Two Big “Ifs” of Christianity

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Two Big “Ifs” of Christianity

August 07, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your hands are full of blood!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where will Jesus find you when he returns?

Choose wisely.


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

Past Pain, Present Gifts

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Past Pain, Present Gifts

(formerly – Violence, Division, and Unexpected Gifts)

May 29, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 17:20-26            Acts 16:16-34             Revelation 22:12-17, 20-21

Mary Todd Lincoln was crazy.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln, was a sufferer of an undiagnosed mental illness and was extraordinarily difficult to live with.  By making a long-distance examination from historically documented accounts, historians of today guess that Mary Todd Lincoln may well have suffered from bipolar disorder and, in an era far removed from a diagnosis, let alone a treatment of any kind, her disorder often made life in her household unpleasant. 

Other husbands of that era might have, and sometimes did, have their wives and family members with such a disorder committed to an insane asylum.  Many of them clearly were not insane by our modern standards but were simply so difficult to live with that they were removed to the care of someone else.  Abraham Lincoln didn’t do that.  He loved his wife Mary, he cared for her, and he found it within himself to withstand her rages, outbursts, depression, and other manifestations of her disorder. 

Our nation benefited from his suffering.  Historians speculate that the mental fortitude of Abraham Lincoln, forged and strengthened through years of caring for Mary, and enduring the suffering that went with it, made him singularly qualified to stand against the stress, arguments, negotiations, and other mental and emotional difficulties that were thrust upon him during the American Civil War.  Anyone who had not lived through what he had already endured, might not have been able to cope with the demands of the presidency in that era. 

In an odd sort of way, his suffering was a gift.

But what does any of that have to do with us?  Well, before we get to that part, let’s begin at the beginning and remember when Jesus explains what the purpose of life will be for his disciples and all who would choose to follow him.  We hear that story in John 17:20-26 as Jesus prays…

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made youknown to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

In this short prayer, there are a few things that I want to highlight.  First, Jesus asks that our relationship with God be the same as his, that just as God is in Jesus, we might also be in them.  More specifically, Jesus says that he passed the glory of God that had inhabited him, on to his followers so that we might be one, in the same way that Jesus and God are one.  And because of the glory of God that dwells within us, and because of our unity of purpose and togetherness, that the world would know that God loves us. 

Second, Jesus asks that his followers would be able to come to where he is, and to see his glory.  And third, that Jesus’ purpose in revealing God to us, was so that we might be filled with the love of God.  And we can see that this last one, combined with Jesus’ command to go into all the world and preach the good news, tells us that God’s goal is not to rule the world, but to fill the world with his love.

But how do we do that?  How do we reveal God’s glory and God’s love to the world around us?  Certainly, there are more ways to do that than we can count, but one particularly dramatic way is found in one of Paul’s missionary journeys recorded in Acts 16:16-34 where we hear this:

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment, the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

I cannot even begin to count how many sermons can be, and have been, written about this passage.  But for today, I want to look at two specific things.  First, that this earthquake was extraordinarily specific.  It was strong enough to wake everyone up and to shake the foundations of the prison, but where earthquakes ordinarily collapse buildings and jam doors shut, this one unlocks and opens doors, opens padlocks, loosens chains, and releases feet bound in iron stocks.  That is particularly specific and not at all the way that earthquakes and other natural disasters usually work, and this is how we see God in the story.

Second, when the jailer discovers that this has happened, he draws his sword to kill himself rather than be tortured to death, which was what usually happened to anyone who allowed a Roman prisoner to escape.  But Paul hears the sword come out of its sheath, knows what the jailer intends to do and calls to him that everyone is still there.  Once again, this must be an act of God.  Even if Paul and Silas convinced the other prisoners not to escape, the chances of no one leaving are so slim that this is also evidence of God’s hand because they were all there.

And the jailer comes to faith in God because he saw, with his own eyes the hand of God at work in the world on behalf of Paul and Silas.  He witnessed that the doors were unlocked, the chains loosened, and the iron shackles unbound, and he witnessed the power that kept a jail full of prisoners from escaping when the doors stood wide open.  And he experienced the simple act of human kindness that Paul showed to him.  All that Paul had to do to escape was to leave.  All that Paul had to do to get revenge for the beating that was inflicted upon him was to remain silent.  But Paul did not remain silent.  He did not try to escape or to pursue revenge.  Instead, Paul showed kindness to the jailer.

And he, and his entire household, were saved.

And we connect the dots by remembering the words of Jesus that we find in John’s Revelation contained in chapter 22:12-17, 20-21.  Jesus said:

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give youthis testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes, take the free gift of the water of life.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

The important idea here are that there will be a judgement but that anyone can come into the kingdom of God.  Everyone is invited and sharing the gift of eternal life is a gift that each of us can give to all the people that we care about. 

God’s goal is to share the message of the gospel throughout the entire world so that the world is filled with God’s love.  Paul brought that jailer and his family into the kingdom of God simply through an act of kindness when anyone would have understood his desire for revenge.  And sometimes, suffering and pain are the doorway through which we must pass in order to receive an unexpected gift.

Abraham Lincoln’s struggles made him strong enough to bless a nation.

Paul and Silas’ suffering allowed them to rescue the jailer and his entire family.

What can you do this week, to point others toward the kingdom of God?

How might the pain of your past bless others in the present, or in the future?

How many of the people around you might you give the gift of God’s love?

And how many of those people are separated from eternal life by one… simple… act of kindness?


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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.

2021 Pastor’s Report

2021 Pastor’s Report

During 2021 we continue to struggle with the fallout from the global COVID-19 pandemic.  For nearly half of the year we were online only, then in-person, but outdoors, and now indoors with livestreaming to those who remain uncomfortable with a return to indoor worship.  The pandemic, and its effects on worship has, not surprisingly, had enormous ripple effects throughout the life of the church.  Giving, while stable through 2020, saw a major decline during the first half of 2021 but has seen some recovery since our return indoors.  Church committees, which did an admirable job of pivoting to Zoom during the lockdown, have largely returned to in-person meetings but, to some extent, still struggle with finding ways to maintain effective mission and ministry while also wearing masks, social distancing, etc.

But, as we have transitioned back to worship in our sanctuary, and have retained our online presence, we are hopeful that, as the pandemic, eventually, winds down, that we will see more members return to a fact-to-face connection.  We are hopeful that we will renew our connection with our friends and meet in-person with those who found us online, and whom we have only met virtually.  We are hopeful that our attendance, and giving, will return to, and exceed, our pre-pandemic levels, and we look forward to a return to more active participation in mission and ministry outside the walls of our church.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t done anything this year.  Although all meals continue to be carry-out only, we continue to host the weekly community dinners which are now serving more than 130 meals each week.  Christ Church once again raised considerably more than was pledged for our part in the “Apostle Build” Habitat for Humanity house constructed this summer.  And, due to the unexpected spike in the price of building materials caused by the pandemic lock down, the excess funds that we raised were sorely needed and greatly appreciated.  Our United Methodist Women had a successful Basement Sale fundraiser and, once again, donated a large amount of unsold clothing and housewares to our friends at the Big Creek mission in the Red Bird missionary conference.  Even though we have been unable to send a mission team for two years, we hope to deliver a full trailer of donations before the snow flies.  These and other mission efforts have adapted and continued despite the difficulties of the past two years.  This adaptability and persistence encourages us and makes us hopeful that next year will be even better.

And so, as we move toward Thanksgiving, Advent, and a New Year, we understand that the crisis is not over.  We look forward to preparing 1200 Thanksgiving meals for our community, double our number for last year and close to where we were before the pandemic.  But we know that we will continue to face struggles and will have obstacles to overcome.  At the same time, we are encouraged and hopeful that God will has plans for us and will continue to use Christ Church as a lighthouse of hope and an embassy of his kingdom in our community and for our world.  Our prayer is that we will move from a place of struggle and surviving, to reviving, and then onward to thriving.

We may not know the future, but we know who holds the future. 

And that future is full of hope.


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Who Are You?

Who Are You?

(Christ the King Sunday)

November 21, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 23:1-7 John 18:33-37 Revelation 1:4-8

You’ve probably heard the song, but in 1986, singer-songwriter Pat MacDonald wrote a song for the band Timbuk3 as an expression of his pessimism about what he saw as impending nuclear destruction.  But the song gained notoriety and popularity because most listeners ignored the grim tone of the lyrics and focused instead only on the chorus which says, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” And so, rather than being seen as a commentary on nuclear proliferation, MacDonald’s song has been widely adopted as a hymn or a theme song for students at their graduation from high school or college.

And for their part, graduation is a moment when many of us are filled with optimism and hope for the future.  We know that nothing in life is certain, but what we have accomplished so far will, we hope, set the table for future success.  But of course, sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way that we expect, there are no guarantees in life…

…except in those rare cases when there are.

In 2 Samuel 23:1-7, near the end of his life, God gives King David an oracle, a vision, of the future.  And in that vision, David sees a bright future for his family, his descendants, and for his nation.

23:1 Now these are the last words of David:

The oracle of David, son of Jesse,
    the oracle of the man whom God exalted,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
    the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:

The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
    his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
    the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
    ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
    like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
    gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

Is not my house like this with God?
    For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
    ordered in all things and secure.
Will he not cause to prosper
    all my help and my desire?
But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away;
    for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar
    or the shaft of a spear.
    And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

Even though he is at the end of his life, David knows that the future is bright for his family and for his nation.  As long as they remain faithful, and rule over the people justly, and in the fear of God, David’s descendants will lead the nation of Israel forever.  This isn’t just the boundless optimism of a graduating senior but is the revelation and eternal promise of God.  But, although David heard God’s promise, and although he saw a bright future for his descendants and for Israel, he almost certainly did not envision or imagine how God was going to bring about such a future.  Rather than pass the mantle of leadership and kingship from generation to generation, and hope that each generation would remain faithful to God and maintain their connection to the God that made it all possible, God had an entirely different solution in mind as we see as we read the story of Jesus in John 18:33-37.

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Despite the confusion of the disciples, Pharisees, Sadducees, Pilate, and almost everyone else, Jesus never had any calling or intention of being and earthly king.  Although he was the descendant of King David, and even though Jesus would claim the fulfillment of God’s promise to David and rule over Israel forever, Jesus wasn’t going to physically sit on a throne in Israel (in this creation).  The kingship that God had in mind was spiritual, not physical, and the borders and boundaries of that kingdom extend far beyond the borders of one tiny country in the Near East.  The kingdom of God is a kingdom of truth, and his followers listen and obey the words and the instructions of Jesus in places and in times far beyond the imagination of Pilate, or anyone else of that era.

But the time will come when all of us move on from this life into the next, when this world ends and another begins, when the present Israel and the present Jerusalem pass away and the followers of Jesus move into a new creation and a new Jerusalem.  Then, Jesus will sit on his throne and rule over all the earth.  And that is the vision that John saw and recorded for us in Revelation 1:4b-8, where he says:

John, to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freedus from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds;
    every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
    and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So, it is to be. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

John begins by bringing what can be read as both a blessing and a prayer extending grace to the seven churches of Asia Minor from God, from the seven spirits, and from Jesus.  I thought the reference to the seven spirits might be a reference to the seven churches, to whom John’s letter was written but, with a little research, found that the “seven spirits” can probably be understood, from the way in which similar language was used by Isaiah and other Old Testament writers, to mean the Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity, so the entire greeting can be thought of as being a prayer to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  John then reminds us that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a twofold action that both rescued us from sin and called us to something bigger.  John’s reference to “a kingdom and priests” reminds us that we are not just saved from our sins, but also saved for “a destiny as his agents and worshipers”[1][emphasis mine].

But then, after the greeting, and a reminder that we are God’s agents in the world, John shares his vision of the future in which he saw Jesus descending to earth from the clouds, and a waiting world below standing in fear as they realize that the rescuer and redeemer that they rejected is indeed the creator of the world, and the God of the universe.   And, as if to add emphasis, Jesus then pronounces that he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and in doing so reminds us that God is eternal (and we are not).

Before he died, God gave David a vision of the future that assured him that God would keep his promise to place one of David’s descendants on the throne of Israel for all time.  And, with the coming of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, God kept that promise in a way that David almost certainly never expected.  Like David, we too look to the future and wonder what that future holds for us.  We might not want to sing, like Pat MacDonald and Timbuk3, that our future is so bright that we gotta wear shades, but from John’s vision, we know that we do have a future… an eternal future, with God, because of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Without Jesus, the day of his return will be a day of fear, embarrassment, terror, and regret.  But because we have faith in Jesus, we eagerly look forward to that day with optimism and hope because although we might not need shades…

…that future looks pretty bright.


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[1] Craig S. Keener, The New Application Commentary: Revelation, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000


*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.

Trading Treasure for Soup

Trading Treasure for Soup

July 12, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 25:19-34                Romans 8:1-11           Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack is on his way to the market to sell the family cow, and on the way, he is persuaded to trade the cow for a handful of magic beans instead.  If this were not a fairy tale, anyone who hears the story would be shocked at his foolishness and could easily understand that he has just doomed his entire family to starvation.  But the story is memorable because of his foolishness.  In the real world, even a child would have understood the seriousness of the situation and no one would ever agree to trade an entire cow for a handful of beans.

Or would they?

On May 24, 1626, Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan for the equivalent of $24 worth of beads and trinkets.  But both sides thought the other was stupid.  The Dutch couldn’t imagine that the Indians would sell the land for so little, and the Indians, who believed that land belonged to everyone, couldn’t imagine that the Dutch would give them stuff for something that couldn’t be owned.

On April 30, 1803, The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed in Paris.  With that signing, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents an acre.  I’m sure that seemed like a lot of money in 1803, but it doesn’t seem like much today when there are individual buildings, even private residences, that sell for that much.

Likewise, the United States Secretary of State William Seward was widely mocked for what the headlines called “Seward’s Folly” when he purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, on March 30, 1867.  But today, between the oil fields on the North Slope and the incredible natural beauty of Alaska, by today’s standards I don’t think you could find anyone who doesn’t think we got a pretty good deal.

All those stories end up turning out pretty good for the folks who are buying.  Even Jack wins in the end when he brings home the goose that laid golden eggs.  But most of us know that in real life, foolishness doesn’t always turn out well.  And scripture tells us that the people of the ancient world had learned that lesson just the same as we have.  One of the places where they learned it, and retold it to one another, and to us, is in the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:19-34 where we hear this story:

19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram [northwest Mesopotamia] and sister of Laban the Aramean.

21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So, she went to inquire of the Lord.

23 The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
    and the older will serve the younger.”

24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. [which means hairy] 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[which means “grasps the heel” or culturally it meant “he deceives”] Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom [which means red].)

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So, he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So, Esau despised his birthright.

Esau, like many people, was short-sighted.  He wanted what he wanted for today.  His birthright, this inheritance of two-thirds of his father’s wealth, as well as eventually becoming the caretaker of all his father’s dependents, was too far away.  Planning for a future that was decades away was too difficult, too intangible, too fuzzy, too nebulous.  Today he was hungry.  What did he care about an inheritance he wouldn’t get, and responsibilities that he didn’t really want, that he wouldn’t even see for twenty or thirty years?

We see many of our friends and family members do similar things.  Students sometimes have difficulty focusing on today’s test for a grade that they won’t see for fifteen weeks, or on classes they don’t like that are needed for a diploma they won’t see for two or three years. We know people who choose to make payments on expensive cars instead of driving cheaper ones and save for their retirement.  People who choose to live above their means and live well, rather than live modestly and prepare for their future.  And there are whole industries to help people cash out of long-term settlements so that they can spend next year’s money today.  And all of us have struggled with eating what’s good for us, and getting enough exercise, for a healthy future when the goodies on the menu look so tasty and tempting.  It’s hard to give up what we want today in exchange for something that we can’t have for two, three, or even four decades in the future.

And so, Esau sells his inheritance to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup.

In our daily lives, we make decisions like that every day.  Of all people, farmers probably live with that reality more than most.  Planting is a lot of work, and the results won’t be seen for many months.  Likewise, during the winter, farmers must busy themselves maintain, repairing, and replacing machines, tools, and other equipment that won’t be needed until the spring, because in the spring, they will have many other things that need to be done.  Jesus knew that and he uses that understanding as the basis for the parable that he taught in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

 18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus knows that the harvest is months away.  He knows that it’s hard work.  He knows that many of the seeds that are planted either won’t grow or won’t produce.  He knows that all that failure makes it even harder to focus on the future.  But he reminds us that despite all the failures, there will be successes.  And the seeds that grow, the successes that are seen, will more than make up for the seeds that fail.  Even though much of our effort will seem wasted, and even though we may not see the results for a long time, our successes will make all the effort worthwhile.

And not only does that speak to us about our work as evangelists and sharers of the Good News of Jesus Christ, it also speaks to us about the way that we live our lives.  In Romans 8:1-11, Paul reminds us that while there are great rewards for following Jesus, because some of those rewards do not come to us in our present lives, it can be all too easy to lose our focus and think too much about the present.

8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Much like our retirement savings, or planting seeds in the spring for the fall harvest, we must keep our focus on the future and live today as if the future matters.  Yes, there is and exchange being made.  We are making a deposit on a future that we cannot see.  But we are not buying a handful of magic beans.  Instead, Paul says, we live according to the Spirit so that we do the things that God wants us to do rather than live only according to the things that we think feel good.  There are many tempting goodies on the menu that aren’t healthy for us or for our future.  It is important, for our health, for our retirement, and for our eternity, to stay focused on the things that are really important, even when those things are so far in the future that they are hard to see.

The last thing we want to do, is to sell our inheritance in exchange for a bowl of soup.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/2Bsf-OzlAtM

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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.

2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)

2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)

Social Media Year in Review

 

Last week I wrote what is essentially the “first half” of an overview of last year.  I may still write a “top ten” list of the most read posts from last year, but while last week’s post was mostly about the church, this week’s is more personal.  While I did include some blog statistics in last week’s post, it was only those that related to the weekly posts of the Sunday sermon and, although that is probably the bright spot of this report as well, this post will cover more ground than that.

First, and most strangely, my old blog on Blogger, which I no longer maintain, and which I have clearly labelled as having moved to my new address on WordPress, still gets regular traffic.  It seems that, at some point, I might be forced to either edit every single post with a note about moving or delete that account entirely.  In any case, even though no new content has been posted there in almost four years, it still had considerably more traffic (5814 views) than my new one (3994 views).  This is both humbling, and an illustration of how well Google can push traffic toward its own properties.

Obviously, the traffic on my blog is pitifully small, especially when you read that you can begin to “monetize” your webpage or blog once you reach a benchmark of something like 10,000 visitors per month.  Even so, while the number of visitors to my old page is about half of what it was the year before, the number visitors to the new page nearly doubled.  Specifically, there was an 85 percent increase in visitors from 2018 to 2019 which was only slightly better than the 84 percent increase that we saw from 2017 to 2018.  So, while traffic to this blog is still small, its growth has almost doubled in each of the last two years.  And that, is both encouraging and humbling.

Some of that growth is reflected in the increase in subscribers.  At the beginning of 2019, 70 people subscribed to my blog on WordPress, and at the end of 2019 that number increased to 120.  Separate from that group, there are also two lists of folks who subscribe to blog notifications.  The first receives each week’s Sunday sermon, in its entirety, by email.  That list grew from 141 to 213.  The second list receives email notifications every time that I post a blog (like this one) that is not a Sunday sermon.  That email is usually just a notification that there is a new post and includes a link to that post.  Less impressively, his second subscription list increased from 18 to 24.  I’m not sure which of these is “cause” and which is “effect.”  Did increasing blog traffic drive increased subscriptions, or vice-versa, or did they feed one another?

On Facebook, I have, so far, resisted the call to create a new profile and separate my “public” and my “private” or “personal” life, but I do try to be careful not to accept too many friend requests from total strangers.  As of now, I have 812 Facebook “friends”, but I have no idea how much that might have grown since last year.  Neither do I track the growth of my network on LinkedIn, but again I do try, somewhat, to limit that platform to people that I’ve met in person.  Theoretically, Twitter should be the place where I gather “fans” that I haven’t met, but I probably don’t expend enough effort or focus there, so over the course of the year my follower count dropped from 389 to 371.   The number of people who subscribe to paper copies via snail mail decreased from 7 to 5, and although we haven’t been able to get into a routine of getting videos posted, a few things did and the number of people subscribing to my YouTube channel somehow managed to increase from 3 to 7.

Again, even though what I do online is not anything close to my “main” ministry, we are reaching people through this medium and the results are encouraging.  I hope that your New Year is a bright one.

For all of you you’ve been here all year, and for those of you who are new this year, thank you.  Feel free to comment below and let me know how these messages might have helped you this year, or what topics you might like to see addressed in 2020.  As usual, I’m sure there will be more ideas than time, but even if I don’t get to yours, your suggestions and comments are always welcome.


To read the first installment of this year-end review, click here: 2019 By the Numbers (Part 1).


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2019 – By the Numbers

So now that we’ve turned the calendar to another year, and we are already preparing our “End of Year” reports for the Annual Conference, what do the numbers say about where we’ve been?  And, as is often the case, it depends.  There is always more than one way to look at things and our church is no exception but, at the same time, I think that there are some useful numbers worth examining.

Let’s begin with the number that everyone probably asks about first, attendance.  In 2018 we reported an average worship attendance of 71 in our Charge Conference report.  This year, in June, we reported that number as 78, and by the end of 2019 our average was almost 80 (technically 79.82).  Obviously, that’s a significant improvement but we all know that a church “our size” should, and could, have far more than that on an average week.  Still, we should all be pleased that we’re moving in the right direction.  What’s more, I hope that I’m not the only one who has noticed that we’re beginning to see more visitors, more repeat visitors, and a few more children and all those things are good signs.

But so far, none of those increases that we’ve seen in worship have found their way to Sunday School.  Attendance in our Sunday morning classes was 37 in 2017, 39 in 2018, and almost 39 (actually, 38.94) in 2019.  Even so, that isn’t bad news.  Considering the number of members that we’ve lost in the last three years, holding steady is a solid accomplishment.  Moreover, thirty-nine people in Sunday school and eighty in worship, means that 48 percent of our regular attenders are coming to Sunday school every week.  And whether you know it or not, that is a huge percentage that any church would be proud of.

Our social media presence is also, however slowly, increasing as well.  In January of 2019 our church Facebook page had 199 followers and by January of this year that number had risen to 219.  And, although even while 219 “likes” in the social media world is still tiny, a ten percent increase is still good news.  And during that same time period, the number of people who subscribe to our Sunday sermons increased from 206 to 333.  Of course, just because people subscribe doesn’t mean that they read those messages, and although it’s harder to put specific numbers to online readership, the number of readers has increased substantially as well.  Even more difficult, is trying to understand how any of that contributes to attendance or ministry at our physical location in the real world, but in a era when most people visit your webpage before they visit your church, having a healthy online presence is good news.

And, of course, we have many more programs, mission, and volunteer opportunities going on year-round that are even more difficult to count or number.  Our Thanksgiving dinner partnership delivered more than 1100 turkey dinners on Thanksgiving morning, we had a very successful burger event during Carnation Days in the Park, our church donated far in excess of our pledge to Habitat for Humanity for last  year’s Apostle Build and in the process our volunteers had a highly visible presence at last summer’s weekly concerts by the caboose downtown.  Our scouting program is healthy, growing, and continues to produce Eagle scouts and train the leaders of tomorrow.  But more than that, we now have two scout troops because this year Troop 50 has become Troops 50 as they formed a new all-female Troop 50, for girls and young women, alongside of the existing all-male Troop 50.

There are many more stories that could be told, but it seemed as if this was a year in which we were constantly hearing good news.  While we may not yet be where we would like to be, or perhaps moving as quickly as we might like, we are moving in the right direction.  The numbers affirm what many of us have suspected.  Christ Church is moving in the right direction and I want to thank all of you for all the hard work, in a hundred different places, and in dozens of events, and in countless hours of effort on the part of… well, practically everyone.  I want you to know that you are making a difference.

I’m looking forward to what this new year will bring, and I hope you are too.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 


To see “2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)” a review of my social media presence in 2019, click here.

 

 

 


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Given Grace to Give Grace

Given Grace to Give Grace

December 22, 2019*

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 7:10-16                            Matthew 1:18-25                               Romans 1:1-7

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to know the future?

Sometimes it might be a good thing.  When we’re going through difficult and challenging times it might be nice to know that things are going to turn out well for us.  When we worry about our children or grandchildren, it might be nice to know that they will eventually find their way, get an education, find a good job, and become responsible, productive, people of faith who love God.  Certainly, if we knew what the stock market was going to do next year, or even next week, we could make a lot of money.

But, on the other hand, would you want to know that your difficult and challenging times were only going to get worse?  Or that your children and grandchildren were not going to find their way?  Would you want to know the future if it was full of bad news?  Probably not.  And that’s exactly why Israel’s kings usually cringed whenever the prophets of God came to visit them.  God’s prophets had a reputation of only showing up when there was bad news and were sometimes thought of as harbingers of doom.  King Obadiah called Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”  God’s prophets knew that it wasn’t popular to know the future if the future wasn’t filled with good news.

And that’s a part of what is going on in the story we’re about to read, as Isaiah shares God’s words with King Ahaz of Judah in Isaiah 7:10-16.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

Ahaz remembers that the people of God are not supposed to put God to the test, and that is so ingrained in him that he won’t do it even when God asks him to do it.  God tells Ahaz that he will accomplish whatever it takes to prove to him that the things that Isaiah is saying will truly happen.  But, since Ahaz refuses to ask for such a sign, God names one instead and says that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, if you think about that for a minute, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds a little weird if the only meaning is the one that we remember at Christmastime because a that wouldn’t have answered King Ahaz’s question at all.  But, many of God’s prophecies had not one, but two meanings and two fulfillments.  The first would be one that made sense in the immediate future and the second would make sense in the more distant future.  This is one of those times.  The first meaning was that a young, unmarried woman, quite possibly a woman that both Isaiah and King Ahaz knew, such as the woman who was betrothed to Isaiah, who we would think of as Isaiah’s fiancée, and future wife, would, in a short amount of time, become pregnant and have a baby.  The second meaning, of course, is the one with which we are more familiar and that is one that became understood as something that would happen with the coming of Israel’s messiah.

And so, in this passage, God promises Ahaz that before Isaiah’s baby is old enough the choose right from wrong, traditionally about 12 or 13 years old, those who were attacking him, the kingdoms of Aram and the northern tribes of Israel, would come to an end.  And, while that sounds like good news, if you read the rest of that passage it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those times where things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, in any case, the second meaning is God’s promise of a messiah who would rescue his people for all time.  And it is that fulfillment that we see in the story of Matthew 1:18-25 where we hear these words:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Just as God had promised to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, the rescuer of humanity, God’s messiah, is born to a virgin.  But Joseph was terrified.  The woman to whom he had been pledged in marriage was pregnant and it was clear that he wasn’t the father.  At that point, Joseph had three choices and none of them were particularly good.  Since having sex before marriage was prohibited under the law of Moses, and it would seem obvious to most people that this is what Mary had done (since that was the ordinary way in which pregnancy happens), Mary would not only be seen as violating the law, but also as bringing disgrace to her family, bringing disgrace to Joseph’s family, and also breaking the contract that bound the two of them together. 

Joseph’s first option, under the law, was to publicly humiliate Mary and announce what she had done, and possibly even have her stoned to death (although that rarely, if ever, actually happened).  The second choice would be to quietly divorce her on the grounds that she had already broken the contract between their families.  The third choice was probably the worst choice of all, and that was to go ahead with their marriage.  This option would bring disgrace, humiliation, and financial hardship to both of their families, and would make Joseph, his father, and all of his family look stupid for going ahead with a marriage to a woman who had violated her promise even before their wedding. 

But even though all these choices seemed like bad ones, Joseph, being a nice guy, thought that he would choose the one that was the least damaging to everyone.

But God had other ideas.

God tells Joseph, in a dream, not to be afraid, that Mary had really not slept with anyone else, that the child she was carrying was actually the child of God and would become the one who would rescue God’s people from sin.  And when he woke up, Joseph did what God told him to do and in doing so, models for us some of the best characteristics of God, God’s people, and humanity.  In order to do what Joseph does requires extraordinary trust, abundant love, a mountain of faith, a pile of forgiveness, a large measure of grace, and more an ample amount of hope.

But what is it that we should take away from these stories?  How does the story of Christmas guide us as we live our lives in the twenty-first century?  And, even though he lived two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul understood a part of that answer as he wrote to the church in Rome as we see in Romans 1:1-7.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

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

Paul reminds everyone in the church that the Gospel message, the story of the messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, was a story that God promised, through the prophets, hundreds of years before it happened.  It was because of God’s love for us that he created a way for us to be rescued from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  Just as Joseph rescued Mary by taking her home to live with him, just as Joseph chose hope, love, and grace, so did God.  Just as Joseph showed mercy and grace to Mary, God showed mercy and grace to us by sending his Son to rescue us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we received these gifts from God and, Paul says, because we have received these gifts from God, through Jesus Christ, we are, in turn, called by God to share this Good News with the rest of the world.

Paul is clear that the message of Jesus Christ was never just a message for the Jews, but has always been a message for the Jews, the Gentiles, and for the entire world.  And while I am sure that Paul didn’t intend for this to be Christmas message, it certainly is one because when Paul says that the Gentiles are being called to belong to Jesus Christ it reminds us of this:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:8-10)

Good news.  For all the people.

We have been given grace, so that we might give grace to those around us, to the people we love, to the people we fear, to the people we hate, to the insiders, to the outsiders, to the connected, to the outcasts, to citizens, to foreigners…

…to everyone.

The world would not have heard the message of Jesus if Joseph didn’t have enough faith and trust in God to show mercy and grace to Mary.

And two thousand years of history hasn’t changed that.

One of the clear messages in the story of Christmas is that we are called to share God’s mercy and grace so that everyone around us can hear the message of Jesus.

As we leave this place, let us remember that we are God’s agents of grace.

 

 

 


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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.

Trouble Times Three

Trouble Times Three

November 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 65:17-25                      2 Thessalonians 3:6-13                      Luke 21:5-19

 

Have you ever been in trouble?

Or been a part of an organization, or a nation, that was going through trouble?

And, in the middle of that trouble, did you ever wonder where God was, or why God would allow your pain, or why God allowed such trouble to come at all?

As much as we dislike trouble, and as painful as it can be, pain and trouble seem to be an integral part of life itself.  Where there is life, trouble seems to be present.  And that seems always to have been true.  Trouble existed from the beginning of God’s story in Genesis and dances its way through scripture all the way to the end in Revelation.  But even though trouble and pain and suffering are always there, it seems fair to wonder what God thinks about it, why God allows it, or what God is doing about it.  So, together, let’s explore that idea for a little while.

We begin in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 65:17-25) as God’s prophet helps the people of Israel to wrestle with what seems like the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem, the capture of her people, and slavery in Babylon for the survivors.  They know that trouble is coming, the future seems bleak, and it seems as if God will not answer the prayers of his people.

17 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

It is interesting, I think, that God doesn’t offer any explanation as to why the prayers of the people seem to be unanswered or offer any assurance that the threat of death and destruction at the hands of the Assyrians will go away.  Instead, God simply begins to talk about the future.  Let me say that again, slowly, for effect.  God begins to talk about… the future.  At the moment when the people of Judea and Jerusalem are beginning to realize that the prophecies of their destruction are about to be fulfilled, and just when they are all beginning to think that they are all going to die and their nation erased from history, it is at that moment, the moment in which the people are beginning to believe that they have no future at all, that God begins to talk about the future.

God says that he will create a new heaven and a new earth that will be so good that we will finally forget the pain of the past.  The future that God describes will be a place where crying and pain will be no more.  Premature death, for any reason, will be abolished.  Even the wild animals of the animal kingdom will set aside their animal natures, the instinct coded into their DNA changed, so that enemies, rivals, predators, prey, victors and victims will all live together in harmony.

Although that future has not yet come to pass, or maybe because that future has not yet come pass, we can find the same comfort that was offered to Israel so many years ago.  God declares that there will be trouble, some of it terrible, some of us may not survive it, but God will be with us through it, God will be with us after it, and the future that God promises afterward will be far better than any life that can be offered in our present reality.  Yes, there will be trouble.  Yes, there has always been trouble, but in the end, even in trouble and suffering… there is hope.

And, just as we know from Isaiah that God’s people are not immune from trouble, the letters that Paul wrote make it clear that the church is not immune from trouble either.  In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Paul writes to address several problems coming from inside the church:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

Within the church in Thessalonica, there were people who chose to be disruptive and others who refused to work but who continued to live off the church’s charity.  Neither, Paul says, is acceptable.  The believers of Jesus Christ should be willing to work, as much as possible, as a part of the common effort of the church and should, in the same way, work together with others rather than creating disruption and division within the body of Christ.  Although what we do can sometimes seem to be thankless and unending, and often for what seems to us to be unappreciated or for minimal gain, Paul encourages us to “never tire of doing good.” 

The message of Paul is that trouble comes even to the church, but here we should stay away from those who stir up division and try to game the system, but we should also find ways to encourage one another to keep moving forward and doing good.

Obviously, from Paul’s experience, the future that Isaiah saw was not the future fulfilled by the coming of Jesus.  At least not yet.  We have faith that such a future is coming, but when his disciples asked him about it, Jesus told them that things would get worse before they got better.  (Luke 21:5-19)

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

In an echo from last week’s message, Jesus warns his disciples that there would be fake news, that others would come who would pretend to be Jesus, or who would pretend to speak for him.  There would be a time when the beautiful Temple in which they worshipped would be torn down and destroyed and all the things that they found to be familiar and comforting would be thrown into chaos.  But even though Jesus warned them of the trouble to come, he also gave them hope and warned them they needn’t be frightened.

Even though there would be trouble in the future, even though there would be violence and wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, and all kinds of other scary things including signs in the heavens, even though the disciples themselves would be arrested, imprisoned, and tried in court, their mission was unchanged.  No matter what happened to them, or what happened in the world around them, the followers of Jesus Christ were to tell the world about Jesus.  In their trials, and in their trouble, Jesus would give them the words and the wisdom that they needed.

Jesus is clear that his followers would face trouble, trial, suffering, and even death, but even in death, Jesus says, “not a hair on your head will perish.”  Isn’t that an odd turn of phrase?  “They will put some of you to death.  Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair on your head will perish.”  Like the message of Isaiah, Jesus reminds his followers that God is bigger than our trouble.  That no matter how bad things get, even if it means the end of life itself, something better is coming.  There is a day coming when death will be abolished, and when trouble and pain, mourning and suffering, and even trouble, will come to an end.

Obviously, that day is not yet.  For now, we endure trouble times three.  There has always been trouble in the past.  Today we can expect trouble.  And we can expect more trouble in the future.  Just because we are the followers of Jesus, or even because this is his church, we are not immune from trouble.  But even in trouble, there is always hope.

Something better is coming.

The world that is broken will be made right.

Until then, stay on mission.

Stand firm, and you will win life.”

 

 

 


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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.

Fake News and Faded Glory

Fake News and Faded Glory

November 10, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Haggai 1:15b-2:9                   2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17                        Luke 20:27-38

 

Are our best days behind us?

As a nation, the language we use suggests that many of us think so.  We throw around terms like “Greatest Generation” and suggest that other generations don’t measure up. “Make America Great Again” suggests that it isn’t great now, rival politicians say that they want to get our country “back on track” and implying we are already off-course. 

But what about the church?  It seems undeniable that Christ Church was built to seat many hundreds of people while today we would think that one hundred would be a banner day.  Our denomination, and almost every denomination in the United States, has been declining in both membership and attendance for decades.  And, with that in mind, we ask ourselves whether the best days of our church, or even Christianity, might be behind us.

But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time in history that such a question has been asked.  In 538 B.C., the emperor of the Persian empire, known as Cyrus, or Darius, allowed the people of Israel to end their exile in Babylon and return to their homeland.  But those who were old enough to remember the glories of Solomon’s Temple, wept at how far their nation had fallen and how little they had in comparison to what was once theirs.  (Haggai 1:15b-2:9)

1:15b In the second year of King Darius,

2:1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place, I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

About 50,000 Jews returned to Israel with Zerubbabel, and for two years they labored to build a temple on the temple mount.  But, for the people who had seen what was there before and had been witnesses to the glory of the past, what they built seemed to be as if it were nothing when compared to what had been there before.  They had not only lost fifty or more years of their lives, but it seemed as if they would never be able to restore what they had once had.  The campaign to “Make Israel Great Again” seemed to be a horrible failure.

But God.

The way that we see the world around us is often nothing at all the way that God sees things.  And that was exactly the case here.  The temple that Zerubbabel and the people had built was a pale shadow of Solomon’s Temple, but that didn’t matter to God.  Although the people couldn’t see it, God knew that this humble temple would become the home of his Son, the Messiah Jesus.  God knew that the temple would be improved and expanded by Herod the Great and he also knew all the things that would happen in that place and how those things would change the world.

While the new temple appeared to be sad in comparison to the glory of the temple that once stood in the same place, God declares that the glory of the new would be greater than the old.  Where Solomon’s temple had been the center of controversy and warfare, the new one would be where God finally brings peace on earth.  When the power of their nation and of their church seemed to be in terrible decline, God’s message was, “Don’t be afraid.  Trust me.”

It seems as if, in the story of scripture, and throughout history, the people of God like to worry about the wrong things.  That was what we saw in the message of Haggai, and we see it repeated in the questions that the Sadducees directed at Jesus in Luke 20:27-38 where we hear these words:

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’  38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

It is worthwhile to remember that the Sadducees didn’t like Jesus and, like the Pharisees, often came to him and tried to trip him up with trick questions.  Luke even points out that they are asking Jesus a question about resurrection and an afterlife because they didn’t believe in an afterlife.  The question that they bring is deliberately crafted to trap Jesus into saying something that sounds stupid or foolish because he believes in, and is teaching about, an afterlife. 

But all that aside, Jesus refuses to fall for their trap.  In answer to their question, Jesus restates his belief in an afterlife by explaining that all those who have died in this world remain alive in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus says that God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”  Jesus says that the dead are not really dead and that the question of the Sadducees is irrelevant because the future is different than the present.  The rules in the Kingdom of God will be different than the rules in the kingdoms of men.  

Asking who will be married to whom is worrying about the wrong thing.  Instead of worrying about the wrong things, Jesus essentially says, “Don’t be afraid.  Trust me.”

And finally, in a world where we can change the channel and hear different versions of the truth, and where we constantly hear accusations of “fake news,” it is helpful to be reminded that we are not alone, and that none of this is new.  As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, he is concerned that other people are inventing news stories, writing to the church, and pretending to be him.  (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17)

2:1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things?

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Paul knows that others have written to the church, pretending to be him, or others on his team, saying that Jesus had already returned and, two thousand years ago, he is compelled to combat the effects of “fake news” so that the church would not be deceived.  Paul encourages the church to hold on to what they know is true, and to “stand firm and hold fast” to what they had personally heard him preach or had personally written to them.  Paul prays that Jesus Christ would encourage their hearts and strengthen them in all the good things that they would do and say.

In other words, in a world where the latest information might be “fake news” and where people pretended to be something that they weren’t, Paul reminds the church to remember what they had been taught.  He reminds them, and us, of the same message that we heard from Haggai and from Jesus, “Don’t be afraid.  Trust me.”

The world that we live in isn’t so very different than the world of the Old and New Testaments.  When it seems as if our nation or our church are in decline, remember that God is in control.  When people twist your words and try to get you to say something stupid, or distract you from what’s really important, don’t allow yourself to worry about the wrong things.  When the world is uncertain, when people pretend to be something they are not, and when we are bombarded by “fake news” designed to distract us from the truth, we would do well to remember the message that God has been sending to his people for thousands of years.

“Don’t be afraid.”

“Trust me.”

 

 

 

 

 


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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.