Is Covid Over?

Is COVID Over?

Our Easter Sunday worship service this year had a better attendance than in 2019.  This year’s official count was one hundred and three years ago it was ninety-three, and attendance at our Easter Vigil service was three more than the last time that we were able to have one.  Does that mean that our worries about Covid -19 are over, and our church is “back to normal”?

Well, no. 

At the very least, it’s too soon to tell.

Yes, we do seem to be past the worst of it.  And yes, many of our members and friends do seem to be finding their way back to in-person worship.  But I’m not ready to say that we’re completely out of the woods and our concerns about Covid-19 are behind us. 

While the war in Ukraine has pushed Covid out of the daily headlines, the pandemic, and the virus that caused it, is still causing trouble around the world.  Most recently, China has been dealing with multiple outbreaks in several places, locking down entire cities, shutting down businesses, closing ports, and creating more disruption to the supply chain which, in turn, causes problems for people, and businesses, around the world.  And China isn’t the only country that has had problems.  Several European countries have had surges in their case counts, health officials in the United States have seen spikes in several areas and are still warning that we might see additional problems in some places.  So, it may be too soon to throw away our supply of masks, although we can all hope that we won’t need them.

The good, even extraordinary, news is that things are getting back to some sort of normal.  Many, though not all, of our members and friends are returning, in-person, on Sunday mornings.  And, more importantly, although attendance hasn’t quite returned to where it was, it is getting better.  Moreover, using Easter attendance as a benchmark suggests that we’re doing pretty well.  Some churches have suffered significant declines during the pandemic that look as if they may be permanent, but indications are that we seem to have weathered the storm… so far. 

At this point, we have returned to doing most of the things that we were doing before.  Our committees are all meeting, we’re holding most of our activities, and we’re almost back to “normal.”  And the good news is that the necessities of the pandemic taught us some things, such as Zoom, that we continue to use to allow increased participation and save some of us from extra trips into Alliance.  But we aren’t yet where we want to be. 

“Almost” isn’t good enough.

While our Easter attendance is certainly encouraging, and our weekly attendance is getting better, we aren’t yet back to where we were.  And, honestly, where we were still isn’t where we want to be.  Some of our members still don’t feel safe going out in public, and that’s okay.  After worrying for more than two weeks while Patti was in the hospital last fall, I completely understand why being in a large group, like in church, might concern some folks.  And, knowing that the virus is still spiking in some places suggests that it could happen here, again, too.

So, what should we do?

First, have hope.  With the arrival of effective vaccines, things are much better, and, over the course of the last two years, our doctors and hospitals have become much at treating this illness, survival and recovery rates have increased, and promising new Covid-specific antiviral medicines seem close to approval.

Second, stay safe.  We understand that all of us are different.  Each person, and each situation, is different.  So, do what you need to do to stay safe, and to feel safe.  We will continue to offer online options for those of you who are unable to get here in person and we will welcome you back when you are ready.

Third, don’t stop being who you are.  Christ Church is an amazing and awesome place that is filled with amazing and awesome people.  We are known in our community for our outreach and love for our neighbors and that is an incredible reputation so don’t stop doing the things that we’ve always done.

And fourth, don’t stop inviting people to Christ Church.  What we have here is great, but people won’t, and can’t, know how wonderful it is unless someone like you points it out to them.  Every time it comes up in conversation, and sometime when it doesn’t, invite your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, hairdressers, barbers, classmates, and anyone else you encounter to visit us.  Carry invitation cards with you in your wallets and purses.  Don’t keep our church a secret.  Go out of your way to sing the praises of Christ Church everywhere you go.  And, since we now have such a strong online presence, and our livestream compares very favorably to other churches, inviting those people to check us out online is a good option.

Because our goal isn’t to get back to “normal.” 

Our goal is not to survive.

Our goal is to be better than ever.

And to grow the Kingdom of God.

Blessings,


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Remembering the Darkness

Remembering the Darkness

April 15, 2022*

(Good Friday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12               John 18:1 – 19:42                   Hebrews 10:16-25

The service of Good Friday is different than most. It isn’t a service that includes preaching in the traditional sense. Instead, it is a time of remembering the ancient promises of God and the stories of the darkness that preceded the joy of Easter. It is in remembering the darkness where we find the real joy of Easter’s dawn and the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection.


Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

52:13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53:1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.By oppressionand judgment, he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people, he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makeshis life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of lifeand be satisfied
by his knowledgemy righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Hebrews 10:16-25

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

John 18:1 – 19:42

18:1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So, the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So, this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken, 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.


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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 Message for Easter Week

A Message for Easter Week

For two years, I have begun this letter with the phrase, “This is an unusual time” and continued by encouraging everyone to endure, and to overcome the challenges that lay before us.  And, while this year is still far from ordinary or usual, it is at least a bit more ordinary than the last two.  This year we will be together in our sanctuary.  This year we will have lilies that we can smell and friends that we can see, and touch. 

If we have learned anything from two years of mask wearing, social distancing, overcrowded hospitals, case count watching, and involuntary separation from friends and family, it is the value of community.  While we did what we could to cling to what bits of human connection that we had through phone calls, video, and social media, none of those things could ever take the place of handshakes, hugs, and face-to-face, unmasked conversation.

In an odd, and completely unintentional way, this experience also helps us to better understand how much we miss the contact with our loved ones who have gone on to live with Jesus, or how much better it will be to see them again, face-to-face, and to physically feel a hug from Jesus.  Our experience with loss over the last two years can help us to see what we are missing and what joy we stand to gain when, and if, the day arrives for us to walk through the gates of heaven and be reunited with those whom we have lost.

But presently, let us prepare our hearts for this season of holy week and Easter and use that time to draw closer to God and to one another.  And this year, after a two-year absence, I encourage everyone to make plans to join us in the sanctuary and share the joy of resurrection along with the joy of once again being together.

No, the pandemic isn’t completely over, and no, we’re not completely out of the woods just yet.  But things are safer than they have been, and they are returning to normal.

I hope that you will make plans to be here as we celebrate Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Saturday, and our celebration Easter morning.  I hope that we will once again see one another face-to-face, shake hands, and even get a few hugs (can you tell that I missed those)?  And I hope that each of you will take this opportunity to invite your friends, your family, your neighbors, and everyone else, to be a part of that celebration with you.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Doing What Counts

Doing What Counts

March 02, 2022*

Ash Wednesday

By Pastor John Partridge

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17                     Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21             2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:10

Old Testament Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble,for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,“return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heartand not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,declare a holy fast,
    call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders, gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
    Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

_____________________

In our scripture reading from Joel, we heard God’s prophet cry out to the people to fast, pray, weep, and “Return to the Lord” because, obviously, the people of Israel had wandered from God and were doing things that they shouldn’t have been doing.  But what is it that they should have been doing?  If God is keeping score, then what should we be doing?  What should we not be doing?  And, how do we make our time, and our actions, count?  To begin, let’s start in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, where Jesus gives us some great examples of all of these.  Jesus said…

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus says, ‘Don’t do things for show.’  Actions that count aren’t hypocritical.  The followers of Jesus should never do things just because those things make us look good.  Getting your picture in the paper, and ten seconds of fame on the television news, with one of those oversized checks because you gave a lot of money to the poor is great, but in God’s eyes that doesn’t count because, at least at some level, you did that for yourself and not for God. 

If you’re going to fast, or give up something for Lent, that’s great, but don’t go on social media and tell all your friends that you’re doing it… or it doesn’t count.  If you’re going to do things to benefit others, or do things to build your relationship with God, then do them, but don’t do them, and make a big deal about doing them, just so you can look good to the people around you.  When you do that, then looking good to the people around you is your reward because in God’s eyes, it doesn’t count.

The bank account into which you want to make deposits is a heavenly one and not an earthly one and so the deposits we want to be making are deposits that build up God’s kingdom and not deposits that grow your earthly reputation.  In 2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:10, the Apostle Paul puts it this way:

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be a sin offeringfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul says that we are called to represent ourselves the way that ambassadors for another country would.  We should be aware that everything that we do reflects our king and his kingdom and so everything that we do should draw us closer to God and strengthen our relationship with him.  Paul says that we should “put no stumbling block in anyone’s path,” so that people won’t turn away from God, or stop listening to the message of Jesus Christ, because of the things that we said and did.

Instead, the things that we should be known for are things like endurance, courage, faithfulness, hard work, suffering, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, and sincere love.  When people think of us, they should remember truthful speech, the power of God, righteousness, persistence, joy

Generosity, and an unusual yet consistent combination of actions and attitudes that point to God, and give credit to God, while avoiding credit for ourselves.

If you join the Army to get rich, you made a mistake.  People join the military for a lot of reasons, but they describe it as “serving” our country for a reason.  For all the things that you might get out of your service, getting rich definitely isn’t one of them.  And as we enter the season of Lent, we are reminded that following Jesus is quite similar.  If you’re following Jesus to get rich, or to get famous, or to be popular, or to grow your business, or most anything that can benefit yourself, then you’re doing it wrong.

Our calling is not to do things that benefit us.

Our calling is to do things for others so that we can be a benefit to God and his kingdom.

That is how we do things that count.


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

Applied vs. Theoretical Christianity

General George McClellan

Applied vs. Theoretical Christianity

In 1861 President Lincoln gave General George McClellan the responsibility of building and training the Union Army and he did so with excellence.  McClellan was a master of organization and so while he did an admirable job of building the Army and was popular with the troops, he was still removed from command less than a year later.  Why?  Because despite General McClellan’s skill as an organizer, he was described as “ineffective” when commanding the army on the battlefield.  Just as we see in science, where theoretical physics and applied physics are two entirely different fields of study, the theory of battle and the application of that theory can be, and often are, vastly different and require an entirely different mindset.

There is an old military adage that likely dates to a German Field Marshal in the early 1800’s that says, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  And the reason that is true, is because theory and application are always different.  That means that an effective battlefield command must be able to adapt as conditions change, or as members of our Marine Corps often say, “Adapt and overcome.”

In the church, we encounter that same disconnect between theory and application.  Thinking, learning, and teaching about Christianity, are often quite different from the practical reality of living a Christian life or of putting “boots on the ground” and doing the things that we talk about on Sunday.  We see that difference in the hundreds of church growth books that are on the market.  It seems like every year someone else has a new book, with a new formula, that’s sure to grow your church ten percent in the first two months.  But those formulas are what worked for the author, and although there may be lessons that we can use, what worked in their church, in their city, at that time, has no guarantee of being effective in our church, in our city, at the time we decide to act.

But the second disconnect between theory and application is even bigger and it’s been a problem… well, forever.  Jesus called out the Pharisees for it when they criticized his disciples for not washing their hands.  Nowhere in the Law of Moses is handwashing required, only tradition required it.  But the Pharisees, although they knew the law better than anyone, gave gifts to the church but left their parents hungry.  They learned the law, they knew the law, the taught the law but they kept a tradition that broke the law.  There is, and always has been, a gap between knowing what to do, and doing it.

Our challenge, as the followers of Jesus Christ isn’t just to learn about Jesus, but to put “boots on the ground” and do the things that Jesus taught us to do.  It’s one thing to learn, and know, and even teach, about being generous, merciful, kind, forgiving, and loving, but doing those things is often another thing entirely.  We have not been called to be experts in theoretical Christianity, but to actively practice applied Christianity. Our calling isn’t to know things about Jesus, our calling is to be like Jesus.

Because knowing a lot of stuff about Jesus isn’t going to change hearts or grow our church.

But acting a lot like Jesus will.


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Christmas after Lockdown

Christmas After Lockdown

The last year and nine months has been, and continues to be, a long, strange, whirlwind of constant changes, news stories, changes, adaptations, and continued hope for a return to something approaching the “normal” that we remember.  Because of the threat of the coronavirus, and the statewide lockdown, we were unable to meet in person for Christmas Eve and so we did the best that we could to “meet” one another virtually.  Due to the hard work of our church staff and volunteers, and the amazing video editing of Bob Wallace, we produced a Christmas Eve video that I think surpassed almost any other similar attempt.

But as good as it was, it just wasn’t the same.

No matter how well we celebrated the arrival of the Christ child individually, there was still something missing.  Christmas wasn’t the same without being together.

Families are like that.  When we are apart, we can mail our gifts to one another, but it isn’t the same as being together.  In fact, for many of us, giving and receiving gifts has lost the urgency and the sparkle that it had when we were children.  What’s important, and treasured, now is just being together, seeing one another, sharing our stories and our lives, and just spending time together.

And Christmas Eve is all of that, and more.  Because the Spirit of God dwells within each one of us as the followers of Jesus, when we are together, we feel the presence, not only of other people, but also the presence of God himself.  That’s true every Sunday, and any time that we meet in groups that are large or small, but if you are like me, we feel that sensation of closeness to God most keenly only a few times each year and one of those times is on Christmas Eve.

This year, many of us will, once again, meet together, in person, for Christmas Eve, but we will also be livestreaming that worship service for anyone who is unable to attend or who still feels uncomfortable being around a crowd of people.  Rest assured, however, that we continue to encourage mask wear for everyone in attendance and remember that there is ample room to find seats with plenty of “social distance” between you and others.  In fact, if this year looks like others in recent history, you can probably have the balcony all to yourself.

But, whichever, option you choose, I hope that you will join us.  Moreover, I hope that each one of you will invite at least five others to join us.  Christmas Eve is easily one of the most attended worship services of the year in almost every church in North America and, for that reason, is a time when friends are most willing to accept an invitation to attend. 

Christmas Eve and Christmas are a time when we draw close to one another, and draw close to God, in a way that is both special and memorable not just because of the people, but because it is a time when we encounter the Spirit of God in a special way.  Of course, we will share the extraordinary experience of hearing our choirs, bell choirs, pipe organ, and singing traditional and meaningful carols of Christmas together.  But most importantly, we will remember the story of God’s invasion of the earth and the arrival of the Christ child, who would become the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.

I hope that you will join us as we draw closer one another, and closer to God, together.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Live. If. Unless. Always.

Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/4fI64mGGvAY


ALWAYS read the fine print

Live.  If.  Unless.  Always.

August 15, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14                     John 6:51-58              Ephesians 5:15-20

You should always be sure to read the fine print.

You know what I mean.  Department stores do it all the time.  You get an ad in the mail that says there is 75 percent off “everything” but in the tiny print at the very bottom, it says that the sale doesn’t apply to clothing, toys, housewares, and just about everything else in the store.  I read one of those once and I was hard pressed to think of anything that wasn’t excluded in the fine print.

You see commercials on television selling amazing new drugs that say that they can cure all sorts of things, but in the fine print warn you about side effects that sound a lot worse than the thing you want a cure for.  Military recruiters promise that they’ll put you into a particular school, or job, but we all know that the fine print in your contract basically says, “we promise to give this to you… unless we can’t, and then we can do anything we please.”

So common is this experience with fine print, that we often have our own lawyers look over important contracts so that we can discover and understand what has been hidden in the fine print.  And so many of us have seen it, or been burned by it, that we all understand what it means when people describe the fine print by saying, “The devil is in the details.”

But if we read carefully, the strange thing is that sometimes God is in the details too.  Sometimes God makes us promises that come with some fine print, and it is important for us to read and understand exactly what God is, and is not, promising.  We begin this morning as David dies and is buried with his ancestors, and as his son Solomon takes his place on the throne of Israel.  And, at that moment, Solomon receives one of history’s greatest and well-known blessings.  But if we pay close attention, that blessing came with some fine print. (1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14)

2:10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

3:3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

This exchange between Solomon and God is well-known even among people with no religious background.  God tells Solomon to ask for whatever he wants, and rather than asking for money, power, or a long life, Solomon asks instead for a discerning heart so that he would be able to rule well.  God is so pleased with Solomon’s request, that he chooses to not only give him the thing for which he asked, but also all those things for which he did not ask.  God promises to give Solomon wisdom, but also wealth, honor, and a long life.

And right there is the fine print.

God promises to give Solomon wealth and power no matter what, but his promise of a long life comes with fine print.  God says that he will give Solomon a long life… IF he obeys God and keeps his decrees and commandments as well as his father David had.  Of course, we know that David wasn’t perfect, so God isn’t requiring Solomon to be perfect, but God has an exclusion clause.  If Solomon doesn’t keep his part of the deal, God can end his contract and find another king that will.

And if you are tempted to think that this is a unique case, we discover that Jesus does the same thing in John 6:51-58 when he says:

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  And then, a little bit later he says, “the one who feeds on me will live, because of me” and, “whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  This is exclusionary, small print, language.  Jesus doesn’t say that because he came to earth, everyone will live forever.  Jesus doesn’t say that anyone who has communion once, or who comes to church once, or who comes to church for a while and then quits, or who choose to follow him for a while and then quits, all get to live forever.  Jesus says, “the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”  The implication of this language is that eating and drinking the flesh of the Son of Man is an ongoing, continuous action and not something that we do once and then coast.  This is almost exactly like God’s wording in his promise to Solomon when he said, “if you walk in obedience.”  These are a future tense that implies a continuous action and not something that is accomplished once and completed.

Paul emphasizes this in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he says in Ephesians 5:15-20:

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul says, don’t be foolish.  Don’t just get drunk to dull the pain and then allow yourself to get drawn into sin.  Instead, fill yourself, and your time, with spiritual things so that you will… always give thanks to God… for everything.  Paul echoes what we heard from the stories of Solomon and Jesus and emphasizes that following Jesus isn’t something that we do once, or for a little while, and then coast.  Following Jesus, being filled by the Spirit, caring for one another, worshiping together, and giving thanks to God are things that we are to do continuously or, as Paul said, “always.”

They say that the devil is in the details, but so is God.

From Solomon, we learned that we must not just be obedient, but that we must keep on being obedient and continuously keep God’s decrees and commands throughout our lives.

From Jesus, we learned that we must continue to share in the Lord’s supper, to continue to feed on the word of God and remain in love with Jesus.

And from Paul, we learned that we must always fill our time, and our souls, with spiritual things, and always give thanks to God.

Following Jesus has never been “one and done.”  We cannot claim Jesus once, or follow Jesus once, or go to church once, and say that we’re done.  Even the verb “to follow” is a continuous tense.  It is a thing that we begin to do, and never stop.

Because, when we read the fine print, we understand that what Jesus said was, if you do this… continuously, you will… truly…

…live.


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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.

The Power Within

The Power Within

July 25, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 11:1-15                   John 6:1-21                Ephesians 3:14-21

What is it that gives us power?

In comic books we know that Superman was born on a planet with a red sun and has superpowers when living near a yellow sun like ours.  Green Lantern has powers given to him by his ring of power, The Flash gained his powers through an accident of chemistry, Shazam has powers because of special magic, the X-Men have powers because of a quirk in their genetics, and of course biblically, Sampson, Elijah, Elisha, and other heroes of the faith all received their power as a gift from God.

But what about us?

Even if we don’t have super-powers, what powers do we have?  Or maybe the question that many of you are asking is, “Do I have any power at all?”

First, you shouldn’t doubt yourself.  But second, yes, you certainly do have power.  But a little background will help our understanding.  We begin in 2 Samuel 11:1-15, where we read the story of King David’s sin and fall from God’s grace.  But, although all of us are probably familiar with David, with his closeness to God, his power, and with his great military exploits, as we read this story together, I want you to pay attention to someone else.  As we read, I want you to pay attention to Uriah, an otherwise completely ordinary husband, immigrant, citizen, and soldier of Israel.

11:1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So, Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So, he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So, Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

To summarize, David has slept with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.  And, when she tells him that she is pregnant and he realizes that their infidelity will be revealed to the world, David sets out to cover it all up.  After months of being at war, David sends Uriah home to spend the night in the comfort of his own bed and the closeness of his wife.  David assumes that any man would want to lie with his wife, and having done so, any resulting child would be assumed to be Uriah’s.  But Uriah doesn’t act according to David’s expectations.  For Uriah, to sleep with his wife, in his own comfortable bed, while all his friends and fellow soldiers are sleeping in tents on the battlefield, would be a betrayal of trust.  For Uriah, honor, integrity, and brotherly love are more important than his own comfort and sexual satisfaction.  Uriah chooses to do what is right, rather than what is best for himself in the moment and, as David continues his attempts to cover up his sin, that choice ultimately costs Uriah his life.  But it is Uriah’s honor that ultimately reveals David’s conspiracy, corruption, and sin. 

Next, we turn to the well-known story of Jesus and the feeding of the five thousand.  But again, instead of focusing on Jesus, as we often do, I want us to listen, and focus, on the contribution of Andrew in this passage from John 6:1-21.

6:1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wagesto buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing, and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles,they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Philip was a pragmatist.  There are five thousand men, and probably at least an equal number of women and children that have gathered to hear Jesus speak.  There are no nearby villages where they can stop to eat, and in any case, the cost of feeding so many is far beyond what their ministry finances could ever handle.  When Jesus asks where they should buy bread, Philip’s response is that buying enough bread was simply impossible.

But Andrew’s response was different.

Rather than explain why feeding everyone would be impossible, which everyone already knew, Andrew comes to Jesus with what he had.  I am sure that Andrew realized that what he had was inconsequential in comparison to what was needed.  It was obvious that five small barley loaves and two small fish were not enough to feed Jesus and the disciples, let alone ten thousand guests.  But Andrew ignores the impossible, ignores the obvious, and, in faith, offers Jesus what he has anyway.  And it is Andrew’s faith that sets up one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles.

These are both great examples.  But still, what do they have to do with any of us?

What they have to do with us, is that by turning our attention away from David and from Jesus, we have instead directed our attention to the often overlooked, ordinary, everyday, regular people that made these stories possible.  It’s easy to read these stories and say that we are not like David or Jesus, but we are almost exactly like Uriah and Andrew.  And as Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he explains how, and why, this is important (Ephesians 3:14-21).

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every familyin heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Paul connects two ideas that we often try to separate.  Paul says that he prays that because the church is rooted and established in love, that they may have power.  We often think of love and power as separate and distinctly different, even opposite ideas but Paul knows differently.   And the stories that we read today back him up.  Being “Rooted and established in love” gives us access to power. 

Knowing that we are loved, leads us to stability, confidence, courage, integrity, and honor.  And these all work together to give us the ability to make not only good choices, but choices that are good.  Let me explain.  “Choices that are good” are choices that we make to do what is right and loving even when doing what is right might not be what is best for us personally.  Uriah chose to do what was right and loving even when doing so came at a cost to him personally.  Andrew chose to have faith, risks being ridiculed for his simplicity, and offer Jesus what little he had, even when it seemed obvious that what he had wasn’t enough.

These things, combined with the Spirit of God that lives in us, and who works through us, and who empowers us, is what Paul describes as “his power that is at work within us.”  Because of our love and support for one another, within the family and community of the church of Jesus Christ, we empower one another and are therefore free to make good choices, to do what is right, just, honorable, and act in ways that honor God.  And that, in turn, frees God to act through us.

And so, let’s return to our original question, “What is it that gives us power?” 

We don’t come from the planet Krypton like Superman or have a power ring like the Green Lantern.  We don’t benefit from lab accidents like the Flash or have mystic powers given to us like Shazam.  But what we have is real.  What we have, is the power of God at work within us and the power of God at work through us.  And the key to unleashing that power on the world, is found in our faith in Jesus Christ and…

…our love for one another… and our love for the people around us.


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

When Weakness is Power

When Weakness is Power

July 04, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              Mark 6:1-13               2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Everybody loves kittens.  Okay, I know some people are allergic, but the internet is crazy about cats and kittens, and before the internet, you could be certain that stories about tiger cubs, lion cubs, stray cats, kittens, and other cute furry animals would be popular on shows like National Geographic and Wild Kingdom.  So, imagine with me that you are watching a nature show on television.  In this scene, we watch as a playful pair of lion cubs wrestle with one another, in the middle of large plain of grass.  Suddenly, the two cubs are confronted by a pack of jackals.  The cubs stand to their full height and make tiny meowing roars, but the jackals continue to close the gap between them.  Then, as the kittens growl and roar, the jackals suddenly stop, retreat, and then quickly run away.  The camera then widens its field of view to show us that while the jackals had been closing on the kittens, their parents, full-grown adult lions, had crested the hill behind them.

Everyone watching wondered who, or what, had made the jackals run away because it was obvious that the kittens were no threat.  The kittens were too weak, too small, and too powerless to be a threat to an entire pack of jackals.  And it is precisely because of their weakness that we all knew that someone, or something, else had been behind the fear that we saw in the pack of jackals. 

Many of us have seen similar stories on television but I want you to keep them in mind as we read today’s scriptures that tell us more about weakness, power, faith, and grace.  This morning we rejoin David as he is proclaimed king over Judah, and all of Israel, in 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10.

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

After the death of King Saul, the people look to David.  They have seen him.  They recognize that for years, it was David that led Israel to victory against her enemies on the battlefield.  They recognize that God had anointed him as Israel’s shepherd and king.  And, for the first time, all twelve tribes, representing the nations of Judah and Israel, unite as one nation under a single king.  And, we are told, that David, and the nation of Israel, grew in power and influence, not because David was intelligent, or wise, or strategically brilliant, but because God was with him.

Whenever Samuel, or anyone else, tells the story of the great King David, the credit for David’s greatness is always given to God.  David is known as a man after God’s own heart, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and a person of great faith.  And that is how we are told that a humble shepherd grew to become the greatest king in the history of the nation of Israel.

But we can find another, even more startling example of this same principle, in Mark 6:1-13 where we hear the story of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

This story takes a couple of surprising turns.  First, Jesus, the man who fed crowds of thousands, healed lepers, the lame, the blind, and even raised the dead, is said not to be able to perform any great miracles in his hometown, because the people there had little faith.  Jesus had faith, the disciples had faith, but the people who needed healing could only see Jesus as a tradesman and the son of people they knew.

The second surprising thing is that Jesus then sends his disciples out to do the same thing that he has been doing.  Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding villages to preach a message of repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons armed with nothing but a walking stick, and without food, money, or even a change of clothes.  And, if you’re wondering why this is amazing, think about who these disciples were.  We are often tempted to say that Jesus could perform miracles, and do all the things that he did, because he was the Messiah, the Son of God who was born of a virgin to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  But the disciples were uniformly and universally normal.  They were born in the usual way to the usual sorts of parents and were normal folks who make their living as fisherman, tax collectors, farmers, and other regular jobs.  Until they met Jesus, there was absolutely nothing amazing about them.  But now, they go out into the countryside, and perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did without Bibles, reference books, college educations, money, or even food.  The only things that the disciples had, was faith… and God.

And, just in case you haven’t connected the dots of these two stories and extended that line down to us here in the twenty-first century, let’s read 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, where Paul draws that line for us.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul said that when he prayed to be healed, God said “no” because grace is enough.  And grace is enough because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  We’ve been hinting at that for the last fifteen minutes so let me say that again.  God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, Paul says it in the first person, “I delight in my weaknesses” because “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Paul says that he can happily brag about his weaknesses so that the power of Jesus Christ can rest on him.

What does that mean?

It means that we are kittens.

Whenever we are full of ourselves, and we think we have it all together, and we think that we can do it all ourselves, we are like those kittens growling in their little kitten voices at a pack of jackals.  But when we know that we are kittens, when we are willing to have faith in the big God that stands behind us, then the entire world will see that it wasn’t us that did the amazing and miraculous work.

The prophets and writers of the Old Testament made every effort to be clear that David was a great king because of his faith in God and because of the power of God that worked through him.  We can make excuses that Jesus was able to perform miracles and do all sorts of amazing things because he was the Son of God.  But then we are faced with his inability to do miracles around people that had no faith, and we are additionally confronted with the ordinary disciples who went out into the countryside with nothing more than a walking stick and were able to perform the same sorts of miracles that Jesus did.

Like David, Paul understood that the power to change the world isn’t power that we ordinary humans have.  The power to do miracles, save souls, change hearts, preach the gospel, and change the world is entirely in the hands of God.  Kittens don’t scare jackals but grown lions do.  You and I don’t scare demons, or have the power to heal the sick, clothe the naked, and seek and to save the lost, but God does.  When kittens scare jackals, everyone knows that a lion stands behind them.  And Paul knew that the same is true for us.  We are strongest when we embrace our weakness and allow God, and his power, to work through us instead of trying to do things all on our own.

On the surface, it seems to be contradictory.

Weakness is power.

When kittens roar, the world sees the lion behind them.

When we, in our weakness, let go of ourselves and allow God to change the world through us, the world will see the lion behind us.

Let us admit, and embrace our frailty, ignorance, and weakness, and have the faith to let God work through us.

Let go… and let God.

I pray that through our faith, the world will see the lion behind us.


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

Not Normal (Yet)

Not Normal (Yet)

Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”  And that kind of sums up where we are in our struggle to return to normal from this global pandemic.  Some things are returning to normal but, as it has been for the last fifteen months, “normal” remains a moving target.  Even so, things are getting better and as they do, our church is returning to more familiar routines.  But even as we move toward the familiar, our routines will be different than they used to be. 

What does that mean?

Well, let’s talk about a few of our routines and how they might be different.

  1. We’re moving back to indoor church.  Hooray!  But being indoors isn’t going to be exactly like it used to be (yet).  We are returning indoors, but we’re still concerned about the spread of COVID, so some things will remain different for a while.  Sunday school classes and church committees are returning to in-person meetings, but not all of them.  Not everyone feels comfortable meeting in groups and some committee meetings are sometimes more convenient online, so some of those groups will remain online.

We are going to worship indoors, but worship still isn’t going to be the same as it used to be.  We are going to take the offering differently, we will be space ourselves out more than we used to, we plan to wear masks when we sing, and some people will likely choose to wear masks all the time. 

  • The building isn’t how I remember it.  We’ve made some changes.  Some of them are pandemic related, and some aren’t.  Our trustees have not been hibernating for the last year.  I’ve mentioned before that there were new lights installed above the stairs by the handicap entrance and in the lounge, but most of you will soon be seeing those changes for the first time so it will look a little different.  The trustees have other projects in progress that haven’t happened yet, so you can expect more changes.  In part because of COVID and in-part because of security concerns, we just aren’t going to unlock as many doors as we used to.  Many of you won’t even notice, but we will put up signs and let you know what’s going on so that we can all get used to entering through the doors that are open.
  • Money.  Honestly, this one is entirely up to you.  To everyone’s credit, last year, our giving remained steady even though we stayed home and made the transition to online worship.  But 2021 has not been kind to us.  I’m not sure that there is any single reason that can explain it.  We got out of the habit of coming to church.  We got out of the habit of putting our offering in the plate.  We got worried about our personal finances and cut back.  It could be any of those, or all of those, or a hundred other things.  But our offerings changed.  Dramatically.  I won’t belabor the point here, because our members will soon be receiving a letter that will go into more details.  For now, let’s just say that our budget, our staff, and all sorts of things will be facing substantial changes if 2021 doesn’t start to look more like 2019.
  • Dress. I don’t really know.  But I suspect that over the last year, many of you have grown accustomed to attending church in your bunny slippers.  I’m sure you don’t want to show up half-dressed, but if a year of worshiping online makes you feel like you want to dress more comfortably, I’m pretty sure no one will mind.  I’m sure I’ll go back to wearing a suit at some point, but I admit that I rather liked being able to preach wearing denim pants and hiking boots.  The important thing is that we all get back in the habit of going to church and being together.
  • People.  While we were online, we’ve had a few new people begin to worship with us.  Even though they have been “in church” with us for months, they will be unfamiliar to most of you.  I hope that you will make them feel welcome.  If you are one of those folks that joined us online, I hope that will join us in-person even though almost all of us will be unfamiliar to you.  At the same time, I’m sure that there are a few folks who just got out of the habit of coming to church and won’t be returning.  I hope it isn’t many.  And I hope it isn’t you.  We are the church.  We are the body of Christ.  All of us.  Together.

I’m sure that’s not all.  I’m sure that there are changes I forgot to mention, and others that I haven’t learned about, or that haven’t happened yet.  But life is all about change.  As we return to in-person, indoor worship, things are going to seem more like normal.  But, at the same time, not… quite… normal.  Whenever you feel comfortable, I hope that you will return to worship in-person.  And, until you do, we are working hard to continue some sort of online worship.  Although that may face some changes too.

Whatever happens…

“It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” 


Blessings,

Pastor John


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