The Ghost of Baptism Past

The Ghost of Baptism Past

January 15, 2023*

(Baptism of the Lord)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 42:1-9              Matthew 3:13-17                   Acts 10:34-43

In Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits over the course of an evening.  These visits, by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, serve to remind Mr. Scrooge about the real meaning of Christmas, and of life, rather than his miserly devotion to the accumulation of wealth at all costs.  In a way, today’s message borrows from that format as we visit scriptures from before, during, and after the life of Jesus Christ, that tell us something about the deeper meanings of baptism in our past, our present, and in our future.  We begin with God’s promise of his spirit, eight centuries before Jesus’ birth, found in Isaiah 42:1-9.

42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

Isaiah says that the coming messiah will be filled with God’s spirit and bring justice to the world but will be so gentle that he will not do any further damage the most fragile among us.  Moreover, God will not only call his people to right living, but will hold their hands, call the Gentiles to become a part of his family, and will rescue those who are imprisoned by jailers or by their infirmities.

Last week we talked about how God would use the Messiah to open the doors of his kingdom to the Gentiles, but for our purposes this morning, take a moment to notice how Isaiah declares the promise to put God’s spirit in and upon the Messiah that he would send.  And with that in mind, we move forward to the moment of Jesus’ baptism, and the moment when God fulfills that promise in Matthew 3:13-17.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus tells John that he has chosen to be baptized even though he, as the perfect messiah, had no actual need of baptism.  Rather, Jesus chooses to be baptized because it is necessary to fulfill God’s promises that the Messiah would be called to righteousness and to model obedience to God for all who would follow him.  And the moment that he rises out of the waters of the Jordan River, the heavens open, the Spirit of God descends, lands upon Jesus, and God audibly proclaims this love for, and his satisfaction with, Jesus and the work that he is doing.

But if the words of Isaiah speak about the spirit of baptism past, and the Spirit of God at the Jordan River appears as the spirit of baptism in Jesus’ present, then what does that leave us for the spirit of baptism future?  For that, let us jump ahead another few years to a month or two after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and we find Peter as he speaks to a gathering international crowd, Jews, and Gentiles from across the known world, on the day of Pentecost in Acts 10:34-43.

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

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

Paul’s point is that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and then appointed us to follow in his footsteps.  When we choose to follow Jesus, are baptized, and join God’s family as the brothers and sisters of Jesus, we, like Jesus, are baptized and filled with the Spirit of God.  We are therefore empowered by God, to go out into the world and do the work of Jesus Christ and the work of God’s kingdom.  Jesus commands us to preach to the people his future, and of our present, to tell them that Jesus is the one whom they will face on the day of judgement, that it is Jesus about whom the prophets were writing, and that forgiveness comes to everyone who believes in him and puts their faith in him.

In the story, A Christmas Carol, the overnight experience with the three spirits of Christmas past, present, and future, transformed Ebeneezer Scrooge and changed the direction of his entire life.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, our experience with the Spirit of God through baptism, past, present, and future, is similarly transformational.  Just as the spirits did in A Christmas Carol, God does not intend to leave us in the same sorry state in which he found us.  Baptism is a transformational moment when we receive the anointing and the presence of the Spirit of God, and we are commanded by Jesus Christ to be his witnesses, to share the good news with the people around us so that they too can be rescued and adopted into God’s family.

Ebeneezer Scrooge wasn’t visited by the spirits of Christmas so that he could stay the same miserable creature that he always was.  Likewise, we were not baptized to that we could stay the same as we were and do the things we had always done.  Our baptism is transformational. 

God does not intend for us to stay the same.

God intends for us to change the world.


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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 quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Coming Soon!

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Children’s message: How is Jesus like a steam locomotive? https://youtu.be/iHXcL3eD4O0

This week’s challenge: What does it mean to “be prepared in season and out of season”? https://youtu.be/wL-8uCk8TAw


Coming Soon!

October 23, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 31:27-34                 Luke 18:1-8                2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

For those of us who grew up going to real movie theaters, as well as possibly the Netflix generation in a different format, we remember the movie posters and the movie trailers that would run, interspersed with commercials for popcorn, candy, and soft drinks, for fifteen minutes before the movie started.  And the banner under which all these appeared was, “Coming Soon.”  “Coming Soon” was meant to inform us that something amazing, spectacular, and wonderful was about to happen and build our anticipation and desire to see it when it came to town.  This was, I think, especially true for the golden age movie serials as well as the Star Wars type movies that were patterned after them.  Coming soon, is a phrase that is designed to get our attention, to take our focus, of only for a moment, away from our present troubles and busyness, and look forward to the future and the appearance of something new.

And, although we won’t find the words “Coming Soon” anywhere in scripture, the idea that it represents is a common theme of the prophets, Jesus, and the gospel writers alike.  We heard the words in the scriptures that Susan used last week, and I’m going to use some of those same scriptures this morning but will look at them from a different direction.  The first words that we heard last week from the prophet Jeremiah, and will hear again this week, compare almost exactly to the modern usage of “Coming Soon.”  In Jeremiah 31:27-34, we hear…

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord… doesn’t that sound a lot like “Coming soon?”

27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband tothem,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

God announces through Jeremiah that something new is coming.  The days are coming, when God will once again plant his people, kingdoms, and nations and watch over them as they rebuild.  In those days, as we heard last week, everyone will be held responsible for their own sin because… in those days, in the days that are coming soon, God will make a new covenant with his people that will be different from the covenant that he made with them when he led them out of slavery in Egypt.  This will be a new covenant, a new contract, a new promise that God will write upon the minds and hearts of his people.  It will be a new day, a new era, and a new relationship between God and his people.  And that day is… coming soon. 

No matter how you translate it, whether you say, “the days are coming,” or “coming soon,” or “I will…” God presses his people to look forward, to look past their present suffering, to put their trust in God, and look toward the future.  And in the parable that we heard last week, and again this week, this is very much what Jesus is doing as well as we hear these words in Luke 18:1-8:

18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you; he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

God promises to bring justice to his people who cry out to him, but Jesus encourages us not to stop, to continue praying, to continue to cry out to God for justice, because prayer is the expression of our faith.  Prayer is a mechanism by which we shift our focus, look past our present condition, and look forward, because fundamentally, prayer is an expression of our faith in God and our hope for the future.

But… as we hold on to our faith, and as we look toward the future, how do we live, love, and care for the people around us… today?  These are exactly the kind of questions that Paul answers in his second letter to his protégé Timothy as we hear these words in 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

What should we do today?  We should continue to do the things that we’ve been taught to do, to teach the things that we’ve been convinced of by the Spirit of Jesus Christ and continue in our faith.  We should continue to study scripture, and use it to teach, rebuke, correct, and train others in righteousness so that the people of God might be fully equipped for every good work.

Paul’s charge, or assignment, to Timothy carries forward to each of us two thousand years later.  Preach the word, be prepared, at all times, to tell the gospel story and the message of salvation and rescue.  Correct, rebuke, and encourage, and offer instruction, but do these things with great care and patience so that the message that we bring is the message of scripture and not just a modern interpretation that resonates with our culture and makes us feel good.  Keep your head, stay calm… no matter what, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and be in ministry, at all times, to all the people around you.

Paul’s instruction to Timothy, much like the words of Jeremiah and the parable of Jesus, remind us that the day is coming, and coming soon, when we will all stand in judgement.  Our mission is not to get bogged down in the troubles of today, but to look forward past our present troubled and divisive times, to look past our present condition, and live, love, teach, preach, correct, rebuke, and encourage so that we can bring as many of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and classmates into the gates of heaven as we possibly can.

No one can know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, but just as God’s people were called in the time of Jeremiah, and just as they were in the time of Jesus and Paul, we are called to look forward, to look past our present struggles, to put our trust in God, and look toward the future.  Because even if we don’t know when he’s coming, we know that he is… coming soon.


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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.

Pastor’s Report 2022

Hipster pointing to a white board that says "Pastor's Report"

Pastor’s Report 2022

Christ United Methodist Church

Rev. John Partridge

Every year, I am asked to present a report of the year for our annual Charge Conference. It’s really sort of a “what I did last summer” kind of report that asks, “What did your church do for the last year?” Long ago I decided that my answers should not be seen as any kind of a secret, and so I publish them here, and in our church newsletter. I’m excited about the future of Christ Church and its people and I hope that by talking more about it, others might learn about it and join us in our mission to care for the people around us, and around the world, the way that Jesus cares for us.

The official question that was asked this year was this:


Explain how the church is fulfilling its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Review the current year and how you plan to meet your congregational goals for the upcoming years. What specific goals relate to your mission field.


An my answer is as follows:

Christ Church has continued to move forward into a new post-Covid world in which many people remain unsure of attending social gatherings and events with large groups, and church attendance seems to sometimes be among these.  In addition, some of those who were regular in attendance prior to the pandemic simply fell out of the habit.  But, for whatever reason, we continue do everything at Christ Church with excellence so that, as we invite out neighbors, coworkers, and friends, and as those who previously attended test the waters and find their way back, they will all find a community of faith, love, and support that is filled with hope for the future and for an eternity with Jesus.

Christ Church is also considering ways in which we can be more intentional about attracting and inviting others into fellowship and inclusion in our community of faith.  To do that we are exploring opportunities that might exist for each committee and small group within the church as well as potential new ways to reach out to our neighborhoods, new ministries, and even additions to staff.  We have already launched a new children’s ministry offering Sunday school and children’s church so that these options are available to all families in attendance and give them the flexibility to choose what works best for them.

And, at the same time, we have not stopped doing what we have always done.  Volunteers from Christ Church once again provided free concessions each week at the Alliance Chamber of Commerce Concert at the Caboose series of events and raised $737 in donations in support of the Alliance Area Habitat for Humanity, over one hundred meals pass through our doors every Tuesday through the Alliance of Churches, Scouts BSA Pack and Troops 50 continue to mentor and teach valuable skills to young men an women, our United Women in Faith will again teach cooking skills to our neighbors, we continue to support Red Bird missions in Kentucky, provide education for students in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the list goes on.

Our mission calls us to be a bright shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope to the hopeless, and a place of healing to a hurting world where we can be Jesus to our neighbors and to the world.  I believe that Christ Church is not only doing those things, but we are looking for ways to do them better.


I hope that, if you haven’t already, you would join us at Christ Church in-person, or online. Because I have no doubt that together we’re going to change the world.


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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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