A Master of Magnetism

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A Master of Magnetism

May 08, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter had raised the dead.

Not surprisingly, news of this travelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is the Master of Magnetism.

But what about you?

Will you be a Master of Magnetism?

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

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

Let me say that again.

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

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

And so, the question of the day is this:

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


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

Second Chance. Last Chance.

Second Chance, Last Chance

May 01, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

Sometimes there are second chances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” they answered.

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

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

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

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

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

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

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

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

Jesus still has work for them to do.

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

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

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

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

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

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

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But is there an end to God’s patience?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have work to do.


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

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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Giving up COVID for Lent?

An image of a crown of thorns

Giving up Covid for Lent?

This year, our season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, on March 2nd.

But what will that look like?

Lent is a time to remember and to reflect.  Spring is coming.  And with its arrival, we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.  Ordinarily, we see Lent as a time to prepare.  A time to give up a favorite treat, food, or activity to remind ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice and to reflect on him whenever we think about our abstinence from the thing that we “gave up” for Lent.  But over the past two years we’ve all given up so many things, my heart almost breaks when I think about giving up anything else. 

Our hearts ache for the return of “normal.”

And isn’t that sort of the point? 

And so, let’s think about Lent, and our preparation for Easter with that in mind.  Last year, we couldn’t be together for Lent.  We held Ash Wednesday online, but in dispensing own ashes, and marking our own foreheads, we missed out on pieces that felt crucial to our sense of belonging and normalcy.  This year we are worshipping in person and this year we will hold Ash Wednesday in person (and since we noticed that our attendance at our virtual Ash Wednesday far exceeded our regular in-person service, we will also have a livestream).

As we walk through the scriptures of preparation during Lent, you will notice that then, like now, the disciples were passing through a season of radical change.  Their routines were disrupted.  They were separated from their families, from Jesus, and often from one another.  By Easter morning they were heartbroken, frustrated, grieving, and longing for a return to normal.  And while our circumstances are vastly different, our own experiences over the last two years certainly make us appreciate what they were going through. 

And, assuming the progress of the pandemic continues the downward trend that we’ve been seeing, let’s plan to be together on Easter.  Let us use this time to start breaking the habits of the pandemic.  Rather than “giving up” for Lent, let’s start “adding back.”  Let’s try to attend church on Sunday rather than on Monday or Tuesday (remember YouTube tells me when you’re watching), try to get back in the habit of watching “live” at 10:15 instead of watching in the afternoon and try to attend weekly instead of skipping weeks.

In short, let us use this season of lent hopefully, and prepare ourselves for a return to as “normal” and Easter as we can muster.

Let us commit to a season of preparation so that we will arrive on Easter morning renewed, refreshed, equipped, expectant, and joyful.

My hope is that we can journey together during this season of anticipation and arrive, together, joyfully on Easter morning.

Blessings,

Pastor John

Christ United Methodist Church

Unmasked!

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Unmasked!

February 27, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 34:29-35             Luke 9:28-36                       2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2

Have you ever felt self-conscious?  Have you worried that you don’t look quite right, or suddenly notice that everyone seems to be looking at you?  Maybe you have food stuck in your teeth, or your fly is unzipped, or your skin broke out and have a big zit or something.  It happens to everyone.  There even a powerful photograph of President Carter, Menachem Begin, and Anwar Sadat moments before they went in front of the cameras to sign the Camp David Accords.  In that moment, all three of these men, presidents of powerful nations, simultaneously and self-consciously stop to straighten their neckties before stepping out into the glare of the public eye.  And, I wonder if what we see in Exodus 34:29-35, was caused, at least in part, by Moses being self-conscious about everyone looking at him.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so, Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

After Moses met with God, he was outwardly, and visibly, changed.  Our scripture says that his face was radiant, and from the description, that doesn’t seem to mean that he was happy in the way that we say, “the bride was radiant.”  We are, apparently, to understand that Moses’ face was… glowing… with a light of its own and that light, not surprisingly, was at least disconcerting, if not frightening, to the people around him.  The world didn’t seem any different to Moses, but Moses’ appearance was different, and it was noticeable, even shocking, to everyone who saw him.  And so, either to calm the fears of everyone else, or to calm his own feelings of self-consciousness, Moses began to wear a mask in public after each of his meetings with God.  There was something about being in the presence of God, that changes human beings.  And we see something similar in Luke 9:28-36.

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John, and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses, and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

The disciples had become accustomed to traveling with Jesus and it was probably not uncommon for them to wake up early and be walking before the sun had risen.  But whatever the case on this day, whether morning or evening, the disciples that were walking with Jesus were half asleep.  But as Jesus prayed, the appearance of his face changed… and even his clothes changed so that they became as bright as a flash of lightning.  And then Moses and Elijah appeared, and they shone in “glorious splendor” perhaps, in a way, that was similar to the way that Moses’ face had shone when he met God.  And so now, obviously, Peter, James, and John were absolutely, completely, 100 percent awake and were, in a sense, in shock.  As soon as Moses and Elijah began to leave, Peter just begins to babble nonsense about building houses, worship centers, or something.  And then, as if this hadn’t been enough, suddenly a cloud appears, envelops them, and the voice of God announces that the disciples should listen to Jesus because he is his son.  And then, just as suddenly as it began, it was over, and they found themselves standing, on the mountainside, alone.

What I find interesting, is that even though Peter had been babbling about building shelters, and although Peter was often prone to shoot off his mouth, and to say things without thinking, after this incredible experience, none of these three disciples say… anything.  They don’t tell their families, they don’t tell the other disciples, they don’t tell anybody… anything.  And again, I think this has a lot to do with the disciples feeling self-conscious.  What they had just experienced was powerful, incredible, and probably more than a little… unbelievable.  Even for people who had witnessed Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead, who would believe what they had just seen?  Who would believe that they had seen the glory of God radiating from the face of Jesus?  Who would believe that they had been surrounded by the holy cloud of God that they had read about in the scriptures, or that they had met Moses and Elijah?  Who would believe that they had heard God’s own voice proclaiming that Jesus was his son?  Would anyone believe them?  Would they think they were crazy?  Would the Pharisees and other church leaders declare that they were heretics and throw them out of the Temple?

And regardless of their self-consciousness or fear, the disciples could not un-see what they had seen.  Like Moses, they had spent time in the presence of God, and they had been changed.

But what does that mean for us?  What do we take away from these stories of Moses, Jesus, the disciples, and the transfiguration?  In 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2, Paul explained it to his church this way:

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Obviously, Paul’s understanding of why Moses wore a veil is not he same as mine and, I think, not the same as the reason given in Exodus.  Exodus simply says that people were afraid to look at Moses because he glowed or radiated but Paul interprets that to mean that Moses wore a mask so that people couldn’t see that the radiance of God in him faded over time.  Those are not at all the same things and, I think, Paul’s interpretation is unfair, and a little unkind, to Moses.  But I also think that Paul says this to make a point.  Paul makes the point of saying that accepting Christ is like tearing away the veil, or unmasking God so that we can see his glory more clearly.  Christians, Paul says, are the “unveiled faces” that can see God more clearly and something happens to us because of it.

As I said before, human beings that have spent time in the presence of God, are changed by the experience.  Moses glowed.  He was both outwardly and inwardly different because he met God.  Peter and James and John, and all the other disciples, were changed because of the time that they spent in the presence of both God and his son, Jesus.  Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his entire life was turned upside down, and he was never the same afterwards.  Paul says that because we have met Jesus, and because we have been unmasked, and have seen the glory of God, our lives have also been changed.  We don’t give up, we are encouraged, we no longer deceive other people or distort the word of God.  Instead, we tell the truth as plainly as we can, and we tell the truth all the time, so that everyone will know that we can be trusted.

But there’s one more thing worth mentioning, I think.  Paul believed that when Moses met God face to face, the glory of God that radiated from Moses’ face faded over time.  And while I’m not sure that’s how I would interpret it, there is some sense to it.  Human beings are not God.  We do not, and we cannot, contain God’s glory.  Being in the presence of God changes us, but the effect in us fades if we aren’t deliberate in doing things that bring us back into God’s presence.  That’s why setting times of regular Bible study, prayer, and church attendance are so vital.  Nearly every Sunday, we pray that God would be at work changing us into the people that he created us to be.  But for that to happen, we need to do two things.  First, we need to give God permission to change us, and be willing to change.  And second, we must, regularly and deliberately, invite God into our lives, and set aside time for us to spend time in God’s presence.

But we warned: Just as Moses, Peter, James, John, Paul, and the disciples discovered, being in God’s presence changes people. 

And maybe that’s why so many people seem to be afraid to do it.


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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.

Christian Extra-Terrestrials?

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Christian Extra-Terrestrials?

February 20, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Luke 6:27-38

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

Many of you are old enough to have watched the Steven Spielberg movie, E.T. the Extraterrestrial and, even if you haven’t watched it, you probably at least know something about it.  There’s also a good chance that E.T. is what you thought of when you saw today’s sermon title, “Christian Extraterrestrials.”  But despite Elon Musk’s goal of establishing a colony on Mars, interplanetary Christians is not what I have in mind… at least for today.  What I have in mind, however, is just a little bit different linguistically.  I thought about using Superhuman, or Supernatural, but those words bring up mental images of Superman from the planet Krypton, or a couple of brothers on television who fight ghosts, demons, and other non-human creatures, so neither of those words really work either.  But the definition of the prefix “extra” means “beyond” and so while “extra-terrestrial” can mean a person, or a creature, that is from beyond our planet, it might also mean someone from this planet whose abilities lie beyond the those of normal, or expected, people. 

And besides, it made you curious.

In any case, “beyond terrestrial” is a legitimate translation of the language that is used in our scriptures today.  But, before we get to that, let’s begin with the story of Joseph.  Nearing the end of Joseph’s epic in Genesis, we join his story at the point where, having once been sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph is now, after Pharaoh, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt if not the second most powerful man on the planet.  But at this moment, Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, the same men who years earlier had beaten him, thrown him in an empty cistern, and sold him into slavery.  And, understandably, when his brothers realize who he is, they are terrified.  We rejoin that story in Genesis 45:3-11,15:

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks, and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise, you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Joseph’s brothers were terrified that, because he was now the most powerful man in Egypt, and not the pesky younger brother, they expected that he would take his revenge on them for what they had done.  And, honestly, no one would be surprised if that had happened.  Joseph had every right to be angry and it would have been fair for him to sell his brothers into slavery as they had done to him.  But Joseph’s relationship with God gave him a different perspective.  Rather than seeing this as an opportunity for revenge, Joseph sees that God has been intervening in human affairs, influencing events, and moving him into position so that he could rescue the entire nation of Egypt, and his family, the people that would one day become the nation of Israel.  Joseph behaves in a way that is unexpected because his relationship with God has given him a vision of the world that is beyond human.

And we can see that same vision as Jesus teaches his disciples in Luke 6:27-38, as he says:

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus says that being ‘just as good’ as the evil people around you isn’t good enough.  And being just as good as average and ordinary people isn’t good enough either.  The standard for his followers is to do good even when no other reasonable person would do good, to be unreasonably good, or… beyond humanly good.  Jesus wants his followers to love the people around them more than other reasonable people would love, to love in a way that is beyond humanly loving or, beyond earthly love. 

And the examples that Jesus gives are so far beyond our understanding of normal, that they are understandably difficult.  Jesus says that we should loan money, not just to people that we trust, and not just people that we believe can pay us back, but to loan money to people we don’t even like, people we regard as our enemies, and that includes people that we might be confident have no means, and possibly no intention, of ever paying us back.  Jesus says that we should loan them the money with no expectation that we should get it back.  In other words, just give money away to people that you hate, and who probably hate you back.  Loving in ways that are beyond human, or beyond terrestrial, is exactly the point that Jesus is making.  Our calling isn’t to love the people around us like ordinary, average, or even exceptional people love, our calling is to love the people around us the way that God loves.  God is loving, kind, and merciful to the ungrateful and the wicked who neither like him nor even know him.

It’s worth noting here that “Do not judge” is currently one of the most commonly misquoted and misinterpreted verses of scripture.  It most certainly does not mean that we should… never… judge.  Matthew includes this same quote from Jesus, but records Jesus’ statement as saying, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1) To make this clear, some translations record this as “Do not judge unfairly” rather than simply do not judge.  There are many times when Jesus asks, even commands us to judge between good and evil, honor and dishonor, to be discerning in all that we do, and other things.  What Jesus clearly means is that we will be judged in the same way that we judge others.  Don’t rush to judgement.  Don’t judge without evidence. Or, as the translators have said, don’t judge unfairly.  Likewise, we can expect to receive the generosity of God with the same, or better, generosity that we show others.  Give and it will be given to you in an even more abundant and generous measure.

But why?  Why is the standard for love, mercy, and compassion so much higher for Christians than it is for everyone else?  Why does God demand that our behavior be beyond human, whether we call that super-human or extra-terrestrial?  We find the answer to “why” in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth where he says (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50)

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam [aka Jesus], a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man [Adam], so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man [Jesus], so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall webear the image of the heavenly man.

And although Paul takes a while to get to his point, the answer really is simple.  The reason that the followers of Jesus Christ are commanded, and empowered, to behave in ways that are beyond human, and the reason that it isn’t okay to just be the same as other people, is because earth and heaven are not the same.  Adam and Jesus are not the same.  When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we become image bearers of God.  Our calling is no longer to look like everyone else and reflect the image of the world in which we live, but rather to reflect the image of a merciful, just, compassionate, and loving God and to reflect an entirely different reality.

As the image bearers of God, we must love more than humanly possible, be impossibly forgiving, extraordinarily generous, inhumanly merciful, and in every other way that we can, be an accurate reflection the goodness and holiness of God.

God has called us, commanded us, and empowered us to behave in ways that are super-human, and beyond earthly.

In other words, we are called to be nothing less than Extra-Terrestrial Christians.


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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.