The Fire of Change

The fire of change (a picture of fire)

The Fire of Change

May 15, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Acts 11:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Is Covid Over?

Is COVID Over?

Our Easter Sunday worship service this year had a better attendance than in 2019.  This year’s official count was one hundred and three years ago it was ninety-three, and attendance at our Easter Vigil service was three more than the last time that we were able to have one.  Does that mean that our worries about Covid -19 are over, and our church is “back to normal”?

Well, no. 

At the very least, it’s too soon to tell.

Yes, we do seem to be past the worst of it.  And yes, many of our members and friends do seem to be finding their way back to in-person worship.  But I’m not ready to say that we’re completely out of the woods and our concerns about Covid-19 are behind us. 

While the war in Ukraine has pushed Covid out of the daily headlines, the pandemic, and the virus that caused it, is still causing trouble around the world.  Most recently, China has been dealing with multiple outbreaks in several places, locking down entire cities, shutting down businesses, closing ports, and creating more disruption to the supply chain which, in turn, causes problems for people, and businesses, around the world.  And China isn’t the only country that has had problems.  Several European countries have had surges in their case counts, health officials in the United States have seen spikes in several areas and are still warning that we might see additional problems in some places.  So, it may be too soon to throw away our supply of masks, although we can all hope that we won’t need them.

The good, even extraordinary, news is that things are getting back to some sort of normal.  Many, though not all, of our members and friends are returning, in-person, on Sunday mornings.  And, more importantly, although attendance hasn’t quite returned to where it was, it is getting better.  Moreover, using Easter attendance as a benchmark suggests that we’re doing pretty well.  Some churches have suffered significant declines during the pandemic that look as if they may be permanent, but indications are that we seem to have weathered the storm… so far. 

At this point, we have returned to doing most of the things that we were doing before.  Our committees are all meeting, we’re holding most of our activities, and we’re almost back to “normal.”  And the good news is that the necessities of the pandemic taught us some things, such as Zoom, that we continue to use to allow increased participation and save some of us from extra trips into Alliance.  But we aren’t yet where we want to be. 

“Almost” isn’t good enough.

While our Easter attendance is certainly encouraging, and our weekly attendance is getting better, we aren’t yet back to where we were.  And, honestly, where we were still isn’t where we want to be.  Some of our members still don’t feel safe going out in public, and that’s okay.  After worrying for more than two weeks while Patti was in the hospital last fall, I completely understand why being in a large group, like in church, might concern some folks.  And, knowing that the virus is still spiking in some places suggests that it could happen here, again, too.

So, what should we do?

First, have hope.  With the arrival of effective vaccines, things are much better, and, over the course of the last two years, our doctors and hospitals have become much at treating this illness, survival and recovery rates have increased, and promising new Covid-specific antiviral medicines seem close to approval.

Second, stay safe.  We understand that all of us are different.  Each person, and each situation, is different.  So, do what you need to do to stay safe, and to feel safe.  We will continue to offer online options for those of you who are unable to get here in person and we will welcome you back when you are ready.

Third, don’t stop being who you are.  Christ Church is an amazing and awesome place that is filled with amazing and awesome people.  We are known in our community for our outreach and love for our neighbors and that is an incredible reputation so don’t stop doing the things that we’ve always done.

And fourth, don’t stop inviting people to Christ Church.  What we have here is great, but people won’t, and can’t, know how wonderful it is unless someone like you points it out to them.  Every time it comes up in conversation, and sometime when it doesn’t, invite your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, hairdressers, barbers, classmates, and anyone else you encounter to visit us.  Carry invitation cards with you in your wallets and purses.  Don’t keep our church a secret.  Go out of your way to sing the praises of Christ Church everywhere you go.  And, since we now have such a strong online presence, and our livestream compares very favorably to other churches, inviting those people to check us out online is a good option.

Because our goal isn’t to get back to “normal.” 

Our goal is not to survive.

Our goal is to be better than ever.

And to grow the Kingdom of God.

Blessings,


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Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

A photograph of palm branches
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Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

(Palm Sunday)

April 10, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 19:28-40

Today we begin the final week of our preparations for Easter.  We remember the time that, as the church, we refer to as “Holy Week.”  This is that time of remembrance that begins with the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we remember today as Palm Sunday but continues with Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest, illegal trial, crucifixion, death, burial, and his resurrection on Easter morning.  I hope that you will join us, not just for the bookends of Palm Sunday and Easter, but for the entire journey through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Saturday, and then, after we have walked through that season of frustration, anger, despair, and darkness, to arrive together and celebrate the joy of Easter morning.

But this morning, we remember the story of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover as recorded in Luke 19:28-40.

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

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

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

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

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

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

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

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

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

For such a short passage, there is a lot going on.  First, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village ahead of them.  He knew that they would find a colt that had been tied out, he knew that it was such a green colt that it had never been ridden, and although this last one is hardly surprising, Jesus also knew that the owner of the colt would want to know why they were taking it.  Just as Jesus had seen Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him to follow Jesus in John 1:48, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village.  But what is even more surprising, and to my skeptical and sometimes a little cynical mind, even more miraculous, was that the owner of the colt allowed the disciples to borrow it.  Think about that for a minute.  We take it for granted because it was Jesus, because we are reading the Bible, and because we’ve heard the story dozens of times. 

But seriously?  The disciples meet a random stranger, whose horse or donkey has only recently had a baby.  That baby hasn’t been ridden, it wasn’t old enough to take to the trainer, or to start working at its training, two total strangers off the street start untying it, and the only explanation they offer is that their boss needs it.  Seriously?  If you owned a new car, that the dealer just delivered to your house on a flatbed trailer, and you hadn’t even had time to drive it yet, how likely are you to loan it to a total stranger?  Think about that.  If your dog had puppies and they had barely started eating solid food, what the chances that you’d let a stranger “borrow” one?  This wasn’t just a baby, horses and donkeys were valuable and they typically only have one baby every 12 to 18 months.  So, as I think about this story, and think about what we all know about human nature, I think that although there might be more to the story than Luke chose to tell us, I also think that this might just be one of the greatest miracles in the Easter story next to the resurrection itself.

In any case, the owner allows the disciples to borrow the colt, they bring it to Jesus, throw their outer garments over it’s back, and Jesus rides it.  And that, if you know anything about horses, may also be a significant miracle.  Ask your friends who know horses, what’s likely to happen if you just jump on the back of a horse that’s never been ridden.  The odds are good that, outside of that rider being Jesus, that such a story isn’t going to end well.

And as Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives toward the gates of the city of Jerusalem, the crowd that was with Jesus began to praise God, in loud voices, for all the miracles that they had seen.  They pulled palm branches from the trees and laid them in the road in front of Jesus, and if Palm branches weren’t handy, they laid down their own shirts so that even the animal upon which Jesus rode would, symbolically, not get its feet dirty.  And more than that, they began to shout an historic welcome found in scripture, notably in Psalm 118, that the people of Israel had used as kings entered the city of Jerusalem.  They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” and they said, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 

And the Pharisees who saw what they were doing, and who heard what they were shouting were displeased.  They recognized that the disciples were offering Jesus a king’s welcome.  They understood that these symbols were used, and were reserved for, the recognition of kings.  And they knew that not far away, inside of the city, sharing a wall with the temple itself, was the Fortress Antonia and a detachment of Roman soldiers.  They knew that those soldiers were there to keep the peace, they knew that the only king that could ever be accepted was Caesar, and they knew that blood had been spilled the last time someone claimed to be the king of Israel.  The arrival of Jesus, and his disciples’ cries proclaiming him to be king, was threatening to upset the status quo.  And the people who had the most to lose from a change in the status quo were the Pharisees.

They insist that Jesus tell his disciples to stop before too many people hear, or at least before the wrong people, the powerful people, the people with swords, could hear them.  But Jesus stares them down and declares that if the disciples keep quiet, the stones along the sides of the road would cry out instead.

And so, the actions of the disciples, and Jesus’ refusal to stop them, combined with all the previous interactions that Jesus had with the Pharisees, had reached a climax.  The Pharisees could no longer look the other way, there was no longer any doubt, they absolutely knew that Jesus was going to upset the status quo.  If Jesus lived, more people were going to follow him.  And if those people were going to label Jesus as a king, it was going to stir up the worst kind of trouble.  The deal that the Pharisees and the other leaders of Israel had made with Rome was that they could remain in power if they helped Rome to rule over Israel and if they helped them to keep the peace.  If the disciples proclaimed that Jesus was a king, then this contract would be broken, and the Romans would blame the Pharisees.  It was their necks, their jobs, their careers, their lives, that were on the line.  It was no longer an intellectual argument.  In this moment, the Pharisees had to choose between themselves, and Jesus.  And they knew what had to happen.

Jesus.  Must.   Die.


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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.

Religious Extravagance

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Religious Extravagance

April 03, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 43:16-21                      John 12:1-8                Philippians 3:4b-14

What do you think of when I say the word… extravagant?

We buy things that we need, but how nice those things are often depends upon how much money we have available to spend on things that don’t matter.  We might need a watch, but we could buy a cheap one at the dollar store that will keep time, or we can buy a decent Timex that will last longer.  But when we have a little more disposable income, we might consider buying an Apple watch or a Garmin sport watch that not only keeps time but counts our steps, calories, tracks our heartrate, and a bunch of other things.  And there are some people who have enough money that they can wear a year’s salary, or even the value of a house, on their wrist with wildly expensive watches made of gold and platinum.  But do you know what those expensive watches say at three o’clock in the afternoon?  They say that it’s three o’clock.  The difference between a Timex and a Rolex isn’t that the time is different, or that expensive watches somehow give their wearers twenty-five hours in a day instead of the usual twenty-four, the difference is in their level of extravagance.

We could say that a house with four bedrooms is better than a house with one bedroom if you have a larger family.  But at some point, as homes grow larger and pass three thousand square feet, four thousand, five thousand square feet, and even larger, at some point we’ve crossed a line from utilitarian and into extravagance.

And so, if I were to ask you what comes to mind when I say the words “religious extravagance,” I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you began to think about the mansions that we’ve seen on television that belong to a variety televangelists and other religious leaders who have capitalized, in one way or another, on their position, power, or notoriety.  But is religious extravagance about 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets? 

As we consider that question, let’s begin by remembering what God said through his prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:16-21.

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

As I read that passage, I divided it into four sections that each said something different.  The first, asks God’s people to remember what God is capable of doing and all the amazing, awesome, powerful, and even impossible things that God has done.  The second, simply says that while we should remember what God has done, we should not live in the past or get stuck there.  The third, says that as we keep the first two things in mind, the big news is that God is doing something new.  Now, God is doing the impossible.  He is making a road through the impassable wilderness and bringing free flowing water to the desert.  The fourth thing explains why God does everything that God does.  The reason that God does extravagant miracles, achieves the impossible, blesses his people, feeds them, and cares for them, is not just so that they will give thanks, but so that they will tell the world about his greatness.

But in John 12:1-8 we see an entirely different sort of extravagance as the time of Jesus’s crucifixion draws near.

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor.  Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pintof pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied.  “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

For perspective, let’s consider the value of what Mary did for Jesus.  It’s one thing to say that she anointed Jesus with perfume that cost a year’s wages, but it’s another thing entirely to put that into language that is personally meaningful to our wallets.  Thinking about a year’s wages in a vague sort of way sounds like it might be a lot, but we feel a punch in the gut when we put that into numbers that we understand.  And a number that most of us can understand is the median income.  The “median” is the annual income at which half of all wage earners made more, and half made less.  And in the United States, the median income in 2021 was $79,900.  So, when we say that Mary poured $80,000 on the ground, we feel that it a different way than saying that it was worth about a year’s wages.  John uses this as an opportunity to criticize Judas for being a thief, but it’s hard not to think, as Judas suggested, about how much food, clothing, rental assistance, bus passes, or other things that we could buy for the poor with $80,000.  Mary’s gift was not just costly, it was extravagant.  But Jesus understands and explains to everyone present that there was a limited time that anyone could give such a gift, and while God’s intent was that this gift should have been for Jesus’ burial, Mary chose to give her gift to Jesus while he was still alive rather than after he was dead.

And in Philippians 3:4b-14, the Apostle Paul frames the discussion about extravagance differently.  Rather than reminding everyone about the extravagant gifts that God has given to us, or about the extravagant gift that Mary gave to Jesus, Paul explains how his life changed because of his reaction and response to God’s extravagance.  Paul says:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul begins by reminding his readers that for all the worldly reasons that people can have confidence, trust, and even arrogance, Paul has all of them… in abundance.  Paul had money, possessions, accomplishments, power, authority and more.  He was born into the right kind of prestigious family, he mixed with the right kinds of prestigious people, he followed all of the church’s rules in a very public way in the sect of the Pharisees, and even among the Pharisees, he was outstanding in his passion, zeal, and herculean efforts as a defender of the faith and a warrior for the church as he persecuted those who followed Jesus, and he did all these things so well that no one could find fault with his theology or practice.  Paul was beyond a rising star in the leadership of the church and was on track to be among those in the very highest levels of the Jewish church and the leadership of Israel.

But Paul after he met Jesus, he threw it all away.

Because he chose to follow Jesus, Paul lost his position in Jewish leadership, was cast out of the Pharisees, excommunicated, banned from the Temple, and we suspect that he may have even been disowned by his family.  Paul says that he has now given up anything that he once considered to be valuable because the value of knowing Jesus was worth more than anything that he had before.  In fact, what Paul received when he put his faith in Jesus was so extravagantly valuable that in comparison, everything that he had before was worth no more than garbage to him.

The value of what Paul received from God through faith in Jesus Christ is so valuable, that even after he has given up everything that he had, Paul still looks forward to the future and presses onward so that he can become whatever God called him to be, and to do whatever God called him to do.  Paul freely admits that Gods work in him, and through him, is not yet finished, but he continues to do the work of Jesus Christ, and to press on so that he can earn the reward that God has prepared for him.

Isaiah said that our mission it to show the world how amazing, wonderful, and awesome God is, and not spend our time and money showing people how awesome we are.  The goal is to get the people around us to give thanks to God and give praise to him, not to give thanks and give praise to us.  Mary shows her gratitude to Jesus by giving him the most extravagant gift that she can imagine.  It is a gift that is her life savings and represents her pension and her rainy-day fund all wrapped up in one package.  Paul says that God’s gift to us, the gift of his own son, Jesus Christ, is such an extravagant gift, that nothing that we have, and nothing that we can do, can ever begin to show God how grateful we are.  Instead, Paul’s response was to give up all that he had and spend his entire life giving of himself to do the work of God’s kingdom.

My friends, religious extravagance isn’t about churches that seat tens of thousands, or 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets.  Those sorts of things point people in exactly the opposite direction that God wants us pointing.  Religious extravagance is demonstrating to the world that what God has given to us in Jesus Christ is so valuable that we will give, or do, anything to show God our gratitude and to do the work of the kingdom of God so that, as God said through Isaiah, the world would proclaim God’s praise.

When the followers of Jesus Christ are extravagant, every part of that extravagance should point to God so that the world sees the wonders of our amazing God… and not us.


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

Unmasked!

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Unmasked!

February 27, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Christian Extra-Terrestrials?

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Christian Extra-Terrestrials?

February 20, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Luke 6:27-38

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

Many of you are old enough to have watched the Steven Spielberg movie, E.T. the Extraterrestrial and, even if you haven’t watched it, you probably at least know something about it.  There’s also a good chance that E.T. is what you thought of when you saw today’s sermon title, “Christian Extraterrestrials.”  But despite Elon Musk’s goal of establishing a colony on Mars, interplanetary Christians is not what I have in mind… at least for today.  What I have in mind, however, is just a little bit different linguistically.  I thought about using Superhuman, or Supernatural, but those words bring up mental images of Superman from the planet Krypton, or a couple of brothers on television who fight ghosts, demons, and other non-human creatures, so neither of those words really work either.  But the definition of the prefix “extra” means “beyond” and so while “extra-terrestrial” can mean a person, or a creature, that is from beyond our planet, it might also mean someone from this planet whose abilities lie beyond the those of normal, or expected, people. 

And besides, it made you curious.

In any case, “beyond terrestrial” is a legitimate translation of the language that is used in our scriptures today.  But, before we get to that, let’s begin with the story of Joseph.  Nearing the end of Joseph’s epic in Genesis, we join his story at the point where, having once been sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph is now, after Pharaoh, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt if not the second most powerful man on the planet.  But at this moment, Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, the same men who years earlier had beaten him, thrown him in an empty cistern, and sold him into slavery.  And, understandably, when his brothers realize who he is, they are terrified.  We rejoin that story in Genesis 45:3-11,15:

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks, and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise, you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Joseph’s brothers were terrified that, because he was now the most powerful man in Egypt, and not the pesky younger brother, they expected that he would take his revenge on them for what they had done.  And, honestly, no one would be surprised if that had happened.  Joseph had every right to be angry and it would have been fair for him to sell his brothers into slavery as they had done to him.  But Joseph’s relationship with God gave him a different perspective.  Rather than seeing this as an opportunity for revenge, Joseph sees that God has been intervening in human affairs, influencing events, and moving him into position so that he could rescue the entire nation of Egypt, and his family, the people that would one day become the nation of Israel.  Joseph behaves in a way that is unexpected because his relationship with God has given him a vision of the world that is beyond human.

And we can see that same vision as Jesus teaches his disciples in Luke 6:27-38, as he says:

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus says that being ‘just as good’ as the evil people around you isn’t good enough.  And being just as good as average and ordinary people isn’t good enough either.  The standard for his followers is to do good even when no other reasonable person would do good, to be unreasonably good, or… beyond humanly good.  Jesus wants his followers to love the people around them more than other reasonable people would love, to love in a way that is beyond humanly loving or, beyond earthly love. 

And the examples that Jesus gives are so far beyond our understanding of normal, that they are understandably difficult.  Jesus says that we should loan money, not just to people that we trust, and not just people that we believe can pay us back, but to loan money to people we don’t even like, people we regard as our enemies, and that includes people that we might be confident have no means, and possibly no intention, of ever paying us back.  Jesus says that we should loan them the money with no expectation that we should get it back.  In other words, just give money away to people that you hate, and who probably hate you back.  Loving in ways that are beyond human, or beyond terrestrial, is exactly the point that Jesus is making.  Our calling isn’t to love the people around us like ordinary, average, or even exceptional people love, our calling is to love the people around us the way that God loves.  God is loving, kind, and merciful to the ungrateful and the wicked who neither like him nor even know him.

It’s worth noting here that “Do not judge” is currently one of the most commonly misquoted and misinterpreted verses of scripture.  It most certainly does not mean that we should… never… judge.  Matthew includes this same quote from Jesus, but records Jesus’ statement as saying, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1) To make this clear, some translations record this as “Do not judge unfairly” rather than simply do not judge.  There are many times when Jesus asks, even commands us to judge between good and evil, honor and dishonor, to be discerning in all that we do, and other things.  What Jesus clearly means is that we will be judged in the same way that we judge others.  Don’t rush to judgement.  Don’t judge without evidence. Or, as the translators have said, don’t judge unfairly.  Likewise, we can expect to receive the generosity of God with the same, or better, generosity that we show others.  Give and it will be given to you in an even more abundant and generous measure.

But why?  Why is the standard for love, mercy, and compassion so much higher for Christians than it is for everyone else?  Why does God demand that our behavior be beyond human, whether we call that super-human or extra-terrestrial?  We find the answer to “why” in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth where he says (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50)

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam [aka Jesus], a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man [Adam], so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man [Jesus], so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall webear the image of the heavenly man.

And although Paul takes a while to get to his point, the answer really is simple.  The reason that the followers of Jesus Christ are commanded, and empowered, to behave in ways that are beyond human, and the reason that it isn’t okay to just be the same as other people, is because earth and heaven are not the same.  Adam and Jesus are not the same.  When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we become image bearers of God.  Our calling is no longer to look like everyone else and reflect the image of the world in which we live, but rather to reflect the image of a merciful, just, compassionate, and loving God and to reflect an entirely different reality.

As the image bearers of God, we must love more than humanly possible, be impossibly forgiving, extraordinarily generous, inhumanly merciful, and in every other way that we can, be an accurate reflection the goodness and holiness of God.

God has called us, commanded us, and empowered us to behave in ways that are super-human, and beyond earthly.

In other words, we are called to be nothing less than Extra-Terrestrial Christians.


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

Favoritism, Mercy, and Dead Faith

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Favoritism, Mercy, and Dead Faith

September 05, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23              Mark 7:24-37             James 2:1-17

Last week, it was clear that we don’t like fakes. 

But not far behind our dislike for fakes, is our dislike of favoritism.  You know what I mean.  As kids, we knew who Mom’s favorite was (it was me), we knew who the teacher’s pet was, we’ve seen favoritism in nearly every group to which we belonged, from sports teams, to marching band, to our employment as adults with brown nosers, suck-ups, and other sycophants.  Sometimes we don’t mind as much when the favoritism is earned and the favorite is genuinely exceptional, but when it’s just politics and ego it can be ugly.

But what would you say if I told you that God plays favorites? 

He does.

But the way that God plays favorites may surprise you.

For background, let’s begin with a sampling of verses from Proverbs 22 (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23).

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
    the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
    for they share their bread with the poor.

22 Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
    or crush the afflicted at the gate;
23 for the Lord pleads their cause
    and despoils of life those who despoil them.

While we recognize that the Proverbs are an expression of common wisdom and not the promises of God, these are powerful and sensible words.  A good name is more valuable than riches.  Favor is better than money.  Regardless of who is the favorite, we all have common ground because God is the creator of both the rich and the poor.  Whether you call it God, or karma, or something else, the people who spread injustice and anger seem to always find calamity and failure rather than prosperity and comfort.  And in the same line of thinking, we often find that the people who spend their lives giving of their time and their money to others are the ones who are blessed by God. 

The guideline for us as we think about these things is that God really does take sides.  God takes the side of the poor.  He pleads their case in court and champions their cause in the public square.  Anyone who robs the poor or crushes the afflicted discover that they stand against God.  We see this demonstrated throughout Jesus’ life and ministry and we find several examples of this in Jesus’ journey recorded in Mark 7:24-37.

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesusordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Jesus was sent to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  His mission was with the Jews, but he meets an immigrant woman who begs him to save her daughter.  Jesus argues that she isn’t a part of his mission and that the children to whom he was sent should be fed first, but her response shows that she understands Jesus’ true power.  She knows that Jesus’ power was so great that healing her daughter will not take power away from the Jews any more than losing crumbs to the dogs under the table starves the children who sit at the table above them.  And so, Jesus takes the side of the underdog, casts out the demon, and heals her daughter. 

We see something similar in the next story.  The Decapolis were ten cities built by the Greeks and were, largely, cities of Greek influence and culture.  And for that reason, we don’t know the religious affiliation of the deaf man, but there’s a good chance that he wasn’t Jewish.  But regardless of his religion, being both deaf and having a speech impediment, he was almost certainly impoverished.  It would have been difficult, or impossible, for him to earn a decent living.  He could do nothing for Jesus, and there was no benefit to Jesus for helping him.  But Jesus heals him anyway.

These stories provide us insight and balance to our understanding of the mission, mind, and heart of Jesus and allow us to understand him better.  Yes, Jesus did miracles for rich people and for powerful people, but he also, often, did miracles for people who could offer nothing to him in return.  If we were to count how many rich people Jesus helped and compared that to the number of poor people that Jesus helped, we would see that it was far more common for Jesus to help the poor.

That kind of favoritism is echoed in the writings of Jesus’ brother James in James 2:1-17 where he says:

2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James writes in reaction to people in the church that are favoring those with nice clothes over those who wear dirty clothes. They give preferred seating to people who could do something for them rather than the people who could do nothing for them.  They preferred the rich and the powerful over the poor and the common.   But James reminds them that God always favors the poor, the downtrodden, the outsiders, the sick, the hungry, the dirty, the outcasts, and just about everyone who, by definition, can’t do anything in return for his generosity, mercy, and compassion.  James says that by favoring the rich and the powerful the people of the church violate God’s command to love their neighbor.  Rather than judge the poor for being poor, James says, we are called instead to show compassion and mercy.

It’s great to have faith.  It’s important, and wonderful, and vital to have faith. 

But faith that lacks mercy is dead faith.

Faith that sees the poor and wishes them well, but does nothing to bring them warmth, comfort, and full bellies, is dead faith.  Faith that spreads injustice and anger and robs the poor is not only dead faith but stands in opposition to God and invites God’s judgement.

God really does take sides.  God takes the side of the poor.  He pleads their case in court and champions their cause in the public square.  And to do any differently is to invite the judgement of God.

Scripture, the teachings of God, and the witness of Jesus Christ are united, and they are clear.  We should play favorites.  But our choice of favorites had better be the same as those of scripture, of God, and of Jesus.  And our neighbors stand as witnesses to our faith, not by the faith that we have in our hearts, but to the faith that we show them on the streets.

Let us pray that our faith will be lived out in mercy, compassion, and love so that the world will know that mercy triumphs over judgement.


*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.

Live. If. Unless. Always.

Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/4fI64mGGvAY


ALWAYS read the fine print

Live.  If.  Unless.  Always.

August 15, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14                     John 6:51-58              Ephesians 5:15-20

You should always be sure to read the fine print.

You know what I mean.  Department stores do it all the time.  You get an ad in the mail that says there is 75 percent off “everything” but in the tiny print at the very bottom, it says that the sale doesn’t apply to clothing, toys, housewares, and just about everything else in the store.  I read one of those once and I was hard pressed to think of anything that wasn’t excluded in the fine print.

You see commercials on television selling amazing new drugs that say that they can cure all sorts of things, but in the fine print warn you about side effects that sound a lot worse than the thing you want a cure for.  Military recruiters promise that they’ll put you into a particular school, or job, but we all know that the fine print in your contract basically says, “we promise to give this to you… unless we can’t, and then we can do anything we please.”

So common is this experience with fine print, that we often have our own lawyers look over important contracts so that we can discover and understand what has been hidden in the fine print.  And so many of us have seen it, or been burned by it, that we all understand what it means when people describe the fine print by saying, “The devil is in the details.”

But if we read carefully, the strange thing is that sometimes God is in the details too.  Sometimes God makes us promises that come with some fine print, and it is important for us to read and understand exactly what God is, and is not, promising.  We begin this morning as David dies and is buried with his ancestors, and as his son Solomon takes his place on the throne of Israel.  And, at that moment, Solomon receives one of history’s greatest and well-known blessings.  But if we pay close attention, that blessing came with some fine print. (1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14)

2:10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

3:3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

This exchange between Solomon and God is well-known even among people with no religious background.  God tells Solomon to ask for whatever he wants, and rather than asking for money, power, or a long life, Solomon asks instead for a discerning heart so that he would be able to rule well.  God is so pleased with Solomon’s request, that he chooses to not only give him the thing for which he asked, but also all those things for which he did not ask.  God promises to give Solomon wisdom, but also wealth, honor, and a long life.

And right there is the fine print.

God promises to give Solomon wealth and power no matter what, but his promise of a long life comes with fine print.  God says that he will give Solomon a long life… IF he obeys God and keeps his decrees and commandments as well as his father David had.  Of course, we know that David wasn’t perfect, so God isn’t requiring Solomon to be perfect, but God has an exclusion clause.  If Solomon doesn’t keep his part of the deal, God can end his contract and find another king that will.

And if you are tempted to think that this is a unique case, we discover that Jesus does the same thing in John 6:51-58 when he says:

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  And then, a little bit later he says, “the one who feeds on me will live, because of me” and, “whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  This is exclusionary, small print, language.  Jesus doesn’t say that because he came to earth, everyone will live forever.  Jesus doesn’t say that anyone who has communion once, or who comes to church once, or who comes to church for a while and then quits, or who choose to follow him for a while and then quits, all get to live forever.  Jesus says, “the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”  The implication of this language is that eating and drinking the flesh of the Son of Man is an ongoing, continuous action and not something that we do once and then coast.  This is almost exactly like God’s wording in his promise to Solomon when he said, “if you walk in obedience.”  These are a future tense that implies a continuous action and not something that is accomplished once and completed.

Paul emphasizes this in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he says in Ephesians 5:15-20:

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul says, don’t be foolish.  Don’t just get drunk to dull the pain and then allow yourself to get drawn into sin.  Instead, fill yourself, and your time, with spiritual things so that you will… always give thanks to God… for everything.  Paul echoes what we heard from the stories of Solomon and Jesus and emphasizes that following Jesus isn’t something that we do once, or for a little while, and then coast.  Following Jesus, being filled by the Spirit, caring for one another, worshiping together, and giving thanks to God are things that we are to do continuously or, as Paul said, “always.”

They say that the devil is in the details, but so is God.

From Solomon, we learned that we must not just be obedient, but that we must keep on being obedient and continuously keep God’s decrees and commands throughout our lives.

From Jesus, we learned that we must continue to share in the Lord’s supper, to continue to feed on the word of God and remain in love with Jesus.

And from Paul, we learned that we must always fill our time, and our souls, with spiritual things, and always give thanks to God.

Following Jesus has never been “one and done.”  We cannot claim Jesus once, or follow Jesus once, or go to church once, and say that we’re done.  Even the verb “to follow” is a continuous tense.  It is a thing that we begin to do, and never stop.

Because, when we read the fine print, we understand that what Jesus said was, if you do this… continuously, you will… truly…

…live.


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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.

Death of Rebellion

  • Video of this message can be found here: https://youtu.be/8z2YGP8TvsA
  • Death of Rebellion

    August 08, 2021*

    By Pastor John Partridge

    2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33                John 6:35, 41-51                    Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

    How do you feel about rebellion?

    Are you a rebel?

    As citizens of the United States of America, we often talk about rebellion because our nation was founded upon our willingness to rebel against the rule of King George and the nation of England, and even to fight and die in rebellion against them for our independence from them. 

    And layered on top of our national historic association with rebellion, in recent years many of us, and certainly our children, have grown up watching the Star Wars saga unfold in a host of movies, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, fan films, and other products.  And in the whole of the Star Wars drama, the bad guys are from the evil Empire and the heroes are those who fight for “The Rebellion.”

    But what exactly is rebellion?

    Simply put, rebellion is resistance against any established authority, control, or convention.

    The Rebellion in Star Wars fought back against the rule of the Emperor and the galactic empire, the American colonies fought back against undue taxation without representation and other oppressive systems of King George and the British Empire, but we also find ordinary rebellion in those of us who disobey our parents, choose not to wear masks during a pandemic, or who cut in line at the grocery store, or who check out with 14 items on the “12 items or less” aisle, or those of us who simply choose to drive five miles per hour over the posted speed limit.  But of the multitude of ways that we can rebel, and an almost equal number of things against which we can rebel, the one that is important for us to consider on Sunday morning is that of our rebellion against God.

    We begin this morning by returning to the story of David, but we’ve skipped ahead a few decades.  Here, David’s son, Absalom, has grown to adulthood and become physically attractive, persuasive, influential, and politically astute.  Over time, he deliberately cultivated relationships with many of Israel’s leaders and elders and began to poison them against his father David and lead them toward policies that he favored instead.  Absalom finally rebels against his father and used his accumulated influence to execute a coup.  Absalom’s coup was temporarily successful, but he overplayed his hand.  David barely escaped Jerusalem with his life, but many of his generals and much of Israel’s military remained loyal to him and that resulted in a civil war for the control of the nation of Israel.  And that is where we rejoin our story in 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33.

    The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

    David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

    Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

    15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him, and killed him.

    31 Then the Cushite [messenger] arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

    32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

    The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

    33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

    Despite David’s orders to be gentle and merciful with Absalom, and despite Absalom being found alone and helplessly hanging in a tree, David’s commanders took it upon themselves to order Absalom’s death.  I am certain that they believed that Absalom was unavoidably likely to cause trouble for their king if he was left alive, but in killing him, they caused the grief of a loving father who loved his son unconditionally.

    What is also certain, is that the rebellion against David died with Absalom.

    But other forms of rebellion continued and in John 6:35, 41-51 we find leaders, elders, and others from Jesus’ hometown resist and rebel against his authority because they watched him grow up and can’t believe that he could possibly be who he says that he is.

    35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

    41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

    43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

    For the people of Jesus’ hometown, it was difficult, and perhaps even almost impossible, to believe the things that Jesus was saying.  Jesus said that he came down from heaven, but they knew his parents, they saw him in their arms as an infant, and they watched him grow up.  They knew where he came from… didn’t they?  They knew that he was a carpenter, a builder, a contractor, and the son of a man who did the same thing, and so how do they begin to believe that he could be “the bread of life”? 

    Many of them couldn’t.  And so, they resisted.  They rebelled against his authority. 

    They rebelled against Jesus and against God, and in this case, we think about the spiritual aftereffects and not the physical ones, but like Absalom, their rebellion caused their death.

    When human beings rebel and reject God, the repercussions can be deadly.

    We don’t want to rebel against God, but we’ve also been taught that Christianity brings great freedom to do as we please without being required to rigorously follow a bunch of rules.  As it turns out, that’s exactly what Paul was worried about and in his letter to the church in Ephesus, he tries to explain how we should follow Jesus without rebellion, but also not fall into the trap of the Pharisees who made lists of strict and unbending rules to govern their behavior.  (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2)

    25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

    29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

    5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

    Notice that Paul doesn’t lay out a bunch of rules to follow.  He doesn’t say that we need to say prayers at sunrise or sunset, or attend church services, or observe a list of holy days, or make pilgrimages, or commit to a year of missionary service to the church, or to donate money, or refrain from walking or cooking on the Sabbath, or any kind of restrictive rules like the Pharisees had.  Instead, Paul says that we follow Jesus when we tell the truth, and he cautions us not to allow our anger to cause us to sin.  It’s worth noting that Paul doesn’t say that it is a sin to be angry, it isn’t.  But when we are angry, we must be careful how we direct our anger and where we allow our anger to lead us.  We learned from Jesus that we should be angry about things like poverty, injustice, abuse, and other things that God condemns.  But our anger must be directed in constructive ways.

    Paul goes on to say that we shouldn’t steal, we should be productive citizens who do something useful so that we have the resources to share what we have with others.  We should control our language so that what come out of our mouths is wholesome and beneficial to those around us.  We should rid ourselves of bitterness, rage, anger, fighting, slander, and malice and instead be kind, compassionate, and forgiving.  Despite his history as a Pharisee, and his familiarity with a religion of rule-following, Paul doesn’t even begin to tell us what to do, but instead tells us what kind of people we should strive to become.

    Ending our rebellion against God hasn’t ever been about following a bunch of rules.

    Ending our rebellion has always been about becoming.

    As we become… more and more like Jesus… …rebellion dies.


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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.

    When Weakness is Power

    When Weakness is Power

    July 04, 2021*

    By Pastor John Partridge

    2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              Mark 6:1-13               2 Corinthians 12:2-10

    Everybody loves kittens.  Okay, I know some people are allergic, but the internet is crazy about cats and kittens, and before the internet, you could be certain that stories about tiger cubs, lion cubs, stray cats, kittens, and other cute furry animals would be popular on shows like National Geographic and Wild Kingdom.  So, imagine with me that you are watching a nature show on television.  In this scene, we watch as a playful pair of lion cubs wrestle with one another, in the middle of large plain of grass.  Suddenly, the two cubs are confronted by a pack of jackals.  The cubs stand to their full height and make tiny meowing roars, but the jackals continue to close the gap between them.  Then, as the kittens growl and roar, the jackals suddenly stop, retreat, and then quickly run away.  The camera then widens its field of view to show us that while the jackals had been closing on the kittens, their parents, full-grown adult lions, had crested the hill behind them.

    Everyone watching wondered who, or what, had made the jackals run away because it was obvious that the kittens were no threat.  The kittens were too weak, too small, and too powerless to be a threat to an entire pack of jackals.  And it is precisely because of their weakness that we all knew that someone, or something, else had been behind the fear that we saw in the pack of jackals. 

    Many of us have seen similar stories on television but I want you to keep them in mind as we read today’s scriptures that tell us more about weakness, power, faith, and grace.  This morning we rejoin David as he is proclaimed king over Judah, and all of Israel, in 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10.

    5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

    When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

    David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

    David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

    After the death of King Saul, the people look to David.  They have seen him.  They recognize that for years, it was David that led Israel to victory against her enemies on the battlefield.  They recognize that God had anointed him as Israel’s shepherd and king.  And, for the first time, all twelve tribes, representing the nations of Judah and Israel, unite as one nation under a single king.  And, we are told, that David, and the nation of Israel, grew in power and influence, not because David was intelligent, or wise, or strategically brilliant, but because God was with him.

    Whenever Samuel, or anyone else, tells the story of the great King David, the credit for David’s greatness is always given to God.  David is known as a man after God’s own heart, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and a person of great faith.  And that is how we are told that a humble shepherd grew to become the greatest king in the history of the nation of Israel.

    But we can find another, even more startling example of this same principle, in Mark 6:1-13 where we hear the story of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth.

    6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

    “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

    Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

    Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

    These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

    12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

    This story takes a couple of surprising turns.  First, Jesus, the man who fed crowds of thousands, healed lepers, the lame, the blind, and even raised the dead, is said not to be able to perform any great miracles in his hometown, because the people there had little faith.  Jesus had faith, the disciples had faith, but the people who needed healing could only see Jesus as a tradesman and the son of people they knew.

    The second surprising thing is that Jesus then sends his disciples out to do the same thing that he has been doing.  Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding villages to preach a message of repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons armed with nothing but a walking stick, and without food, money, or even a change of clothes.  And, if you’re wondering why this is amazing, think about who these disciples were.  We are often tempted to say that Jesus could perform miracles, and do all the things that he did, because he was the Messiah, the Son of God who was born of a virgin to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  But the disciples were uniformly and universally normal.  They were born in the usual way to the usual sorts of parents and were normal folks who make their living as fisherman, tax collectors, farmers, and other regular jobs.  Until they met Jesus, there was absolutely nothing amazing about them.  But now, they go out into the countryside, and perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did without Bibles, reference books, college educations, money, or even food.  The only things that the disciples had, was faith… and God.

    And, just in case you haven’t connected the dots of these two stories and extended that line down to us here in the twenty-first century, let’s read 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, where Paul draws that line for us.

    I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

    Paul said that when he prayed to be healed, God said “no” because grace is enough.  And grace is enough because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  We’ve been hinting at that for the last fifteen minutes so let me say that again.  God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, Paul says it in the first person, “I delight in my weaknesses” because “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Paul says that he can happily brag about his weaknesses so that the power of Jesus Christ can rest on him.

    What does that mean?

    It means that we are kittens.

    Whenever we are full of ourselves, and we think we have it all together, and we think that we can do it all ourselves, we are like those kittens growling in their little kitten voices at a pack of jackals.  But when we know that we are kittens, when we are willing to have faith in the big God that stands behind us, then the entire world will see that it wasn’t us that did the amazing and miraculous work.

    The prophets and writers of the Old Testament made every effort to be clear that David was a great king because of his faith in God and because of the power of God that worked through him.  We can make excuses that Jesus was able to perform miracles and do all sorts of amazing things because he was the Son of God.  But then we are faced with his inability to do miracles around people that had no faith, and we are additionally confronted with the ordinary disciples who went out into the countryside with nothing more than a walking stick and were able to perform the same sorts of miracles that Jesus did.

    Like David, Paul understood that the power to change the world isn’t power that we ordinary humans have.  The power to do miracles, save souls, change hearts, preach the gospel, and change the world is entirely in the hands of God.  Kittens don’t scare jackals but grown lions do.  You and I don’t scare demons, or have the power to heal the sick, clothe the naked, and seek and to save the lost, but God does.  When kittens scare jackals, everyone knows that a lion stands behind them.  And Paul knew that the same is true for us.  We are strongest when we embrace our weakness and allow God, and his power, to work through us instead of trying to do things all on our own.

    On the surface, it seems to be contradictory.

    Weakness is power.

    When kittens roar, the world sees the lion behind them.

    When we, in our weakness, let go of ourselves and allow God to change the world through us, the world will see the lion behind us.

    Let us admit, and embrace our frailty, ignorance, and weakness, and have the faith to let God work through us.

    Let go… and let God.

    I pray that through our faith, the world will see the lion behind us.


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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.