Missions is Where?

Missions is Where?

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June 12, 2022

Pastor Christine Tobergte

(teenager’s voice by Pastor Carol Topping)

Since I (Pastor John) was attending meetings at our United Methodist church’s East Ohio Annual Conference all week, my dear friends Pastor Christine Tobergte and Pastor Carol Topping graciously stepped in to bring this week’s message so that I wouldn’t have to worry about writing a sermon on my laptop during business meetings or worship services. I can’t offer you the text of this message, as I usually do, in part because I don’t have it, but also because the skit that is in it is copyrighted material (you should see a copyright disclaimer below, and in the video, showing that we *do* have permission from the publisher to stream and podcast it).

You can watch this message or listen to the podcast by clicking appropriate link above.


COPYRIGHT: “On Missions” taken from Girl Talk with God by Susie Shellenberger.
Copyright © k2001 by Susan Shellenberger. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian
Publishing. http://www.harpercollinschristian.com.


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Roe v. Wade and the Church

Roe v. Wade and the Church

June 26, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

I watched an online clergy forum as pastors debated what they should say about this week’s Supreme Court decision overruling Roe v. Wade.  There were, of course, a myriad of opinions and I felt led to weigh in as well.  My opinion was to assume that half of your congregation is pleased with the decision and half of your congregation are disappointed, or mournful, or worse.  Among us today are those who have had abortions.  Among us are those who have struggled with infertility.  Among us are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and a whole spectrum of other things.  As a whole, and as a group, we are conflicted on this issue.

But, whatever your feelings, be sure that you register, and that you vote for those people who best represent your positions.

After that, regardless of all that, there are things that, as the church, that we should agree on, and that should unite us as the followers of Jesus Christ.  At Youth Annual Conference this week, the message to our young people emphasized our need to “show up” in ministry to the world.  This is also the emphasis of Jesus’ brother, the apostle James when he wrote James 2:14-16.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Our mission is the thing that unites us as the followers of Jesus and regardless of our feelings in this issue, we recognize that this decision will make life more difficult for our neighbors.  We recognize that this is likely to make life harder for people who are already struggling.

And so, regardless of what happens in Washington, or in Columbus, we must not simply say “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed.”  We must not cast our vote in November and think that we have done our duty and do nothing else.  We must be a people of action.  We must be the people who “show up” for our neighbors.  We must be not just people of faith, but people whose faith is inseparably connected to deeds and actions.

We are the watchmen in the walls of our city.

We must watch over our neighbors.  We must, now more than ever, care for the poor, the hungry, single mothers, and young families.  We must act, both with our deeds and with our wallets, to make sure that no child goes to bed hungry, that no parent needs to choose between healthcare and feeding their children, or between feeding their children and eating themselves.  We must do what we canto make sure that counseling is available, affordable, or even free to those who struggle because of poverty, rape, incest, abuse, or any of a multitude of ways that this change in the law will ripple outward and make life harder for our neighbors.

Whether you think that this week’s Supreme Court decision was good or bad, the end result… for ALL of us, is that we must focus on our mission.  We must be the watchmen on the walls of our cities.  We must care for those around us.

Because if our faith is not inseparably connected to action… then our faith is dead.


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Freedom and Focus

Freedom and Focus

June 26, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14                Luke 9:57-62                          Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Have you seen the demonstrations of the capabilities of some of the new cameras?  I’m talking about the new phones with three lenses and a few other high-end cameras.  One of the neat tricks that they can do is known as “variable focus.” In days past, you could turn the lens to change the focus, but whatever you focused on, once you took the picture, that was what you had to live with. 

But variable focus cameras not only take the picture that you saw, but several more, from different angles, and the technology allows you to change the focus of the picture after you’ve already saved it in memory.  For example, you take a picture of some friends at a wedding, and after you get home you notice another person, in the background, doing something interesting.  A few years ago, you would just have to wonder who that was, or what it was that they were doing.  But with this technology you can open yesterday’s picture, zoom in, and refocus on the person in the background.

It’s a lot like real life.  We can choose what we want to focus upon.  Our eyes do that naturally, but we do that with the way that we live our lives as well.  I used to work as an engineer, but the focus of my life changed.  Or consider Alfred Nobel.  Mr. Nobel was a brilliant scientist who spoke six languages, earned his first patent at the age of twenty-four and eventually held 355 patents for a wide variety of discoveries.  But his best know patent was for a safe method of using nitroglycerine as an explosive, in other words… dynamite.  That patent made him a wealthy man, but when a newspaper erroneously wrote his obituary before his death, they referred to him as a “war profiteer” and he didn’t like it.  Mr. Nobel didn’t want his legacy to be one of destruction, and so he created, and gave his entire fortune to, the Nobel institution, so that annual prizes would be given to those persons who “conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” Alfred Nobel changed the focus of his life, and it made a difference to the world.

With that in mind, let’s read today’s scriptures and, as we do, let’s look for where we can see the focus of the people in them.  We begin with 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and the story of how Elijah ends his time on earth and passes the mantle of his ministry onward to his apprentice Elisha.

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went down to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Everyone knew that today was the day that God would take Elijah from the earth.  Elijah knew, Elisha knew and, in the verses of scripture that we skipped, hundreds of Israel’s prophets along the path of their journey also knew and asked Elisha to be sure that he knew (He did).  But along the way, several times, Elijah tells his apprentice to stay behind and Elisha, however obedient he might normally have been, flatly refuses to be anywhere except where Elijah is. 

Elisha is completely focused on loyalty, respect, and honor.

As a result, Elijah asks what he can do for Elisha before God takes him away, and Elisha asks that he be twice as spiritual, twice as godly, twice as powerful, twice as devoted, and twice as close to, and twice as focused on God as Elijah had been.  Elijah knows that this is not a gift that he can give and so he tells his friend that if God allows him to see him as he is taken from the earth, then he will know that God has given him this gift.  And he does.  As proof that God has given him this gift, on his way home Elisha repeats the miracle that Elijah had just performed when he slaps the Jordan River with Elijah’s coat, the water parts like the Red Sea in front of Moses, and he walks to the other side on dry land.

We see the same focus on priorities and… well… focus, in Luke 9:57-62, as the time came for Jesus to be taken up from the earth.

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

This passage draws a distinction between the different sorts of people who followed Jesus.  We usually talk about Jesus’ disciples, but in this passage, we also meet people that we would, in modern language, refer to as Jesus’ groupies.  They were enamored of Jesus and what Jesus was doing but Jesus makes it clear that they are only attracted to the idea of what he is doing and not to the reality of what he was doing.  To the first case, Jesus simply reminds the man that Jesus and all who follow him, are homeless.  There is no healthcare plan, there is no home base of ministry, there is no wealth, and there isn’t even a definitive destination for their journey together.  And in the next three cases, Jesus’ responses all ask that these groupies reconsider what their priorities really are.  To be a disciple, rather than a groupie, requires a complete and dedicated focus.  A farmer that looks back, or becomes distracted, while plowing a field will not be able to plow straight lines but will instead plow a field with wandering furrows.

But why is that important?  Why do wandering furrows matter?  Why does focus matter?

Those questions are answered by Paul as he writes to the church in Galatia to explain how the followers of Jesus Christ should use the freedom that Jesus paid for with his life (Galatians 5:1, 13-25).

5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateveryou want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Paul reminds the church that Jesus has purchased our freedom and the reason that he spent his life to do that was… freedom.  Paul cleverly repeats those words, saying that we were set free for freedom, in order to remind us that if we do not stand firm in what we believe, then we will give up what we have gained, give away our freedom, and return to our slavery voluntarily.   Yes, we are free.  But Paul’s reminder is that using our freedom to serve ourselves, to pursue a life of pleasure, or to be argumentative, angry, and destructive with one another, takes us back to the slavery that we once escaped.  Rather than practicing immorality, impurity, worshipping idols of stone, fame, money, or work, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfishness, division, envy, drunkenness, and free sex, the followers of Jesus Christ are called to live lives of service to the people around us, to love our neighbors, and be loving, joyful, kind, agents of peace, goodness, and faithfulness, and to be calm, faithful to God, and to one another.

How we use our freedom, is what distinguishes Jesus’ disciples from groupies.

How we use our freedom reveals our priorities and our focus.

If we focus on the wrong things, we throw away the freedom for which Jesus paid so dearly and return, voluntarily, to a life of slavery to sin and death.

Our freedom has been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus.  But the only way that we will be able to keep it is to stand firm and keep our focus on the mission in front of us.  If we lose our focus, our paths will wander and take us places that we never want to go.

Can you hear Jesus asking?

Are you disciples or are you groupies?


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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.

Hearing God Over the Noise

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Hearing God Over the Noise

June 19, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 19:1-15a        Luke 8:26-39              Galatians 3:23-29

Have you ever been so busy, or so stressed out, or afraid, or depressed, or angry, or grief stricken, or otherwise distracted, that you just didn’t see how God fit anymore?  Or, because of one or more of those things, you somehow lost track of God?  You couldn’t hear God anymore, you couldn’t feel the closeness with God that you once felt, you didn’t feel the sense of direction from God or the sense of purpose that you once felt?  Sometimes those things happen because of what is happening to us, and sometimes it’s because we’ve filled our lives with so much busyness that there’s no more room for God to fit into our lives anywhere. 

But losing track of God because of the stress of everyday living is not something new and unique to the twenty-first century.  Our modern, high speed, jet-age, cell phone carrying, computer using, busyness might look different and even alien to the people of the ancient world, but the grief, stress, and busyness of our lives are not that different from the people of the Old and New Testaments.  This morning we begin reading from 1 Kings 19:1-15 where we encounter a story that most of us have heard many times.  It is a story about how the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, was victorious, had hundreds of those idolatrous priests put to death, and then fled in fear as Ahab and Jezebel, the king and queen of Israel, threatened to kill him.  You can find more of the story in your bulletins, but in the interest of time, I’ll just say that Elijah ran for his life, was fed by God as he hid in the desert, and finally has this encounter with God:

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.

Elijah had just won an enormous victory over the prophets of Baal.  God had visibly revealed himself to everyone present, and through them, to the people of Israel by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice offered by Elijah.  But the threats from the throne of the queen erased Elijah’s confidence and Elijah’s fear made it impossible to remember the power of God.  Elijah could no longer hear God over the noise of his fear.

And so, once he was in the desert, God called him and told him to go and wait for him on the mountain.  And a great wind came, and although it tore at the rocks and made a lot of noise, God wasn’t in it.  And then there was an earthquake, and although it was incredibly powerful, made even more noise, and shook the earth, God wasn’t in it.  And after that there was a fire which roared, stole the oxygen from the air, and filled Elijah’s world with heat and light, but God wasn’t in it.  And then, finally, came a soft whisper, and when he heard it, Elijah covered his face, went out of the cave, and met God.

This story reminds us that God isn’t always in the noise.  Our stress, our fear, our busyness, and other things that fill our lives may make a lot of heat, light, noise, and even shake the earth with their power, but none of those things are God.

We see something similar in Luke 8:26-39 when Jesus casts out a legion of demons.  Jesus meets a man who lived in the tombs of the cemetery.  Many demons possessed this man, as many as a thousand.  And Jesus heals him.  The demons beg Jesus not to send them to hell, and Jesus allows them to leave the man and enter a herd of pigs instead… and the pigs immediately run full-speed right off a cliff.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So, he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So, the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

The point that I want to make is that this group of people lived with a man in their community that was terrifyingly demon possessed.  He had superhuman strength that, more than once broke the chains that bound him, overpowered the guards that stood watch over him, and escaped into places where he could be alone.  Everyone knew who he was and what he could do, and they were terrified of him.  But when they witness him sitting, clothed, cured, holding a normal conversation with Jesus, and in his right mind, they ask Jesus to leave because they afraid of the power that he has.  The people of the region of the Gerasenes stood before the messenger of God and the savior of the world, but they couldn’t hear God’s voice over the noise of their stress and fear.

Twenty-one centuries later, we aren’t so different.  Our stress, fear, busyness, and other things fill our lives, make a lot of heat, light, noise, and even shake the earth with their power.  And while none of those things are God, they often make so much noise in our lives that we fail to hear God whispering to our soul.

But what do we do about it?

I think Paul’s thoughts in Galatians 3:23-29 are applicable here.  He said:

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Before Jesus Christ, before faith, God’s people were watched over by the law just as a guardian watches over a minor child.  But now that we have faith, we no longer need such a strict adherence to the law to govern our behavior.  Instead of rigid rules to follow, we instead remind ourselves of our baptism and wear the clothing of Jesus Christ.  We are no longer divided into classes, groups, divisions, of race, nationality, denomination, language, or political party.  In Christ, we are united.  We are grafted into the people of God and have the same legal status as the genetic children of Abraham.  We are the people of God.  We are God’s children.  We are the heirs of God and the co-heirs of Jesus Christ.

I suspect that really rich people don’t worry when their car breaks down or when they discover that their wallet is empty.  When those things happen, they overcome their stress when they remember who they are.  They’re rich.  Being in a broken-down car, or having an empty wallet is a temporary condition, it doesn’t define them, and it isn’t who they are.  That same advice applies to us as the children of God.

When the storms and the wind scream in our ears, the fire roars, the earth shakes, or any natural and unnatural stress overcomes us, and it will, take a moment to remember who you are.  Take a break.  Maybe, like Elijah, escape for a while to a quiet place.  Get your head on straight, take a deep breath, and remember that you are a child of God, that you are the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, that you are loved by the creator of the universe, and that you have, even now, an eternal future that awaits you no matter what happens today or tomorrow.

Life is full of stress and noise.  There are stock market crashes, pandemics, politics, insurrections, wars, famines, fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, housing bubbles, violence, death, and all sorts of other things happening all the time.  But don’t let any of those things prevent you from hearing God’s whispering to your soul. 

Take break, pause, listen, reflect, breathe… and remember who you are.


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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.

No Point in Waiting

No Point in Waiting

June 01, 2022

By Pastor John Partridge

It occurred to me that many of us, myself included, have often used the pandemic and our current denominational stress as excuses to put off doing the important work of the church.  We decided that we didn’t want to invite people to church because, well, we weren’t having in-person church, or because we were only having parking lot church, or because we were afraid that they might not want to come because they’d heard about the division within our denomination.  But the problem with that kind of procrastination, is that it’s and excuse that never ends.

Every one of us has heard Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit song, “Cat’s in the Cradle.”  In it, the man telling the story always promises his son that he would find time for them to be together, but he never did.  And at the end of the song, the son is exactly the man that his father was, and repeatedly promises that one day they will find the time to be together.  But sadly, we all know that they never will.  We hear a similar tale in Robert Bloch’s story “That Hellbound Train.”

In it, a young hobo, Martin, makes a deal with the devil and exchanges a trip to hell for a watch that will allow him to stop time at the happiest moment of his life.  And at each of his happiest moments, his wedding day, the birth of his children, Martin debates whether he should use the watch and stop time or if an even happier moment is yet around the corner.  And, in the end, Martin never manages to use the devil’s watch before he dies.

Our reaction to our current crises seems to be the same.

We all thought Covid was going to go away in a few weeks, or months, and here we are, more than two years along that road, and still the end is not yet in sight.  We keep hearing promises that our denominational confusion will end at “the next General Conference,” but I remember that my pastor and mentor, Linda Somerville, had the same hope when elected as a delegate to the 2000 or 2004 General Conference.  Even now, even as churches are choosing to leave our denomination and form another, I simply do not believe that the end is anywhere in sight.

What I’m trying to say, is that there is no point in waiting to do the things that we know that we must do.  We know that our church must continue to do the work of Jesus Christ, we know that we must continue to reach out, to be agents of healing and hope, and to continue the mission that Jesus Christ has given to us in Alliance, in Ohio, and in the world.  We know that we must grow, we know that we must become an invitational church, we know that we need to reach out to our neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends.  We know that we must show them the love that Jesus has shared with us, and invite them to be a part of Christ Church, and a part of Christ’s eternal kingdom.

There’s never going to be a “perfect” time.  We don’t know when, or even if, this pandemic is going to end, or what the new normal will look like on the other side of it.  We have no idea when, or if, the division within our denomination will end, or if it will just transmogrify into some new kind of debate. 

There’s no point in waiting.

There is no benefit to procrastinating or kicking the can down the road.

The only thing that makes any sense, is for us, to do the things that God has called us to do…

            …today.

Blessings,


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Past Pain, Present Gifts

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Past Pain, Present Gifts

(formerly – Violence, Division, and Unexpected Gifts)

May 29, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 17:20-26            Acts 16:16-34             Revelation 22:12-17, 20-21

Mary Todd Lincoln was crazy.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln, was a sufferer of an undiagnosed mental illness and was extraordinarily difficult to live with.  By making a long-distance examination from historically documented accounts, historians of today guess that Mary Todd Lincoln may well have suffered from bipolar disorder and, in an era far removed from a diagnosis, let alone a treatment of any kind, her disorder often made life in her household unpleasant. 

Other husbands of that era might have, and sometimes did, have their wives and family members with such a disorder committed to an insane asylum.  Many of them clearly were not insane by our modern standards but were simply so difficult to live with that they were removed to the care of someone else.  Abraham Lincoln didn’t do that.  He loved his wife Mary, he cared for her, and he found it within himself to withstand her rages, outbursts, depression, and other manifestations of her disorder. 

Our nation benefited from his suffering.  Historians speculate that the mental fortitude of Abraham Lincoln, forged and strengthened through years of caring for Mary, and enduring the suffering that went with it, made him singularly qualified to stand against the stress, arguments, negotiations, and other mental and emotional difficulties that were thrust upon him during the American Civil War.  Anyone who had not lived through what he had already endured, might not have been able to cope with the demands of the presidency in that era. 

In an odd sort of way, his suffering was a gift.

But what does any of that have to do with us?  Well, before we get to that part, let’s begin at the beginning and remember when Jesus explains what the purpose of life will be for his disciples and all who would choose to follow him.  We hear that story in John 17:20-26 as Jesus prays…

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made youknown to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

In this short prayer, there are a few things that I want to highlight.  First, Jesus asks that our relationship with God be the same as his, that just as God is in Jesus, we might also be in them.  More specifically, Jesus says that he passed the glory of God that had inhabited him, on to his followers so that we might be one, in the same way that Jesus and God are one.  And because of the glory of God that dwells within us, and because of our unity of purpose and togetherness, that the world would know that God loves us. 

Second, Jesus asks that his followers would be able to come to where he is, and to see his glory.  And third, that Jesus’ purpose in revealing God to us, was so that we might be filled with the love of God.  And we can see that this last one, combined with Jesus’ command to go into all the world and preach the good news, tells us that God’s goal is not to rule the world, but to fill the world with his love.

But how do we do that?  How do we reveal God’s glory and God’s love to the world around us?  Certainly, there are more ways to do that than we can count, but one particularly dramatic way is found in one of Paul’s missionary journeys recorded in Acts 16:16-34 where we hear this:

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment, the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

I cannot even begin to count how many sermons can be, and have been, written about this passage.  But for today, I want to look at two specific things.  First, that this earthquake was extraordinarily specific.  It was strong enough to wake everyone up and to shake the foundations of the prison, but where earthquakes ordinarily collapse buildings and jam doors shut, this one unlocks and opens doors, opens padlocks, loosens chains, and releases feet bound in iron stocks.  That is particularly specific and not at all the way that earthquakes and other natural disasters usually work, and this is how we see God in the story.

Second, when the jailer discovers that this has happened, he draws his sword to kill himself rather than be tortured to death, which was what usually happened to anyone who allowed a Roman prisoner to escape.  But Paul hears the sword come out of its sheath, knows what the jailer intends to do and calls to him that everyone is still there.  Once again, this must be an act of God.  Even if Paul and Silas convinced the other prisoners not to escape, the chances of no one leaving are so slim that this is also evidence of God’s hand because they were all there.

And the jailer comes to faith in God because he saw, with his own eyes the hand of God at work in the world on behalf of Paul and Silas.  He witnessed that the doors were unlocked, the chains loosened, and the iron shackles unbound, and he witnessed the power that kept a jail full of prisoners from escaping when the doors stood wide open.  And he experienced the simple act of human kindness that Paul showed to him.  All that Paul had to do to escape was to leave.  All that Paul had to do to get revenge for the beating that was inflicted upon him was to remain silent.  But Paul did not remain silent.  He did not try to escape or to pursue revenge.  Instead, Paul showed kindness to the jailer.

And he, and his entire household, were saved.

And we connect the dots by remembering the words of Jesus that we find in John’s Revelation contained in chapter 22:12-17, 20-21.  Jesus said:

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give youthis testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes, take the free gift of the water of life.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

The important idea here are that there will be a judgement but that anyone can come into the kingdom of God.  Everyone is invited and sharing the gift of eternal life is a gift that each of us can give to all the people that we care about. 

God’s goal is to share the message of the gospel throughout the entire world so that the world is filled with God’s love.  Paul brought that jailer and his family into the kingdom of God simply through an act of kindness when anyone would have understood his desire for revenge.  And sometimes, suffering and pain are the doorway through which we must pass in order to receive an unexpected gift.

Abraham Lincoln’s struggles made him strong enough to bless a nation.

Paul and Silas’ suffering allowed them to rescue the jailer and his entire family.

What can you do this week, to point others toward the kingdom of God?

How might the pain of your past bless others in the present, or in the future?

How many of the people around you might you give the gift of God’s love?

And how many of those people are separated from eternal life by one… simple… act of kindness?


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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.

An Unexpected, Unconventional, Unorthodox God

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An Unexpected, Unconventional, Unorthodox God

May 22, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:23-29              Acts 16:9-15          Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

Have you ever thought about the gods of the ancient world? 

I remember taking mythology in high school and although many of my classmates didn’t like it, and seemed to think that it was weird, I found it to be interesting, and I enjoyed it.  But, although those ancient Greek and Roman gods, as well as the gods of Israel’s neighbors, are not something we think about often, they can add to our understanding of the God of Israel that we find in the Old and New Testaments.   The reason that the gods of the ancient world add to our understanding, is because when we spend all our time studying and discussing the God of Israel, we are deceived into thinking that Israel’s God was normal.  So, let’s be clear, Israel’s God is not normal.

The gods and goddesses of the ancient world, like Zeus, Poseidon, Demeter, Mars, and the rest, often behaved badly, cheated, had affairs and illegitimate children, acted on whims and were often moody, and unpredictable.  These gods ruled by intimidation and fear and demanded sacrifices and gifts simply to appease them.  Failing to appease them could mean that they would be angry and refuse to help.  The same was true for Baal, the god of the Philistines, as well as other gods of that region such as Chemosh, Dagon, and the fertility goddess Ashtoreth.  These gods demanded sacrifices, sometimes blood or human sacrifices, to ensure safety or a good harvest.

But Israel’s God was different.  From the beginning, particularly as we watch the story of the family of Abraham, the God of Israel begins his relationship with his people from a position of love and compassion.  God cares about his people and their children and does good things for them long before they do anything for him in return.  We see this difference illustrated in the gospel of John 14:23-29 as he shares these words of Jesus:

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus says that if we love him, we will obey his teaching.  Jesus doesn’t say that if we fear him, we will obey, or if we want a successful harvest, or if we want safe travel, or if we want to appease an angry god, then we should do these things.  Jesus says that our obedience should grow, not out of fear or intimidation, but out of love.  And, when Jesus explains that he is leaving, he promises to send the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and remind us of everything that Jesus said to us.  The Spirit of God is sent, and does its work, before we even have the opportunity to do anything in return.  Moreover, Jesus says that the gift that he leaves with his followers, is not a gift of victory, wealth, abundance, or safety, but instead is the gift of peace and the absence of fear. 

In the world of history, and among the gods of the world, our God is unconventional.  In fact, our God is so unorthodox, that even those who have dedicated their lives to following and to studying, are still surprised by the way God chooses to do things.  In Acts 16:9-15, the Apostle Paul, and those who traveled with him, were surprised because, once again, God chose to turn their preconceived notions of orthodoxy on their heads.  Luke records this story:

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony, and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

There are several things in this story that are surprising and/or unexpected.  In Paul’s vision, he is called to Macedonia by a man and so he almost certainly expects to find one there when he arrives, but no one introduces themselves, and unlike the stories we’ve heard in recent weeks of both Paul’s Damascus road experience and Peter’s call to preach to the Gentiles, no one in Macedonia introduces themselves, and God does not direct them to anyone specifically.  Failing that, Paul and his team wait until the Sabbath and visit the river because traditionally, persons of the Jewish faith would meet at the river, likely because it was peaceful, but also because it was “living water” and provided a means of purification before worship. 

But when they walk along the river, with every expectation that they would find worshiping Jews, they, again, find no men.  They do, however, find some women, and one of them, Lydia, is either Jewish, or was otherwise sympathetic to, and a follower of, Israel’s God.  Lydia also is a business owner, a person of some wealth, and the head of her household.  She listens to Paul’s message, comes to faith in Jesus Christ, asks to be baptized, leads here entire household to faith and baptism, invites Paul and his team to stay in her home, and becomes the leader of the new church movement in Macedonia. 

None of this was what Paul or the other Jewish men expected, none of it was traditional, none of it followed the pattern of orthodox Jewish thinking, but it illustrates that our God often works in ways that are unexpected and unconventional.  And that pattern continues throughout scripture and even to the end of time described by John in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where he says:

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Once again, this is a passage that we’ve read so many times that we no longer notice that there is anything unusual in it.  Through sheer repetition, the extraordinary is reduced to boring and yawn-inducing normality.  So, let’s back up and consider why John’s description is so unorthodox and unconventional.  John’s vision begins normally enough as he is carried to a great high mountain to see the Holy City of God.  That was normal.  The Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the Parthenon in Greece, and many other Jewish and pagan temples and places of worship are found on mountaintops because if the gods lived somewhere “up there” in the sky, then, logically, human beings were closer to the gods when they were on the top of a mountain, right?

But this mountain was not stationary but was coming down out of heaven.  Other than superhero movies and other works of fiction, mountains don’t come down out of the sky.  Even stranger, is that the Holy City doesn’t have a temple.  In John’s world, and in ours, every major city had a temple of some sort, and one would assume that a holy city would have one.  But no.  No temples, no synagogues, no cathedrals, no churches, zip, nothing, nada.  And the reason, is because that God himself, and the Lamb, his Son Jesus Christ, are the temple.  Why go to church to worship Jesus when you can meet Jesus face-to-face? 

And if that wasn’t enough, there is a river that flows out of the throne of God, trees that provide food to eat all year-round, gates that never close because there is no fear of an enemy attack, a tree that offers healing to people and nations, a day that never sees nighttime or darkness, and everything about it represents a place of goodness, righteousness, and purity that is without fear, and where life, the city itself, and everything in it, is designed, and expected, to last forever.

In every generation from Adam, to Abraham, to David, to Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and to us today, our God is different.  Human beings have always tried and have always failed to put God in a box.  Our God doesn’t demand obedience, as a payment in exchange for services.  Our God loves us, first, last, and always.  Our God asks us to follow him, asks us to love him, and asks us to serve him, not because we fear him, but because we’ve grown to love him, trust him, and be grateful to him for the love that God has already shown to us even before we knew him, and even when we were completely unlovable.

Our God isn’t like other gods.

Our God isn’t like the box that we try to squeeze him into.

Our God is unexpected, unconventional, unorthodox, and loves us first, last, and always.

And, when we have felt his love for us, only then can we hear him asking if we might love him in return.

And so, the question that I ask you today is this, do you love God?  Do you love God enough to follow him, and to trust him?  Do you love God enough to obey his instructions and commands?

And, if so, will you love the people around you, people you don’t know, people who are different from you, people who think differently than you, people who you might not even like very much, people in other communities, other states, and other countries?  Will you love them so much that they can feel God’s love for them?

Because only then, will they be able to hear his voice.


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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 Master of Magnetism

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A Master of Magnetism

May 08, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 10:22-30                                    Acts 9:36-43                           Revelation 7:9-17

If you have ever watched any of the movies from the Marvel universe, you are familiar with Magneto, Master of Magnetism, the principal villain of the X-men movies.  Magneto is one of the most powerful mutants in the world and can move, bend, or otherwise manipulate anything made of a magnetic metal and leads an army of other mutants who seek to overthrow the governments of the world that are ruled by normal, non-mutant, humans.  But, when we think about his position and his abilities, we realize that Magneto has two kinds of power.  First, and most obvious, is his ability to control magnetism, but the second is in his ability to persuade, cajole, manipulate, threaten, and otherwise control the army that fights with, and for, him.  The first is an ability of physics, but the second is an ability of persuasion that we would typically call a magnetic personality.

In scripture, we certainly won’t find any mutants that can manipulate the laws of physics, but we do find some critically important examples of human and spiritual magnetism.  We begin this morning by reading from the Gospel of John 10:22-30 where Jesus explains the spiritual magnetism that belongs, uniquely to him.

22 Then came the Festival of Dedicationat Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Jesus had made any number of statements, that we find throughout the Gospels, in which he made his claim as the promised Messiah, but the leaders of Israel always found ways to deny that it was true, deny that Jesus said what he said, or tried to explain away the things that Jesus had done.  But here Jesus simply says that this actions, done in the name of God, are testimony to who he is, and those that follow him, and who have become his sheep, listen to what he says.  Anyone who is a genuine follower of Jesus, listens to his teaching and in exchange, those followers will have eternal life.  The magnetism of Jesus is drawing the entire world to him but not everyone will choose to listen.

But in the story of Acts, Luke tells us how the magnetism of Jesus breaks out into the world even after Jesus returns to heaven.  And one example of that breakout is seen in Acts 9:36-43 as Peter performs a miracle.

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so, when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived, he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and, seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Joppa wasn’t much of a harbor, but it was vitally important because, until Herod and his engineers build an incredible artificial harbor at Caesarea, Joppa was the only seaport in all of Israel.  And it was because of that seaport, that much of the world met Israel in that place and it was for that reason that this city was important as the message of the gospel began to spread outward from Jerusalem, Judea, and to all the world.  It is also worth noting that the word “disciple” (used to describe Tabitha) is the only appearance, in the entirety of the New Testament, that we ever see the Greek language, feminine form of that word.  The implication is not certain, but this singular appearance of that descriptive word might imply additional importance to this woman. 

Tabitha, or Dorcas, was always doing good, always helping the poor, and from the gathering of people who came to mourn her, seems also to have always been doing things to help the widows of Joppa.  As we remember and honor mothers on Mother’s Day, we might easily think of Tabitha as a mother to mothers or as a mother to all women.  But, hearing that Peter was nearby, two men were sent to urge him to come and join this mournful gathering.  We don’t know if they dared hope that Peter could perform a miracle, or if they only hoped that he might bring comfort to their community, or to lead in the time of mourning, or to preside over Tabitha’s burial.  But whatever their hopes might have been, Peter came, prayed, told the dead woman to get up, and she did.  Peter did what only Jesus, and one or two of Israel’s greatest prophets, had ever done. 

Peter had raised the dead.

Not surprisingly, news of this travelled.

People talked.  It became known that the power of Jesus Christ did not die with him on the cross but lived on in the lives of his followers.  And because of Peter’s actions, and because of the power of God that had worked through him, the church grew.  The church grew because of what they had seen in the actions of the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The message of Jesus, heard through the actions of his followers, was magnetic.

And all these things, and all of scripture, leads to the events found in John’s Revelation (Revelation 7:9-17) where he saw this:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

In all of that, for me, today, three phrases are worth noting.  First, that the people gathered around the throne of God were not uniformly Jewish, or even Mediterranean.  The people who will be a part of that multitude were from everywhere.  There were people from every country, every ethnic group, who spoke every language ever spoken on the face of the earth.  And all of them, from the first to the last, from the least to the greatest, worshipped and gave praise to God.

The second phrase that stands out is the acknowledgement that the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was at the center of God’s throne and that Jesus would be the shepherd of everyone who had gathered there.

And third, that this group of people, having come out of the great tribulation, who suffered and died during that tribulation, would not only follow Jesus, but that he would lead them to “streams of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This picture of the end of days reminds us that what Jesus said was true.  That his sheep know his voice, they follow him, even through tribulation and death, but even in death none will perish, not one person will be stolen from the hand of God, and every one of them will receive eternal life.

Jesus is the Master of Magnetism.

But what about you?

Will you be a Master of Magnetism?

The message of Peter, and the resurrection of Tabitha, teaches us that the power of Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but lives on in the lives of his followers.

The church grew because of what the people around them had seen in the actions of the followers of Jesus Christ. 

Let me say that again.

The church grew because of what the people around them had seen in the actions of the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The message of Jesus, heard through the actions of his followers, was magnetic.

And so, the question of the day is this:

What will you do, what actions will you take, so that the people around you can hear the message of Jesus Christ through 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.

Second Chance. Last Chance.

Second Chance, Last Chance

May 01, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 21:1-19                         Acts 9:1-20                               Revelation 5:11-14

If you’ve ever followed the results of a sports tournament, and even if it was a chess tournament, you will remember that there are different structures for those competitions.   In some, like the NFL championship, once the post-season starts, losing one game removes you from the competition entirely.  But in others, like some team sports in the Olympics, losing just moves you to a second bracket and, although winning the gold medal is out of the question, winning that second bracket could still mean that your team could win bronze and appear on the medal podium.

A few years ago, after I had preached another message about second chances, my friend John Cassidy gave me what he had labelled as the “second chance flyswatter.”  It lives up to its name because John melted a big hole in the middle of it.

Sometimes there are second chances.

As the followers of Jesus, we often say that we worship the God of second chances, and that we are a people of second chances.  None of us here are perfect and all of us are here because, through his grace, and through the suffering of his son, Jesus Christ, God has given all of us a second, third, or fourth chance.  And often, we’ve been given a lot more chances than that.

But how many chances do we get?  Is there a point when our luck, and God’s grace, will run out?

Before we answer that, let’s go back to the story of Easter and remember the events of John 21:1-19 where it says…

21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So, they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

In this reading, we witness Jesus as he appears, for the third time, to the disciples.  Even though they had seen Jesus after his resurrection, and even though the disciples were still spending time together, Peter isn’t sure what he’s going to do with his life and decides that he’s going back to work, back to his boat, and bring in some money to pay the bills.  But Jesus has other plans.  Even though Peter denied Jesus three times, heard the rooster crow, and felt like an utter failure, Jesus still intends to use him.  On a beach in Galilee, Jesus meets the disciples, performs a miracle, forgives Peter, invites him back into ministry, and launches him, and the other disciples out into the world… again.  Just because Jesus died and rose again, and just because Jesus is no longer physically walking with then twenty-four each day, doesn’t mean that their ministry is over.  It’s a second chance.  And it’s a huge second chance for Peter, who felt like a failure, had given up hope, and was ready to go back to his old life and disappear. 

Jesus still has work for them to do.

But the story is bigger than that.  In Acts 9:1-20, we hear the story of Saul, an enforcer for the Pharisees who was hunting down Christians for what he, and the chief priests of Israel, saw as believing, and preaching, false doctrines.

9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So, they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

Saul wasn’t Peter.  Saul didn’t deny Jesus and feel like a failure.  Saul was the enemy of Jesus and everything that he stood for.  Saul held the coats of the men who stoned Jesus’ follower Stephen to death.  Saul believed that any and all teachings about Jesus were false doctrines and he was hunting down, arresting, and dragging the Jewish followers of Jesus back to Jerusalem for trial.  He wasn’t just a paper tiger, he was a real, and serious, threat and even the leaders of the new Jesus movement were afraid of him. 

But God doesn’t just stop Saul.  God doesn’t just protect his followers from Saul.  God gives Saul a second chance.  Jesus reveals himself, shows him the truth, changes Saul’s heart, and transforms him into one of the most potent preachers, teachers, and influencers of all time.

But is there an end to God’s patience?  

Will there be an end to the opportunity for second chances?

We find the answers to those questions in Revelation 5:11-14 and also discover what it means for each one of us.

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

As I read these words, the critical bit that stood out for me was “13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lambbe praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!””

Every human being that has ever lived, plus every rabbit, worm, eagle, mountain lion, and every other animal that lives above, on, or under the earth, bows down, worships Jesus, gives praise to him, and recognizes that he will rule forever.  And the elders of the church, and what might just be the four most powerful creatures in all of creation, bow down and say, “Amen” which means, literally, “I agree.”

This is the end.  This is where the first creation ends, and judgement begins.  This is the point at which there are no more second chances.  Up until this moment there might have been a chance for a second chance.  But afterwards, there will be only judgement.

Three times, Peter denied that he even knew Jesus.  But Jesus gave him a second chance.

Paul had declared himself an enemy of Jesus and had dedicated his life to stamping out Jesus’ teaching as well as the followers of Jesus.  But Jesus gave him a second chance.

There is nothing that you have done, will do, or could do, that would make you ineligible for a second (or a three hundred and forty second) chance in this lifetime.  But once this lifetime ends, that door closes.  Every one of us has a limited time to choose Jesus.  And, like Peter, those of us who have chosen Jesus have work to do.  Like Peter, and like Paul, once we have accepted Jesus, we become a part of his ministry to reach the lost and to save the world.

One day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  But our mission is do the best that we can, to share the good news so that as many of our friends, family, and the people around us are on the right side of God’s judgement.  The Good News of Jesus Christ can’t be kept a secret.

We have work to do.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at 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.

Duty, Mission, Reward

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Duty, Mission, Reward

April 17, 2022*

(Easter Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 24:1-12                          Acts 10:34-43                         1 Corinthians 15:19-26

There are things that we do that are unpleasant, but we do them anyway.  Some things we can delegate to others, but some things, regardless of how much we might dislike the task, simply must be done, and so we do them.  Sometimes these things are commanded by others, like cleaning latrines, or emptying “honey pots” in the military (if you know, you know), but sometimes these are things that we “command” ourselves to do, like changing stinky diapers, cleaning the bathroom after being sick, changing the cat litter, or cleaning up the dog poo in the back yard.  Sometimes, regardless of the unpleasantness, we just do those things that must be done.  Sometimes it is necessity that pushes us, sometimes survival, and often, duty. 

And regardless of what you might want to call it, it is that sense of duty in the face of unpleasantness, that begins the Easter story.  John 20 says, “Early on the first day, while it was still dark,” Mary Magdalene and some of the other women went to the tomb to embalm the body of Jesus with spices that would mask the stench of decay.  But Jesus had already been dead for at least 36 hours, and although the smell of decomposition may not yet have been overpowering, they were not expecting it to be a pleasant task.  But, pleasant or not, these women had either violated the Sabbath to prepare the things that they needed, or they had been awake since the earliest hours of the morning so that they could do what needed to be done.  In Luke 24:1-12, Luke says,

24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

As the women planned and prepared to do what had to be done, one of the first items of business always had to be asking someone, anyone, to help them move the stone.  I’ve seen them.  Even the small ones are not small, and the big ones are enormous.  The stones are almost invariably round, and usually rest in a smooth stone trench so that they roll… easier.  But six hundred pounds, or one thousand pounds, or more isn’t going to be easy and, I suspect, that the women did not plan to do all that work alone.  My guess is that they hoped that the soldiers, who had been commanded to guard the tomb, could be persuaded to help them move the stone as long as their assistance wasn’t required to do the unpleasant work inside.  But, as they drew closer, there were no guards, and when they arrived, they found that the stone had already been rolled away.  Amid their confusion and curiosity, they entered the tomb, and discovered that Jesus’ body was missing as well.  And, as they wondered, and discussed, what might have happened, angels appear and ask why they are looking in a grave for a man who was alive.

But when they ran to tell the disciples what had happened to them, they didn’t make any sense.  Their words, however true, sounded like gibberish.  No guards, open tomb, missing body, blinding lights, angels, resurrection.  None of it made any rational sense.  Surely the women must’ve accidently eaten poison, or in their grief, had too much to drink overnight.  But Peter wants to know what really happened, and so he runs to the tomb… and finds it empty just as the women had described.

That’s the story that most of us have heard a few dozen times. 

But what does it mean?

Peter was the one who wanted to see the tomb, with his own eyes, after hearing the story told by Mary Magdalene and the other women.  It was Peter, we are told, who wondered, and thought about what had happened.  And, after meeting the risen Jesus, we listen as Peter explains to others what it all means in Acts 10:34-43.

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

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

Peter summarizes three years of ministry with Jesus, the trial, the cross, and the resurrection, by saying God accepts anyone and everyone who fears him and who does what is right.  Peter reminds his audience that they know the message, and that they had all heard the stories about Jesus and his ministry.  And it is the mission of the disciples, and all who knew Jesus, and everyone who follows them, to stand up as witnesses of what he did, and what he taught.  The message of Jesus is a message for everyone, that forgiveness is available to anyone who believes in him, and it is our mission to tell them.

But now that we know what the story means, and what we are supposed to do about it, the next question we need to answer is… why.

Why is it important to be a witness to the world?  Why is it important that every follower of Jesus be a participant in sharing his message of forgiveness with the world?  Why can’t we be satisfied that the minister can do it, or the missionaries can do it, or that a few people from our congregation might be excited, or even just willing, to learn about evangelism?

And Paul answers the “why” question in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 when he says…

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Paul says that the good news of Jesus Christ is important to everyone because Jesus rose from the dead.  Yeah, yeah, we get that, I mean, it’s Easter.  That’s the message we expected to hear this morning.  But Paul’s point is that all of us are going to die.  Every person that you have ever known, every person that you know, every person that you will ever know, is going to die.  Every person that has ever lived, even Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead, has died, or will die. 

But…

But because Jesus rose from the dead, and because Jesus was the first human being to defeat death and rise from the dead, everyone who chooses to follow Jesus can be, and will be, made alive again after our death.  It isn’t going to happen today, but it will happen.  There is a day coming when there will be no presidents, no governments, no armies, no irritating or difficult persons of power or authority, no bureaucracies, just the freedom of eternal life.  On the day that Jesus returns, everyone who belongs to Jesus will be made alive again.  Paul is clear in saying that resurrection isn’t going to happen to everyone, but it will happen to everyone who chooses to follow Jesus while they are alive.  But it’s a limited time offer.  Because human beings have a limited life span, we don’t have forever to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.

How would you feel on judgement day if your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers, and the people you love, look at you and ask why you never told them that they could live forever with Jesus?

It’s not just the job of the preachers, or the missionaries, or even a handful of people who want to learn about evangelism.  Our mission is to share the good news with everybody. 

And the only way possible for us to do that, is for all of us to work together.


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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.