Death by Distraction

Death by Distraction

January 31, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Deuteronomy 18:15-20          Mark 1:21-28            1 Corinthians 8:1-13

On several long car trips, I have seen signs along the highway that remind drivers to put their phones down and to avoid distracted driving.  Not long ago, that wasn’t something that we even thought about.  We didn’t have phones in the car, or computer screens for navigation, or many of the other things with which today’s driver can be distracted.  We had a handful of radio buttons and maybe a box full of cassette tapes and the highway signs only reminded us to fasten our seat belts.  But while our children, radios, and fast-food lunches always had the potential to draw our attention away from the highway, today’s abundance of electronic devices distract us in similar abundance and our distraction at seventy miles an hour in heavy traffic can become deadly in the blink of an eye.  Our life, and the lives of those around us, depends upon us keeping our focus on the important things and not being distracted by the army of ephemera that nags at the edges of our consciousness.

But scripture tells us that our spiritual lives are much like that, and worse.

In Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Moses warns the people of Israel that they must listen to God and not be distracted.

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

Moses warns the people that while it is critically important to listen to God’s prophets and to obey God’s commands and instructions, they must be careful not to be distracted by people who only pretend to speak for God.  He says that there will inevitably be people who speak fake and false prophecy for their own benefit, or who attempt to speak for other gods to distract God’s people and shift their focus from where it should be.  Just as it is when we are driving, God’s people are at risk any time that our attention turns away from the main thing.

In Mark 1:21-28, an evil spirit comes into the synagogue and is afraid of Jesus. 

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

The impure spirit knows who Jesus is and is afraid of his power, but it also is trying to begin a discussion with him that is a distraction from Jesus’ main message.  But Jesus knows the importance of keeping his focus on the main thing and does not allow the impure spirit to distract the people in the synagogue from the message that he is teaching.  The spirit tries to steer the discussion in the synagogue to one about Jesus’ intensions toward the spirit world, but while Jesus’ presence and his message will ripple into their world, what happens to demons and impure spirits is not the focus of Jesus’ ministry.  The message of Jesus isn’t about the destruction of evil spirits, but about the rescue of the lost and the salvation of the living.

But what application does that have for us today?

Of course keeping the main thing, the main thing means sharing Jesus’ message about rescuing the lost and the salvation of the living.  That is, after all, the mission of the church and the mission of every follower of Jesus Christ.  But keeping the main thing, the main thing can mean more than that as we see in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.  In that place, there were people who had converted from Judaism, people who had been Christians for some time, and people who had only recently converted to Christianity from idol worship. 

In Corinth, most of the meat that was available had been sacrificed to some idol at the pagan temples and then sold later in the meat market.  Similarly, the traditional place to hold many weddings, celebrations, and other gatherings was at those same pagan temples.  So, among the people of the church, there was a dispute.  If Christians stayed away from the idols and pagan temples, they would miss the weddings of their friends, and be excluded from many celebrations and business opportunities.  If they refused to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, they might rarely eat meat at all.  And so, in the middle of this dispute, Paul writes these words to the church (1 Corinthians 8:1-13):

8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

Paul recognizes that the more mature believers understand that the idols aren’t real.  They know that our God is the only god that there is and that gods made of stone and metal had no real power.  Whether they attended an event at the pagan temple or ate meat that had been sacrificed there made no difference.  But many of the newer converts, who had grown up in that system, still believed that setting foot in a pagan temple, or even eating the meat that had been sacrificed there, gave power to those gods, and gave them power over you.

And what Paul says, is that “We possess all knowledge.”  Yes, we know that these are false god.  Yes, we know that attending your nephew’s wedding at the pagan temple makes no difference.  We know that eating meat, or not eating meat, makes no difference.  But, if we read the rest of this passage, Paul encourages them not to do these things anyway.  Why?  Because even though idols and false gods have no power, and even though believers in Jesus Christ had every right to attend social gathering and eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, exercising that right caused harm to fellow believers whose faith was not yet as mature as theirs.  Attending those gatherings, and eating that meat, caused less mature believers to doubt their faith and possibly leave the church.  Paul says that more important thing is not what knowledge we have, or what rights we have, but that we do not cause harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  For Paul, it wasn’t an issue of knowledge or of rights, but of keeping the main thing, the main thing.

Even two millennia later, this idea flows into everything that we do.  One of the foundational principles of the Methodist movement is “Do no harm” and it is often a check for us to keep the main thing, the main thing and to keep our focus where it belongs.  Even though we have every right to hold in-person worship, we must consider what harm we might cause to fellow believers by exercising that right.  Even though we may personally feel that we have every right not to wear a mask in public, do we cause harm to the people in the community, and to fellow believers, and to their faith, if we choose to exercise that right.  Paul’s message to the church in Corinth, and to us, is just because we have the right to do something, doesn’t mean that we should exercise that right, or that exercising that right is a good thing. 

The more important principle is to do no harm.

When we drive our automobiles down the highway, we understand that the full focus of our attention is required for the task at hand, and that our distraction can lead to our death, or to the death of others.

Moses warned that God’s people needed to test the people who claimed to be prophets and only listen to those that proved to be real because being distracted from God’s message could lead to death.

When Jesus preached in the synagogue, he did not allow the impure spirit to change the subject and distract him from the focus of his message.  The main thing, had to remain the main thing and the most important message wasn’t about the future of the spirits, but about rescuing the lost and calling God’s people to repentance and obedience.  Paul knew that throughout our daily lives we run the risk of distraction and death.

We must constantly struggle to keep the main thing the main thing.  To keep our focus on the mission of the church, to rescue the lost, and to preach a message of salvation and the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And in the process of doing that, we may occasionally need to set aside our rights, to surrender to God some of the things that we feel like we have earned for ourselves because the main thing isn’t about exercising our rights, or about doing things just because we can do them. 

The main thing is to do no harm to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the community around us.

Because despite living in a country where we hold our rights to be incredibly important, sometimes our rights are a distraction from our main purpose, focus, and mission.

And distraction is death.

Let us keep our focus on rescuing the lost and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And let us continue our struggle to keep the main thing, the main thing.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/QV5D2PTS5Cw

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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.

2021, Blessing or Curse?

2021, Blessing or Curse?

December 30, 2020

by John Partridge

Will this pandemic influenced, socially distanced, Christmas, and the following New Year, be filled with “good news of great joy” or feel more like we were hit by a freight train?  And I think that my best guess is, it depends.

I was reminded this week of how we often find exactly the things for which we are looking.  We can watch same news stories and Republicans and Democrats will each hear entirely different things.  And each of those things will conform to the opinions and worldviews that they had before they watched it.  Scientifically, it’s called “confirmation bias.”  We tend to seek out views and opinions with which we agree, and even if we listen to unbiased reporting, what we hear is influenced by what we expected to hear. 

The same is true of much more mundane things.  I read a story once about an entomologist (you know, a guy who studies bugs) and his friend who were walking along a sidewalk in a big city.  Suddenly the man said, “Did you hear that?”  He stopped walking and started searching intently until he found a particular species of cricket in a crack in the sidewalk.  The friend marveled that the man had been able to hear a cricket chirp over the noise of the city, but in answer the entomologist simply pulled a coin from his pocket and dropped it.  Instantly a half dozen people turned and started looking for the dropped coin.  Smiling, the man said, my coin was no louder than the cricket, but people tend to find the things that they are thinking about. 

I don’t know if that story is true or not, but I know that our biases shape our daily lives, and our enjoyment of it, in powerful ways.  Years ago, I had a coworker who saw the entire world as a terrible place that always seemed to be out to destroy her.  Every conversation with her was one in which she described all the accidents and missed opportunities of her recent past and never once included the any stories of her successes, or even stories of her young son.  Her focus on the negative entirely robbed her life of the joys that could be found in her everyday life.

And so, as we enter a new year, and as we continue to live with restrictions and precautions of this current pandemic, I urge you to be careful of your biases about how you look at the world.   If we are looking for crickets or dropped coins, we are likely to find the things for which we are paying attention.  If we look for sadness and disappointment, we will certainly find them.  But, if we look for happiness, good news, and positive influences, I am convinced that we are more likely to find those instead. 

If we look at the Christmas story with this in mind, we realize that Herod was always looking at the world to find the next person that might threaten his power and control.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees, despite being biblical scholars, were always looking out for themselves.  But the wise men were looking for signs and the shepherds were looking for hope.  And so, when the star appeared in the heavens, everyone saw exactly what their focus and biases guided them to see.  The wise men saw a sign, the shepherds found hope, Mary and Joseph found answered prayer, Herod found a threat, and the religious leaders were so focused on themselves that they almost missed it entirely.

And so, as we enter this new year, whether we find blessings or curses in 2021 is almost entirely up to us, to our attitudes, and to our biases.  Rather than enter this new year searching for threats, or looking only for our own selfish interests, let us instead enter it as pilgrims in search of hope, faith, and love.  We are, after all, the ambassadors that carry “good news of great joy, which is for all the people.”  Despite the pandemic and its economic influence, despite our current, hyper-partisan political climate, despite our separation and isolation, if we are paying attention, I am convinced that there are, and will be, nuggets of good, silver linings, and pockets of joy that can be found.  Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, who is the “good news of great joy” for all people, the hope of the world, and the Prince of Peace because whatever it is that we choose to seek…

…is almost certainly what we will find.

I choose to seek faith, hope, joy, peace, and love.

Will you?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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*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.

The Light of the World HAS Come

The Light of the World *Has* Come

December 24, 2020

Pastor John Partridge

(Note: This is the text from the meditation shared at our Christmas Eve service. You can find the video of that service here: https://youtu.be/PCIT75HQFAk)*

As unusual as this evening has been, we attempted to make it as normal as possible under the restrictions and our desire to keep one another safe during this global pandemic.  I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to email us and tell us that you were coming so that we could light a candle in our sanctuary for you.  And I want to thank everyone who volunteered to help with our Advent wreath, or read one of our scripture for this evening, music team and our choir who sang extra songs, the volunteers that set up all our luminaries, or to recorded themselves lighting a candle, or for any of the other things that were needed to record, assemble, and edit this Christmas Eve service.  I especially want to thank Bob Wallace for his herculean efforts at video editing.  As much effort as it was to record dozens of short, socially distanced video clips, it was a gigantic task to assemble those short videos into one, understandable whole.

But beyond the thank-yous of the evening, is the importance of the message.  As we have come together in this virtual gathering for Christmas Eve, I hope that you will all remember that the message of the angels was that they had brought “Good News of great joy for all the people.”  The Shepherds watching their flocks were blinded by a great light and heavenly choirs announcing the arrival of the light of the world.

That’s why we came tonight to sing songs of celebration.  And that’s why we lit candles and passed them, as much as possible, from one to another. 

The light of the world has come.

But the light of the world didn’t come into the world so that we could read about it in a book.  That light was the Good News, indeed, good news of great joy.  And that good news was shared by the shepherds in the field, and the wise men who visited, and by everyone who had heard the story.  That good news was shared, from one person to another, until, two thousand years later, someone shared it with you.

The light of the world has come.

And that light isn’t just something that we read about in a book.  That light goes out into the world this evening.  You carry that light. You carry that good news.  The message of Christmas is that just as the light has been passed from one generation to another, and just as it was given to you, you must pass that light forward to the next person, and to the next generation, just as the flame of the candles was passed from one person to another.

The light of the world has come.

We have come here tonight, and we have heard Good News of great joy that is for all the people.

Let us go out from this place and share that good news with the rest of the world.

Merry Christmas.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/q5ywQknu4os

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

And She Told Them

And She Told Them

April 12, 2020*

(Easter Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:1-18              Acts 10:39-43

 

 

Well here we are.

 

Happy Easter.

 

Our church is empty… But so is the tomb.

 

Even though we are unable to be together, and even though our entire planet is grappling with fear, isolation, depression, sickness, and death, we rejoice because today reminds us that we are a people who are connected to one another by our celebration of resurrection. 

 

Death itself has been defeated.

 

But, aside from Easter baskets full of candy, a ham in the oven, and maybe, if we can stay six feet apart, a family gathering, what should we take away from today’s celebration?

 

Well, let’s read the story first, and then we can circle back to that.

 

We begin in what we now remember as the first Easter morning, the day after the Sabbath day, where in John 20:1-18, we hear this:

 

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

 

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

First, I love the way that John finds a way to write this and include a piece of the rivalry that must have existed between him and Simon Peter.  Sure, Jesus told Peter that “on this rock I will build my church,” but in this passage, John always makes sure to refer to himself as “the one Jesus loved” and not once, but three times, John points out that as they raced to the tomb, John was faster than Peter.  I don’t want to dwell on that, but feel free to read that again and count them.  Three times.

 

The second thing to notice is the shift in tense.  Although the disciples don’t yet understand that Jesus has risen from the dead, the crucifixion and even Jesus’ death has shifted to the past tense.  We hear phrases like, “the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.”  Jesus used to be there, but now he wasn’t, the cloth used to be wrapped around his head, but now it wasn’t.  Although they didn’t yet understand exactly what had happened, clearly something had changed.  And so, Peter and John go to the tomb to check things out, they see that the tomb is empty, and they go back to the house where everyone is staying.  Maybe that house is where the Upper Room was, where they shared that last meal together with Jesus, and maybe it was someplace else, but they go, they see, they go home.

 

But Mary stays.

 

Mary stays by the empty tomb and cries.  She is emotionally lost.  First, she watched as Jesus, her anchor, mentor, rescuer, and friend is arrested, tortured, hung on a cross, died, and was buried.  And now, there isn’t even a place for her to mourn him.  The stone has been rolled away and the body is gone.  She is emotionally adrift.

 

And then two angels show up and ask her one of the most ridiculous questions ever to be asked in a cemetery.  “Woman, why are you crying?”  Seriously, if anyone, ever, sees someone crying in a cemetery, it’s painfully obvious why they are crying.  But not to the angels.  And, if we think about it at all, it’s certainly because they knew the truth.  They aren’t confused as to why someone would be crying.  They’re confused as to why anyone would be crying for a person who was no longer dead.  But when she turns around, she doesn’t see the two angels who were just there, instead she turns and sees Jesus.  But again, blinded by her grief, she doesn’t realize that it is Jesus.

 

Until he says her name.

 

There was only, ever, one person who ever said her name like that.  Maybe her grief allowed her to confuse the sound of his voice when he said the other things, but as soon as he said her name, she knew.

 

But what happens next is deeply meaningful for each one of us and for our understanding of our calling as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ.  Jesus says two things, “Don’t hold on to me,” and “Go and tell.”  Jesus tells Mary that she has to let him go, because he still has work that needs to be done.  She has to let go of the old mission, her old role as his follower, so that both she, and Jesus, can move forward to something new.  The first thing on Mary’s new list is to “Go and Tell.”  And, John says, Mary goes, “and she told them.”

 

In that moment, Mary is transformed.  Mary’s role, and her mission, is transformed.  Instead of being simply a follower of Jesus, instead of being in charge of cooking, or taking care of the disciples, or whatever else she may have done, Mary now becomes the world’s first Christian missionary, and the first human being, ever, to share the good news of his resurrection.

 

Jesus’ instructions to Mary were to go and tell… and she told them.

 

Mary is the first, but certainly not the last.

 

Jesus’ instructions to Mary overflow into the disciples, and into every person who chooses to follow Jesus.  In Peter’s famous speech in Acts 10:39-43, he says,

 

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

 

“We are witnesses.” 

 

“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”

 

I want you to hear that again.

 

We are witnesses.”

 

On this odd Easter morning when we find our churches empty, we remember what Mary did as she left an empty tomb.

 

“…and she told them.”

 

We must do the same.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

And…

 

Happy Easter!

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/v8w2ohL_my4


Did you enjoy reading this?

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