Broken Trust

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Broken Trust

September 18, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1               Luke 16:1-13              1 Timothy 2:1-7

When our children were just beginning elementary school, our school district had a problem.  They had too many elementary school-age children and not enough space to fit them all.  That is not a unique problem.  The problem was that they had an additional elementary school building that was in good repair, that they couldn’t use.  Immediately behind the district administration building was an empty elementary school whose steam plant was active and supplied heat to the administration building. The problem, and the reason that the school was empty, was asbestos. 

Before the school could be safely filled with children and teachers, the district would need to spend a half a million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  At the same time, they couldn’t tear it down because it provided heat to the administration building and because… it would cost a half million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  The obvious solution would have been to ask the taxpayers for a one-time, emergency, tax levy to raise the half million dollars that would be needed to remove the asbestos and return that school to its useful purpose.  But, because taxpayers have been lied to by politicians for so long, it was impossible to pass a temporary tax levy because no one trusts a politician when they say that a new tax would be temporary.

The trust between taxpayers and their government has been broken so repeatedly, that we now simply assume politicians are lying most of the time.  Frank Sonnenberg said that “Trust is like blood pressure. It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly.” And Dr. Jane Greer had this to say about trust, “Broken trust forces us, first, to acknowledge a painful reality we may have chosen to ignore, then, to make some difficult decisions.” That’s exactly what the taxpayers of our school district did.  They made some difficult decisions, which caused more problems and more difficult decisions later.  It is this cycle of broken trust that has complicated the administration of our government, the operation and conduct of our churches, our schools, and it creeps into every facet of our lives.

And, as we read the words of Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1, what we hear underneath the words of a nation mourning from its captivity in Babylon, is the pain of the trust that was broken between the people of Israel and their God.

18 You who are my Comforterin sorrow,
    my heart is faint within me.
19 Listen to the cry of my people
    from a land far away:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King no longer there?”

“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
    with their worthless foreign idols?”

20 “The harvest is past,
    the summer has ended,
    and we are not saved.”

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?

9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
    for the slain of my people.

Jeremiah speaks for his people and says that they faint with sorrow over the loss of their nation and their God but, at the same time, he is angry that his people broke their trust with God and aroused his anger by abandoning him and worshiping the idols of another nation.  The people are saying that “the harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”  The realization of reality is finally hitting them that God isn’t going to bail them out easily and quickly this time and that they are not going home any time soon.  Jeremiah says that with this realization, horror grips him and there is no comfort, no physician, and no healing to be found as they mourn what they have lost, come to grips with their new reality, and weep for all those who died because of their rebellion and broken trust.

And then in Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a story about an entirely different kind of broken trust but compliments the man who does wrong because of the lesson that the church should learn from him about how we can operate within a system that often struggles with trust issues.

16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels[about thirty tons] of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus praises the dishonest man for his shrewdness in using the tools that he had available to him.  Despite being fired, he had time left, and tools at his disposal, to prepare for, and to secure resources for his future.  Clearly his actions amount to fraud and theft, and certainly Jesus expects that we will not do those things.  But, although we are held to a higher standard, and expected to be trustworthy and live up to our promises to our employers and the people around us, we are encouraged to use the tools that we have been given by our employers, by our community, our leaders, our governments, and by our Constitution, to further the cause of the kingdom of God.  We are to prove ourselves trustworthy with what we have been given here, so that we can demonstrate to God that he can trust us with real wealth and true riches in heaven.

But how do we connect that story with the heartbreak experienced by Jeremiah and the people of Israel during their captivity in Babylon?  We begin with the idea that the phrase “we cannot serve two masters,” can be about money, it can also be about other things that take the place of God.  In a letter to his young friend and protégé Timothy, Paul briefly describes the relationship that we should be cultivating with the powers that surround us. (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth; I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Paul urges Timothy and the church to pray for kings and the people in authority in their governments even though, like now, those leaders had often broken trust with the people over whom they ruled.  Some had not only broken trust but had actively persecuted their citizens.  And yet, Paul’s encouragement isn’t to rebel, or to resist, but to pray for them, and to do whatever they could do to live peaceful and quiet lives of integrity and honesty that were both godly and holy.

Our goal is to peacefully coexist with our government, not to put our trust in the government and not to break our trust with God by putting our faith in money, power, or government officials.  Neither should we abdicate our responsibilities to God or entrust our government with do the work that God has commanded us to do.  Our calling is to shrewdly use the freedoms and the tools that we have been given, but to remain faithful to our God, to our integrity, honesty, and to the promises that we have made. 

The missionary journeys of Paul and the other disciples were made possible by the infrastructure and the safety and freedom to travel brought about by the Roman empire and its military.  In his letters, we sometimes see Paul use his Roman citizenship as a tool to accomplish his mission for Jesus Christ, but Paul never concedes that Caesar is lord, and he never puts his faith and trust in the Roman government.  For Paul, citizenship was a useful tool, but his loyalty was always firmly in Jesus Christ, and his faith and trust always belonged, without question, to the kingdom of God first.  We are similarly challenged.  Finding the balance that Paul had will be as challenging to us as it was for him.  But our calling is to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, to put our whole trust only in God, and to shrewdly use the rights, freedom, citizenship, money, and other tools at our disposal to further the interests of God’s kingdom wherever we can.  At the same time, we must live lives that are trustworthy, honest, filled with integrity, and remain faithful to the promises that we have made so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

If he were here, I am certain that Paul would confess that finding that balance, while living in a powerful military empire, was challenging, and doing so is likely to be similarly challenging for us in twenty-first century United States.  But one thing we can learn from Jeremiah is that getting that balance wrong can have devastating, and sometimes eternal, consequences.


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

Sinners Welcome!

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Sinners Welcome!

September 11, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28                   Luke 15:1-10              1 Timothy 1:12-17

In 1781, famed preacher Jonathan Edwards presented a message to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  He preached that same sermon again in Enfield, Connecticut later that same year and, by many historical accounts, triggered the beginning of what is now considered to be the First Great Awakening which brought countless waves of people across the new United States and England to faith in Christ.  In that message, Edwards proclaimed the horrors of hell and forwarded the idea that it is only the grace and the powerful hand of God that holds back the demons of hell and allows sinners to remain in this world so that they will have an opportunity to repent.

Present day preachers tend not to preach with that kind of style or fire, though many of us would agree with much of Edward’s message.  What’s worse, however, is that somewhere along the line, our churches established a reputation as places where you needed to get right with God before you came in, or as places where sinners, the unclean, the tattooed, bikers, persons of color, the poor, the homeless, smokers, gamblers, and any other kind of outsiders aren’t welcome.  And, in many churches, that characterization is unfortunately true. 

But that isn’t the message that we find in scripture at all.  Yes, God does have a problem with some people, but God’s list almost never seems to overlap with the people that our churches like to exclude.  In Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, we hear this:

11 At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; 12 a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them.”

22 “My people are fools;
    they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
    they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
    they know not how to do good.”

23 I looked at the earth,
    and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
    and their light was gone.
24 I looked at the mountains,
    and they were quaking;
    all the hills were swaying.
25 I looked, and there were no people;
    every bird in the sky had flown away.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
    all its towns lay in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 This is what the Lord says:

“The whole land will be ruined,
    though I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore the earth will mourn
    and the heavens above grow dark,
because I have spoken and will not relent,
    I have decided and will not turn back.”

God condemns Israel not because of everyday, ordinary sin, but because of their conscious decision to act in ways that they knew were in opposition to God’s will.  They had known God… but forgot God and had become so desensitized to wrongdoing and injustice that they only did evil and entirely forgot how to do good.  God had created Israel to be a light to the nations but whatever light that they had… was gone.

God’s intent is better demonstrated to us in the actions and the teaching of Jesus such as we find in the story contained in Luke 15:1-10.

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[each worth a day’s wage] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And 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.”

The accusation against Jesus was that he must be a bad person because he welcomed “sinners” and shared the relationally intimate act of eating meals with them.  As I noted last week, during communion, a shared meal is an intimate act.  Only an exceedingly small number of people will be invited into our homes and in the even smaller inner circle that sits at our table and shares food with us.  Even in a group setting with larger numbers of people, there is still a decision-making process by which we choose who will be given access to that level of closeness.  The Pharisees and the teachers of the law would never do such a thing and they thought that doing so cast doubt on Jesus’ authority, credibility, and likability. 

But the parables that Jesus uses to craft his reply reveal that these are exactly the people that God wants to welcome.  When you have one hundred sheep, and lose one, you use all your time, talent, and resources to find the one that is lost, not to nurture the ninety-nine that stayed home.  And when you lose a coin that’s worth an entire day’s wages, you don’t just keep counting the nine that you have, you expend all the effort that you can to find the one that you lost.  The people who were in the Temple and who worshipped in the synagogues weren’t lost.  The lost people that God wanted back were the people that had left the church and had left God’s family in one way or another. 

And as the Apostle Paul writes to his friend Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:12-17, he writes from the perspective of a person who was once lost, but has been found, welcomed, and redeemed.  Paul says…

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Too often our churches are so laser-focused on the chaplaincy of our church, which is the mission of caring for the day to day needs of the congregation, that they completely ignore, and sometimes are downright unwelcoming, to the lost people that God wants to rescue.  How often do we hear stories or jokes about people who felt unwelcome because they visited a church and accidentally sat in the spot that Mrs. So-and-so had sat in for sixty-three years?  Or folks who were angrily stared at because they wore the wrong kind of clothes?  Or had the wrong color skin?  Or belonged to the wrong political party?  Or were shown the door because they were divorced or remarried?  Or were single parents?  Or drank too much, or smoked, or swore, or… well, you get the idea.

When God condemned Israel in the story we read from Jeremiah, his condemnation wasn’t for any of those things.  God’s condemnation was for the church people who forgot how to do good and couldn’t stop doing evil.  Instead, what Jesus is trying to teach us is that the people we need to spend our time, talent, and resources on, are those lost children that we so easily overlook or condemn because they don’t go to our church, or don’t look like us, or talk like us, or vote like us, or move in the same social circles as us.

Bear in mind that Jesus never told sinners that it was okay to keep on sinning.  But Jesus most certainly did say that sinners should always be made to feel welcome in his house so that they could hear… and feel, the message of love, rescue, and transformation that is contained in the gospel message.  Our mission isn’t to keep out the riffraff.  Our mission is to save the lost, to welcome the riffraff, the outsiders, and the outcasts so that we can be agents of rescue, restoration, and reconciliation.

But in order to accomplish our mission, in order for us to do what Jesus has called us to do, requires us to do what Jesus did.

And that… is to make sure that sinners are welcome.


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

Do You Need a “Do Over”?

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Do You Need a “Do Over”?

September 04, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 18:1-11                   Luke 14:25-33                        Philemon 1-21

Have you ever had a chance to have a “do over”?

In the 1991 movie “City Slickers” starring Billy Crystal (as Mitch), four friends decide to get away from the city, and get away from their problems for a few weeks by going out west and joining a cattle drive.  One of the four friends, Phil, has a crisis because he had been caught cheating on his wife and was, to his mind, about to lose everything that he valued and one evening Phil breaks down in tears by the campfire.  Mitch pats Phil’s back and attempts to comfort him saying:

“Hey Phil, come on Philly… It’s OK man, it’s not that bad…”

To which Phil replies, “My life is over! I’m almost 40 years old, and I’m at the end of my life!”

Mitch tries to get Phil’s attention saying, “Phil, hey.” And when Phil looks up, he continues with this:

“You remember when we were kids, and we were playing ball, and we hit the ball over the fence out of bounds, and we yelled, DO OVER? Your life is a do over. You’ve got a clean slate.”

Phil’s life was a do-over.  At 40 years old he was going to start over again and build a new life.  I’m certain that resonates with some of the people in this room, and certainly most of us have family or friends that have lived through divorce, or separation, the death of a spouse, the loss of parents, unemployment, and other situations that led to similar restarts, or do-overs in their lives.  But while naming this sort of situation as a “do-over” might be new, the idea of starting over due to a crisis certainly isn’t.  In Jeremiah 18:1-11 we hear these words:

18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’

At the command of God, Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and watches as he spins clay on his wheel and begins to form a pot.  But some imperfection marred that pot.  Sometimes a tiny pebble remains undiscovered in the clay and, as it spins on the potter’s wheel, the pebble rises to the surface, catches on the potter’s hands, and carves a groove in the clay, or worse.  But when that happened, the potter simply declares that the pot is a do-over, crushes it back into a shapeless lump, starts over, and begins to form something new.

And God says that this is what he intends to do with the nation of Israel.  Things are not going well.  God has warned them to repent of their evil and they have not, and so God is going to declare a do-over, he is going to allow disaster to befall them, to crush them back into a lump, start over, and build something new with the lives of each person and with Israel as a nation.  God intends to reshape his people into something new, something good, faithful, righteous, and beautiful.

Most often, do-overs are avoidable.  God had warned the nation of Israel more than once about the evil that they were doing and had commanded them to repent.  If they had listened to the warning of God and his prophets, if they had followed the commands of God that were contained in his scriptures, then the do-over, and all the pain that went with it, could have been avoided.  And that’s exactly the point of the illustrations that Jesus uses in the story of Luke 14:25-33 where we hear this story:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

The reason that Jesus’ illustrations in this story stand out for us today is because of how these stories stand out in contrast to what we just read in Jeremiah.  When we hear Jesus say that someone would consider the cost of building a tower before they started construction, we all think, “Well of course they would.”  And when he describes a king as considering the strength of his army in comparison to the strength of the army that opposes him, we think, “That seems natural and reasonable.”  But although the stakes were astronomically higher, what we saw in Jeremiah was that no one took the time to consider the cost before wandering away from God.  The stakes of their decision were a complete do-over, a total disaster, a complete destruction and restart of their nation, but no one was interested in considering the cost, or in hearing God’s warnings, before it came time to pay the price of their decision.

And Jesus is warning his listeners, and us, of the same thing.  There is a cost of following Jesus.  We might lose relationships with family members, or friends, or coworkers if we choose to follow Jesus.  But, at the same time, there is a cost to not following Jesus just as there was in the time of Jeremiah.

If we want to see an example or two of what it might cost to follow Jesus, we can find them in the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a man by the name of Philemon 1-21.  In that letter, Paul writes to Philemon, a man that he knew who had come to faith through the ministry of Paul and his associates and had grown in faith by attending worship in Paul’s house church.  And, as he writes, Paul very publicly, asks Philemon to do something surprising.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

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

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

As you may have surmised, Onesimus was a slave that belonged to Philemon but, for whatever reasons, was not a good and obedient slave and eventually ran away.  While Onesimus was on the run, he encountered Paul and began to voluntarily work with, rather than serve, Paul and his team.  We don’t know whether Paul and Onesimus knew one another from the same time that Paul knew Philemon, but we know that Onesimus’ character changed because of the time that he spent working alongside Paul, studying the scriptures, and ministering to others.  In time, Onesimus was convicted by God to return to his master regardless of the consequences and so Paul writes to Philemon and asks him to do the right thing.

For Onesimus, honoring God and honoring the law of Rome, meant returning to his master and risking that Philemon would treat him fairly.  The risk that he took in doing so was that his master would be angry and could treat him harshly, beat him, or even kill him.

For Philemon, honoring God and honoring his mentor and pastor, Paul, meant losing money and risking the condemnation of his peers and his community for freeing his misbehaving, law breaking slave.  The Roman world ran on a culture of law, honor, and patronage.  Philemon would, understandably, lose the money that he had invested in purchasing Onesimus, but in addition to that, while freeing a slave was certainly legal, and not at all uncommon, his peers may not have appreciated the example and precedent that Philemon would be setting, and their displeasure, as well as the potential displeasure of Philemon’s patrons, might cost him a great deal of business.

Both Onesimus and Philemon had a chance at a do-over.  They both had a chance to start their relationship with one another over again.  But starting over carried risks and rewards for both men.  The risks we already mentioned, but the rewards were that their new relationship, outside of slavery, would be more amicable, less hostile, more productive, more profitable, and, most importantly, closer to the will of God.

There is a cost to following Jesus.  But there is also a cost to not following Jesus.

Is it time for a do-over in your life that will bring you closer to God?

There will undoubtedly be costs that must be considered.

But as we saw in the story of Israel that we read in Jeremiah, the danger of not starting over is that sometimes God will do it for you.


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

Trading Gold for Beans

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Trading Gold for Beans

August 28, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 2:4-13                     Luke 14:1, 7-14                      Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the hero, a young boy named Jack is sent to the market, by his mother, to sell their cow that has stopped giving milk.  On the way to town, Jack is convinced to sell the family cow, not for gold, but for three magical beans.  On the surface, at least in the story, Jack has made a terrible bargain and has been fleeced and bamboozled by the bean dealer.  But again, in the story, it turns out that the beans really are magical and offer Jack a pathway to his adventure in the kingdom of the Giant and his golden goose.

But what happens in reality?  How often do hucksters and scoundrels convince our elderly to buy the modern equivalent of magic beans and rob them of their retirement funds?  How often do unscrupulous investment advisors line their pockets at the expense of unwise or overly trusting investors?  Or how often do we see internet pop-up ads selling products that just seem too good to be true?  It seems that too often, trusting people are hoodwinked into selling their gold in exchange for piles of worthless beans that aren’t even magical.

And curiously, that is what is at the root of God’s accusation against his people that we find in Jeremiah 2:4-13.  God says that his people have walked away from him and abandoned the gold that he had in exchange for worthless piles of beans.  Jeremiah said…

Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob, all you clans of Israel.

This is what the Lord says:

“What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the Lord.
    “And I will bring charges against your children’s children.
10 Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely;
    see if there has ever been anything like this:
11 Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

God wonders why his people started to drift.  The ancestors of Israel began to stray from God, followed worthless idols and never thought to ask what happened to the God and to the faith that led them across deserts and through the Red Sea.  God gave them an incredible inheritance that they could enjoy and pass on their children, but the people defiled the land and ruined it.  The priests never stopped to ask what happened to God, the theologians and the church leaders either didn’t know God at all or actively rebelled against him and the prophets of Israel sold out to what was popular and prophesied for Baal instead.

God tells his people that they are free to look anywhere they want and try to find another country that has abandoned their gods and they won’t find any even though the gods of other countries are no more than stone statues.  God is appalled and heaven in horrified.  God’s people have traded rivers of life-giving water for broken, leaking, clay pools of foul, stagnant, green water.

They traded piles of gold for a handful of ordinary beans.

In a similar lesson found in Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus shares a story that tells us how we tell the difference between gold and beans as we go about the busyness of our daily lives.  Luke says…

14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Our lives are filled with opportunities to collect wealth for ourselves.  Some of those opportunities allow us to store up gold, and others cause us to expend our time and our energy and end the day with little more than a handful of beans.  Jesus says that you do not gain from what you take, you gain from what you are given, and by what you give.  Throwing a party and inviting a house full of influential friends, who will, later, invite you back, gains you nothing.  Money, power, and influence will evaporate before your casket closes.  But offering a banquet to the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and for those who are unable to care for themselves, that deposits gold into your account in God’s heavenly treasury.

Similarly, the writer of Hebrews offers us a list of things that we do in life that earn us gold rather than beans.  In Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, he says:

13:1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?”

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Without specifically calling out bankers, or businesspeople, or farmers, or anyone else who work to earn an income, the writer of Hebrews tell us that some activities are better, in the eyes of God, than others.  Loving the people around you, and not just family members, is a good thing.  Inviting strangers into your home because they need a place to stay, is a good thing.  Caring for people who are in prison and people who are mistreated, as if you were suffering alongside of them, is a good thing.  Honoring your marriage and staying true to that one person to whom you are married, is a good thing and so is insulating yourself from greed and envy simply by being content with what you already have.

And one of the best reasons we have, to be content with what we have, is that what we have… is a God who loves us, cares for us, and will never leave us or abandon us.  What we have is a loving God who is constantly beside us to give us strength, encouragement, patience, and comfort so that we can rest in his care and not worry about what our bosses, our bullies, or anyone else can do to us.

We are also encouraged to remember the pastors and people of our past who taught us the word of God and modeled the Christian life for us.  Think about how their lives influenced others, how their faithfulness was a blessing to others, and how their every day lives made the lives of others easier, better, more fulfilling, and sometimes even made the difference in their survival.  Let us remember those people, imitate their faith, and thereby live a life that is pleasing to God and to Jesus Christ.  Don’t just give the occasional gift of cash, give sacrificially, not of cash, but give sacrificially of your praise to God.  Live your life in such a way that you do good for the people around you and share what you have with others rather than hoarding it all for yourself.  God knows that sometimes your giving is a sacrifice, but it is with these sacrifices that God is pleased.

Our culture constantly bombards us with offers to trade our gold for a handful of completely unremarkable, non-magical, ordinary beans.  Our culture worships money, power, greed, influence, sex, the accumulation of possessions, politics, and all sorts of other idols.  We are tempted to run for the front of the line, to grab the best seats, and inflate our own importance.  But in God’s equation, we gain not by what we take, but by what we give.  We gain when we care for those who have no one to care for them.  We gain when we share what we have with those who have less than we do, or who have none of what we have.  We gain when we do good for people who may never be able to do good to us in return and give to those who cannot afford to repay us.

Our culture urges us to keep what we have and to build bigger barns, and bigger houses, to store even more of our abundance.  But God says that we store up real treasure when we swim against the current of our culture, when we love one another, when we welcome the stranger, care for those in prison, soothe the wounds of the mistreated, remain faithful to our spouses, and insulate ourselves from greed and envy by remaining content with what we have.

Our culture surrounds us with voices that shout louder every day and encourage us to get with the program and trade our gold for worthless beans.

Don’t fall for it.

There are no magic beans.

There is no beanstalk and no giant.

There is no golden goose.

But there is a loving God who is waiting to reward us with the gold that we have stored up for ourselves in the vaults, storehouses, and the treasury of heaven.

Don’t let our culture steal your eternity.


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

A Rule Breaking God

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A Rule Breaking God

August 21, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 1:4-10                     Luke 13:10-17                        Hebrews 12:18-29

Several years ago, Drew Brees, the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints football franchise, appeared in a commercial for the Can Am Spyder, three wheeled motorcycle.  Because most football fans know that there is a standard rule in the contracts of NFL players that prohibits them from riding motorcycles, Brees, in the commercial, appears to be telling his agent that he has “found a loophole,” presumably because the Spyder has three wheels instead of two.  Unfortunately for him, his remark was only an act of marketing, because the NFL’s lawyers are better than that.  What appeared to be Drew Brees riding a Can Am Spyder in the commercial, is actually a stunt double.

Similarly, the NFL also has a rule that contracted players may not appear in beer commercials.  But recently, Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, found a way around that rule.  Mahomes appears in a commercial for Coors Light, but the commercial isn’t about beer, it’s for a flashlight that is shaped like a can of Coors Light.  The Coors company created a flashlight product that was sold, but is now sold out, and all the money was donated to charity.

Rules are funny things.  Sometimes we obey the written rules of the organizations that we work for, or participate in, other times we obey unwritten rules that everyone knows, but are not written down, sometimes we deliberately break rules that are stupid, and sometimes the people around us insist that we follow rules that aren’t even rules.  What do I mean by that?  I’ll explain in more detail shortly, but first, let’s look at the story of the prophet Jeremiah’s call from God found in Jeremiah 1:4-10.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

God calls Jeremiah to carry his words to the people, the leaders, the power brokers, and even the king of Israel.  But calling Jeremiah to carry the words of God breaks all kinds of unwritten societal rules because although Jeremiah was born to a priestly family, he wasn’t a person of wealth, or power, or nobility, or influence.  In fact, Jeremiah wasn’t even a person of age, wisdom, or experience, because tradition and the language used to describe him holds that Jeremiah was as young as 12 years old and probably not older than twenty, he was only barely a legally recognized adult.  Jeremiah himself says that he is too young, that he is only a child, and he insists that he is unqualified because he doesn’t even know how to speak well. 

But God doesn’t accept any of Jeremiah’s excuses.

And God doesn’t follow any of the culture’s rules that say Jeremiah can’t, or shouldn’t, be his messenger.

You might have noticed that the difference between Drew Brees and Jeremiah is that while Mr. Brees was trying to find a way around well established, written, and contractual rules, the people of Israel had been busy writing rules about God that God never made.  God never said that he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, call a nobody to be his prophet.  God never said that you had to be at least 35 years old to be president, as our constitution does.  But although there are plenty of examples, other than Jeremiah, that God didn’t follow the rules that people like to make up about him, Israel and its leaders continue to make up rules about God, and about how to follow God, that God never made.  And, in Luke 13:10-17, we see Jesus run afoul of these same kinds of rules and rules-makers.

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

For eighteen years the woman in the story had suffered from a crippling illness that was caused by a spirit.  She was bent and could not straighten herself in any way.  But when she met Jesus, he showed her mercy, healed her of her infirmity, and she walked out of the synagogue praising God, filled with joy, and upright for the first time in almost two decades.  But the rule makers, and the dedicated rule enforcers, declared that mercy, joy, thanksgiving, and glory to God were irrelevant and had to take second place to the rule that healing was defined, by them, as work and that work was prohibited on the sabbath.

Jesus… doesn’t care.  Rather than being repentant about breaking the rules of the synagogue leaders, Jesus attacks them for their hypocrisy.  They are willing to do the work of watering their animals on the sabbath, they are willing to do the work of letting their animals out of their barn stalls on the sabbath, but they condemn the rescue of a woman who has suffered for 18 years because that work is somehow different than their work.  The people who heard Jesus attack the synagogue leaders were delighted because they knew that sometimes the rules didn’t make any sense.  They knew that sometimes the rules didn’t match up with what they had learned about Israel’s loving God, and they were thrilled that they had finally met a teacher that made sense.

And any of us who have read the stories of the gospels know that Jesus was regularly accused by church leaders of breaking this rule, or that rule, or some other rule.  But Jesus never broke God’s rules.  Jesus was more than willing to break human rules that went too far, that overreached, that said things that God never said, and that put God in a box.  And that has been a battle that has been fought in the church in the Old Testament, in the stories of Jesus, and is still being fought today as we discern which of our church rules are rooted in God’s rules, and which rules have been made by well-meaning church people but do not reflect the heart, character, or will of God.

In a letter to a church of Jewish converts, the writer of Hebrews 12:18-29, reminds the people to remember what God is really like, to remember his character, his love, mercy, joy and to remember what our future life in his kingdom will be like.  He says:

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

The writer of Hebrews says that God does not appear to us as the terrifying God that was seen by Moses, but instead as a God of joy, peace, and love whose kingdom is full of wonder, joy, and perfection.  And, although God is the judge of all humanity, because Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant, and because of his sacrifice and shed blood, we are already counted among the righteous and will one day be made perfect.  At the same time, we are warned not to turn away from Jesus Christ because he is the one who rescues us, and it is he who will shake both heaven and earth when he returns in judgement.  We must give thanks, and worship God because he is bringing a kingdom that cannot be upset, that cannot be overthrown, that cannot be disturbed, attacked, disrupted, and thrown into chaos, and that does not suffer from inflation, deflation, or divisive politics.

God didn’t follow the rules that humans thought he should follow when he called Jeremiah to be his messenger.  Jesus didn’t follow the rules that humans thought he should during his ministry because, although Jesus followed God’s rules, the leaders of his church, and human beings in general, kept trying to put God in a box and make rules about God that God never wanted.  We’re still doing that because sometimes it’s hard to discern exactly what God wants and what scripture means.  We’re doing the best we can, but we know that we’re not always going to get it right.  The good news is that God doesn’t judge us the way that humans judge one another.  God doesn’t follow the rules that humans think that he should follow.  Because we have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, God doesn’t condemn us because we involuntarily, accidentally, unknowingly, or unconsciously break his laws.  Instead, God paid our penalty with his own blood so that we could be made perfect and live with him in a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

Our God is a rule breaking God.

And that’s a good thing…

… for us.


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

Missing the Point

You can find the livestream of this service here: https://youtu.be/NPJQzZy3N9U

Missing the Point Podcast

Some thoughts on how the followers of Jesus should have conversations about politics and other difficult (and divisive) subjects can be found in this special video short of today’s benediction:

https://youtu.be/K-5cLL-5p-s

Missing the Point

January 30, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Luke 4:21-30

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

To find an example for this morning’s message, I opened my search engine and entered, “People who missed the point” and I was not disappointed.  I was instantly directed to an article on Buzzfeed with a title that almost exactly matched my search, and while some of the illustrations are too visual to explain here there were still plenty of examples to make you smile… and groan a little.  There was the photo a handicap “accessible” bathroom that was at the top of two stairs, a person using the blade of a Swiss army knife to open a wine bottle while the corkscrew was plainly in view a fraction of an inch from their thumb, a photo of a CNN “Breaking News” bulletin that the Titanic had sunk 102 years ago, a “connect the dots” coloring book in which the printed dots were already connected, a company named “Just Wireless” that was selling computer cable wires, a restaurant that offered a veggie burger with bacon, and Crest mouthwash that advertised 24-hour protection with instructions to use twice per day.

Sometimes people seem to completely miss the point… and sometimes it’s funny when they do.  We probably all do it from time to time.  But sometimes missing the point isn’t funny at all, and sometimes the results of missing the point can be downright tragic.  We begin in Jeremiah 1:4-10 where we hear God cautioning a very young Jeremiah, possibly only 12 years old, that he should not miss the point.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knewyou,
    before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

God tells Jeremiah that he has known everything about him, about his life, about his purpose, and about his calling to mission and ministry since before he was even conceived by his parents.  But Jeremiah is certain that God has made a mistake, misses the point, and argues with God because he is certain that God cannot use a twelve-year-old to bring a message to the leaders, priests, royalty, and the king of Israel.  But, again, Jeremiah misses the point and God says something that amounts to, “What part of I set you apart,” or “I appointed you” did you not understand?  God says that the point is not that Jeremiah is young and will, almost certainly, be disrespected by the elders of Israel because of his age, the point is that God, the creator of the universe, is sending him, is going with him, and promises to rescue him from whatever happens.  And to make that point even clearer, God touches Jeremiah and says that he has put the words of God into his mouth and gives him the authority to uproot, tear down, destroy, overthrow, build, or to plant entire nations and kingdoms. 

Boom. 

That’s the point.

And, as we rejoin the story of Jesus that we began last week (The Power of Systems Integration), we discover that the people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth missed the point quite spectacularly in Luke 4:21-30 after Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll and announced the fulfillment of scripture.

21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosyin the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Jesus announces that the people in the synagogue are witnesses as he begins the fulfillment of some of the messianic prophecies found in the writings of Isaiah, and the response of the people is “Who does this guy think he is?  We know him. We’ve known him his entire life.  We grew up with his parents. Obviously, the Jesus we know cannot be the Messiah.”  Jesus replies by pointing out that their attitude was expected.  Prophets throughout history were commonly misunderstood and completely disrespected in their hometowns for the same reasons that the people of Nazareth misunderstood Jesus.  And it was for that reason that Elijah performed a miracle for an outcast, outsider, and foreigner and why Elisha healed the leprosy of the commander of an enemy army rather than any of the people of Israel.

Jeremiah and the people of Nazareth made the same mistake.  They assumed that the focus was on them when God repeatedly tells us that the work of the kingdom is not about us.  It’s about God.  And when Jesus reminded them that they weren’t the center of attention, that Israel’s greatest prophets revealed God’s power to outsiders, and that he simply isn’t going to perform miracles on command, they got so angry that they transformed into a mob that tried to kill him.  And that’s when the miracle happens.  The synagogue mob tries to throw Jesus off a cliff… and he walks right through the crowd and goes on his way.  There seems to be only two possibilities.  Either Jesus simply faces down the mob and they suddenly have a change of heart, or some other miracle happened such that they were stunned, or Jesus became invisible, or something.  But from what we know about mobs, and how intense they are when they become violent, it seems obvious that God miraculously intervened at this moment so that Jesus just walks away and goes on about his business.

The people in the synagogue in Nazareth completely missed the point.

But how often are we guilty of the same thing?

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Paul writes to the church and cautions them not to miss the point saying:

13:1 If I speak in the tonguesof men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul says that the whole point of ministry in the kingdom of God, is to be loving while we’re doing it.  The point is that everything eventually ends.  Prophecies end, languages end, voices end, childhood ends, people end, knowledge ends, everything eventually ends.  The only exceptions to the rule, the only things that last forever, are faith, hope, and love.  And love is the greatest of the three.

Too often we, even in the church, miss the point.  Too often, like Jeremiah, we think that ministry is about us. That we can’t witness, that we can’t minister to others, that we can’t participate in God’s mission and ministry because of some limitation that we think we have.  We’re too young, we’re too old, we’re too shy, we’re not good with words, we’re not popular enough, or rich enough, or good looking enough, or some other excuse with which we’ve convinced ourselves.  But God’s reply to us is the same as it was to Jeremiah.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about the God who created the universe.  And if, and when, God sends us, he goes with us and give us the power to do the thing that he sent us to do.

Too often miss the point like the people in the synagogue of Nazareth.  We think that God will perform miracles for us on command.  We pray for something that we want and get angry, and even we lose faith, when God doesn’t do what we think God ought to do.

And too often we miss the point like the people of Corinth.  We want to do ministry the way that we want to do it.  We want things to be the way that we want them.  We want the rules to be the way we want them.  We want to say whatever we want to say in whatever way we feel like saying it.  We want to do whatever we want to do.  We do things our way and convince ourselves that we’re doing the work of God.  And we do all these things without any regard to how it makes other people feel.  But Paul reminds us that we’ve forgotten the point if we forget to be loving.  We can’t tell the world about a loving God while we’re hurting them.  Mission and ministry are great.  God calls all of us to kingdom work.  All of us are called to be a part of God’s mission and ministry.  But we miss the point if the people around us can’t see that our ministry is filled with faith, hope, and love.

Yes, we need to tell the people of the world about Jesus.

But they can’t, and they won’t, hear about his love if they can’t feel our love first.


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

Guilt 2.0

Guilt 2.0

March 21, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 31:31-34                 John 12:20-33                                    Hebrews 5:5-10

What is it that makes you feel guilty?

People blame the church, or religion in general, for making them feel guilty and accuse them of manipulating their emotions to benefit themselves.  And, if we’re honest, that does occasionally happen just as, in any other field, human beings have been known to abuse their authority or take advantage of others.  That doesn’t mean that anyone is clamoring to ban MBA’s, or schoolteachers, or accountants, or any other profession in which a few practitioners have been caught doing things that they shouldn’t.  But, in any case, your church, or your religion, isn’t the cause of your guilt. 

But if religion doesn’t cause guilt, who, or what, does?

We will get that… eventually.  But first, let’s think about guilt more broadly.  There are different kinds of guilt.  The guilt I feel when I cheat on my diet by eating ice cream is not the same as being found criminally guilty of something that is against the law.  And that king of guilt isn’t always the same as being in violation of the laws of God.

More confusing still is that the laws of God seem to be different between the Old Testament and the New Testament, so some of us could easily be confused as to what we are supposed be doing and not doing.  And, in fact, many Christian denominations, and our own denomination, argue about some of those things.  But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

One of the things that we see repeated throughout the Old Testament was that the prophets of God pointed toward a day when God was going to fulfill his promises and change the way in which his people met with God, experienced God, and the very nature of the way in which God’s people experienced a relationship with God.  One such glimpse into the future is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 where we hear these words from God:

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

Through Jeremiah, God says that there is a day coming, a future day, when God is going to bring forth a new covenant that will be different from the covenant of Moses under which Israel lived.  And the reason that God gives for issuing a new covenant, is that God’s people broke the first one and were unable to live according to it’s standards.  In the first covenant, the commandments were written in stone, but the new covenant will be written on the hearts of the people.  Also, God will no longer be exclusive to the people of Israel, instead God will be revealed to everyone.  The rules, and the way in which the people of God lived under those rules, would change dramatically and they changed, of course, with the coming of Jesus, and through his life, death, and resurrection as we hear in John 12:20-33.

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

It is significant that the people who had come to meet Jesus were Greeks.  First, the Greeks would, obviously, been foreigners and were most likely Gentiles and not Jewish.  But second, the Greeks, in general, were known to be process thinkers rather than people who would understand religion as a system of blind obedience.  These two differences alone allow us to understand that Jesus’ instructions and explanations to them were likely different than those that he would normally have given to anyone who had been raised under Judaism or a system of Abrahamic, Mosaic, or rabbinic instruction.  For this audience, Jesus explains that death is like the planting of seeds.  If wheat falls on the ground, it dies.  But if wheat is planted, it grows and reproduces itself and transforms a single seed into many.  Jesus explains that, like those seeds, the people who live for themselves alone will live one lifetime that ends in death.  But anyone who follows Jesus, and spends their life serving him, will grow into a life that lasts for eternity.  Jesus says that this moment, the time leading to his crucifixion, was his purpose in coming to earth from the beginning.  And he concludes by saying that his “lifting up,” his crucifixion and death, will be the moment in history that will attract all the people of the world, and of all time, to see him and worship him.  For the Greeks, this teaching was not only something that they would hear and understand logically from Jesus the teacher, but a lesson that they would likely be able to hear, and to witness with their own eyes in the days ahead.

And, just as God promised in the days of Jeremiah, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.  The writer of Hebrews explains this covenantal change in Hebrews 5:5-10:

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father.”

And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus is different than kings and high priests that inherit their power from their earthly fathers.  While kingships and the high priesthood generally passed from father to son, Joseph held no earthly authority and so Jesus could not inherit it from him, particularly since Joseph was not a descendant of the priestly clan of Levi.  But neither did Jesus simply assume power or authority and claim the high priesthood for himself particularly.  Instead, God confers the priesthood upon Jesus and declares him to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek rather than a priest of the order of Levi or Aaron. 

Let’s unpack what it means for Jesus to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek.  Because the Israelite priesthood was exclusive to the family of Levi, and the high priesthood to the descendants of Aaron, it was, as I mentioned before, an inherited title.  But, since priests were from the tribe of Levi, and kings were the descendants of David, from the tribe of Judah, the high priest and the king could never be the same person.  And that’s why Melchizedek is important.  In the Old Testament, long before Moses or Jacob, or the twelve tribes of Israel, Abraham met, and gave honor and gifts to Melchizedek who was described as both priest and king.  And, according to Hebrews 7:3, since there was no record of Melchizedek’s birth or death, the traditional teaching was that Melchizedek’s priesthood did not end with his death, but that he remains a priest forever.

Jesus was heard by God because of his reverent submission, Jesus learned obedience from his suffering, was made perfect, and became the source of eternal salvation and rescue for everyone who chooses to obey him (which, you will remember, is exactly what Jesus told the Greeks in John 12).

But so what does any of that have to do with guilt?

And the answer is… everything.

We read in Jeremiah, that with the arrival of God’s messiah, God would write his words upon the hearts of the people because God’s people had been unable to obey the laws of the first covenant that had been written in stone.  Whenever people disobeyed the laws of the first covenant, they were found guilty and condemned because of their failure.  But with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and with his appointment as our high priest and king forever, Jesus sacrificed his own life, once, and rescued us forever.  The people of the first covenant obeyed in fear that they would break the law and be condemned for their guilt.  That was, if you will, Guilt 1.0.  But now, God has written his name upon the hearts of all humanity.  We feel guilt when we do things that our hearts know is wrong.  But, as the followers of Jesus, we do not obey in fear that we will be condemned, but in gratitude for our forgiveness.  Our obedience and faithfulness grow out of our gratitude rather than out of fear.  That sort of guilt is completely different, and we might call that Guilt 2.0.  That sort of guilt, which is an awareness and a knowledge of forgiveness rather than a fear of failure, is fundamentally different.

I have often used the example of the time my brother and I drove from Akron to Pittsburgh to paint our grandmother’s garage.  We didn’t spend an entire Saturday driving and painting in the heat of summer to earn the love of our grandmother.  We did it because of the love that we already had, and the gratitude that we felt for all the things that she had already done for us.  And that, I think, describes the difference between the covenant of the Old Testament and the new covenant of Jesus. 

Instead of living in fear of condemnation, we are set free from condemnation, set free from fear, and set free from sin.  As the followers of Jesus, rather than be manipulated by our fear, we obey the commands and the instructions of Jesus out of gratitude for our forgiveness, knowing that penalty for our imperfections and failures have already been paid.

We don’t obey so that God will love us. 

We obey because we are grateful for the love and forgiveness that he has already given.

And that is Guilt 2.0.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ADO8KTfgf2s

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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.