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:


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. 


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.