage to squeeze through a gap in the door, his freedom would have been cut surprisingly and shockingly short.  That cage, which from the hamster’s perspective was a prison was, from a wider perspective, the only thing that stood between him and a quick death from the claws and teeth of the cat.

Just like that hamster, we often make errors in judgement because our focus is too narrow.  We are focused on ourselves, or on today, or even tomorrow, and the choices that we make based on that narrow focus, ultimately prove to be shortsighted, or even harmful, when we look back on them twenty years later.  I have known quite a few people who, when they approached retirement, have fervently wished that they had done a better job of saving and investing when they were thirty years younger. 

And it is exactly that sort of out-of-focus thinking, when viewed from a different perspective, that we often see in the spiritual stories of scripture.  The first of these we will read today comes from first Samuel chapters eight and eleven, when the people of Israel demanded that God give them a king, not because they needed one, but because everyone else had one.  (1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15)

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to leadus, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so, he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

11:14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

Samuel knew that having a king was a bad idea.  Samuel told the people that it was a bad idea and that doing so would be offensive to God.  But the story tells us that “the people refused to listen to Samuel,” They demanded a king, and God gave the Saul who had the same lack of vision that the people had.

But shortsightedness and lack of vision isn’t something that mystically ended as we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament, nor is it even something to which Jesus’ own family was immune.  IN Mark 3:20-35, we hear this story of Jesus casting out demons:

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

As I noted, there are two groups to be considered here, and each has their own expectations and their own agenda, and those expectations, as well as those agendas, constrain their vision and make them unable to gain a broader perspective.  The first of these groups is Jesus’ own family.  When they hear that Jesus is drawing such an enormous crowd, and that people are coming to see him cast out demons, their assumption is that he has gone completely around the bend, lost his mind, and gone insane.  From their perspective, Jesus was their son, or their brother, the oldest son of Joseph the builder, a guy that was supposed to be home, managing the family business, and taking care of his mother.  Despite the miracles that Mary saw at the time of Jesus’ birth, none of them can understand that Jesus might be more than just a tradesman who was supposed to be at home caring for his responsibilities to his family. 

The second group that we see are the teachers of the law, who are so fixated on following the rules, preserving, and controlling the status quo, and protecting the insiders by keeping the riffraff outside where they belonged, they are unable to comprehend that Jesus, a common, uneducated tradesman, and laborer from the rural sticks, could possibly be doing what people said that he was doing.  And, when they found that he was indeed casting out demons, simply because he was not one of them, a member of the established church leadership, and one of the insiders, they can only assume that God is not with him and so his power must come from the devil instead.

Just like the elders and leaders of Israel in the time of Samuel, and a lot like that hamster, the wants, wishes, desires, and biases of each group, cause them to be shortsighted, lose focus, and be unable to have enough perspective to see what was really happening.  Twenty-one centuries later, all we need to do is open a newspaper, turn on a television, or open a web browser to see that people, inside and outside of the church, are still suffering from that same lack of vision.  But in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul passes along some advice on how to keep our lives in focus. (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1)

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit offaith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Paul begins by laying out what our perspective should be, we believe in Jesus, that God raised Jesus from the dead, will one day raise each of us from the dead, and that same grace is extended to more people every day.  With that perspective, Paul says, even when we are suffering and wasting away, inwardly we are renewed, and our momentary troubles are forgotten because our hope for the future outweighs any of our earthly struggles.  Because we have this perspective, because we have this vision, we do not focus on our struggles, our pain, loss, grief, and suffering, but instead focus on our faith, our mission, and our eternal future. 

When we fail to do that, when we fail to maintain that perspective, we begin to live our life out of focus and we are distracted by our wants, wishes, desires, biases, irrelevant theological disputes, partisan politics, pain, passion, power, and all sorts of other things then we become just like that hamster.  We find ourselves struggling to open a gate that will only result in our being torn apart and eaten by a more powerful enemy than we ever imagined. 

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, let us keep our focus on our mission, our faith, and our eternal future. 

Because only then will we be able to live our lives in focus.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/6eMmREiy2fM

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

Fear and Peace

Fear and Peace

April 11, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 20:19-31                                    Acts 4:32-35                           1 John 1:1 – 2:2

In his description of soldiers at war, in his novel “War and Peace,” Leo Tolstoy describes how disciplined and trained soldiers would be marched into battle, but once they came under fire would be seized by fear, become a disorganized rabble, and chaotically flee for their lives.  But, once having reached the rear, and being no longer afraid, would once again fall under the discipline of their command, reorganize, and march forward into battle.  But, once they came under fire, would again be seized by fear, and the process would repeat itself.  This observation led Tolstoy to conclude that,,,

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.” (Leo Tolstoy, “War and Peace”)

While the resurrection story doesn’t contain the same sort of warfare that Tolstoy was describing, we do see many of the same human reactions to fear at the beginning.  However, the power of Jesus’ resurrection allows us to see a transformative change in the disciples and other followers of Jesus, particularly as it relates to fear.  We rejoin the gospel story on Easter Sunday evening as described in John 20:19-31.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

When we join the disciples, they are hiding behind locked doors because they are afraid that the church leaders who had rigged an illegal trial to convict Jesus would be looking for them next.  But in the middle of their fear, Jesus arrives and his first words to them are, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus knows that the disciples were missing something, and immediately shares two things with them.  First, Jesus gives them purpose by declaring that the mission that God had given to him was now being passed on to them, and second, Jesus gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit that will empower them and give them the strength that they will need to do that work.

But not everyone was there.  Thomas was not among them when Jesus appeared and, as clearly as they tried to explain it to him, and regardless of the trust that they had built among one another over the last three years of their ministry together with Jesus, he remained skeptical.  And his skepticism remained until he met Jesus for himself and put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand where the spear had pierced him.  But Jesus knew that not everyone would be able to see him and touch him to cure them of their skepticism.  And of those people, to whom the disciples would be sent, Jesus declares a blessing for their ability to overcome doubt and skepticism and find faith.

John declares that his reason for writing this gospel was so that those people, people like us, could hear the story from the eyewitnesses who, saw it, felt it, and lived it, and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing might find life that was unafraid, bold, and courageous.  That transformed life, that started in fear of the church leaders, ended with disciples and followers of Jesus who were unafraid to preach the gospel and share the stories about the things that they had seen, heard, and lived.  And Luke describes how that transformation changed them, as individuals, and as a group, in Acts 4:32-35 saying…

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

One transformation that was caused by the three years of living beside Jesus, and of the resurrection, was that the disciples and followers of Jesus became a family that not only shared their life experiences together, but a family that shared their finances together.  They shifted from claiming that they individually owned their possessions, to recognizing that God owned everything and entrusted their possessions to them.  I don’t think that’s the same as declaring that all their possessions were owned collectively, because the owners of those lands and houses still oversaw and administered the wealth and the possessions that they had, but they now shared that wealth in a new, and deeply generous, way so that everyone in their community of faith was cared for and had the things that they needed.

In 1 John 1:1 – 2:2, a letter that was written to circulate among established churches and gathering places of believers, the apostle John wrote:

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make ourjoy complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from allsin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

John reminds the churches that from the beginning, the disciples, apostles, and followers of Jesus took up the mission of sharing what they knew.  They shared their experiences, what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they had lived, with the people, and the world around them.  They shared the story of Jesus Christ, they shared the story of the resurrection, and they shared the stories and lessons that Jesus had taught them.  John particularly notes that they do these things, not only as an act of obedience, but that by sharing their stories, and by sharing the story of Jesus, they receive joy.  It makes them happy to share with others the things that they had been given.

And just to be sure that no one was confused about what he was talking about, John drills down to the specifics, that the message we share is the message that we heard from Jesus, that God is light and cannot have any part with darkness.  That means that if we want to be a part of what God is doing, and be a part of God’s kingdom, and a part of God’s church, then we must do our best to walk in the light and live the way that Jesus taught us to live.

At the same time, John is clear that he was not perfect, that we are not perfect, and that the church itself is not perfect, that we sin, and that we fail to live up to the truths that we have learned.  But if we confess our sins, Jesus will forgive us and purify us.  It is John’s hope that the followers of Jesus will not sin, but if, and when, we do, we can find comfort in knowing that Jesus is our advocate.  He paid the price for our sins and stands beside the throne of God to speak for us in our times of need and to speak words of forgiveness when we fall short.

Just as the disciples were transformed by the events of the resurrection, when we put our faith in Jesus, our lives are similarly transformed.  Where we were afraid and tossed about by the events of the world around us, we become unafraid, bold, and courageous.  Our faith leads us to repentance, our repentance brings us forgiveness, and that forgiveness takes us to a place of hope, healing, recovery, joy, and peace.

Tolstoy may have been talking about something completely different, but the gospel story, and the story of Jesus’ resurrection assure us that there was truth in his words.

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.”

And, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we no longer fear death, or life, or principalities, or powers, or peer pressure, or anything else because we know that our trust and faith can only lead to joy… and peace.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/M8cRsBa8GVI

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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

Whiners Executed.

Whiners Executed

March 14, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

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

Use It, Or Else!

November 15, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Judges 4:1-7  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11       Matthew 25:14-30

Have you ever had trouble making up your mind about something?

It can happen easily as you consider whether you want a red or a blue lollipop, or where you should take your next vacation.  Those of us who are musicians had a moment when we had to choose which instrument we wanted to learn.  But some decisions get more difficult, and more expensive, as we get older.  Choosing between a minivan and a pickup truck has consequences and it’s usually too expensive to choose both or to change your mind once you’ve chosen.  Choosing a major in college can be hard but changing your mind after you’ve already invested several years of your life can be expensive.  If you move to a new town, finding a church that you like can be difficult, but changing churches after you’ve established yourself and made friends can be painful.  We’ve all been through it and, at one time or another, we’ve all wrestled with indecision.  But when we read the book of Judges, we discover that the entire book was written during a time when the entire nation of Israel was having trouble making up its mind about God.  For a while Israel would love God, but after a generation or two, they would forget God and drift away.  And then, as life often happens, things would get hard, and the people would pray for God to rescue them, again, and God would send a judge, or a prophet, people would return to their faith and follow God… for a while, and then the cycle would start over again.  That is exactly the story that we see in chapter after chapter of the book of Judges, and that is what we see as we read this passage from Judges 4:1-7 as Ehud, the previous leader of Israel, dies and the people, once again, drift away from God.

4:1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leadingIsrael at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

So, as we joined the story, Ehud, Israel’s previous rescuer, who had rescued them from the nation of Moab, had died and, as they had often done, Israel drifted away from God.  Once that happened, they were captured and oppressed by the Canaanites.  But after praying for twenty years, God raised up the prophet Deborah to lead the people and to rescue them from their oppressors.  God speaks to Deborah, and she creates a plan to trap Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite armies, and all his troops and chariots.  In this plan, Deborah will get Sisera to chase her up Mount Tabor and when they reach the top, Barak would be waiting, on the strategic high ground, with an army of men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and would destroy Sisera and all of his troops from that region.

But imagine what would have happened if Deborah had trouble deciding whether she trusted God.  Or what if Barak couldn’t decide whether he could trust Deborah?  Or what if no one answered Barak’s call to arms so that there was no army waiting at the top of Mount Tabor?  At each step, every person had to believe in the power of God, trust that the message that they received was true, and be willing to take action, and risk their lives, based on what they heard.

And that brings us to Jesus’ parable about the unfaithful servant in Matthew 25:14-30 where we hear this:

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So, you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The wealthy man could have easily entrusted his money to the bankers and received a modest profit when he returned.  But instead, each servant was given gold because their master trusted that they could manage his money better than the banker could.  While he did not believe that they had equal skills, he entrusted them with his money in proportion to the trust that he had in their abilities.  But the unfaithful servant was paralyzed by indecision.  He was unable to choose how he would invest the money, abandoned the mission, and failed in his duty.  Worse, as the master had pointed out, if the servant had so little confidence in their own abilities that they feared losing it, he could have, at the very least, invested the money with the bankers and received some small rate of interest on it until his master’s return.  But rather than use what had been entrusted to him, he buried it instead.

So, what should we be doing with our lives?  In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the Apostle Paul explains it to the church this way:

5:1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Paul says that, of course, we don’t know exactly the day and time that the world will end, but we know that when that day comes, it will be a surprise to everyone and Jesus will come unexpectedly “like a thief in the night.”  And, when that day comes, as there always is, there will be politicians spouting campaign promises about peace and safety, but our calling to always be ready and prepared for the end.  We are to be the people who wear our faith, hope, and love where is it visible to everyone around us as if we were wearing armor.  Paul reminds us that Jesus died for us so that we could live, together, with him and for that reason, we are to encourage one another, and build each other up.

And if we use this perspective to help us understand Jesus story of the unfaithful servant, we begin to see that his failure was not only due to his lack of faith in himself, and not only due to his lack of trust in his master, but also due to the failure of his friends to encourage him, help him, and to build him up spiritually and intellectually. 

We are our brother’s keeper.

Our calling, that that of Deborah, Barak and the people of Israel, is not only to have faith in God, and to trust in his instructions, but to build up the people around us, to call them to Jesus, and to call them to action, so that they are prepared, willing, and ready for action when God has need of us.

We are our brother’s keeper.

We cannot stand idly by and watch as fellow believers, and unbelievers, lose trust in God and fall away from him.  We cannot be happy with our success as we watch the failures of the people around us.

Like the servants of the rich man, God has given us gifts, each in proportion to our abilities, and regardless of how much, or how little, we have been given, God expects us to use those gifts for his benefit, and for the benefit of the people around us.  We must not be deceived into thinking that we only have a “personal faith” or a “personal relationship” with Jesus.  We are called to use our gifts, both as individuals, and as a community, to lift up the people around us, to encourage them, help them, and to build them up emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.

We must use the gifts that God has given to us or, like the unfaithful servant, God will take what we have and give it to someone else.  Instead, we must lift one another up and, work together to rescue the lost, heal the suffering and the hurting, bring hope to the hopeless, and to the build God’s kingdom until our master returns “like a thief in the night.”


 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ZLDcfVPWNp4

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

Just Do The Next Thing

Some years ago, when I was still working as an engineer, I used to listen to a Christian radio station in Cleveland, Ohio and would often hear a program hosted by Elizabeth Elliot. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that name, Elizabeth Elliot was the widow of a missionary, Jim Elliot, who was killed by Ecuadorian natives from the Huaorani tribe– also called the “Auca”, along with Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint in 1952. Their story spread around the world and was recorded by Elizabeth Elliot in a best selling book “Through Gates of Splendor” as well as subsequent movies and other books written by Elliot and others.

In any case, in a conversation with a caller on her radio show, Elizabeth Elliot noted that there were many times, particularly after she was widowed with small children, as well as other crises later in her life, that she would remember and recite to herself an old poem entitled, “Do The Next Thing.” On that show, on more than one occasion, I heard her recite it, at least in part, and remind her listeners that when life is hard, when we are struggling to understand how we can possibly move forward, her advice was simply to put one step in front of the other, and just “do the next thing.”

Although I didn’t need that particular wisdom on the day that I heard it, my brain filed it away somewhere. And, there have been several occasions since then that I found myself reciting parts of it to myself, looking up the entire poem online, or just reminding myself to just “do the next thing.”

It occurred to me today that some of you might not have heard it and during the turmoil caused by the Coronavirus, or for a host of other possible reasons, maybe you needed to hear it today. Here it is:

Do The Next Thing

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing
Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.
Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.
– Elizabeth Elliot

Hang in there friends.

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Television pastor and writer Rev. Robert Schuller used to say,

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do. ”

I said it before, but I’m going to say it again anyway…

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and just…

Do the next thing.

God Bless.

____________________________________________________

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Whining About Winning

 

 

Whining About Winning

September 20, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 16:2-15          Philippians 1:21-30               Matthew 20:1-16

 

Do you like horses?  Many of us do. 

John Wayne once said that the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse.

But even if we don’t keep horses, or ride horses, or even if we don’t like horses very much, we often talk about them because horses have been partners with humanity for so long that they have become ingrained in in our language.

Most of us are familiar with some older phrases in English that grew out of our pre-industrial history.  We say things like “biting the hand that feed you,” (which is pretty self-explanatory), or say that something, or someone is “long in the tooth.”   That phrase, “long in the tooth” became a part of our language because horses’ teeth continue to grow as long as they live, so older horses, naturally, have longer teeth.  And that brings us to the phrase “looking a gift-horse in the mouth.”  Because a horse’s teeth can tell you a lot about how old it is, and what kind of care it has been given, it was, and is, standard practice to look in a horse’s mouth before you bought one.  But if someone was giving you a horse as a gift, it was bad form, or even rude, to look in the mouth of a horse for which you paid nothing.  After all, why would you complain about something that you were getting for free?

But throughout scripture, and in our present generation, the people of God have a bad habit of doing exactly that.  Human beings seem to make a habit of complaining, and that complaining, grumbling, whining, often continues even when God answers our prayers, gives us everything that we wanted, and even pours out blessings for which we hadn’t even hoped.  We begin in Exodus 16:2-15 where we find the people of Israel who, after four hundred years of slavery and captivity in Egypt, had been were finally free, and who had witnesses God’s protection as he destroyed the Egyptian army that had been pursuing them.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning, you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning, there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

For four hundred and thirty years, the people of Israel pray that God would rescue them and, eventually, he does.  Then they pray that God would rescue them from the Egyptian army that is charging after them to kill them or return them to their slavery.  And they watch, as God parts the Red Sea, saves all of Israel, and destroys the chariots and horses that had been pursuing them.  And then… they complain and grumble that God doesn’t love them enough, that there isn’t enough food to eat, they maybe they ought to just return to Egypt on their own because at least when they were slaves, they had enough food.

Let me say that again.  They were rescued from slavery, given their freedom, watched as God destroyed the most powerful military machine on the planet, and then complained that God didn’t love them enough and maybe they should just give up and go back because slavery was better than freedom.  It sounds ridiculous, but this is not an exception.  Human beings do this sort of thing far more often than we care to admit.  In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells an entirely believable parable about a landowner who needed to hire workers to harvest the grapes in his vineyard.

20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denariusfor the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

So, let’s review.  There were a bunch of people who needed work and gathered in the town square to meet people who would hire them.  The landowner needed people to help with his harvest and offered them work.  He offered them the common wage for a day’s labor, in advance, and they accepted.  Several times, throughout the day, he hired more people and offered to pay them “whatever is right.”  And then, at the end of the day, he paid them the agreed upon wage, or more, and… they complained.  Because the landowner was generous, and paid everyone well, the people who had been hired first grumbled that they should have been paid more, even though they agreed that the wage he offered was fair before he hired them.

But what about us in the twenty-first century?  After two millennia of following Jesus and studying his teaching, do we have it all together or are we just as prone to whine and moan and look a gift-horse in the mouth?  In Philippians 1:21-30, Paul writes to one of the churches in Greece and says this:

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guardand to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former, preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Paul starts out his letter by making it clear that everyone knew that he was in prison because of Jesus.  But, because Paul was in prison, other followers of Jesus became fearless in proclaiming and sharing the gospel message.  Different groups had different reasons, but the response to Paul’s imprisonment by the community of faith was to preach louder and more often.  And so, even though Paul was suffering, he rejoiced because he knew that good things had resulted from his pain and discomfort.

Paul believes that eventually, he will be released from prison and continue preaching.  But he knows that if he dies, he looks forward to an eternity with Jesus.  And so he tells the church that no matter what happens, they should conduct themselves in a manner worthy of Jesus Christ, work together as one to promote the gospel message, and do so without fear by those who would oppose them.  For in the end, we have been given the gifts of both believing and of suffering.  Because, as Paul explained, our suffering in the name of Jesus, is still a part of God’s plan, and good can still grow out of it.

The people of Israel were whining about winning.  They got everything that they had wanted for more than four hundred years.  They were witnesses to God’s power in ways that no one had ever seen before.  And still they complained.

The people in Jesus’ parable were paid everything that they had agreed to, and more, and still they complained that they thought they deserved more.

But Paul rejoiced while he was suffering in prison and encouraged the church to do the same thing.

The difference was that Paul remembered to look at the big picture and remembered that God had a plan for the world. 

So, what will we do?

Do we look a gift-horse in the mouth?

Do we complain because we can’t see the plan? 

Do we think that we should be paid more?

Are we angry when God blesses someone else, or bitter that others are given more than we think is fair?

Do we think that the blessings that we have received aren’t enough?

Or do we remember to look for the big picture?  Do we remember the many blessings that we have already been given and the untold prayers that have already been answered? 

Rather than complain, in the middle of our pain and suffering, let us strive together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who might oppose us.  Let us remember that both our belief in Jesus, and our suffering in his name are blessings from God.  May we be like Paul, so that our time of trial and hardship, through the blessing of Jesus Christ, can become our greatest time of victory and growth.

 

 


 

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

Finding Meaning in Disaster

Finding Meaning in Disaster

August 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 45:1-15         Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                     Matthew 15:21-28

Can any good come from the chaos and loss of life caused by the Coronavirus?  Yes.

But, how does a disaster that destroys lives, end up saving lives?

Before we think about today, let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the HMS Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912, 1500 lives were lost and newspapers around the world carried stories about it under gigantic, bold print headlines that filled most of the space above the fold of the paper.  It was a terrible tragedy and one of the greatest maritime disasters in all of history.  But as bad as it was, that disaster has saved the lives of a great number of people in the hundred years since it happened. 

So, how does a disaster save lives?

In the case of the Titanic, the news was so big, and so bold, that many things changed quickly and many more over a longer period.  First, while radio was only an experiment at the time of the Titanic sinking, and only a few ships were equipped with them.  And, while the USS Californian, which was the closest ship to the Titanic at only 20 miles away, had one of the new wireless transmitters, they only had one radio operator who had gone off-duty and to bed before the Titanic sank. 

Because of the sinking of the Titanic, radio use was regulated so that all ships would have radios and that they would have trained operators around the clock.  Further, the radio act of 1912 required that any ships receiving, or observing, a distress call, immediate attempt to render aid.  The Titanic sinking also led to requirements that life jackets be available for every passenger, that every passenger receive training in what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency, that crews be trained in the use of emergency lifeboats, and that each ship should carry enough lifeboats to carry every passenger and crew.  And those were just the things that happened quickly.  Over the long-term, the designs ships everywhere were changed to make them safer, particularly considering the things that failed to save the Titanic.

And with the story of the Titanic in our minds, rewind history even farther to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament that we find in Genesis 45:1-15.  Although the entire story of Joseph is an incredible tale, and although I am enormously frustrated that our lectionary has skipped from the beginning of the story that we read last week to the very end of the story this week, there is still much to be learned.  To catch us up, after Joseph was sold to Midianite merchants by his brothers, he was taken to Egypt, sold as a slave, falsely accused, imprisoned by that false accusation, and then rose a position second only to the Pharaoh of Egypt when God allowed him to interpret the nightmares that had been sent by God to plague the sleep of the Pharaoh for nights on end.  That dream told of a coming famine that would devastate the land, and Joseph’s interpretation, and his administration, allowed Egypt to store enough food to survive.  And then, during the famine, Joseph own brothers, the same ones who had sold him into slavery, travelled to Egypt to beg for food.  But when they stood in front of the administrator to beg for food, they unknowingly stood in front of their brother Joseph who had been so changed by the passage of time and the culture of Egypt, that none of them recognized him.  And then, after torturing them enough to make them bring his brother Benjamin on a second visit, Joseph reveals himself to them.

45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So, there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks, and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Considering our present situation, I want to point out that despite the betrayal of his brothers and many years of slavery, abuse, and imprisonment, Joseph doesn’t hold a grudge.  His brothers are understandably terrified that, because Joseph is now the second most powerful person in Egypt, that he will take his revenge upon them.  But he doesn’t.  But despite the terrible things that happened to him, Joseph learned from his experiences.  Second, Joseph’s closeness with God was the one thing that made it possible for him to see what the Egyptians could not.  It was Joseph’s relationship with God that allowed him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and that, in turn, led to Joseph’s appointment as the overseer of all Egypt, their food production, storage, preparations for, and management of the nation to navigate through seven years of prosperity and seven years of famine.

In an entirely different story found in Matthew 15:21-28, we see a similar vision of the world as Jesus meets a Canaanite woman with a terrible problem.

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So, his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes, it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This story is unusual because while we often think of Jesus, as we saw in the feeding of the five thousand (or fifteen thousand),  as being always being ready and willing to help people, in this story, Jesus tries really hard, three times, to make this woman go away.  At first, Jesus completely ignores her, but the disciples urge him to send her away because she is being a nuisance.  And so, with their encouragement, Jesus tells the woman that he was sent to care for the Jews who had been lost to God and that taking care of foreigners was not his job.  But even that did not dissuade her, and so Jesus tells her, quite clearly, that she is not his priority because it wouldn’t be right to take something away from God’s people and throw it to the dogs. 

But this is where the woman demonstrates that she sees the world differently than most other people.  Rather than thinking of God, and God’s power, as a finite and limited resource, the Canaanite woman sees God as infinite and that the healing for which she asks is of no more value to God than the crumbs that fall from a rich man’s table.  And it is this understanding, and this faith in God, that leads Jesus to heal give the Canaanite woman what she wanted, and he heals her daughter, from a distance, without ever meeting her.

Both Joseph and the Canaanite woman were blessed by God because they saw the world through a lens of faith in the power of God.  It was the Canaanite woman’s vision and faith that allowed her to see God’s power, and see Jesus, in a different way and that vision, and that faith, was rewarded.  It was Joseph’s vision and faith that allowed him to see what the Egyptians and all their wise men could not.  And it was that vision and faith elevated him to one of the most powerful positions in the ancient world, allowed him to guide Egypt, one of the world’s greatest super powers, through a time of great crisis and, at the same time, rescue family, and God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob, and lay the groundwork for the protection of the future nation of Israel until it had grown enough, eight hundred years later, to survive on its own.

Watching her daughter suffer from an incurable demon possession year in, and year out, must have been incredibly difficult for the Canaanite woman.  Obviously, being betrayed by his own brothers, and enduring years of imprisonment and slavery had to be agonizing.  But it was their vision and faith in God, through those difficult circumstances, that allowed them to receive the blessings of God and overcome those circumstances.

And that brings us to our present, twenty-first century crisis during this global Coronavirus pandemic.  As we are enduring these difficult circumstances, these stories from scripture call us to examine ourselves.  We should be asking ourselves, at least these two questions: 1) Do we have the kind of vision and faith in God that Joseph and the Canaanite woman had?  And, 2) What is God what is God showing us in our present circumstances, what is God calling us to see in the world around us, that the world is missing?  How should we see the world, our community, our neighbors, our friends, and the people around us, that we can only see through the lens of faith in the power of God?

Let us pray that we will see the vision that God is revealing before it is too late.

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here:https://youtu.be/vJmCWUfz4TQ

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

Escape from “Try-Fail-Repeat”

Escape From “Try-Fail-Repeat”

July 05, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese proverb

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67   

Romans 7:15-25a                  

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

If you do a search online for quotes about falling down, or about failure, you will be bombarded with results and it isn’t difficult to understand why.  Failure is as common to the human condition as breathing.  We learn to stand, and to walk, by falling down and pushing ourselves back up again.

And often repeated, and likely ancient, Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

But sometimes simply trying again isn’t enough.  As much as we might want to win an Olympic gold medal, most of us will never win one.  For couples struggling with infertility, simply trying again may never be enough.  And those of us in the church, who have spent years, even decades, trying to follow the teaching and the example of Jesus Christ have sometimes despaired over our repeated inability to get it right.

So, what should we do?

Are we doomed to continually repeat our mistakes?

Will we ever be good enough?

Is there any hope for us?

Of course, there is.  But first, let’s begin by remembering the story of how Abraham sent one of his servants on a quest to find a wife for his son Isaac.  Knowing that the Canaanite people, among whom he lived, worshipped different gods than he did, and had different values than he did, Abraham sent his servant back to Ur, among the Chaldean people, to Abraham’s own extended family to search for a wife for his son.  And when the servant arrived there, he described his mission this way in Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

 42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’

46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So, I drank, and she watered the camels also.

47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’

“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’

 And when her family had heard the story 58 …they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

Why is that important?  Simply because the odds against success of Abraham’s servant were astronomical.  Without GPS, or maps, or telephones, or mail, or photographs, or even a good sketch, the difficulty of even finding Abraham’s family was overwhelming and the chance that a woman there would be suitable, and available, and that both she, and her family, would be agreeable for her to leave them forever and marry a man she had never met, in a country none of them had ever been to, was almost completely impossible.

Failure was almost inevitable.

But Abraham trusted God.

And Abraham’s faith was so obvious, and evident in his daily life, that his servant understood the power of Abraham’s God and the power of an earnest prayer to that same God.  And so, Abraham’s servant prayed… with an almost impossible set of conditions… and God answered.

And, at the end of the day, the family asked Rebekah if she trusted that the servant really was who he said that he was.  Did she trust that her grandfather’s brother really did have a son that was her age?  Did she trust that Isaac was a man to whom she could tolerate being married?  All those things are built into the question when her family asks her, “Will you go with this man?”

And Rebekah trusts God, and says, “I will go.”

The odds of failure were astronomical.

But God.

When the God that created the universe by speaking it into existence is a part of the equation, the odds don’t matter.

And then, with the coming of Jesus, the world begins to understand better how God chooses to use his power and how much God cares for the people of his creation.  In Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus says:

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus says that the people of his generation acted like the children who played in the marketplaces.  The children weren’t happy because the adults wouldn’t play their games or sing their songs, and the adults weren’t happy because John the Baptist and Jesus wouldn’t play by the rules of their games either.  Much like we often see in our culture today, their critics wanted things both ways and spoke ill of them no matter what they did.  John didn’t drink or socialize, and they said he was a demon.  Jesus drank and socialized, and they said he was a drunkard and a friend of the wrong kind of people.   But Jesus ignores the criticism and invites the world to find comfort and rest by following him. 

Are you tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations?  Are you tired of all the arguing?  Are you tired of the Coronavirus?  Are you tired of politics?  Are you tired of the burdens and expectations that government and culture pile on you?  Are just tired of being tired?

There is a different way.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.”  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

But how does that work when I seem to keep repeating the same mistakes?

How does that work when I can’t ever seem to be good enough?

Friends, you are not alone.  This is not a new a new question.  In Romans 7:15-25a, the Apostle Paul admitted to wrestling with the same frustrations, inadequacies, and failures and he explains it this way:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul says that as hard as he intends to do good, and as hard as he tries to do good, he cannot manage to do the good things that he wants to do.  And, at the same time, as hard as her intends not to do evil, and has hard as he tries not to sin, he cannot manage to stop sinning.  Paul’s understanding is that human beings are not inherently good, that good does not live, at least exclusively, within us because we are consumed by our sinful nature.  As much as we want to do good, as hard as we try to do good, our lives become an inescapable, rotating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.  Paul says that the rules and laws that we know in our mind are at war with the sin that is at work within us.

But as disastrous as this might sound, this is exactly where the story turns around.

There is rescue.

There is an escape.

Our rescue from the repeating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat is found in Jesus Christ who rescues us from ourselves and the sinful nature that lives within us.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from trying to live up to everyone’s expectations.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from all the arguing.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the fear of the Coronavirus.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the drone of politics.

And it is Jesus who can rescue us from the burdens and expectations that government and culture piles on you.

Are just tired of being tired?

Abraham trusted God and sent his servant on an impossible mission.

Abraham’s servant trusted that God could lead him to the woman that God had chosen.

Rebekah trusted that God had brought Abraham’s servant to her and said, “I will go.”

Jesus asks us to do the same.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.” 

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It’s time to get off the carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.

Come to Jesus.  Trust him.  And discover how good it feels to finally…

               …rest.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


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

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

 

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