The Birth of Hope

The Birth of Hope

April 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:19-38                        Acts 2:14a, 22-32                   1 Peter 1:3-9

 

 

Some of us have known, or might still have, family members who lived through the Great Depression, followed by World War Two.  Eighty years later, we can still see how that experience changed their lives, and their lifestyle forever.  People who watched banks collapse never completely trusted banks again.   People who lived through hard and uncertain times learned to save for a rainy day because they knew, from experience, that sometimes life rains on our parade.   People who found their way through a life filled with ration cards and nationwide shortages of practically everything, learned how to keep a garden, can and preserve their own food, and keep reasonable amounts of many staples, canned goods, and other things in stock, “just in case.”  The experiences that they had living through the Great Depression and World War Two changed them forever and shaped their lives because of the hard lessons that they taught.  And those of us who were their children, grandchildren, or even friends, only had to listen and pay attention to see the deep and enduring impact those experiences had on them.

 

It isn’t surprising then, that the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection would also have a similarly transformational and enduring impact on the lives of the people who lived through them.  And scripture tells us that is exactly what happened.  We begin in John 20:19-31, where we rejoin the disciples, after the resurrection of Jesus, but still so frightened of the religious leaders and government authorities that they only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.

 

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.

 

 

At the beginning, the disciples are afraid.  So afraid, that when they even dare to meet, they will only meet in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked so that no one will see or hear them and know that they are there. 

 

But Jesus.

 

At this point, they already know that Jesus has risen from the dead, but they are still afraid.  And Jesus shows up again, this time there are no missing disciples.  Peter and John are there, and so is Thomas.  And this passage concludes by saying that Jesus performed many other signs so that they, would believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that by believing we could have life in his name.

 

Why is this important? 

 

Because it is after this, and after the events of Pentecost, that the events witnessed by the disciples and the other followers of Jesus, begin to completely transform their behavior.  Nowhere is that change clearer than when we see Peter speaking in Acts 2:14a, 22-32, where this happens:

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:

 

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

 

Peter was the one who was so afraid of the Pharisees and the leaders of the Temple that, three times, he denied that he even knew Jesus.  Peter was the one who was so disheartened and emotionally wounded from his denial, and from witnessing Jesus’s crucifixion, that he went home to Galilee and back to his fishing boat.  Peter, even when he was personally summoned back to Jerusalem at the request of the resurrected Jesus is, with the other disciples, still so afraid of being arrested that they will only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.

 

But that isn’t the person that we see in Acts.  The difference in Peter, and in the other disciples, is nothing short of a total transformation.  It is as if this is a totally different person.  Suddenly, Peter not only stands up and preaches, but he openly confronts the very same people of whom he was so very recently afraid.  Peter not only stands up in public and preaches in front of them, he openly confronts them, and reminds them that they were the ones who killed Jesus, and in his summation says that it is because of what he has seen, and because of what he has heard, and because of the experiences that they have had, that they now understand what must be done.  Like those who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two, the experiences, and the trauma, of the disciples and the first followers of Jesus have transformed their lives.  They are changed forever and will never be the same as they once were.

 

But so, what?

 

What does that mean to us in the twenty-first century, particularly as we endure the changes, and the strangeness, of our collective fight against the Corona virus?

 

For that, let us listen to what Peter thought in 1 Peter 1:3-9 where he says,

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

Peter says that in his mercy, through the experience, and through the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God has given us all a new birth into a new life filled with hope.  And not only hope, but a living hope into an inheritance in heaven that can never be taken away from us.  Although, Peter admits, that in this life we may have to suffer grief from all kinds of trials, including disease and pandemics, through it all we can still rejoice greatly.  It is through our trials that our faith is revealed, proven, and refined as if by fire and it is through those same trials that may result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ is finally revealed at the end of days.  It is because of the experiences, stories, and trials of Peter and the other disciples that we too have seen Jesus, why we too have come to love him and believe in him as they did, and why we are also filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

 

And, from that, I want to draw a conclusion specifically for us as we endure the unusual circumstances of this present pandemic.  Certainly, from everything we know about the Great Depression, and World War Two, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and the story of Easter, we all know that our experiences, especially the experiences of trauma, change us.  Regardless of what we endure, or the illnesses that we suffer, or the friends or family members that are lost, those trials, those experiences, will change us.  These experiences will change us all, whether we go to church, or whether we have faith, or not.  And, if we are paying attention, we will notice that these experiences are already changing us.  Whether this ends in six months, or eighteen months, or in thirty-six months, we will not come away from this the same as we were at the beginning. 

 

We will be changed.

 

But we do have faith.  We have already heard the stories, and we have experienced the difference that faith in Jesus Christ has made in our lives.  We are already a people who are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because we have been given new birth into a new life filled with hope.

 

May these trials prove the genuineness of our faith.  May we be so determined, so hopeful, and so anchored by our faith, that the change that God brings to us through this pandemic is not a change wrought by fear, but a change that only amplifies our courage, our hope, and our joy.  Let us pray that we may we emerge from this experience, and from whatever trauma we are called to endure, like Peter and the other disciples.  Let us pray that we emerge as a people who are more courageous, more fearless, more faithful, and more loving than ever before.

 

May we emerge from this pandemic so much like Jesus that the world cannot help but to stand up and take notice.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Kb9-bPHeny0


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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.

Servant Leaders, Servant Followers

Servant Leaders, Servant Followers

April 09, 2020*

(Maundy Thursday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

 

Why is the Last Supper important?

 

Clearly, whenever we read the story of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, we remember that this is the moment when Jesus institutes the command to share our eucharistic meal, or the Lord’s Table, or the communion meal together at a gathered body of believers to celebrate our new covenant through Jesus Christ.  And, in this setting, our communion feast is connected to Moses and the people of Israel, the first covenant, and the celebration of the Passover. 

 

But there’s more than that.

 

The story of the Upper Room is about communion, but it’s also about us, and about our calling, our role as believers and as followers of Jesus Christ.  Why?  Well, let’s read the story in John 13:1-17, 31b-35 and see for ourselves.

 

13:1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

 

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As Jesus addresses the disciples, he knows that he is speaking to the people who will become the leaders of the church, but he is also speaking to us.  Many people want to advance their careers, and to climb the corporate ladder, and to accumulate more power and authority in whatever job they do.  But Jesus says that for us, for the people who follow him and use his name to describe ourselves, we are called to have an entirely different frame of reference.  We are called to remember that God’s own Son, the savior and rescuer of all humanity, found it important, even critical, to take upon himself the role and responsibility of the lowest servant.  Foot washing just wasn’t done by important people.  It wasn’t even done by important slaves if it could be avoided.  It was done by the lowest ranking.  It was the lowest servant, or the least important, or at least the humblest, family member.  But Jesus reframes it and explains that anyone that wants to be important, must be willing to serve the humblest, most demeaning, needs of everyone else. 

 

Leaders must be willing to care for their followers.  And, at least for us, the concept of “servant leaders” or “servant leadership” comes from this story. 

 

But this isn’t just about leaders.

 

Jesus speaks to all of us when he says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

 

Jesus says that this demonstration was an example that was intended for all of us.  Every follower of Jesus is called to be a servant of others because Jesus was a servant of others.

 

And so, as we move ever closer to Easter, as we continue our social distancing, as we wrestle with what it means to be a virtual church, and to have virtual worship, we are also called to ask ourselves the question that Jesus has been asking for two millennia…

 

“How are we serving others?”

 

“How am I serving others?”

 

Following Jesus isn’t just an act of faith.  It isn’t just an act of church attendance.  It isn’t just participating in communion.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to live lives of service to others.

 

To be the servants of others.

 

Because we remember that Jesus said…

 

… “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

 

 

 

 


You can find the video of this message here: https://youtu.be/TeEQy2-Wnxc


Did you enjoy reading this?

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

The Dead Live

The Dead Live

March 29, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14                     

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We feel as if a part of us has died.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…hold on to hope.

 

 

Have a great week everybody!

Today’s Responsive Reading (from Psalm 130)

 

Leader:

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

 

People:

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

 

Leader:

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

People:

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

 

Leader:

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

People:

He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

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


Did you enjoy reading this?

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

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

It’s More Than Selfish

Note: The video of this commentary can be found at: https://youtu.be/R7cfHs15CNQ


 

It’s More than Selfish

 

For the last few days, we have all been watching people go crazy.  While society hasn’t broken down, it has certainly proven to itself that Agent ‘K’ in the “Men in Black” movie was absolutely correct when he said:

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”

And, when people are scared, they are the most panicky, dangerous animals in the planet.  It seems obvious to everyone, whether you are a Christian or not, that there is something horribly wrong with what is going on around us.  But for those of us who have spent some time in church, or in reading scripture, we have a pretty simple name for it. 

Sin.

In Matthew 22:36-40 some Pharisees asked Jesus which commandment he thought was the most important.  To which, Jesus replied that there were only two important ones.

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

The second, of the two great commandments, is for us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, and this is, fundamentally, a condemnation of selfishness.  It’s okay for us to take care of ourselves, and it’s okay for us to be concerned for our own welfare, but it’s not okay for us to be so selfish that we no longer care about the needs of our neighbors, and indeed take so much for ourselves, that there our neighbors cannot meet their most basic needs.

There’s no way that any one family, let alone any one person, really needed to go out and buy a hundred rolls of toilet paper or several gallons of hand sanitizer.  I’ve seen a large bottle of hand sanitizer, out in a public place at church, last through three or four entire flu seasons for our entire congregation.  I’m sure that there is no good reason that anyone really needed to buy an entire case of them for themselves.

If you’ve been shopping this week, or if you’ve seen the photographs of your friends who have, you probably noticed that the shelves are empty of almost anything remotely edible.  Sure, we’re going to need food to eat, but you know what?  Since those stores normally provide the food that most of us need week in, and week out, year in, and year out, it seems obvious that people are not only stocking up, but that, in their fear and panic, they have almost certainly bought more than they can possibly use and my bet is that, while some of our neighbors are going hungry, much of that food is going to spoil and go to waste.

And that bothers me.

Folks, I’m not going to mince words here.  This kind of behavior is not only selfish, and not only tragic.

It’s sin.

 

 

 


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Not Enough by Half

Not Enough by Half

March 08, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 12:1-4a                     John 3:1-17                Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

How many of you have ever supervised children who have been instructed to clean their room?

Usually, the way that this worked in our house, was that our children, particularly Noah and Jonah, would be told to go and clean their room.  After some time had passed Patti or I would check on their progress and, most likely, there would be none.  So, the next step was to repeat the instructions, sometimes with more specifics, and we would sit in their room and supervise for a short period to ensure that they were complying with our instructions. Later, we would once again check on their progress and… there probably wouldn’t be any.  At some point, I would occasionally stop and ask them if they understood my instructions, and even asked them to repeat my instructions back to me.  There was no misunderstanding.  They could repeat my instructions almost word for word.  They just never connected their knowledge to their actions.  Or, put a different way, they couldn’t make the connection between what they knew and what they believed.  They knew that their parents wanted their room to be clean, and they knew how to do that, but they didn’t believe for themselves that it was an important thing to do.  That shortcoming, that limitation, often kept our boys from receiving a special treat that we had in the kitchen or some other reward that we had intended to give them for their success.

And this limitation that most of us have witnessed in our children, and in ourselves, illustrates a spiritual shortcoming that we witness in scripture.  We begin in the book of Genesis where we find God giving instructions, and a promise, to Abram. (Genesis 12:1-4a)

12:1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.

 

God begins his instruction with a command to “Go,” but continues by demanding that Abram trust him regarding his destination.  Abram knows nothing about where he is going except that God promises to show him the way.  In return for his trust, God also promises to bless him and turn his family into a great nation. 

 

And Abram trusted God, and he went.

 

Abram heard God, Abram knew what God said, he believed and trusted that God would do as he promised, and he obeyed God and put his faith and trust into action.  That is the process, and the model, that we are to follow.   But, like Noah and Jonah, some people get stuck in the middle of this process as we see with some of the Pharisees in John 3:1-17.

 

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 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.

 

Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, comes to Jesus, probably as a representative of several others in that group, though probably not all of them.  And he says that they know that Jesus has been sent by God because only God could give someone the power to do the things that Jesus has been doing.  But, despite knowing that Jesus has been sent by God, Jesus knows that they do not believe the things that he has been teaching.  This is their disconnection.  They know, but they do not believe.  Information has penetrated their head, but not their heart; and Jesus is clear that knowing is not enough.  Jesus came to open the door to heaven, but in order to receive eternal life, we must not only know, we must believe.

 

From Nicodemus’ visit, we understand that some of the Pharisees were struggling with the things they knew to be true.  They knew that Jesus came from God because the evidence was overwhelming.  But even when they were equipped with this knowledge, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe everything that Jesus was teaching because believing Jesus meant that they had to let go of something else and begin to act differently.  Moving from knowing to believing, required that they change the way that they lived their lives and they weren’t willing to let go and make that change.

 

To be fair, the Pharisees weren’t the only ones that struggled with what Jesus was teaching.  Many Jews believed that they were saved by the law of Moses, and that all they needed to do was to obey the law in order to be “good enough” for God.  The Pharisees took this view to extremes, but many others held this same view to a lesser extent.  And so, when Paul wrote to the church in Rome, many of whom were Jews, he tried to explain why simply obeying the law was not enough. 

(Romans 4:1-5, 13-17)

 

4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

 

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

 

Paul wants us to understand that it wasn’t the law of Moses that makes us “good enough” to be justified before God.  Since the law of Moses was written a thousand years after the death of Abraham, it seems obvious that the law couldn’t have anything at all to do with Abraham’s justification or righteousness.  Instead, Paul says, Abraham’s righteousness was a gift that was credited to him, by God, because he believed in God and put his whole faith and trust in God.  The promise of God that was given to Abraham, came to him through God’s grace because of his faith and it was faith that made the difference.

 

Many Jews believed that they would inherit the gifts of God because of their DNA or because of their obedience to the law, as we saw in the lives of the Pharisees.  But Paul, who was once a Pharisee himself, specifically argues against that mistaken idea.  Paul says that it is not the law, or obedience to the law that brings the inheritance that was promised to Abraham.  If grace came from the law, then grace would be earned like wages are earned.  But we can’t earn our salvation.  Instead, the inheritance of God, his gifts, rescue, forgiveness, and eternal life, are a gift of God’s grace that is unmerited, unearned, and comes to us only by putting our faith and trust in God as Abraham did.

 

Our children knew that we wanted their room to be clean, and they knew how to do that, but they didn’t believe for themselves that it was an important thing to do.  The Pharisees knew that Jesus came from God but even when they were equipped with this knowledge, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe what Jesus was teaching because believing Jesus meant that they had to let go of something else and begin to act differently.

 

Human beings haven’t changed in two thousand years. Many of us still have the same problem that the Pharisees had in John’s story of Jesus.  We’ve heard the story.  We know the story.  We can repeat the story.  Some of us have even accepted that the evidence for the truth of the story is both compelling and overwhelming.  But that’s not enough by half.  We’re holding so tightly to the things that we find comfortable, that we just can’t seem to let go of our old things and grab hold of Jesus.

 

Knowing the story is not enough.  If we want to grab hold the grace and forgiveness that is offered to us by God, then we must do as Abram did.  We have to be “all in.”  We must put our trust and faith in Jesus, go where he tells us to go, and do the things that he tells us to do.

 

Jonah and Noah’s stubbornness cost them the occasional bowl of ice cream, but our failure to trust Jesus will be far more expensive.

 

The message of Abram, Moses, Paul, and Jesus is that we must let go of our old life. 

 

Put our whole trust in Jesus. 

 

And finally, begin to really live.

 

Are you ready?

 

 

 

 

 


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

What’s in Your Wallet?

What’s in Your Wallet?
February 26, 2020*

(Ash Wednesday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

They seem to be everywhere.

 

It seems like you can’t turn on the television, regardless of which network you watch, without seeing one of those commercials from the Capital One credit card people.  Sometimes the spokesperson is Samuel L. Jackson and sometimes it’s Jennifer Garner (who always makes me think of her father in Maverick or The Rockford Files), but no matter who stars in them, they all end with the tag line, “What’s in your wallet?”

 

But, even though the message of Capital One has nothing at all to do with the church, as I read the scriptures for Ash Wednesday, I was reminded of their commercials because, in a lot of ways, that is exactly the question that Jesus, and the Apostle Paul are asking us.

 

We begin as Jesus challenges his followers to do good, not just for the sake of doing good, but to do good for the right reasons in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

 

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

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

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

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

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

At its core, what Jesus is asking us is, “What’s in your wallet?”

Why are you doing the things that you do?  Are you doing good deeds so that your coworkers, your customers, your employers, or the people in town can see you doing good deeds?  Is your motivation for doing good deeds so that you can be well liked, recognized, or honored by someone else?  Do you give gifts to the church and to other charitable organizations for those same reasons?  Are you in church on Sunday morning because being seen in church is good for your image, or for your business, or for some other thing that primarily benefits you and your financial bottom line? 

Jesus knew that the people who were listening to him did all those things and just because our lives are separated from theirs by two thousand years, the motivations of people today aren’t that different.  But Jesus warns against doing those things or allowing your faith to be motivated in those ways.  Instead, we ought to be willing to do good, or to be obedient, or willing to things for the good of God’s kingdom, in total secrecy.  I don’t think that it’s necessary, or even always possible, to do things in secret all the time, but our willingness to do things in secret is a good measurement of whether we are doing them for the right reasons. 

Sure, it’s nice to get be recognized, or even to get your picture in the paper for giving a big gift, but would you have given the gift if you knew that those things wouldn’t happen?  Would you have your feelings hurt if no one recognized you for your gift, or for your hard work?  Our willingness to do things in secret is a gut check to recognize our real motivations.  Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Asking ourselves if we’re willing to do good for God without recognition, is a check to see what’s really in our wallets… and in our hearts.

And just to be certain that God’s real interest is in the condition of our hearts and is not just talking about money, we also should remember the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 where he says:

5:20 We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

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

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

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

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

Paul’s first imperative is to beg the people of the church to be reconciled to, or to make things right with, God because Jesus, who was without sin, took our sin upon himself so that we could become the righteousness of God.  Paul also encourages them not to wait, but that now is the day of salvation.  And while we are encouraged to get our own lives in order, we are also called to be careful in the way that we live so that we don’t cause others to stumble or hinder anyone else from finding faith and rescue in Jesus.  Instead, because we are servants of God, we commend ourselves…

…wait, I want to explain what that means. 

To “commend ourselves” is not to pat ourselves on the back, and not to praise ourselves, which is the first dictionary definition, but the second dictionary definition means to present ourselves “as suitable for approval or acceptance.”  That means that, rather than saying that this list is why we are great, we are saying that this is a list of the things that have happened to us, and we are willing to offer them as illustrations of how we have lived our lives as an example to others.  Paul then lists many of the terrible things that have happened to him in his ministry in hopes that, after seeing his example, others would recognize, honor, appreciate, and accept his ministry as genuine.

In other words, Paul lived, so that his entire life was an example of God’s grace, power, and ministry.  And if I were to put that another way, I could say that Paul lived so no one ever had to ask what was in his wallet.  You could always see for yourself just by looking at how he lived his life.

Which brings us back to the same question we asked before: Why are you doing the things that you do?

Lent is a time for us to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror and check our motivations.

Are your motivations for doing the things you do selfish?  Or righteous? 

Are you doing good because it’s good for you?  Or because it’s good for God?

What’s in your wallet?

 

 

 

 


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

Eulogy and Obituary for Diane L. Thomas

Eulogy for Diane L. Thomas

February 13, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

 

 

This may seem like an odd place to start, but one of the strangest, and funniest, scenes in the animated movie “The Incredibles” is when Lucius Best, also known as the hero Frozone, is desperately trying to go out in the street to fight the bad guy, and is having an argument with his wife over where she put his super suit.  Why does this matter at a funeral?  Because in that scene that only lasts a few seconds, we see that in the home of a genuine hero, the amazing abilities and even the heroism of Frozone is completely ignored because they have become entirely ordinary to the people that live with him every day.

 

In the years since I became a pastor, I have seen almost that exact same thing happen in the families of people who, although they didn’t have super-human powers, nearly lost sight of the heroes with whom they lived because of the ordinariness of everyday life.  And, as met with Diane’s family, and as I looked over the notes that I took while they shared her story, that is what I what I saw.

 

Diane was born on May 22nd, 1963, went to Alliance High School, and then to Mount Union.  She was in her mid-20’s when she met Brad at a campground where Brad was visiting friends and Diane had arrived with a mutual friend.  After their meeting, they dated for about a year before getting married in the chapel at Christ Church.  I want you to understand that our chapel is not very big.  It only seats about 30 people if you squeeze.  So small was their wedding, that other than the pastor and a few members of their immediate family, the only people in attendance were the kids who came from the daycare center downstairs.

 

For Diane and Brad, church wasn’t just the place that they had a wedding, it was more of a way of life.  Diane loved to sing, and she sang in the choir, played in the bell choir, and became the church’s financial secretary while Brad became the church’s custodian and jack-of-all-trades.  Diane was known by her coworkers to be one of the most organized people at church and she was always on top of anything with which she was involved.  Brad said that the most amazing thing about Diane was that she was able to put up with him.

 

Diane’s favorite color was purple, she was easygoing and hardly ever picky, she loved chocolate silk pie, she loved the holidays, loved watching movies, and she loved animals, especially her dog, Grace.  Diane and Grace were practically inseparable and although she isn’t human, just the same, Grace is struggling with Diane’s loss as much, or more, than many of you.

 

Diane and her family did just about everything together, from trips to Mexico, Niagara Falls, Myrtle Beach, and a bunch of other places with the word “beach” in them, motorcycling, walking, and lots of restaurants.  And Rachel emphasized that everything they did together was always fun.  While the kids were growing up, Diane was regularly reading to them.  She loved books.  She was not just an avid reader, she read constantly.  In this last year alone, Diane read more than one hundred books.

 

I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to all the children yesterday, but I’m going to guess that the experiences of Heather and Scott weren’t a lot different from the things that Rachel told me.  Rachel talked to her mom while she drove home from work every day, and she said that her mom helped her grow up, was always there for her, helped her with everything, and was absolutely her best friend.

 

But the hardest, and the most inspiring, part of Diane’s story started 12 years ago when she first discovered that she had breast cancer.  She fought it, and she won.  But on her ten-year checkup, they discovered that this beast from her past had returned.  And she fought it again.  She fought hard and she fought bravely, and she battled with the beast for three more years.  And in all that time, Diane never complained.  Brad said that Diane always handled her fight, and her situation, better than he did.  And, in the same way that she had always done everything, no matter what happened, Diane always had a positive attitude.

 

So, while those who were closest to her might be tempted to say that Diane Thomas lived an ordinary life, what are the things that she will be remembered for?  Certainly, she was loving.  There were never any doubts about her love for Brad, or for her kids.  She loved her kids partners as if they were her own.  This past Christmas, the family gathered at Rachel’s house and although they didn’t realize it, all her siblings had the chance to be together one last time.  No one will forget Diane’s love for them.

 

But Diane will be remembered for more than love.  If we think back through the stories that I just shared with you we saw fun, faith, faithfulness, dedication, tolerance, an infectious and consistently positive attitude, and an incredible abundance of courage.

 

A little while ago, I said people lose sight of the heroes with whom they live because of the ordinariness of everyday life and I think that’s what’s happened here.  Although in the middle of the everyday, day-in and day-out struggle, it might have seemed ordinary, upon reflection we realize that Diane spent years of her life fighting one of humanity’s greatest super villains.

 

Although they may not wear capes, we are surrounded by heroes

 

And clearly, Diane Thomas was one of them.

 

Obituary for Diane L. Thomas

 

Diane ThomasDiane L. Thomas, age 56, of Salem, passed away at 4:33 p.m. Saturday, February 8, 2020 at Salem Regional Hospital.  She was born May 22, 1963 in Alliance, Ohio to Hugh E. and Helen Marie (Taylor) Kiel.

A graduate of Alliance High School, Diane also graduated from Mount Union College.

She had been Financial Secretary at Christ United Methodist Church and Assistant Director of Public Affairs at Mount Union College, before retiring as Digital Content Specialist for Coastal Pet.

A member of Christ United Methodist Church, Diane was an avid reader; she loved animals, and spending time with her family and friends.

Survivors include husband, Bradley D. Thomas, whom she married January, 22, 1990; children, Heather Thomas, Scott Thomas, and Rachel Thomas; siblings,  Walter Kiel of Gratis, OH, Marilyn (Will) Omodt of Kingsport, TN, Phillip (Juanita) Kiel of Smithsburg, MD, Paul (Debbie) Kiel of N. Canton, OH; and many nieces and nephews.

Diane was preceded in death by her parents.

Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home. Friends may call from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday.

Interment will be at Alliance City Cemetery.

Memorial Contributions may be made to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, 16133 Ventura Blvd., Suite 1000, Encino, CA 91436.

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

https://www.ctcfuneralandcremation.com/obituary/DianeL-Thomas