The Fire of Change

The fire of change (a picture of fire)

The Fire of Change

May 15, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Acts 11:1-18

Last week I shared a little about what is happening in our United Methodist denomination and what may or may not happen in the future.  We are still at a place where much can change, and the situation could be quite different after the next General Conference in 2024.  In the end, we still have no idea how that might affect us here at Christ Church but regardless of what happens, we can anticipate that whatever happens, there will, eventually, be some significant, and dramatic changes. 

And it was last week’s conversation that struck me as I read this week’s scripture from Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles contained in Acts 11:1-18 where he says this:

11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance, I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

As I read this, I noticed something that we often skip past, and when I thought about it, that one thing reframed how I thought about the entire passage.  The thing that we often fail to notice is in the very beginning when it says who had heard about what Peter was doing.  It says that “the apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles” had received the word of God.  When they heard these stories, they summoned Peter and criticized him for preaching to uncircumcised men or, in other words, Gentiles or, you know, those people.  That doesn’t seem too surprising, but remembering that among the people having this conversation with Peter were the apostles, the eleven disciples of Jesus, and the other believers who were among those men and women who personally knew Jesus, their presence then becomes important to understanding Peter’s explanation of what he did, what he saw, and what happened.

And then we get to verse fifteen, Peter says that as he was speaking to the Gentiles that had gathered in Caesarea and “the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.”  And this is where it’s important to remember who was there.  It was the disciples and the early followers of Jesus that were listening.  When Peter says that the Spirit of God came upon the Gentiles just as it had come upon them, we remember that on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came with a “sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”  And so, when Peter tells them that this is exactly the way that it happened to the Gentiles, this is what they all remember and I’m certain that’s why this passage concludes by saying, “When they heard this, they had no further objections.”

I’m certain, that the day, and the events, of Pentecost were something that none of them could ever forget.  And hearing that the same thing had happened to the Gentiles immediately eliminated any other objections that they might have had as faithful, orthodox, and practicing Jews.  It was obvious that the world was changing in ways that none of them had ever expected, or even imagined.  But the message was also clear, that God was at work and that God could be found within those changes.

Today we are facing profound challenges and a world that is changing in ways that we never expected or imagined.  The Covid-19 pandemic has changed, and continues to change, the world around us.  The war in Ukraine has sent ripples of change around the world that has impacted fuel prices, supply chains, caused shortages in diapers, baby formula, fresh vegetables, sound system components, paper, floor wax, and all sorts of other things.  And as we continue to watch the unfolding drama within our own denomination, regardless of where the future may carry us, the one thing of which we can be certain, is that we will see profound change.

But as we face these changes, and as we leave the old “normal” behind us forever, there remains one thing of which we can always be certain.

God is at work in the world and God can always be found within the changes.

Rather than worrying and living in fear, let us instead look for God, look to see what God is doing in the world, and seek to understand what work that God has for us to do as we move forward into a new normal.


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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.

Unmasked!

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Unmasked!

February 27, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 34:29-35             Luke 9:28-36                       2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2

Have you ever felt self-conscious?  Have you worried that you don’t look quite right, or suddenly notice that everyone seems to be looking at you?  Maybe you have food stuck in your teeth, or your fly is unzipped, or your skin broke out and have a big zit or something.  It happens to everyone.  There even a powerful photograph of President Carter, Menachem Begin, and Anwar Sadat moments before they went in front of the cameras to sign the Camp David Accords.  In that moment, all three of these men, presidents of powerful nations, simultaneously and self-consciously stop to straighten their neckties before stepping out into the glare of the public eye.  And, I wonder if what we see in Exodus 34:29-35, was caused, at least in part, by Moses being self-conscious about everyone looking at him.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so, Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

After Moses met with God, he was outwardly, and visibly, changed.  Our scripture says that his face was radiant, and from the description, that doesn’t seem to mean that he was happy in the way that we say, “the bride was radiant.”  We are, apparently, to understand that Moses’ face was… glowing… with a light of its own and that light, not surprisingly, was at least disconcerting, if not frightening, to the people around him.  The world didn’t seem any different to Moses, but Moses’ appearance was different, and it was noticeable, even shocking, to everyone who saw him.  And so, either to calm the fears of everyone else, or to calm his own feelings of self-consciousness, Moses began to wear a mask in public after each of his meetings with God.  There was something about being in the presence of God, that changes human beings.  And we see something similar in Luke 9:28-36.

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John, and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses, and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

The disciples had become accustomed to traveling with Jesus and it was probably not uncommon for them to wake up early and be walking before the sun had risen.  But whatever the case on this day, whether morning or evening, the disciples that were walking with Jesus were half asleep.  But as Jesus prayed, the appearance of his face changed… and even his clothes changed so that they became as bright as a flash of lightning.  And then Moses and Elijah appeared, and they shone in “glorious splendor” perhaps, in a way, that was similar to the way that Moses’ face had shone when he met God.  And so now, obviously, Peter, James, and John were absolutely, completely, 100 percent awake and were, in a sense, in shock.  As soon as Moses and Elijah began to leave, Peter just begins to babble nonsense about building houses, worship centers, or something.  And then, as if this hadn’t been enough, suddenly a cloud appears, envelops them, and the voice of God announces that the disciples should listen to Jesus because he is his son.  And then, just as suddenly as it began, it was over, and they found themselves standing, on the mountainside, alone.

What I find interesting, is that even though Peter had been babbling about building shelters, and although Peter was often prone to shoot off his mouth, and to say things without thinking, after this incredible experience, none of these three disciples say… anything.  They don’t tell their families, they don’t tell the other disciples, they don’t tell anybody… anything.  And again, I think this has a lot to do with the disciples feeling self-conscious.  What they had just experienced was powerful, incredible, and probably more than a little… unbelievable.  Even for people who had witnessed Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead, who would believe what they had just seen?  Who would believe that they had seen the glory of God radiating from the face of Jesus?  Who would believe that they had been surrounded by the holy cloud of God that they had read about in the scriptures, or that they had met Moses and Elijah?  Who would believe that they had heard God’s own voice proclaiming that Jesus was his son?  Would anyone believe them?  Would they think they were crazy?  Would the Pharisees and other church leaders declare that they were heretics and throw them out of the Temple?

And regardless of their self-consciousness or fear, the disciples could not un-see what they had seen.  Like Moses, they had spent time in the presence of God, and they had been changed.

But what does that mean for us?  What do we take away from these stories of Moses, Jesus, the disciples, and the transfiguration?  In 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2, Paul explained it to his church this way:

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Obviously, Paul’s understanding of why Moses wore a veil is not he same as mine and, I think, not the same as the reason given in Exodus.  Exodus simply says that people were afraid to look at Moses because he glowed or radiated but Paul interprets that to mean that Moses wore a mask so that people couldn’t see that the radiance of God in him faded over time.  Those are not at all the same things and, I think, Paul’s interpretation is unfair, and a little unkind, to Moses.  But I also think that Paul says this to make a point.  Paul makes the point of saying that accepting Christ is like tearing away the veil, or unmasking God so that we can see his glory more clearly.  Christians, Paul says, are the “unveiled faces” that can see God more clearly and something happens to us because of it.

As I said before, human beings that have spent time in the presence of God, are changed by the experience.  Moses glowed.  He was both outwardly and inwardly different because he met God.  Peter and James and John, and all the other disciples, were changed because of the time that they spent in the presence of both God and his son, Jesus.  Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his entire life was turned upside down, and he was never the same afterwards.  Paul says that because we have met Jesus, and because we have been unmasked, and have seen the glory of God, our lives have also been changed.  We don’t give up, we are encouraged, we no longer deceive other people or distort the word of God.  Instead, we tell the truth as plainly as we can, and we tell the truth all the time, so that everyone will know that we can be trusted.

But there’s one more thing worth mentioning, I think.  Paul believed that when Moses met God face to face, the glory of God that radiated from Moses’ face faded over time.  And while I’m not sure that’s how I would interpret it, there is some sense to it.  Human beings are not God.  We do not, and we cannot, contain God’s glory.  Being in the presence of God changes us, but the effect in us fades if we aren’t deliberate in doing things that bring us back into God’s presence.  That’s why setting times of regular Bible study, prayer, and church attendance are so vital.  Nearly every Sunday, we pray that God would be at work changing us into the people that he created us to be.  But for that to happen, we need to do two things.  First, we need to give God permission to change us, and be willing to change.  And second, we must, regularly and deliberately, invite God into our lives, and set aside time for us to spend time in God’s presence.

But we warned: Just as Moses, Peter, James, John, Paul, and the disciples discovered, being in God’s presence changes people. 

And maybe that’s why so many people seem to be afraid to do it.


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

Should We Rejoice or Flee?

(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/IOd2NYgjGNk)

Should We Rejoice or Flee?

(Third Sunday of Advent)

December 12, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Zephaniah 3:14-20 Luke 3:7-18 Philippians 4:4-7

What does it cost, and what is it worth to be a member of something?

Many of you will remember the advertising campaign that was used by American Express from 1974 to 1987 that said, “Membership has its privileges.”  Membership, of course, cost money, but for many frequent travelers, the membership benefits were, and are, worth far more than the annual fee for the card.

Similarly, joining the local Country Club can be worthwhile if you like to play golf on a regular basis and if you use the benefits that come with membership.

If you just want to show off, you can probably find someone that will, for a small fee, make you a fake American Express Gold Card or a fake Country Club membership card that you can show off at parties.  But your fake card isn’t going to give you any of the benefits that you get with the real thing.  You won’t get 24 hour concierge service, or emergency airline ticketing, or collect reward points, you won’t get to play golf or even get in the door to eat in the country club banquet room.  A fake card lets you pretend that you’re a member, but does not give you any of the benefits of actual membership.

All that may seem to be an odd thing to think about during Advent, but it may help us to understand some of the things we hear in our scripture passages this morning.  We begin with God’s words about the coming messiah, to the people of Israel, recorded by the prophet Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:14-20)

14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
    he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall fear disaster no more.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
    do not let your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew youin his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18     as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
    so that you will not bear reproach for it.
19 I will deal with all your oppressors
    at that time.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you home,
    at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes, says the Lord.

God makes it clear that the coming of the Messiah will be a reason for rejoicing and happiness.  On that day fear will be taken away and replaced with joy, gladness, and love.  Shame will be transformed into praise as the people who have been dispersed around the world will return and be welcomed home at last.

That fits with the joyful themes that we expect as we prepare for Christmas during the season of Advent.  But we might be a little confused when we discover that this isn’t at all the picture that John the Baptist paints as he preaches in the wilderness in Luke 3:7-18.

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation and, be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

John starts with, “You brood of vipers” and a warning to flee from God’s punishment and anger, but still ends with Luke describing his words as “good news.”  How does that work?  Much of John’s message is about God uprooting unproductive followers, and a reminder that we cannot rest on the faith and work of our parents or other ancestors, and he cautions everyone to be fair to others regardless of their profession, and to honor God in all that they do.  But still, how does this get summarized as “good news?”

And, as it that wasn’t confusing enough, Paul seems to echo the optimism of Zephaniah as he writes to the church in Philippi (Philippians 4:4-7) saying:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.  5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So, which is it?  Should we rejoice or flee?  Should we have peace, or should we be worried about God’s wrath, anger, and punishment?

And the answer is just as simple as it was for American Express or the country club across town.  Membership has its privileges but the card you carry in your pocket needs to be the real one.  Coming to church on Sunday just so that you can tell your friends that you are a Christian isn’t going to be enough if you live the rest of the week as if Jesus, and everything that he teaches, doesn’t matter.  Putting money in the offering plate won’t make a bit of difference if your faith doesn’t change the way that you live your life when you aren’t in the church building.  Saying that you are a Christian doesn’t make you one.  Being a genuine follower of Jesus Christ means living a life that models the teachings of Jesus.  Love your neighbor, love those how hate you and who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger and the foreigner, care for the poor, and all those other things that you find in the Gospel message that we talk about here every week.

We can’t just go to church; we have to be the church.  We can’t just say that we love Jesus, we have to live, and we have to love, like Jesus.

Once we manage that, then we will be the people that Paul was describing.  Our gentleness will be known to everyone, we won’t need to worry, and we can rest in the peace of God.  John’s message is that fake membership cards aren’t going to be enough, but that genuine membership is free.

And it is for that reason that we rejoice.   Because this is indeed good news, of great joy, for all the people.


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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.

Actions Reveal Attitude

Actions Reveal Attitude

May 02, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 15:1-8                            Acts 8:26-40                           1 John 4:7-21

“I trust you to make your own decisions” is perhaps one of the most common lies that parents and politicians tell their children and constituents.  We might tell our children that we trust them to make their own decisions, but you know we’re looking over their shoulders so we can intervene if they start making bad ones.  And politicians are worse.  How often have we heard them say that we should let the market decide, and then they pass laws to manipulate the markets.  They say that taxpayers know best how to spend their hard-earned money, but then raise taxes because we aren’t spending in the places that they think we should.  They say that government shouldn’t subsidize corporate interests, but what they really mean is that we should only subsidize the corporate interests that fund their party machine instead of the other party’s political machine.  If you really want to know what a parent, or a politician believes, don’t ask them, watch them.  Don’t listen to what they say, watch them and see what they do.  A politician that really believes in free markets, supports legislation that supports free markets.  A politician that genuinely supports a balanced budget, and I’m not sure that there are any, supports legislation that moves us toward sustainable spending and balanced budgets.  If we watch what politicians support, vote for, and donate toward, with their own time and their own money, we get a clearer picture of where their values lie than if we just listen to their sound bites and press releases.  In the end, this applies to all of us.  Our actions say far more about what we believe that the words that come out of our mouths. 

That hasn’t changed in thousands of years and scripture often describes that same principal.  We find one such instance in John 15:1-8 where Jesus says:

15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Jesus says that we are the garden and God is the gardener.  God cuts off, or prunes, the branches that aren’t bearing fruit.  My colleague Allan Bevere commented on this passage and points out that the Greek word here for pruning “is kathairo (καθαίρω) and refers more generally to clearing and in certain contexts cleansing. So, while it is true that pruning, cutting back, is a necessary part of the process of allowing a fruit-producing vine to bear more fruit, John appears to have in mind that is more than simply cutting back a healthy branch in order to produce more; the gardener wants to clear away all the dead vegetation and the clutter that can strangle the branches as well.”   We might think of that as God not only pruning off the unnecessary and unfruitful branches, but also the suckers, opening the canopy to allow more sun to penetrate, pulling the weeds around the bottom and raking away the accumulated leaves and clutter.  Jesus says that God is working, actively, in his garden so that it, so that we, will be productive and fruitful.  If we know him, and if we remain in him, he is working in us, and on us, to make us more fruitful and more productive.  If we do not know him, or if we do not remain close to him, them our ability to do anything useful goes to zero.  Without our connection to him, we wither and die. 

Without our connection to God, we become useless.  We have a yard decoration that was made from vines that were woven together.  It is, obviously, not connected to the vine from which it came and, other than being temporarily decorative, it is entirely useless.  When we lose our connection with God, when we stop living in him, and constantly feeding on the nutrition flowing through the vine, although we might get dressed up, and still be temporarily decorative, we become like that woven vine, decorative, but ultimately useless.

Jesus goes on to say that when we bear fruit, our fruit, and our accomplishment in bearing fruit, is the glory God, and to the credit of God, because God is the gardener that made it happen.  But also, our bearing fruit reveals our discipleship to the world.  Our actions reveal our attitudes, our loyalty, and our heart condition.

We see this same principle in action in several ways in the story of Acts 8:26-40, in which and angel of God sends Philp to meet an important international visitor.

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way, he met an Ethiopianeunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So, he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

This man had come to Jerusalem from Ethiopia which must have been a long and arduous journey.  Since he was an important government official, we can assume that he had been conducting official government business while in Jerusalem.  Further, we know that he had some wealth of his own because, while in Israel, he had purchased an Isaiah scroll.  Such a scroll, being handcrafted and painstakingly handwritten by a trained, professional scribe, would likely have taken nearly a year to produce, and would have cost nearly a year’s wages.  From this, and from Philip’s hearing the man reading the scroll, we know that he was not only interested in the faith of the people of Israel, but he was also desperate to learn about it, and actively demonstrated his desire to know God.  Unfortunately, his desire to learn was not enough because he couldn’t understand what he was reading.

But remember that we are the garden and God is the gardener.  God saw his desire to know him as well as how the man had demonstrated that desire through his actions.  And so, God cleared away the clutter, and sent Philip to meet him on the road, at just the right time, explain the meaning to him, and tell him the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that had been foretold by Isaiah.  And again, the man demonstrates his understanding with his actions.  His understanding of Isaiah, and the gospel message proclaimed by Philip, led him insist that he be baptized, and to faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ.

 In his letter to the church and to the followers of Jesus Christ in Asia, John gives examples of how our beliefs, our faith, and our connectedness to God direct our everyday lives and our actions and therefore become visible and obvious to the people around us (1 John 4:7-21).  He says:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Since we are supposed to remain in God, and be connected to God, then God’s nature should flow through us into the people, and into the world, around us.  And, John argues, since God’s nature is love, then that nature should also become our nature as well.  When we are in love with God and when have the love of God in us, then we begin to lose our fear of the future, our fear of current events, and our fear of judgement and punishment.  And that loving nature will be shown, and actively demonstrated, through our actions.  If we are connected to God, and God is love, and if that connectedness flows through us, then it will, logically, flow out of us through our actions.  And when God’s love flows out of us, then hate becomes impossible, and we will love the people around us, all of the people around us, the way that God loves them.

Just like the parents and politicians, it isn’t hard to see where the hearts, minds, values, and attitudes of Christian are if we stop listening to what they say and watch to see what they do and how they live.  Our actions reveal our attitudes.  If we are in love with God, and if we remain connected to Jesus, then his love will flow through us into the world.

Our neighbors will be able to see that we are connected to Jesus by the things that we do, the way that we behave, by our actions, and the way that we live our lives.

And they will know we are Christians…

            …by our love.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/7u25wb0cemQ

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.

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?

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

Freedom

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Freedom

April 04, 2021*

(Easter)

By Pastor John Partridge

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

We are three months early.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter everyone.


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

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Fear or Faith?

I am not afraid.

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

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

But I am not afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

The heroes of our faith did these things too.

 

 

 


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Fear and Arrogance (Part 1) – Fear Gives Poor Advice

Fear and Arrogance

Part 1: Fear Gives Poor Advice

March 22, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Samuel 16:1-13                   John 9:1-41               

 

 

If you are a fan of scary movies, there is one thing that nearly every movie, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, to Jaws, to Halloween and Friday the 13th to the movies of the present day all seem to have in common.  And the thing that they have in common is this: People who are afraid, make poor choices.  That’s why we’re always shouting at the screen “Don’t go back in the house!”  We saw it in Germany as an entire nation allowed the Nazi’s to commit unconscionable acts simply because the people were too afraid to speak up.  In fact, we need look no further that our local grocery store shelves as we’ve entered a time of fear caused by the arrival of the Corona virus.  People are rushing to the grocery stores, and department stores, and even Amazon.com to buy things for which they have no reasonable need.  People are buying food that will certainly spoil before they can eat it all, cases upon cases of water that comes out of kitchen faucet of nearly every home, and enough toilet paper to supply an average college dormitory for a year.  Why?

 

Because fear gives poor advice.

 

None of these things make any sense because people aren’t thinking logically, rationally, or sensibly, they are simply reacting out of irrational fear.  It’s a lot like a cattle stampede.  One cow gets stung by a bee and started running, and the rest of the herd starts running because everyone else was running.

 

And, although sociologists will be talking about our current crisis for generations, fear certainly isn’t anything new.  In 1 Samuel 16:1-13, we hear the story of how God sent his prophet Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel because of the disobedience of King Saul.  And, in that story, we see both the prophet, David’s father Jesse, and the elders of Bethlehem act out of fear before they listen and respond to the calling of God.

 

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

 

Even before Samuel leaves home, he is already worried.  Samuel is afraid that if he obeys God, and if King Saul hears about what he is doing, Saul will be angry enough to kill him.  But God sends Samuel anyway.

 

Once Samuel arrives, the elders of the town of Bethlehem tremble when they meet him, and they aren’t even sure that they want to let him in, because the prophets of God had a reputation for bringing bad news, curses, and death.  And so, the elders (and this probably included Jesse) won’t let Samuel in the door until they are reassured that Samuel has come in peace.

 

But Samuel is deceived, one son after another, simply because he assumes that God is seeing the same things that he sees.  Samuel sees young men who are tall, handsome, physically fit, and seem like the kind of men that would look good as king.  In fact, David’s own father did the same thing. When Samuel arrives and invites his family to the sacrifice.  Everyone simply assumes that the youngest son, the kid who got left in the fields watching the sheep, isn’t worth anyone’s time and certainly won’t be missed.  It isn’t until God fails to select anyone that Samuel finally asks, “Are these all the sons you have?”  And then declares that they would not sit down to eat until that youngest son, the one everyone was prepared to ignore, finally arrives.  And that son, of course, turns out to be David, the greatest king in the entire history of Israel.

 

During our Bible study this week we talked about how Simon Peter swore that he would stand by Jesus even if he was arrested and put to death.  But when push came to shove, he denied even knowing Jesus not once, but three times.  Why?  Fear.

 

And so, as we shelter in place, and practice “social distancing” in the face of the Coronavirus outbreak, this message from scripture seems especially relevant.  We must not act out of fear because fear gives poor advice.  Fear told King Saul to disobey God (and he listened).  Fear told the prophet Samuel not to even leave the house to anoint David as God’s new king (but he didn’t listen).  Fear told Jesse and the elders of Bethlehem not to even let Samuel in the door, and it told Simon Peter to save his skin and betray Jesus.

 

Instead of listening to our fears, we are reminded to put our faith and trust in God.  God still cares.  God still loves you.  We will get through this difficult time if we listen to, and trust, God and we behave rationally, carefully, and behave prudently.

 

Fear says that it’s not safe to trust God.

Fear says that God will demand too much from you.

Fear says that you might miss out on something else if you follow God.

Fear says that you need to hold back on God so that you can stay in control.

Fear says that you need a year’s supply of toilet paper and ten gallons of hand sanitizer.

 

But fear is a liar.

 

Fear gives poor advice.

 

And so, as we watch the latest news and practice social distancing, let us also remember the words that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome and the words of the Jesus’ beloved disciple John.

 

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

 

And finally, in this time of uncertainty, I want you to hear God’s words from the prophet Isaiah:

 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

 

Although these are uncertain, and even frightening times…

 

Be encouraged.

 

Don’t be afraid.

 

God still cares.

 

God still loves you.

 

God is in control.

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 


You can find the livestream of this message here: https://youtu.be/MmS9yA5Sfas

To continue to Part 2, click here: https://pastorpartridge.com/2020/03/23/2689/


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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.

Strategic Retreat

Strategic Retreat

December 29, 2019*

(First Sunday after Christmas)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 63:7-9                          Matthew 2:13-23                               Hebrews 2:10-18

 

Shortly after our nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Army, commanded by George Washington, was fighting for its life.  The British had landed an overwhelming force on Long Island, defeated the American patriots in Brooklyn, and had nearly 9,000 of Washington’s soldiers trapped against the East River.  British General Sir William Howe prepared to lay siege to the surrounded Americans and was intent on annihilating them to the last man.  But, as General Howe prepared his offensive, General Washington and his troops rounded up all the boats that they could find and, as silently as possible, even using rags to muffle the sound of the oars and maintaining their campfires so to deceive the British, the Americans ferried their army across the river in the dark of night on August 29, 1776.  At sunrise, many remained on the Long Island side of the river, but God, or luck, was on Washington’s side and a dense fog masked the final stages of the withdrawal.  In the end, all 9000 colonists and nearly all their equipment was successfully evacuated, and they lived to fight another day.  Continental officer Benjamin Tallmadge later wrote, “In the history of warfare I do not recollect a more fortunate retreat,”  (This story from History.com – https://www.history.com/news/7-brilliant-military-retreats)

Sometimes, when faced with an overwhelming enemy force, the wisest course is not to stay and fight, but to run away to fight another day.  In those cases, and history records many of them, it is not cowardly to make a strategic retreat.  We find such things even in scripture.  But first, we once again remember the prophecies recorded by the prophet Isaiah.  But in this passage, Isaiah not only writes about the messiah that was to come, but about the deeds that he would do, the emotions that he would have, and the connection that he would have to the heart of God’s people.  (Isaiah 63:7-9)

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
    he has done for Israel,
    according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will be true to me”;
    and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy, he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them
    all the days of old.

Isaiah says that it was the actions of God for which he was normally remembered, but also that God had done these things because of his kindness, and compassion.  As the savior of his people, God was distressed when his people were distressed.  God rescued and redeemed his people because of the mercy that he had for them and the love that he felt for them.  And those feelings continue even as the messiah arrives upon the earth.  In Matthew 2:13-23, as the messiah begins God’s invasion of our world, we hear the story of God’s greatest strategic retreat.

13 When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

This is all good stuff but remember that Isaiah said that God was remembered for the deeds that he did, and for things like kindness and compassion.  So, as we think about the story about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt, I want to particularly listen for two things: First, listen for what people did and second, pay attention to what emotions they must have felt. 

At the beginning of our story, I’m just going to guess that Mary and Joseph were tired.  This part of the story doesn’t immediately follow the Christmas story and could happen as much as two years later.  So, as we begin, Mary and Joseph have made a home in Bethlehem, or elsewhere, and are raising a toddler.  But Joseph is still a faithful man of God who both hears from and listens to God.  This is important because when God comes to Joseph in a dream, Joseph pays attention.  Now, I’m willing to grant that this was probably no ordinary dream, but still, how easy would it have been for Joseph to simply write it off as the result of some bad fish, or something he ate the night before? 

But Joseph immediately understands that this dream is from God and he immediately understands the importance of it.  He awakens Mary, in the middle of the night, they wrap up the baby, and apparently without even saying goodbye to their neighbors, family, and friends, they left town.  In two sentences they’ve gone from just being a couple of tired parents, to being terrified and fleeing for their lives because the King and his entire army want them dead. 

Herod, who was emotionally unstable, and who, at the very least, suffered from severe paranoia and who had no qualms at all about committing the vilest atrocities in order to remain in power, is incredibly angry.  Herod realizes that the Magi saw through his “I just want to worship him” act and is furious that they left the country without telling him where the baby was.  But, because Herod is both paranoid and a cold-blooded killer, he sends his army to Bethlehem with orders to kill every male child that was two years old or younger.  If Herod can’t be sure which child the Magi visited, his plan is to just kill all of them.

It is easy to understand that this mass execution of babies terrorizes the entire village and has every mother in the town out in the streets weeping and mourning just as the prophet Jeremiah has foretold hundreds of years earlier.  And then, several years later, Herod the Great dies, and the areas over which he had ruled were divided up among several of his sons.  When that happens, God once again calls upon Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is time to come home.  But even as they journey back, they hear that one of those sons, Herod Archelaus, who by some accounts was even more cruel and despotic than his father, is now the ruler over Judea, which included both Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  With that news, Mary and Joseph are once again afraid for their lives and for the life of their child, so they choose to bypass Bethlehem and make their way north instead to the area of Galilee and Nazareth which was ruled over by Herod Antipas, another son of Herod the Great.

But so, what?  Why is any of that important? 

Make no mistake, it is important, but before I explain why, let’s first look at something that we find in Hebrews 2:10-18.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again, he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

The writer of Hebrews wants to be certain that we understand the importance of Jesus’ suffering.  It is the suffering of Jesus that reminds us of his humanity and what assures us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.  He says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”  And he goes on to say that “he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”  And finally, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  The writer of Hebrews is insistent that the humanity of Jesus is not only important, it is vital, critical, and indeed, the whole story falls apart without it.

And that is also exactly why it’s important to focus on what Mary and Joseph did, and the emotions that they felt.  Too many times we hear people write off parts of the gospel message or discredit important parts of Christian faith by saying that Jesus wasn’t completely human in one way or another.  Some say that Jesus was only an idea and not a real person, or that he was only a spirit and not entirely a creature of flesh and blood, or that he was partly God and partly human and that’s the only reason that Jesus was able to live a perfect and sinless life. 

But none of those things fit with the story of scripture.

The writer of Hebrews wanted to be sure that we understood that, and so did Matthew.  Matthew takes the time to tell the story of this strategic retreat so that we understand the people in it and the emotions behind it.  Mary and Joseph were poor, but they were also people of a deep and devout faith and trust in God.  And not only did they know the struggle of daily survival and living, they understood fear.  When God told them to run, they didn’t wait until morning and say goodbye, they ran for their lives in the middle of the night.  The idea that King Herod wanted their baby dead, and maybe them as well, was terrifying.  Everyone knew the horror that Herod was capable of.  There were no mixed messages about Jesus in the minds of Mary and Joseph.  They knew that he was a human being in every respect.  A baby that wet the bed, a toddler that forgot his shoes and wandered off when you weren’t watching closely enough.  They knew that Jesus wasn’t godlike.  They knew that Jesus didn’t have any godly power that would protect them from Herod’s soldiers.  They knew that Jesus was no vaporous spirit, but that he was 100 percent flesh and blood just like them, and just like us, in every respect.

And because he was, he is able to help us.

Because he was human, he became a merciful and faithful high priest that made atonement for the sins of his people.  Without Jesus’ humanity, he would not have been able to rescue us.

But he was and he did.

And the unrelenting, overwhelming fear of Mary and Joseph is proof of Jesus’ humanity.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.