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  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  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Expansion

The Expansion

January 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge


Isaiah 49:1-7                          John 1:29-42                          1 Corinthians 1:1-9


How many of you know how to drive a stick shift?

I want to be clear, what I mean by that is, how many of you have driven a stick shift truck or automobile?

I make that clarification because when I first got my driver’s license, I thought I knew how to drive a stick.  I had been in the car with my Dad and with my brothers on countless occasions.  I had a driver’s license, and I understood the principles and the mechanics of how a stick shift operated.  But the first time I tried to put that knowledge into practice, I drove my father’s Mustang into our garage door.  Thankfully, I didn’t do much damage to either the garage or the car, so I wasn’t in a lot of trouble.  But this was a great learning opportunity that reinforced the idea that there’s a big difference between knowing and knowing.  There’s a difference between hearing about something, or knowing about something, and having knowledge that comes from doing that thing.  There’s a difference between knowing how to drive a stick shift and physically driving a stick shift long enough to become skilled in doing it.  In the same way, there’s a difference between knowing about a person, and knowing that person because you’ve spent enough time together to genuinely know them.

As I found out when I drove my dad’s Mustang into the garage door, the difference between these two kinds of knowing can be critically important.  A few years ago, while our son Jonah was shopping for a car, a friend from school wanted to sell him one.  Jonah liked it but, since it was a stick shift, and since he didn’t know how drive a stick, Jonah asked me to test drive it with him.  It looked nice enough and to Jonah, the car seemed great.  But when I got behind the wheel, something about the way the clutch worked and the way that it shifted seemed wrong to me.  I admitted that it had been several years since I had regularly driven a stick, but even aside from my slightly rusty skills, something just didn’t seem right, and my hesitancy caused Jonah to look elsewhere.  There’s a between knowing about and knowing from experience and that difference in knowledge often causes a difference in behavior.

It is this difference in knowing that we see in several of our scriptures this morning.  We begin in Isaiah 49:1-7 where we hear the story of how God called Isaiah to be the prophet of Israel and how God intended to use the nation of Israel, and Israel’s messiah, to call the world to repentance.

49:1 Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
    and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
    and my reward is with my God.”

And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the Lord says—
    the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
    to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
    princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”


Isaiah says that God called him before he was born, prepared him, and set him aside to be his servant.  But he did the same for Israel.  Israel was called by God before it was born and was set aside to display the splendor and glory of God to the world.  It was God’s intention to restore Israel, and to make that nation, and her messiah, a light to the Gentiles, a people that would go out, extend itself into the world, and expand the kingdom of God so that the kings, and the people, of the world would bow down and bring honor and glory to God.  It was God’s plan for the world to know him because they had known Israel.


And, in a much more personal way, we see this same idea play out in John 1:29-42 when two disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and (probably) John, meet Jesus for the first time.


29 The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”


35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So, they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).


As disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and John would have heard stories and preaching about the messiah that God had promised to the nation of Israel.  They would have been told that the arrival of the messiah was imminent, and that John the Baptist had been called by God to prepare for the arrival of the messiah.  But, at that moment, John makes it plain that Jesus is the one about whom he had been preaching and that Jesus was God’s Chosen One and the Lamb of God.  And immediately, those two disciples had a different kind of knowledge.  Knowing that the messiah was coming was different than knowing that the messiah had arrived.  And then, having met Jesus, and now actually knowing Jesus, something else was required of them.  Now that Andrew genuinely knew Jesus, just knowing wasn’t enough.  Now that Andrew knew Jesus the first thing that he did was to find his brother Simon and tell him that they had found the messiah and the very next thing that he did was to bring Simon to meet Jesus for himself.


Knowing the messiah was coming, and even knowing that the messiah had arrived, were different than knowing the messiah.  Once Andrew and John had met Jesus, once they knew him, that knowledge changed their behavior and demanded something from them.  It wasn’t enough to know Jesus.  Knowing Jesus demanded an expansion, knowing Jesus demanded that they tell others about what they knew and introduce others to him.


And, just in case we are tempted to say that this was only true for the disciples of John the Baptist, or was only true for the first few disciples, in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Paul explains that knowing Jesus changes the rest of us as well.


1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

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


I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


Paul says that once we know him, Jesus pours grace into us and enriches our lives by giving us all kinds of speech and knowledge in order to confirm the testimony about Jesus by the changes that are evident among the people of the church.  Once the people came to know him, Jesus poured out gifts of grace, speech, knowledge and, according to Paul, the church receives every spiritual gift as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ.  And just in case we weren’t sure what every spiritual gift means, Paul provides a list later in this same letter in 1st Corinthians chapter 12, where he lists some of these gifts as being wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, spiritual discernment, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. 


Paul is clear that knowing about Jesus, and genuinely knowing Jesus are different things. 


Knowing Jesus changes us.


When we meet Jesus and get to know him, when we experience the changes that are evident in his people and in his church, and when we receive the gifts that Jesus gives to his people, we are no longer the same people that we used to be.  Knowing Jesus not only changes us, it calls us, and it demands something from us.  Like Andrew, once we meet Jesus, we are unable to keep that knowledge to ourselves and we are compelled to introduce him to others so that they can know him too.


From the beginning, it has always been God’s plan for his people to be a light in a dark world.  God has always intended for his people, for his church, to go out, to extend itself into the world, and expand the kingdom of God so that the people of the world would bow down and bring honor and glory to God.


We have met Jesus and we have been changed, transformed, and blessed because of it.


And now that we know him, we are called to tell others about him so that they can meet him and know him too.





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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  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 All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

A Plumb Line

A Plumb Line

A Sunday meditation

July 21, 2019

By Pastor John Partridge

Amos 7:7-17              


Have you ever lived in a small town?

On at least three different times in my life I have lived in small towns.  But I want you to understand what I mean when I say, “small town.”  In these places parents often caution their children to behave while they are in the community just as well as they do when their parents are watching, and they do so because you can be quite certain that even though they are out of sight of their parents, someone that they know will see them, and their parents will hear about what they have done, often before they return home from doing it.

This kind of caution is just the message that God gives to the people of Israel through the prophet Amos.  God says that he will measure his people with a plumb line.  A plumb line is simply a metal weight that hangs at the end of a string but thanks to the predictability of gravity, that line is always dead straight. (Amos 7:7-17)

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
    and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
    with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
    and Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
    and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
    and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
    and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

God tells his children that just because they didn’t see him, doesn’t mean that their father wasn’t watching.  And not only was he watching, but he intends to measure what they are building with their behavior.  His standard is dead straight and perfect.  Israel knew what the rules were, they knew God’s standards, they knew what he expected, but they didn’t follow his instructions so what they were building wasn’t straight. 

It didn’t conform.

It deviated from God’s standards.

But the rest of the story is also important.  When Amos arrives to declare God’s judgement, the king’s advisor, the priest Amaziah, declares Amos to be an enemy.  They don’t want to hear any bad news even if it comes from God.  Israel’s religious and political leaders would rather ignore God than repent and obey him. 

Not surprisingly, ignoring God and pretending that his judgement isn’t real does not prevent God from doing what he promised to do,  In fact, because Amaziah has refused to recognize Amos as God’s prophet, and refused to listen or respond to God’s judgement, Amos declares a personal curse upon Amaziah in addition to the punishment that God had intended for Israel all along.

But so, what?

What does that mean to us in the twenty-first century?

I see two important lessons for us as the church, as a people, and as a nation.

First, ignoring God and his instructions is does not prevent us from being measured by God’s standards. Every nation, secular, religious, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise will be measured by the plumb-line of God.  It doesn’t matter if the highest levels of the government or the highest levels of the church pretend that God is dead.  Pretending that judgement will never come will not stop God’s judgement from coming any more than pretending that a freight train is fluffy will stop it from crushing you if you stand on the crossing.

Second, the leaders of the church, and the leaders of the nations, will be held personally, and particularly, responsible for the way in which they lead their nations.

Even as citizens, how we choose to lead, and how we choose to vote for our leaders, and how we hold them accountable, is important.  It is important that we choose leaders who lead well, and who lead us in ways that do not ignore the instructions and commands of God. 

Just like a child living in a small town, even when our father seems to be invisible and out of sight, he knows what we are doing and is measuring what we are building with our behavior.

We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6).  We know the standards, instructions, and commands of God.

We need to act like it.



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Not THOSE People!

Not THOSE People!

May 19, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge


Acts 11:1-18                          


How many of you have friends that are so close that they have become family and are included in almost everything that your family does?   Or, how many of you with children, have some of their friends that are so close, that they can show up at your house at almost any time of the day or night, just walk in without knocking, help themselves to whatever is in the refrigerator, plop down on the couch next to you, as you’re watching television, and just look over and say, “Hey.  What’s up?”  Many families have friends like that, but if push comes to shove, we would all have to admit that – legally – they aren’t really family.  In order to legally be a member of the family you must either be born into the family, or you must be legally adopted through a very particular and well-defined legal process.

Church membership is a little like that.  Anyone can attend church here, and if you come for a while everyone will know that you belong here, but in order to “legally” become a member, there is a process that must be followed.  Some churches make the process super easy; others make it harder than it needs to be, and ours is just designed so that you understand how our system of church governance works and are familiar with some of our theology and ways of doing things.

But Jesus’ church was a little of both of those things.  The people of Israel, as the descendants of Abraham, were both a family and a church.  And, after thousands of years of history there were systems and processes in place for everything.  While you might be free to move there from another place, you couldn’t just show up one day and declare that you were a citizen of Israel or announce that you were now Jewish.  It just didn’t work that way.  Either you were born into the family, or you had to follow a particular, and specific, path of education, ritual, and even surgery, in order to become a Jew.  And even then, you, and your family, would probably remain on the outside of much of the culture for generations to come.  Taken together, it was hard to even think about becoming a follower of Israel’s God.  That was not what God had in mind, and one of the things that Jesus came to do, was to fix that.  But changing that culture, and that way of thinking, even among Jesus’ own disciples, was not easy as we see in the story that Luke shares with us in Acts 11:1-18.

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.”

In this story, the followers of Jesus hear a rumor that non-Jews, Gentiles, had heard, and accepted, the message of Jesus Christ and that Peter had been the one who had told them.  And so, when Peter returns to town and re-enters the community of believers, they get in his face and criticize him for doing so.  “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  How dare you have contact with people like that?  How could you?  Good people simply don’t share hospitality and friendship with those people!  It surprises us a little, but the followers of Jesus were so much a part of their culture that they couldn’t separate what they had been taught by their culture from the things that were taught in scripture and by Jesus.  They had been so indoctrinated by their culture, and by their leaders, that they believed what they had learned, even when scripture taught that these things were entirely wrong.  This hits us hard, because we are often guilty of exactly the same misunderstanding.

Peter explains how God called him to do what he had done, but in retelling of his story, we notice how even Peter was stuck in the same cultural pattern.  Peter was desperately trying to be a good Jew and he refused God’s direct command two times, before, on the third repetition, he was finally convinced to break from a lifetime of training, teaching, and practice.

And, at the moment Peter surrendered to the will of God, three men arrive and ask him to go with them.  Gathering six other believers, Peter travels to the home of these Gentiles, preaches the good news of Jesus Christ, the Gentiles believe, repent of their sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But there is something that we skipped past a moment ago.  As Peter prepares to leave his house and travel to the home of the Gentiles, he gathers six other believers to go with him, specifically six other men.  And although this may appear to be sexist, there is a cultural, and legal, reason for his doing so.  First, Peter, plus six others, is seven, and seven is the number of perfection, and that may have had some connotations for good luck or for the blessing of God, but there is something else.  Under Jewish law, the testimony, or witness, of three men is required to establish something as true and factual.  So, when Peter takes six men with him, he is preparing for the possibility that he might have to testify about what happens there, whether that something is an act of God or the commission of a crime of some kind we don’t know.  But in either case, when Peter returns to Jerusalem, and is criticized by the other disciples, Peter testifies to what happens with seven witnesses, one more than twice the number needed to ascertain the legal facts, so that there can be no doubt about what happened in that place.

God is truly at work, and those people have surely been invited into God’s family.

Of course, “those people” are us, the Gentiles, the non-Jewish believers.

If you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that Paul is the one who we generally associate with missionary outreach to the Gentiles, and although that’s true, it is here, that Peter really begins ministry outside of what had been the “normal” outreach to other Jews up to that time.  Although Peter’s calling isn’t to become a missionary to the Gentiles, it was Peter and his six witnesses who proved to the disciples and the gathered church in Jerusalem that reaching out to the Gentiles with the good news of Jesus Christ was something that God was doing and something that God intended for the church to do.  Can you imagine how difficult it would have been, just a few years later, to convince this same group of people that God was calling Paul to carry the message of Jesus Christ into Greece, and Rome, and to nations full of what were thought of as pagan unbelievers if it had not been for the witness of Peter and his six friends?

What Peter discovered was revolutionary and hard to accept, but it was obvious to every witness that God was reaching out to “those people” as well as to the Jews.  It wasn’t just about Israel or the family of Abraham anymore, the boundaries that divide human beings are broken and erased for good.  God isn’t just calling the Jews, or the insiders, but anyone who hungers and thirsts for God and for what is right.

And that all sounds fine… right up until we remember that those words are supposed to speak to us in the twenty first century just as they did in the first century.  The mission of Jesus Christ hasn’t changed and neither has the mission of his church.  These were words that the early church wrestled with and they are words that we are still wrestling with two thousand years later.


Because no matter how far we’ve come, we still seem to find ways to divide people between insiders and outsiders.  Maybe “those people” are no longer the Gentiles, but we still find ways of labeling them as “hopeless,” as “outsiders,” “lost causes,” and yes, “those people.”

So, think about who “those people” might be for us.  Who are the outsiders, the outcasts, and the unwelcome?  And once we have an idea of who that might be, let’s find ways of reaching out them and inviting them in.

Because that’s exactly what Jesus has called us to do.






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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  These messages can also be found online at All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Scandal of Christmas

Note: This was originally a Facebook post back in 2014 and I’ve repeated it there occasionally, but I thought that it was also worth sharing here.


We’ve made Christmas pretty with twinkly lights, shiny decorations and well dressed characters in the nativity but we forget that Christmas was and is a story of scandal.

A baby born to poor, unmarried parents who were themselves descended from prostitutes, foreigners, adulterers, murders, and the absolute WORST king that Israel had ever had, a man who was describes as more evil than Israel’s enemy the Ammonites.

His birth was announced to shepherds, people at the very bottom of the social order. The rich, the important, and the popular were excluded.

Everything about the story is aimed at reminding us that God uses the weak, the small, the outcasts, the unpopular and the people that others call failures to do his greatest work.

The coming of the the Messiah was not the triumph of the establishment, but an invitation to everyone who has ever felt like they weren’t good enough, or rich enough, or just simply not “enough.”

The scandal of Christmas is that God came to earth to invite us all, regardless of wealth, race, popularity, nationality, or even goodness. He came to redeem and transform us, at his expense, so that we could *all* be invited into his house.

Never forget the scandal of Christmas because it was that very scandal that invited us in to become sons and daughters of God.

Merry Christmas everyone.





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The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

“The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’”

December 24, 2017

(4th Sunday of Advent)

By John Partridge*


2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16                           Romans 16:25-27                               Luke 1:26-38



How many of you watch football?


For many people in this area, football is important.  In Massillon, for some people it rises to the level of religion or fanaticism, or both.  So can you imagine what football season is like in a home where a graduate of Washington High School in Massillon is married to an alumnus of McKinley?  We know that these things must happen.  You can buy flags for your yard that are half Ohio State and half Michigan with the words “A house divided” appearing at the bottom.  But somehow, at least apart from football season, these folks have found common ground and a way to live, and love, together.


Likewise, this is one of the things that makes the present day European Union all the more amazing.  It wasn’t that long ago that my German grandfather fought in the trenches against the French and, historically, parts of Europe have been at war with one another almost continuously from 500 BC and intermittently at least as far back as 5000 BC.  To have arrived at a place where 27 or 28 of these nations not only get along, but have formed a common government that protects and serves their common interests is nothing short of amazing.


But what happens at Christmas is bigger by far.


We begin this morning in 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, where King David decides that he should build a temple for the God of Israel but discovers that God has entirely different plans.

After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you


Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”


As King David relaxes in his new palace, he realizes how much God has blessed him and decides that God ought to have a house as nice, or nicer, than his own.  The prophet Nathan knows that God loves David and has supported David since he was a boy watching his father’s sheep but God has other plans.  God tells Nathan that David is not to build him a house and in fact, God insists that he never asked for house.  Instead, God intends to make David’s name even more well-known and build a nation where the people of Israel can live forever without being disturbed, and be protected from their enemies.  Rather than demand a house or a temple for himself, God intends to build David a house and a nation by promising that David’s family will rule over Israel forever.


But it didn’t take long before it appeared that God had forgotten his promise to David.  Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel that were ruled by David rejected his grandson Rehoboam and the kingdom was divided.  The ten tribes who splinter off become the nation of Israel and the two that remain loyal to David’s family becomes the nation of Judah.  But even that doesn’t last very long.  Twelve or fifteen generations later (about 300 years), both Israel and Judah are conquered by Babylon and carried off into captivity where the ten tribes of Israel are lost to history forever.  The two tribes of Judah, those loyal to the family line of King David, eventually return and reestablish the nation of Israel, but after that time Israel is never truly independent and a Davidic king is never anointed as ruler over Israel.


It is interesting to note that during the Babylonian exile, the Israelite people continued to make an effort to keep track of who was descended from King David and one of these people, the Exilarch, was the leader of the Jewish people.  The theory was that one day Israel would again become an independent nation and the Exilarch would then be anointed as the King of Israel.  This position of Exilarch was maintained as a descendent of King David for hundreds of years but was finally lost to history around 1154 AD.


In any case, by the time that Jesus was born, the people were still hoping that God would keep his promise and raise up a descendent of King David to be their messiah, their rescuer and redeemer.  As we’ve mentioned before, most people thought that the messiah would be a military king that would raise an army, overthrow the Romans, and make Israel into an independent nation once again.


And after all of that, we arrive at the story contained in Luke 1:26-38.


26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.


God tells Mary that her son, as a descendent from the kingly line of David, would become the king of Israel, rule over the children of Jacob forever, and his kingdom would never end.  God was about to keep the promise that he had made to King David almost a thousand years earlier.  And, although that is a really big deal, it get’s even bigger when we realize something else that the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 16:25-27 where he says:


25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.


Paul says that we are here only because of the message of the gospel and we have been given the ability to share the Good News of that gospel message to others.  Now, we finally understand the full meaning of the Old Testament prophecies that told us about the messiah that was to come and the King that would rule and reign forever.  But Paul also says that this understanding has come to us so that the Gentiles might come to faith in Jesus Christ and thus become obedient to him.


And this is why Christmas is such a big deal.


The coming of Jesus not only represents the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David as the descendent that would rule over the people of Israel forever, but also the king that would welcome the Gentiles into that same kingdom.  Since God made a covenant with Abraham and created his Chosen People, humanity had been divided into two groups, “us” and “them.”  You were either a part of God’s covenant and a member of God’s chosen people, or you weren’t.  You were either a Jew or you weren’t and if you weren’t you were therefore a Gentile.  But the coming of Jesus changes all of that.  Jesus came not only to fulfill God’s promise to David, but also to rescue the Gentiles and thus invite the entire world into God’s kingdom.


Christmas is a big deal because this is the greatest merger in all of human history.  With the birth of Jesus, there is no longer any “us” or “them.”  There are no longer “insiders” and “outsiders.”


All of humanity has been invited into God’s family… forever.


We… have been invited in… and have been adopted as sons and daughters of God.


And that is worth celebrating.


Merry Christmas everyone.




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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at   These messages can also be found online at All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.


Less Than Perfect

“Less Than Perfect?”

March 06, 2016

By John Partridge*


Scripture: Joshua 5:9-12                    2 Corinthians 5:16-21                       Luke 15:1-32


Do you pay any attention to the models that they use in catalogs for practically everything?

Men, women, cars, it doesn’t matter; most of them look beautiful and perfect.

Hollywood and Madison Avenue have created an ideal for us that we cannot hope to live up to.

We can never be handsome or pretty enough, we can never be thin enough, and our skin can never be clear or smooth enough.  During our entire lives, we are constantly confronted by people who are better than we are and told that they should be models for us.  While this can, in one sense, be motivational, if it is done poorly, especially during times in our lives when other people are already making fun of our shortcomings, it can cause us to doubt ourselves and think that we can never be good enough.

That is exactly the kind of feeling that the people of Israel had as they escaped from slavery in Egypt.  For hundreds of years they were told that they were “just slaves,” that they were too stupid, too slow, too inferior to be true Egyptians.  But then God did something special and brought them safely out of Egypt, and then guided them through the wilderness for forty years and into the Promised Land.  As he did so, God said this to their leader Joshua: (Joshua 5:9-12)

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal [Gilgal sounds like the Hebrew word for “roll.”] to this day.

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

God gave Israel amazing gifts, but he only gave them what they needed, when they needed it.  As they arrive in the Promised Land and begin to work, to harvest, and eat the food that the land had produced, God’s provision stops.  But even as the gift of free food stops, a new gift comes.  God gives Israel a new land where they can support themselves and be proud, a land where they can be independent and productive., a land where they can put away the ridicule of other nations and stop doubting that they are good enough.

We find that same kind of story throughout scripture and we even find it in one of the stories that we have nearly committed to memory.  (Luke 15:1-32)

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable:

 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The story begins with the Pharisees looking down on Jesus, thinking that Jesus wasn’t “good enough” because he spent time with “those people.”  And then Jesus tells them a story about a prodigal son who disrespected his father, took his money, and went off to “do his own thing.”  And all of us can see ourselves in the character of both of these brothers.  The younger son was “less than perfect.”  He messed up; he made a wreck of his life.  But still his father finds value in him.  The older son looked down on his brother because he was less than perfect and didn’t do everything that everyone expected of him.

We are simultaneously both of these brothers.  We often feel as if we aren’t good enough, but, at the same time, accuse others of not being good enough.  But the powerful message of the story is that the father loved them both anyway.  In all of these parables, the thing that is lost, whether it is a coin, a sheep, or a son, is not somehow less valuable because it is lost, but is valuable simply because it belongs and is wanted.  And in each story, the thing that is lost is reconciled, returned, and reunited with the one to whom it belonged.

But how does that apply to us?

Since Jesus is the model upon whom we must try to pattern our lives, the answer to that is easy and in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Paul explains it as clearly as anyone.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

You might have noticed that in one sentence, Paul used the same word no less than four times, reconciled, reconciliation, reconciling, and again, reconciliation.  When a writer does that, we rightly suspect that there is something about that word that is important and that the author intends for us to understand.  So let’s hear that again, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

This is a two-part message.  First, God reconciled us to him.  God took away our shame, took away our sin, took away our reproach, took away our slavery, and set us free.  God cleaned us up so that we never have to be ashamed or embarrassed because we think we aren’t “good enough.”  God adopted us into his family, making us sons and daughters of the creator of the universe, so that we could belong.  We are valuable, we are “good enough” because we belong and because we are wanted, and loved, by the King of Kings.

The second part of Paul’s message is that we are now committed, by God, to a message of reconciliation.  Paul says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”  Because we have been reconciled, we have now been sent out to tell the entire world the Good News of God’s love and reconciliation.  And if that is our mission, there is no way that we can look down on others and think that they aren’t pretty enough, or smart enough, or rich enough, or talented enough, or that they somehow aren’t good enough.

Hollywood and Madison Avenue have created an ideal for us that we cannot hope to live up to but we have been sent, by the King of Kings, to rescue everyone who has been told that they aren’t good enough.  We have been sent to invite them to belong.



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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at   These messages can also be found online at John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Are you Connected?

Not long ago, my wife, Patti, and I visited Caesarea Maritima in Israel, an ancient ruin of a city built by Herod the Great around 12 B.C.E.  Before Herod took control of it, Caesarea was nothing more than a small fishing village, but he built it into a center of trade, politics, and power.  Caesarea became the administrative capitol for Pontius Pilate and the home of the tenth Roman legion.  In that place, Herod managed to build one of the largest man-made sea ports ever built in a place that had no natural harbor.

But in order to turn a small fishing village into a bustling, powerhouse of a city, Caesarea needed water. .. a lot of it.  And so, Herod built an aqueduct that would carry water to the city from the mountains more than 7 kilometers (about 4 miles) away.  In some places the aqueduct ran underground, in others above it, and in places where they needed to maintain its height, it ran in an elevated channel that was supported by enormous stone arches.  As we visited Caesarea, we could still see it on the beach outside of town.

Herod’s aqueduct was used for over a thousand years, and although it was repaired and rebuilt several times, what is seen to day is nothing more than a dry and empty ruin.  Even as a ruin, it is still imposing and impressive.  But as impressive as it is, Herod’s aqueduct is useless.

As I looked at this massive structure, I was reminded of a story that I read a number of years ago which asked whether our lives were intended to be pools or channels.  The answer is given to us by none other that Jesus in John chapter 15 where he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  What Jesus tells us, is that our function as followers is to be a channel that carries his strength from the source to the fruit.  We aren’t the roots and we aren’t the grapes.  We are the branches.

And so it is with the aqueduct.  Our calling is not to receive God’s message, his Spirit, and his power and store it for later.  We aren’t meant to be dams, lakes or reservoirs.  Instead, our job is to be like streams, rivers or the aqueduct.  We are meant to be channels through which God’s grace, mercy, love and strength can flow into the lives of others.

But too many of us look just like the aqueduct in Caesarea… dry, useless, and empty.  We remember better days when we were once filled to overflowing, but somewhere along the line we became disconnected from the source.

Rivers are powerful because they are connected to the source of their strength in the mountains.  Herod’s aqueduct was useful because it carried water from mountain springs to a thirsty city.  But disconnected from the source, rivers and aqueducts are nothing more than dry relics of a better day.  The only way that they can do what they were intended to do is for them to remain connected to the source. 

The same is true of us.

Whether we think of ourselves as branches or aqueducts, our role is the same.  Our mission is to carry the message and power of Jesus Christ to a world that is desperately thirsty.

But the only way we can is for us to keep drinking from the spring.  When we think that we’ve had enough, learned enough, studied enough, or done enough and we stop drinking from the source, we become disconnected, dry, and useless.

Every city needs water.

The world still needs the mercy, forgiveness, compassion, strength, and love of Jesus.

But the only way the world can get what it needs…

                                                              …is for us to stay connected to the source.


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Israel: A Culinary Adventure

As many of you know, my wife, Patti, and I recently returned from a two-week pilgrimage to Israel.  The trip was nothing short of amazing and you can be sure that I will write several more posts about our time there.  But first, I want to describe the culinary adventure that came with our trip.

Any trip to a new place, whether it is to another town, another state, or to another country always gives us the opportunity to try new things.  When I used to travel for my employer, some years ago, I always tried to be open to experimentation.  I learned that it was fun, and painless, to try local foods, drinks, and be open to learning a little about culture and people. 

But the two weeks we spent in Israel went far beyond my previous excursions.  Every day our hotels would serve enormous buffets for breakfast and dinner, and every day we would stop for lunch at some amazing local spot. 
In two weeks, I tried more new food I have in any other decade of my life and it was glorious.
Those who know me know that I am not generally a fan of breakfast.  The choices that we have for breakfast in American culture bore me.  I don’t much like French toast, pancakes are better for lunch or dinner, and while eggs and bacon and cold cereals are great, I get tired of them. 
And this leads me to the culinary revelation of our trip.  The world of breakfast is far, far, bigger than the choices we have in American culture.  And those new choices were wonderful.
I discovered that fish was an acceptable, and to me fantastic, offering for breakfast.  At various times there was herring, smoked herring, pickled herring, salmon, smoked salmon, raw fish (not sure what kind), and a few other fish that either I don’t remember or which were never identified.  We also had shakshouka, a Middle Eastern egg dish, in which eggs are poached in a tomato and vegetable sauce.  This was good, though not my favorite.
Almost every breakfast (and many dinners) also offered goat cheese, salty white cheese, labane (yogurt cheese), white Bulgarian cheese (20-30% fat), cream cheese, fresh local yogurt, and Greek yogurt.  I list these all together because it sometimes became difficult to discern which were cream cheeses, and which were yogurts.

And many meals also offered hummus, couscous (which I never managed to sample), many varieties of eggplant, Israeli salad, a variety of other unnamed vegetable salads, and halva which looks sort of like a cheese, Braunschweiger, or liverwurst.  It isn’t meat at all but made with sesame paste and honey.  It’s a little crumbly but has a slightly sweet taste.  And there was also a dessert that was something between tapioca and rice pudding but made with a grain that no one could adequately translate.

Lunch was often some variety of falafel, which for the uninitiated, is sort of fried “meatballs” made with chick peas) or shawarma, which is a spicy shaved chicken (shaved off of a spit much like good Greek gyros) with vegetables and served in a pita bread or in a “roll bread” that was a bit heftier than a tortilla, thinner than a pita, but about the size of a tortilla at Chipotle.

And then there were the breads that were served at every breakfast and dinner.  They varied from day to day, but although none of them were labelled, there were breads that resembled challah, butter knots, sesame twists, and tons of other varieties.  There were rolls, fresh pita bread that is far better than anything store bought here at home,  Jerusalem bagels (which are not bagels in the American sense, but a forearm-long, oval shaped, slightly sweet, bread), pastries like rugelach (sort of a chocolate, hazelnut, crescent roll)and others that were variously drizzled in honey or sugar.

And of course there was fruit.  Every day there was an offering of oranges, kiwi, apples, grapefruit, fresh tomatoes, dates, olives, and the discovery of the week (for us), flora fruit.  Our introduction to this was at a snack stop after a worship cruise on the Sea of Galilee where the snack place across from the gift shop had the usual offering of soft drinks, juices, sweet rolls, but also offered a sort of a fruit smoothie that we didn’t recognize.  We asked the proprietor two or three time what it was, and every time we swore that he was saying, “Four.”  We assumed that there was some sort of language barrier and he was telling us the price, but after several attempts he took a small cup, poured out a taste, and offered it to us.  It tasted like some combination of mango and citrus and was so good that Patti immediately bought the regular serving.  It was only after she was halfway through it that we asked our tour guide what it was and he identified it as “Flora” fruit.  As the days passed, we saw this fruit again and again in desserts ranging from something akin to gelatin molds to a topping on something that resembled cheesecake.  They were all delicious.  Some later googling gave us a possible common name, persimmon.
From a culinary point of view, every day was a new adventure and despite my list, I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a few.  More than that, every day I lost count of the things that we saw on the buffet, could not identify, sampled, and still had no idea what it was.
In all, we had a lot of fun sampling as many things as we could (even if we never knew what they were) and our culinary world got a little bigger.
Travel is all about adventure.
Never be afraid to try new things.

Often times, that’s half the fun of your entire trip.


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Sometimes Right is Wrong

    Not long ago my wife, Patti, and I attended a seminar with Dr. Terry Wardle at Ashland Seminary.  During one session Dr. Wardle noted that sometimes the question is not whether something is right or wrong, but whether it is loving or unloving.  This idea struck me and I immediately wrote it in my notebook.  While this may not always be the case, this is a wonderful lens by which we can examine our choices as we live out our faith.  Checking to see if our actions are loving or unloving is a great way to get closer to deciding, “What would Jesus do?” 
    Some will object that Jesus was the perfect man and lived his life without sin, and so, he could not have done wrong.  And yet, he did.  During his ministry, Jesus seemed often to be at odds with the Pharisees, men who devoted their lived to following “the rules” and, in fact, devised rules stricter than those contained in the Law so that, by following these ‘new and improved’ rules, they would never, even accidently, violate the Law.  Simply put, the Pharisees made it their business never to break a rule.  They were devoted to living that was always right and never wrong but if this is so, why were they so often at odds with Jesus?
    The Pharisees began to hate Jesus and plot for his humiliation and, ultimately, his destruction when Jesus repeatedly revealed their hypocrisy and the failure of their rules-based morality.  Jesus pointed out that what they had achieved was like white washing a tomb; it looked pretty on the outside bur remained full of corruption on the inside.  The Pharisees were known to tithe from everything they earned, every increase that God granted to them, even to the point of giving ten percent of the growth from their herb gardens and yet some of them had elderly parents whom they allowed to starve.  They justified their actions by saying that all their money was “Corban” or, dedicated to God.  They had followed one rule so vigorously, that they missed the bigger ideas of “love your neighbor” and “honor your father and mother.”  They had done what was “right” but had failed to be loving.  As Jesus saw it, they had missed the point.
    At the same time, the Pharisees attacks against Jesus revolved around what they perceived as his wrongdoing.  Jesus and his followers were rule breakers.  Jesus sat down with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, outcasts, and ate with them.  No self respecting, rule-following, religious person would be seen socializing, let alone sharing food, with “those people,” and yet, Jesus did.  As Jesus and his followers were walking through a field on the Sabbath, they were hungry and the disciples began to pick heads of grain, rub them between their hands to remove the chaff, and eat them.  The Pharisees asked Jesus why he allowed them to do wrong. Clearly they were harvesting on the Sabbath, and everyone knew that harvesting was work and work was not permitted on the Sabbath.  They made the same accusation against Jesus when he healed a man on the Sabbath.  Since healing was “work,” obviously Jesus had done wrong.  Again, as Jesus saw it, they had missed the point.
    In each case, the Pharisees wanted to follow the rules, to do what was right, but Jesus wasn’t as concerned with right and wrong as he was with being loving.  Jesus believed that the Pharisees had missed the point when following “the rules” caused them to be unloving.
    If we see ourselves in the mirror held up by the Pharisees, we should.  The Pharisees weren’t bad people; they were the church leaders and teachers of their day.  Like the Pharisees, I think sometimes we get so focused on “the rules” that we miss the point.  When people of faith debate issues like homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment and other “religious” issues in the public square we often carve out positions that we believe are “right” and yet, at the same time, fail miserably at being loving.  That doesn’t mean that we have to accept sin, Jesus didn’t, but Jesus found a way to be loving even if it broke a few rules.
    As we enter the public square we must ask ourselves if our arguments are right, but also if they are loving.  Because…
Sometimes, right is wrong.