The Celebration and the Coming Storm

The Celebration and the Coming Storm


April 14, 2019*

Palm Sunday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Luke 19:28-40

Have you ever heard the legend about the origin of the “V” for Victory sign?  During WW2 the V for victory symbolism was proposed because the word “Victory” begins with the letter V in both English and French and the word “Freedom” begins with the letter ‘V’ in Dutch.  But in Great Britain, the “V” sign (Americans often call it the “Peace” sign) has an entirely different, and offensive meaning and the legend about that dates to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.  It helps to understand that the Battle of Agincourt was one of the first battles ever fought after the development of the British longbow.  Further, it was customary at the time for the lords and generals of the warring factions to meet, share dinner, and drink too much wine the night before the battle. 

With that in mind, the legend says that while the French and the English leaders were drinking, one of the French generals threatened that after they had won, they would cut off the two bow fingers of all the longbowmen.  As is often the case, the development of a new weapon proved to be decisive.  The hail of arrows from the English decimated the French troops long before they met the main body of the English swordsmen and, in the end, the French were routed and fled the field.  But, the story goes, as the French fled, the British longbowmen happily held up a “V” for victory sign to remind the French that they were still in possession their two fingers.  Ever since, the British use the “V” sign much the way that Americans tend to use their middle finger.

In any case, what I really wanted to point out was the historic practice of meeting for dinner before a major battle.  Can you imagine trying to celebrate knowing that you might not survive the fighting on the next day?  Can you imagine what it was like, as the allied armies prepared for the D-Day invasion, for those soldiers who had the misfortune to celebrate a birthday a day or two before boarding a landing craft for a beach Normandy?  In many ways, this represents what we find in the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  As we begin the story of Holy Week, of Jesus’ arrest, imprisonment, torture, crucifixion, and death on the cross, Palm Sunday must have felt, to Jesus, like having a party before the battle or a celebration before the invasion.

To see why, we begin by reading the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry in Luke 19:28-40.

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

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

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

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

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

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

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

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

Before Jesus set foot in the village, he knew that there was a colt tied up there.  Before he met the owner, or any of the neighbors, he knew what answer would satisfy them that it was okay for a total stranger to borrow their animal.  Jesus’ perception of places and people who were nowhere nearby has always been impressive and is an example of Jesus’ divinity and an expression of his omniscience.  Jesus knew what was beyond his field of vision, he knew the hearts of people that he had never met, and he knew what would happen in the future.  But with that in mind, it makes the next part of the story even more staggering when we understand the story from Jesus’ perspective.

As Jesus crosses over the last hill and comes to the Mount of Olives, he is now within sight of the Temple.  On the road on which he is walking, it is now literally all downhill from the Mount of Olives to a bridge that crosses the valley, and then to the temple gate.  But as Jesus begins his descent of this hill, the people begin to shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  The Apostle John records that the people

“took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” [which means “Save us”]

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

And as the people did these things, some of the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke his disciples and make them stop. Jesus says no.

But why?

Because what the disciples and the people around Jesus are doing could potentially disrupt the status quo of the people in power and trigger a major problem with the occupying Roman army.  To understand better, let’s look at that in a little more detail.

The things that the people are saying, “Hosanna” or “Save us,” “Blessed is the king of Israel,” and “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” are things that were said to kings and conquering generals as they entered the city.  Riding on the back of an unridden donkey was the way that kings were known to enter the city when their intentions were peaceful.  Laying down cloaks or other items of clothing along the road was, again, the way that kings or heroes were greeted, much as we greet dignitaries today with a red carpet.  And waving palm branches was as close as the people could come to waving an Israeli flag.  Taken together, within sight of the Antonia Fortress which adjoined the Temple and was the headquarters for the Roman garrison, the people were publicly, and loudly, proclaiming the arrival of a king to the city of Jerusalem. 

The Pharisees are afraid that at the height of the Passover celebration, these actions might cause the Roman army to do something violent.  But what they probably fear most is the potential political response.  You see, when the Romans took over Israel, they set up a power sharing agreement with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin.  Rome allowed Israel’s leaders to run the country and to perform their rituals in the Temple, but to ensure that these leaders were under the ultimate control of the Roman government, all the priestly vestments, robes, or uniforms were held under guard in the Fortress Antonia.  If the Romans suspected that Israel’s leaders, or her people, were raising up a new king or acting in rebellion against the Roman government (and all of these things could be interpreted that way) then the Romans would close the doors to the fortress and there could be no daily sacrifice and with tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in the city for the celebration of Passover, there would be no Passover.

If the Pharisees and the other leaders of Israel couldn’t control the people, then the Roman army could hold the entire Passover celebration for ransom until Israel found leaders that could.  The Pharisees were afraid that the status quo could be upset, and they could lose their jobs, their status, and even their lives.  This is why the Pharisees tell Jesus to make his disciples and other supporters stop but Jesus knows that what they are doing is in fulfillment of prophecy and says that if the people stop, the stones themselves will cry out so that God’s prophecy will be fulfilled.  And Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is also why they immediately return to the city and begin to plot the murder of Jesus.  He is a danger to the structures of power.  He is a danger to the jobs, position, respectability, and authority of the movers and shakers of Israel.

Jesus must go.

But if we learned anything at all from the simple story about sending two disciples to find a donkey, it is that Jesus knew what the Pharisees were going to do next.  Even before he came to Jerusalem Jesus knew that he would die there.

And so, for Jesus, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem was very much like the officers’ dinner before the Battle of Agincourt or those unfortunate soldiers who celebrated birthdays before the invasion of Normandy knowing full well that they might not survive the day.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, what we celebrate as Palm Sunday, is a staggering study in contrast because we see Jesus being celebrated as a king and as the messiah, but even as they celebrate, Jesus knows that he will die within hours.

Jesus knew that he would die.

He knew that honoring God would cost him his life.

And he chose to honor God anyway.

And yet, how often do we fail to honor God because doing so might be…

… inconvenient?

 

 

 


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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.

2018 – By the Numbers

by-the-numbers

So, how are we doing?

Each fall our church staff and volunteers fill out several forms, with line after line of questions, we also submit quite a few other reports, budgets, lists of nominated and elected officers, and all of this is compiled into our Charge Conference report.  By the middle of January, we report even more numbers, on five or six more forms, for our official “End of Year” report.  Many of these numbers are of not that interesting to the casual observer, but there are a few that are, and some of these are useful in “taking the temperature” of the church and help us to see where we are and in what direction we might be going.  I have a few other numbers that I track monthly and the end of the year is a good time to look at that data as well.

Although we report church membership at both Charge Conference and in the End of Year report, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from it.  It is difficult, because our membership is more than three times our annual attendance.  And that, in turn means that either we have a great many inactive members (which might be good if we can get them to attend more regularly) or, that we have many people on the membership rolls that shouldn’t be, or both.  In any case, in 2016 membership at Christ Church was 362, in 2017 it was 356, and in 2018 we ended with 323.  In the last year, we lost 18 members to death, 2 to transfer, and 14 were removed simply because we had lost all contact with them.  We did, however, add one member to our rolls through transfer (Hi, Hayley!).   So is declining membership bad?  Maybe, but it’s hard to tell.

I guess the good news (if you can call it that) is that we don’t remove people every year, those who were removed haven’t attended for a long time, and our number of deaths was much larger than usual.  So, although membership “declined” by 33 people, the impact on our congregation, although significant, is not as bad as the numbers might imply.

On the other hand, while our average Sunday attendance was 69 in 2017, it was 71 in June, and by the end of the year had risen to 78.  Similarly, we saw an increase in Sunday school attendance, an increase in the number of people who were giving to the church, and a healthy increase in our stewardship pledges.  Not only that, but we also saw an increase in participation in missions and outreach, an increase in the number of people we served in our community, and a small decrease in our total church expenses.  In short, attendance is increasing, and we’re doing more, with less.

Another measure that is not yet reported to our district or Annual Conference, but is of growing usefulness, is our ability to engage with our community on social media.  For the moment, the only number that I can report to you is our number of Facebook followers.   In the last year, the number of people who have “liked” our Facebook page has increased by 27, from 172 to 199.  That isn’t a lot, but it’s a positive increase and it at least hints at a growing engagement between our church and our community.

I understand I’ve only been here for half a year, but even if I were here longer, I know that I am not solely responsible for any of this.  We are a church and a community, and we work together as a team.  But as I have said before, what I see in our reports, and what I see in these, and other numbers, is good news.  Clearly, we have work to do, but  in many ways we are doing well, or at least doing better.  Digging through the numbers and filling out reports is not anyone’s idea of fun, but I want to thank Dolores, Julie, and all our staff and volunteers that help us do it.

Because, in the end, when I read through our reports, I see every reason to be hopeful, even excited, about the direction that we are going, the future of Christ Church, our ministry here, and our outreach to our community and the world.

Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

Keep up the good work.

Let’s build on what we have and make 2019 even better.

 

A Righteous Branch

Christmas-treeA Righteous Branch

December 02, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

 

 

Jeremiah 33:14-16                 Luke 21:25-36                        1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

 

Hope.

As we begin the season of Advent today the word we remember, and the word that we will repeatedly encounter, is… hope.

But that the same time, we remember that the first Sunday of Advent is traditionally celebrated as the one in which we remember the contributions of the prophets of old.  These two themes are inextricably intertwined because it is in the prophecies of old, and in the faithfulness of God, that leads us to have hope for the future.

That may seem to be a little vague, but let’s begin with the prophecy and the promise of God found in Jeremiah 33:14-16 where we hear these words:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

We remember from last week, that God’s promise, his sacred covenant, with King David, was that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever.  And now we hear Jeremiah say that God intends to keep that promise, that God is raising up a righteous branch from David’s family tree, a man that would do what is just and right, so that Judah and Jerusalem will live in safety.  Jeremiah also tells us that God has named that man, that righteous branch, the Lord, Our Righteous Savior.

Who else could this be but Jesus?  And as we begin our preparations for Advent and Christmas, it seems especially obvious that this must be Jesus.  But when we realize that this is Jesus, then we also remember that God has been faithful and has done what he had promised to David, to Jeremiah, and to the people of Israel.  You see, it is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.

It is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.

 But how?  How does remembering the past help us to have hope?  And the answer to that is found in reading the words of Jesus found in the New Testament, but today we specifically look at Jesus’ words to the disciples found in Luke 21:25-36 where we hear this:

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Jesus, the Son of Man, promises his disciples that that there will be signs that will precede his return to the earth and people who are alert and watching for those signs will know, just as we see the signs and know that spring is coming, we will know that his return is near.  But Jesus doesn’t just declare that he will return, he proclaims that when he comes, he will return, not as a suffering servant that obediently submits to torture and crucifixion, but with power and great glory as a conquering king.

But what does he mean when Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.”?  Part of our problem in understanding comes about because we started reading in the middle of the story.  In the beginning of the conversation, the disciples were marveling over how beautiful the temple and the surrounding buildings were, and Jesus said that soon all of them would be torn down with not a single stone left upon another.  And so, as we read this part of that conversation, Jesus is explaining that the destruction of the temple was so close at hand, that most of them would live to see it.  But we can also understand that the coming of the kingdom of God begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is because, as you will remember from last week, we have been called to be a kingdom and priests. 

The kingdom of God is not just something that will come on the day of judgement at Jesus’ return, the kingdom of God is something that we do every day.  With the resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven has been planted on earth, and it is up to us, every day, to live like Jesus, to become more like Jesus, and to make the world around us more like heaven than it was the day before.  It is up to us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to speak for the voiceless, and intervene for downtrodden and the abused and to, as much as possible, make our community, and our world, a better place.

But what would that look like?

In 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Paul has both kind words, and a prayer for the church in Thessalonica.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Paul compliments the people of the church by saying that he and the others who have ministered there are filled with joy in the presence of God because of them.  They are so proud of what the church is doing for the kingdom of God, and they would be blessed by God simply by knowing that they had played a part of leading the church in that direction.  But Paul’s prayer for the church is that they might be able to return and teach them even more.  And Paul also prays that God would make their love for one another, and for everyone around them, increase and overflow.  That God would strengthen their hearts so that the people of the church would be blameless and holy in the presence of God.

Paul was proud of the work that the church was doing but his prayer was that the people would so filled with love, that the love of Jesus would overflow into the life of the church, but also into the lives of their community and everyone around them.  Paul’s greatest prayer was that the church would become so much like Jesus, that they would be blameless when they stood in the presence of God.  Just as Jesus was raised up as a righteous branch from the tree of David, we too are called to be a righteous branch growing up in the midst of the chaos of our world.

So, you see, God made a covenant with King David that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever and, as he always does, God kept his promise.  And just as God made a promise to David, Jesus has made a promise to each of us.  Jesus has promised that he will return, not in suffering, but in triumph.  But while we wait, we are called to do the work that Jesus began, to be Jesus to the world around us, to be so filled with his love that our love overflows into the lives of one another and into the lives of the people in the community, and the world, around us. 

It is a message of promises kept.  It is a message of prophecy fulfilled, and prophecy yet to come.  It is a message that even today fills the people of God, that fills us, with purpose.

It is… a message of hope.

 

 

 


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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.

Pastor’s Report – Charge Conference 2018

Every fall, our church has a “Charge conference” in which we present our slate of officers for the next year and next year’s proposed budget, we also vote on staff salaries, and turn in paperwork that is intended to satisfy our District Superintendent, Bishop, Annual Conference, the IRS, and other end of year housekeeping.  As a part of that, I am asked to submit a “pastor’s report” outlining our activities for the year and my expectations for next year.  It’s a lot like the “What I did last summer” reports that we wrote in the fall as school children.  In any event, I wanted to share that report with you, so what follows is the report that I turned in at Charge conference last month.


 

Pastor’s Report

Charge Conference 2018

Having arrived at Christ UMC only three months ago, I really don’t have a lot to reflect upon.  But I can, at least, share my observations.  Christ Church is a busy church with almost constant activity.  We are deeply involved in the community at many levels, from our association with Habitat for Humanity, Men’s Challenge, and the Alliance of Churches, which have office space on our first floor, to our participation in local food pantries and “flight pack” food programs for school children, to the professional involvement of our members in the Chamber of Commerce, the Lion’s Club, and other organizations.  Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts meet here, are strongly supported and our own youth group, though small, has the deep and enthusiastic support of every member regardless of age.  Not only does Christ Church host the weekly community dinner (which is averaging well over 100 people, and often 150), our church isn’t content to simply feed people, it is active in teaching life skills, such as cooking, so that many of those same people can become more independent and self-sufficient.

We have also found, that the people of Christ Church are not just supportive of local outreach efforts but are incredibly supportive of missions nationally and internationally.  Two members of our church volunteered for our planned mission to Kentucky when we had only just arrived here, and they had hardly done more than met me.  There were several others who expressed a sincere interest in going with us but who had scheduling conflicts that prevented it.  I have no doubt that we will be successful in returning to Kentucky with another team at least once next year, and we are exploring the possibility of doing so cooperatively with the chaplain at the University of Mount Union.  What’s more, since we arrived in Alliance and at Christ UMC so close to our planned mission trip to Liberia with the East Ohio Conference’s Farmer to Farmer mission, Patti and I understood that our ability to do fundraising would be limited.  But what we found, was a church family who had already sent their lay leader to Sierra Leone, who was so incredibly supportive of our trip that they repeatedly asked us to do informational presentations, and who raised more support for our trip than we imagined possible even if we had done more extensive fundraising.

As if these things weren’t enough, despite everything that Christ Church and its people are doing, their passion, compassion, and enthusiasm are regularly causing them to ask, “What more can we do?”  As such, this year Christ Church is taking over the Thanksgiving meal that had formerly been spearheaded by the United Church of Christ.  Since last year’s project distributed approximately 1,500 meals, this is an enormous undertaking, but the evidence is that Christ Church, and our Alliance community, are rising to the challenge.

So, even though I have only been at Christ Church for a few months, several things seem clear.  First, although the people of Christ Church sometimes seem a little weary, their enthusiasm, faith, compassion, and heart for Jesus fill them with an enthusiasm that other churches might envy.  Second, as we see with people, and with churches everywhere, although there is a fondness for doing things that “we have always done,” the people of Christ Church are unafraid, open, and even eager, to try new things.  Third, it is apparent from conversations in our community, that Christ Church is viewed by the people in and around Alliance in a very positive way.

Taken together, these things, and others, tell me that God isn’t done with Christ Church yet.  There is much to be done, and the people of Christ Church are interested, and ready, to discover what God is calling us to do next.  I am sure that, working together, we can find a way for Christ Church to be healthy, vital, and vibrant as we make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of Alliance, Ohio… and the world.

Past, Present, Future

BellsLast night I attended our youth group meeting and had the incredible opportunity to climb the bell tower and see some of the “behind the scenes” things that most people never see.  I posted pictures on Facebook of our bells, the view of the street through the wire mesh, and the incredible size of some of the beams that support the roof.  Those beams are huge, and every few inches is a rivet the size of a half dollar or a half of a golf ball.  Mike Greiner and I were marveling as we remembered what it must have took to put that all in place in 1896.  Fifty years before welding was invented, each of those rivets would have been hammered in by hand while still red-hot, and each of those mammoth beams had to be carefully raised into place three for four stories above the ground. img_20180923_222439_111

While we were in the tower, we also had the chance to jump over one of those beams, climb down a rickety looking ladder, climb the catwalk, maneuver around some other beams, and ultimately stand in the space above our sanctuary ceiling.  It is only in that space that you can see the original sanctuary ceiling which was covered up during a renovation in the 1930’s.  At that time, the ceiling was lowered, perhaps in an effort to add insulation and increase energy efficiency, but that effort also allowed the removal of the great sanctuary chandelier gas lights and install overhead electric lighting in the ceiling instead.

img_20180923_190423428I love being able to do things like that.  I had a great time, and I’m pretty sure that all our youth did too (Thanks Mike!).  But this experience got me thinking.  As our trustees and finance committees meet, I often thank God for the gifts that have been given to us by those giants of the faith who were here before us.  Since 1839, generations of men and women have labored together in this place and contributed their sweat, their time, their passion, their hearts, and their money to the ministry that goes on here still today.

But we also remember, that as impressive as it is, they didn’t do all of this so that we could take up space in an impressive building.  Buildings may be impressive, and they may be beautiful, but they don’t inspire, and they don’t accomplish the mission.  Those men and women who were here from 1839 until now left us a legacy of more than bricks and mortar.  Each of them worked to preach the message of the Gospel, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to care for the widows and the orphans, to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ, to offer light to a dark world, and rescue to people who were condemned by God.

And thinking about all of that brought me to this thought: What will we be remembered for?  Many of us, and many of those in our community, have a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ because generations of people in this place made sure that they passed on what they knew to the next generation.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Those men and women built a church, they carved out a community and a city in the middle of a wilderness, they constructed, and remodeled, a marvelous architectural work of art in which we worship, and they remained faithful to the mission and the vision of Jesus Christ. img_20180923_183536_854

But today, the responsibility for that mission and vision has fallen to us.  If we are to be remembered, then resting on the shoulders of those giants isn’t enough.  We must carry on, and move forward, with the same vision, passion and commitment as those who went before us.  It’s our turn to preach the Gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and orphans, offer light to a dark world, and rescue the lost.

Make no mistake.  Our church building is incredible.  But as we admire its beauty we should ask ourselves:

How will we be remembered?

What legacy will we leave behind?

Watching the Impossible

“Watching the Impossible”

July 01, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 30:9-14                       Jeremiah 18:1-6

 

Have you ever been asked to do the impossible?

 

For those of us who study history, or for those who are old enough to remember it, it is worth noting that the Polish Army has been ridiculed because at the beginning of World War Two, they attacked German tanks with cavalry.  Men on horseback would seem to be a remnant of a bygone era. While this seems ludicrous, the truth is that the Polish army had some of the best tanks and anti-tank weapons in all of Europe, including those brought to the field by Germany. But while it seems odd that Poland had mounted cavalry units in the field, we forget that every other nation involved in that great conflict did as well, including the United States who used cavalry units in the Philippines.  Poland’s cavalry were skilled infantry soldiers who each carried a rifle, a saber, and the single best anti-tank weapon available in that day. For the Poles, horses were simply a means of moving an infantry force with greater speed and flexibility.

 

From our perspective, asking soldiers on horseback to fight against tanks was asking the impossible, but the bravery and training of the Polish troops may have achieved the impossible. Although the German Army had rolled through the contested lands between Germany and Czechoslovakia without opposition, the war for Poland lasted for thirty-six days. In a single battle, between a Polish Cavalry Brigade and Germany’s 4th Panzer Division, Germany lost over 100 armored fighting vehicles and at least 50 tanks. Ultimately, the superior size of the German military overcame the resistance of the Polish army, but their defense was of major significance. The advance of the German army was slowed enough to allow the evacuation of much of the Polish army and, as a result, Polish military units fought their way from the beaches of Normandy, across Europe, into Germany, and to the surrender of her port cities.

 

Although people laugh at the ridiculousness of attacking tanks with cavalry, the reality is that the Polish Army did the impossible.

 

Today, the question I would like to ask is this: Has God ever asked you to do the impossible? What is it that God has put on your heart? How many times have you thought or felt that you ought to do something, or even that God might be leading you to do something and yet rejected the idea because it was too hard or even seemed to be impossible? I think that at one time or another, this has probably happened to all of us, but our scripture for today promises something different. (Deuteronomy 30:9-14)

 

9Then the LORD your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, 10 if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

 

In this passage, we are reminded that it is God that does the doing. It is God that commands, it is God that rejoices in our obedience and it is God that orchestrates our success. We are taught that God will bring success when we are obedient and faithful. What’s more, we are told that what we have been asked to do is not out of our reach simply because God has given us everything that we need in order to be obedient.

 

In September of 2001, along with you, I watched in horror as two commercial airliners were flown into the World Trade Center, a building that I had visited only a few years earlier. Perhaps in part because of these disturbing images, I began to reconsider the meaning of my work and of my life. Only two or three years earlier I had changed jobs in order to find work that was more tangible. With a degree in electrical engineering, I had been working at a Laboratory in Cleveland, testing gas appliances for compliance with national safety standards. There, I often felt as if we were just spinning our wheels, always doing the same thing and generating tons of paper doing it. In my new job in North Canton, we were building machines and equipment for the steel industry. It was satisfying that once every few months we could go out to the loading dock and see the end result of our work as it was shipped to its destination. Occasionally, we would also have the opportunity to travel and help with the installation. I felt challenged by my work and I was happy with what I was doing but there began to be a nagging afterthought.  I began to wonder what good I was doing. I realized that much of the equipment we were building was replacing machines that had been designed and built by engineers (like me) twenty or thirty years earlier and I came to the realization that in another twenty or thirty years all of our work would likewise be torn out, melted down, and replaced.

 

Less than six months later, I was called into my supervisor’s office and informed that my services were no longer required. There was no warning, there were no memos outlining my failures, just an abrupt termination. I really struggled with that. The way in which I was let go, and my resulting unemployment, was difficult for me but also for my family. Not only did they have to deal with our lack of income, but also with my depression, moodiness and underlying anger. I was unemployed for two years. In an economy that was good, and with a degree and a work history that was solid, I should have had no trouble finding work, but instead it seemed like I couldn’t even buy an interview. During this time, I questioned God’s will for me. I started by crying and yelling and eventually began to pray and study. I devoured books and study materials that my pastor thought might be helpful and finally began to consider the unthinkable. I grew up in the home of a United Methodist pastor. I moved three times and attended school in four school districts. For forty years, I swore that there was no way on God’s green earth that I would ever even consider being a pastor.

 

But, God had other plans.

 

Sometimes during the course of our lives, the game changes. Where we find ourselves is not where God wants us to be, and he will use whatever tools necessary to move us from where we are to where he wants us to be.  Some faithful followers are so well attuned to God that they respond to his hints, nudges, suggestions, and whisper.  But others of us are stubborn.  In our stubbornness, God sometimes finds it necessary to hit us upside the head with a 2 x 4. You need to know that this change of heart wasn’t only a big deal for just me. When we were married, Patti told me that she was glad that I was an engineer because she never wanted to be married to a doctor or a pastor. During my unemployment, Patti was involved in a Bible study in local church other than our own. Somehow, in that study, God was working on Patti’s heart. I knew that God would never call me into ministry unless he called both of us.  And one day, before I had ever hinted to Patti what God might be doing, Patti came to me and said something shocking. Patti said that God had made it clear to her that I needed to do what God wanted me to do, even if that meant answering a call to pastoral ministry. You need to understand that several years earlier, during a church revival weekend, both Patti and I had felt that God might be calling us into some kind of full-time ministry. We both felt that whatever God was calling us toward was still in the future and, we both assumed, since we headed the church missions committee, that it might somehow involve missions.

 

And so now I was contemplating the impossible. I asked my pastor if, as an engineer, I had any possibility of being admitted into seminary. With a background in mathematics and physics, I wondered if I would meet any prerequisites at all. My pastor laughed. She laughed. We knew that our pastor had gifts, and two gifts that Pastor Linda Somerville had in abundance were a sensitivity to God’s will, and an amazing ability to read and understand people. When I asked Pastor Linda about seminary and about a potential call to ministry, she told me that she had known for over a year that God was calling us into ministry but was afraid that if she said anything to us, she would mess up whatever God was trying to do.

 

After that, things seemed to begin to fall into place. I was introduced to the Provost of Ashland University by a mutual friend, applied for admission at Ashland Seminary, was accepted, started classes, and then, finally found a part-time job. Six months later I was appointed as a student pastor in the Mid-Ohio District just south of Mansfield, Ohio. A condition of being a student pastor was that I had a half-time ministry and was to attend seminary on a full-time basis, and I did. After four years of seminary I graduated in 2008. During our time at Johnsville/Steam Corners, the financial health of the church had been changing. While we hadn’t grown much in attendance, financially we managed to grow, just a little, each year. It was expected that when I graduated, we would be moved and another student would come to take my place. But instead, Johnsville and Steam Corners decided that they were able to afford a full-time pastor and asked that we stay. As a result, instead of moving after only three or four years, as many students do and as many of Johnsville pastors had, we stayed for six.

 

We then moved to Barnesville and, although we expected to say longer, for a variety of reasons, we left after only two years.  One again, God had other plans and we moved to Trinity in Perry Heights between Massillon and Canton.  And after six years, although we thought we would be staying longer, we find ourselves here, in Alliance.  As always, we believe that God has been a part of this process.

 

Of course, there is more to our story but that’s enough for today. For us, God has done the impossible and has moved the immovable. To get us where we are today, God has done miracles and changed us in ways we never thought possible.

 

Before we close I would like to share a passage from Jeremiah 18.

 

1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

In the end, we are all like clay in the hands of the potter.  If you’ve ever watched a pot being formed you will sometimes see that a small defect, a grain of sand or a small pebble, come to the surface while the clay is spinning on the wheel.  When that happens, it scars and ruins the entire piece and the only choice left is for the potter to pick up the clay, smash it into a lump, plop it back onto the wheel and start over.  Our lives are like that.  It is never fun when we are squashed and plopped down on the wheel but through it all we can know that God is lovingly and carefully shaping us into the people that he has created us to be.

Today we stand as witnesses that God is able to accomplish whatever he has put in your heart to do. We are witness to God’s faithfulness and power. We know that it is God that does the doing. We know that God brings success when we are obedient and faithful. We know that it is God that commands, it is God that rejoices in our obedience and it is God that orchestrates our success.

 

Today, as we sit in church, the question I would like to ask is this: Has God ever asked you to do the impossible?

 

What is it that God has put on your heart?

I urge you to attempt the difficult and consider the impossible… before God decides to use a 2×4 to get your attention.

 

 

 

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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 Pastor@CUMCAlliance.org.   These messages can also be found online at hhttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Why I am Not Posting

There haven’t been any updates here for a couple of weeks now and it’s not an accident.

But why?

Those of you who follow me on social media already know, but some folk might have missed it.

We’re moving.

Most of my post come from our regular Sunday worship services, or from funerals, weddings, hallway conversations, questions that I get asked or commentary on news events that intersect with the church or religion in some way.  But while my/our ministry is continuing, it is also changing locations.  I have been reassigned from Trinity church in Massillon, Ohio to Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance, Ohio.  We’ve already hauled five or six trailers full of stuff out of the house and into storage.  For the last week or two we’ve been attending our church’s Annual Conference at Lakeside near Sandusky, Ohio but for the last few months we’ve also been packing.  Within the next couple weeks the moving trucks will come, friends will volunteer, and everything we own will be transported to a new house, a new church, and a new community.

It’s a lot to take in.

And there are a ton of details to wade through.

So, in the meantime, I’m not spending a lot of time on my computer doing much of anything.  I will, however be preaching at Christ Church in Alliance on July first and that message will appear here.  As we get settled in, a more regular pace will be reestablished.

And possibly a few new surprises as well.

Stay tuned.