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.

No Love Without Risk

No Love Without Risk

April 25, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 10:11-18                                    Acts 4:5-12                             1 John 3:16-24

Would you risk your life to save your kids?

It’s a question that every parent understands and it’s one that Jonathan Honey, a father of three from Carbon County, Pennsylvania answered last week as he died trying to save his family from a house fire.  One child jumped from a second-floor window and was caught, barely, by a neighbor that jumped to meet him in the air, Kierstyn, the mother jumped out of a window cradling and protecting their baby, and Jonathan rushed into the house, found the third child, and put them in a closet before being overcome by carbon monoxide.  Kierstyn and the children are all in the hospital with broken bones or burns, but Jonathan lost his life trying to save his family.

It’s tragic, but nearly every parent has imagined what they would do in a similar situation, and nearly every one of us know that we would, without hesitation, risk our lives to save the life of one our children.  It difficult as it is to think about, we accept this reality, and we understand that there is no mystery to it.  We would risk our lives for our spouses or for our children… because we love them.  Our lives change when we have children.  We do everything differently.  We grocery shop differently, we drive differently, we dress differently, we spend our money and our time differently, we do without things that we like, that we want, and that we are accustomed to having so that our children can have the things that they need.  And we do all these things, we turn our adult lives upside down, because we love them.

And it is that understanding of parental love, and risk, that Jesus uses to describe God’s radical and sacrificial love for us in John 10:11-18 when he says:

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

After thousands of years of Jewish and Christian influence, in the twenty-first century, we miss the radical nature of what Jesus was saying.  The gods of the world, in the cultures that surrounded Israel were selfish, arrogant, violent, and uncaring.  The gods of the Philistines had routinely demanded that parents sacrifice their children for the fertility of their fields and good harvests, the gods of Greece and Rome considered humans to be inferior, unimportant, and without consequence except for use as pawns as they battled against one another.  It was common in many of the world’s religions to consider human worshippers to be resources to be spent rather than treasure to be valued.  But in that culture, and within that understanding of the relationship between gods and humans, Jesus proclaims a radical idea that he, and Israel’s God, love us in the sacrificial and selfless way that parents love their children.  Jesus says that he, like a true shepherd, is willing to lay down his life to protect his sheep.

And in Acts 4:5-12, Peter also preaches that because our God is a god of compassion and love, his disciples and followers are willing to risk their own security to care for those in need.  Luke writes this story:

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Peter and John are legally detained by the authorities and forcibly brought in front of the high priest, his powerful family, and the rulers, elders, and teachers of Jerusalem.  All the movers and shakers and powerful people were there.  And the question that they ask is, who gave you the power, or permission, to heal a man who was born lame?  Peter knows that these men have the power to convict them, punish them, or imprison them if they don’t like their answers.  This is a speech that is filled with risk.  And yet, Peter does not mince words and without hesitation, proclaims that they have been dragged into court in retribution for an act of compassion.  Peter goes on to preach and proclaim the name and the power of Jesus Christ and states, unequivocally, that there is no other name than Jesus, there is no other man, and no other god, on the face of the earth that can rescue humanity before God.

Peter and John knew that healing the lame man carried risk.  They knew that telling the truth in front of the power brokers of Israel risked their health and their freedom.  But Jesus taught and demonstrated that love and compassion were always worth the risk.

And in his letter to the churches and believers in Asia, John explains this idea of love and risk in more detail in 1 John 3:16-24 saying:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John boils it down to the simplest of terms.  Jesus demonstrated to us what love is supposed to look like and Jesus gave up his life for us.  That example means that that we should be prepared to give up our lives, for the people around us.  We must be prepared to risk everything for others.  We can’t hold too tightly to any of our material possessions or even to our own lives.  If fellow believers are in need, we cannot just heartlessly keep what is ours and allow them to do without.  Instead, we must be prepared to risk, to give up some of our possession, some of our creature comforts, some of our rights, or whatever else it might take to meet their needs because Jesus has taught us, and shown us, that this is what true love looks like.  Loving with our words and making grand and eloquent speeches is not enough if we don’t risk the things that we have and demonstrate our love through our actions.

Love, real love, true love, isn’t an idea and it isn’t just a feeling.

True love is an action.

And because actions have consequences, we can’t play it safe.

            There is no love… without risk.


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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.