Good News of Great Joy?

Good News of Great Joy?

As I write this, Thanksgiving is just a few days away and Sunday we will begin our celebration of the Advent season.  During that season we will constantly be looking outwards, at others, and at the world.  We will look at Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Caesar Augustus, shepherds, wise men, angels, as well as a few other characters with smaller roles.  We will think about the coming of the Messiah and what that means to the church, to the world, to our calling as evangelize and share the good news, and other important lessons.  But, despite the value of doing all these things, we might also want to spend some time looking inwards. 

Looking inwards means asking what the story means to me, what the story is calling me to be, and to do.  When we see the shepherds, we should ask ourselves, “What would I have done if I were among them?”  Would we have stayed behind with the sheep?  Having heard the angels, and having seen the baby in a manger, would we have gone throughout the city rejoicing and telling everyone that we could find?

When we hear the story of the wise men, we might wonder how willing we are to hear the calling of God.  Would we drop everything, based on our best research and study, to spend months of unpleasant travel, just so that we could witness a miracle, bring gifts, and then spend months traveling home again?

After every story, there is a moment for us to look inward and ask God what he is calling us to hear, not just about a two thousand year-old story, but how God wants that story to change our lives, us, today.  Is God calling us to be more faithful, like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Simeon the priest, Anna the prophetess, the shepherds, or the Magi?  Do we hear the calling for the church, and us, to evangelize the world in the story of the shepherds and the Magi?  And there is more.  In every story that we read in scripture God calls to us.  If we listen, our souls can feel the pull of God’s leading us in a new direction.

And so, as we celebrate the season of Advent and Christmas, I invite you to open your hearts, and take the time to reflect. Ask yourself, “What does God want me to do with this story?”  What is it that God is trying to tell me?  How is God asking me to change?  What kind of a person is God calling me to be?  Is God calling me into something new?

Every day, God is calling us to be transformed and renewed into the image of Jesus Christ.  Our regular prayer on Sunday morning is to become more and more like Jesus and the person that Jesus created us to be.  And so, when we hear the angels proclaim that they bring “Good news of great joy for all the people” we might ask ourselves if the same is true for us.  When people hear that Christ Church is coming, is that good news?  Or what do people think when they hear that we are coming?  Is the arrival of _(insert your name here)_ “good news of great joy”?

The stories of Advent and Christmas are wonderful and inspiring, but they aren’t just there to stir wonder and bring inspiration.  The stories are intended to transform us.  The stories of Christmas, and all of scripture, are intended to change us so that we become less like Saul and more like Paul, less like Satan and more like Jesus, less like we once were and more like God intends for us to be.

As we plunge into Advent, I hope that we will do more than splash around in the shallows or swim along the surface.  This year, I invite you to…

…dive deep.

Blessings,

Pastor John



Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

Advent 2021

Advent 2021

Do you have a friend that always ruins new television shows, movies, or books for you by telling you the ending?  Online, the word that everyone uses is “spoiler.”  If an online conversation is going to talk about a big surprise, or how a movie or television show end before everyone has a chance to watch them, then the beginning of the conversation is often labelled “Spoiler Alert” so that you can choose to stop reading those posts and ruin the surprise for yourself.

Avoiding spoilers is sort of the same reason that I encourage everyone to attend church and participate in all our Advent worship services between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Skipping Advent and showing up at Christmas Eve is a lot like buying a new book and reading the last chapter first, or fast forwarding and watching the ending before you watch the rest of the movie.  Sure, the story is the same either way, but by starting at the end rather than at the beginning, and by skipping the character development, the plot twists, and the natural growth of the story we miss much of the excitement and anticipation as the story evolves.

All those reasons are a part of why we celebrate Advent.  It isn’t because we don’t already know how the story turns out, but it’s a lot like rereading a favorite book, or rewatching a favorite movie.  A week or two ago, Patti and I were re-watching Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” movie, and there were several times when one of us would say, “Oh, I didn’t remember that part.”  But each of those parts made watching the whole movie even better. 

Christmas is like that.  Christmas Eve is the last chapter, the denouement, the conclusion, the finale, the big ending.  It’s a great part of the story, but there’s so much more to it that we often forget from year to year and the story is so much stronger, and the anticipation greater, if we start at the beginning.

And so, once again, I invite you to join me as we journey through the Advent season, as we remember the whole story, dig into the character development, plot twists, and the natural evolution of the story.  Trust me, just like reading a good book, or watching a favorite movie, starting at the beginning will make the ending even more awesome.

Blessings,

Pastor John


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

Who Are You?

Who Are You?

(Christ the King Sunday)

November 21, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 23:1-7 John 18:33-37 Revelation 1:4-8

You’ve probably heard the song, but in 1986, singer-songwriter Pat MacDonald wrote a song for the band Timbuk3 as an expression of his pessimism about what he saw as impending nuclear destruction.  But the song gained notoriety and popularity because most listeners ignored the grim tone of the lyrics and focused instead only on the chorus which says, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” And so, rather than being seen as a commentary on nuclear proliferation, MacDonald’s song has been widely adopted as a hymn or a theme song for students at their graduation from high school or college.

And for their part, graduation is a moment when many of us are filled with optimism and hope for the future.  We know that nothing in life is certain, but what we have accomplished so far will, we hope, set the table for future success.  But of course, sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way that we expect, there are no guarantees in life…

…except in those rare cases when there are.

In 2 Samuel 23:1-7, near the end of his life, God gives King David an oracle, a vision, of the future.  And in that vision, David sees a bright future for his family, his descendants, and for his nation.

23:1 Now these are the last words of David:

The oracle of David, son of Jesse,
    the oracle of the man whom God exalted,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
    the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:

The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
    his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
    the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
    ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
    like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
    gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

Is not my house like this with God?
    For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
    ordered in all things and secure.
Will he not cause to prosper
    all my help and my desire?
But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away;
    for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar
    or the shaft of a spear.
    And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

Even though he is at the end of his life, David knows that the future is bright for his family and for his nation.  As long as they remain faithful, and rule over the people justly, and in the fear of God, David’s descendants will lead the nation of Israel forever.  This isn’t just the boundless optimism of a graduating senior but is the revelation and eternal promise of God.  But, although David heard God’s promise, and although he saw a bright future for his descendants and for Israel, he almost certainly did not envision or imagine how God was going to bring about such a future.  Rather than pass the mantle of leadership and kingship from generation to generation, and hope that each generation would remain faithful to God and maintain their connection to the God that made it all possible, God had an entirely different solution in mind as we see as we read the story of Jesus in John 18:33-37.

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Despite the confusion of the disciples, Pharisees, Sadducees, Pilate, and almost everyone else, Jesus never had any calling or intention of being and earthly king.  Although he was the descendant of King David, and even though Jesus would claim the fulfillment of God’s promise to David and rule over Israel forever, Jesus wasn’t going to physically sit on a throne in Israel (in this creation).  The kingship that God had in mind was spiritual, not physical, and the borders and boundaries of that kingdom extend far beyond the borders of one tiny country in the Near East.  The kingdom of God is a kingdom of truth, and his followers listen and obey the words and the instructions of Jesus in places and in times far beyond the imagination of Pilate, or anyone else of that era.

But the time will come when all of us move on from this life into the next, when this world ends and another begins, when the present Israel and the present Jerusalem pass away and the followers of Jesus move into a new creation and a new Jerusalem.  Then, Jesus will sit on his throne and rule over all the earth.  And that is the vision that John saw and recorded for us in Revelation 1:4b-8, where he says:

John, to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freedus from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds;
    every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
    and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So, it is to be. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

John begins by bringing what can be read as both a blessing and a prayer extending grace to the seven churches of Asia Minor from God, from the seven spirits, and from Jesus.  I thought the reference to the seven spirits might be a reference to the seven churches, to whom John’s letter was written but, with a little research, found that the “seven spirits” can probably be understood, from the way in which similar language was used by Isaiah and other Old Testament writers, to mean the Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity, so the entire greeting can be thought of as being a prayer to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  John then reminds us that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a twofold action that both rescued us from sin and called us to something bigger.  John’s reference to “a kingdom and priests” reminds us that we are not just saved from our sins, but also saved for “a destiny as his agents and worshipers”[1][emphasis mine].

But then, after the greeting, and a reminder that we are God’s agents in the world, John shares his vision of the future in which he saw Jesus descending to earth from the clouds, and a waiting world below standing in fear as they realize that the rescuer and redeemer that they rejected is indeed the creator of the world, and the God of the universe.   And, as if to add emphasis, Jesus then pronounces that he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and in doing so reminds us that God is eternal (and we are not).

Before he died, God gave David a vision of the future that assured him that God would keep his promise to place one of David’s descendants on the throne of Israel for all time.  And, with the coming of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, God kept that promise in a way that David almost certainly never expected.  Like David, we too look to the future and wonder what that future holds for us.  We might not want to sing, like Pat MacDonald and Timbuk3, that our future is so bright that we gotta wear shades, but from John’s vision, we know that we do have a future… an eternal future, with God, because of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Without Jesus, the day of his return will be a day of fear, embarrassment, terror, and regret.  But because we have faith in Jesus, we eagerly look forward to that day with optimism and hope because although we might not need shades…

…that future looks pretty bright.


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.



[1] Craig S. Keener, The New Application Commentary: Revelation, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000


*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.

Facing Anxiety, Hopelessness, and Disaster

Facing Anxiety, Hopelessness, and Disaster

November 14, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Samuel 1:4-20                     Mark 13:1-8               Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25

What do you do when life just isn’t going the way that you had hoped, you are filled with anxiety, faced with hopelessness, and God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers?  If you’ve been in the church or been a follower of Jesus for any length of time, you know that being a Christian is not some magical ticket to a pain-free life.  We are not immune from tragedy, suffering, worry, or depression.  If we were to go around the congregation this morning, and survey each of you we could probably list many most difficult emotional traumas that human beings can typically face.

But we’re still here.

We endured.

But what is it about us that allowed us to endure?  What do we have that can help others to find their way through difficult struggles and paralyzing emotional turmoil?  If we’re honest, many of us haven’t thought about it too hard in those terms.  There’s a fair chance that we deliberately avoid thinking about some of our life’s experiences because revisiting them, even as a form of self-analysis, is just too emotionally difficult.  But without baring your souls to one another in church this morning, I invite you to immerse yourselves in the struggles and anxiety of the prophet Samuel’s mother, Hannah.  And, as we think about Hannah’s struggles, maybe we can discover something within ourselves as well.  We begin in 1 Samuel 1:4-20 where we hear these words:

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore, Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a naziriteuntil the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”

12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore, Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate, and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

Hannah lived in a place where much of a woman’s value was seen as her ability to produce children… and she had none.  Worse, her husband had two wives, and although Elkanah loved her greatly, the other wife, Peninnah, was not kind and went out of her way to taunt, torment, ridicule, and otherwise provoke Hannah because she had no children.  And the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for this important sacrifice was a moment that Hannah dreaded every year because she had to watch Elkanah pass out portions of the sacrifice to Peninnah and to all her many sons and daughters, and then, even though he gave her a double portion, there was just… Hannah… alone.

Hannah was emotionally gutted.  After the feast she was deeply depressed.  She advanced as far into the temple courts as women were allowed, wept bitterly, threw herself into prayer and began bargaining with God, swearing that if God would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to a life of service to God.  But in her misery, she ran out of words, and while she was praying silently Eli the priest thought that she was drunk.  Hannah answers him that she is not drunk, but deeply troubled, Eli answers with a blessing, encourages her to go in peace, and prays that God would answer her prayer.  Some time later, presumably before the same feast the following year, Hannah has a son and names him Samuel, which means “I asked God for him.”

Ordinarily, this is the point that we would thank God for answered prayer, and for the miracle that Hannah had received.  But today I want to consider what it was like for Hannah.  Let’s think about her anxiety, hopelessness, depression, and despair.  Let’s think about how long she endured that situation.  If she was the first wife, then she would have been married for at least a year or two before Elkanah married Peninnah.  And then Peninnah bore at least two sons and two daughters, and possibly more.  Assuming that she didn’t have more than one child per year, then Hannah had been feeling the looks of others in her community, had been hearing the whispered comments, had endured those comments and mistreatment, as well as the looks of pity in her community, had been tormented by Peninnah, and had grown increasingly desperate for at least five or six years and possibly ten, or even twenty years. 

And all that time, God was silent.

Clearly, God is not a genie in a bottle and prayer is not just a way for us to rub the lamp and ask God to grant us wishes and the desires of our hearts.  Clearly, life doesn’t always go our way.  And hundreds of years later, Jesus makes that same point as he walks through the city of Jerusalem with his disciples as we read in Mark 13:1-8:

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The disciples point to the incredible buildings that they saw, and they were indeed marvelous to look at and incredible feats of engineering.  In the temple, there is one stone in particular that is 44.5 feet long, 11 feet high, is estimated to be between six and eight feet deep, with a weight somewhere between 250 and 300 tons, is considered to be one of the largest building blocks in the world and would require one of our largest modern construction cranes to move.  The disciples assumed that such beautiful and awe-inspiring construction and engineering would have some permanence, but Jesus tells them that these things would all be destroyed, that imposters would come who would claim to be Jesus, and who would lead many people away from God.  Jesus continues by telling them that life wasn’t ever going to be easy and that the world would continue to see violence, wars, earthquakes, famine, and other man-made and natural disasters.  Worse still, Jesus says that all these things would just be the beginning of the end of this world and the birth of the next.  Jesus wants us all to understand that these struggles, pain, and suffering will be a part of our world, and a part of our lives until his return.

Ultimately, life is hard, and it isn’t going to get any easier.

At this point, I can almost hear some of you thinking that today’s message is not at all encouraging, and it wouldn’t be if we ended it here.  But thankfully, this is not the end of our lesson.  When the angels sang at the birth of Jesus, they said that they carried “good news of great joy for all the people.” And as we continue to read the story of scripture, despite our suffering and pain, we discover reasons for hope.  In Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25, Paul explains why when he says:

11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Paul reminds us that although the day of judgement has not yet come, the world has begun to change.  Worship in the temple required that the priests offer sacrifices for sin over, and over, and over again, but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was offered once, was completed forever, and Jesus now sits at the right hand of God and waits for the end of the world when the enemies of God will be ground underfoot.  With one single offering, Jesus perfected and sanctified, for all time, every person who chooses to follow him and put their faith in him.  And, because of that offering, made by Jesus on the cross, Paul says that we have “confidence to enter the sanctuary.” 

That’s helpful, but not entirely clear so I want to unpack that a little.

Remember in the story of Samuel, Hannah went as far as she could toward the temple but was forced to stop at the edge of the court of the women.  The temple had clearly designated and enforced areas of worship.  The men could pass through the court of the women and draw closer to the sanctuary, but only priests could enter the sanctuary, and only the high priest could enter the holy place.   But Paul says that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we have the “confidence to enter into the sanctuary” and come before God… as priests with Jesus as our high priest.  Paul encourages us to approach God with a true heart, an assurance of faith, and a clear conscience and we are to hold tightly to hope because the one who has given us his promise is faithful.  Rather than provoke one another to despair, depression, and anger as Peninnah did to Hannah, we are called to provoke one another to love and good deeds, to remember to regularly meet together, and to encourage one another more and more, particularly as we see the signs that the day of judgement and redemption is drawing closer.

Our world is a mess.  It is full of violence, war, disaster, envy, greed, and suffering.  Our lives are often filled with desperation, depression, anxiety, trauma, and darkness and, despite his love and compassion, God has never promised that we would be rescued from those things in this lifetime.

But…

But… we have hope.  We have hope because we know that this world and this lifetime are not all that there is.  We have hope because we know that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ has been given so that we are, even now, rescued, forgiven, purified, and sanctified in the eyes of God so that we can enter the sanctuary with confidence.  We can, as priests, carry our burdens and worries before God, share them with him, and leave them there.  We can provoke one another to love, and good deeds and we can meet together, and encourage one another as we face the trials and difficulties of life.  The message of scripture is not that the followers of Jesus Christ will be exempt from trouble or that we will escape the pain and suffering that is common to all of humanity. 

The message of scripture is that there is hope and that…

…we are not alone.


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*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 Cost of (Not) Living

The Cost of (Not) Living

November 07, 2021*

(All Saints Day)

By Pastor John Partridge

(Note -Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/z_RqQcgOK1c)

Isaiah 25:6-9 John 11:32-44 Revelation 21:1-6

How many of you would like to be younger?  Or to retain all your knowledge and memories but return your body to the condition it was in when you were twenty years old? 

That is the idea behind the mythical stories of the Fountain of Youth.  Here in North America the story that is most familiar is the myth of Ponce de Leon and a “lost” fountain of youth somewhere in Florida, but stories about sacred or otherwise restorative bodies of water circulated long before the birth of Juan Ponce de León in 1474.  There were stories about Alexander the Great discovering a healing “river of paradise” four centuries before the birth of Jesus, as well as similar legends in places like the Canary Islands, Japan, Polynesia, and England.  During the Middle Ages, there were stories about a mythical king, Prester John, whose kingdom contained both a fountain of youth and a river of gold.

The myth of the Fountain of Youth is a Taino Indian legend about a spring that was said to exist on the island of Bimini in the Bahamas, as well as a river, in what became known as Florida that would restore youth to those who bathed in their waters.  But nowhere is recorded history, or in any of the writing between Ponce de Leon and Europe, is he ever associated with any of those myths.  at least, not until decades after his death.

But what if such a place was real?  Can you imagine the lives that would have been lost trying to find it?  Or the wars that would have been fought to control it?  Or, in our modern era, at what cost would its corporate owners be willing to sell its miracles?

One of the inescapable rules of life, is that one way or another, death will find us all.

But maybe not.  At least, maybe death isn’t what we think it is.  Maybe death isn’t a permanent condition.  Maybe our death is less of an end, and more of a transition from one sort of life to another.  That sounds more hopeful than thinking that everything ends after sixty, seventy, eighty, or ninety years, or so.  And it is that sort of hope, and that sort of promise, that we hear, repeatedly, in scripture.  We begin this morning by reading from Isaiah 25:6-9, where we hear of a day in which God’s people will be reunited with one another and reunited with life itself.  Isaiah says:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah says that there will be a gigantic, and most fabulous feast, attended by people from the entire planet, on the day that God destroys death, the covering that darkens the door of every home and snuffs out the light of every life.  On that day, every tear shed for the loss of a loved one will be wiped away and the embarrassment and disgrace of lost battles and sinful living will be erased.

And, more than saying that it will happen “one day” or “someday” in some distant future, in John 11:32-44, we see Jesus open the door to give us a glimpse of what that day might look like as he arrives, deliberately later than he could have, at the home of his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Earlier in the story, Jesus was told about Lazarus’ illness but chose to remain where he was for several more days.  And now he arrives four days after Lazarus’ death and burial.  Some of the people who were there recognized how close Jesus and Lazarus had been but wonder aloud if Jesus could have healed him if he had only arrived earlier.  But that seems to be exactly the point that Jesus was trying to make.  Everyone knew that Jesus could heal the sick.  But healing the sick and raising the dead are two entirely different propositions.  Had Jesus arrived earlier, no one would have been surprised if he had healed his friend.  They knew that he could.  He had done it before.  And, if we’re honest about history, there had been other people, prophets as well as secular healers, who had healed the sick and performed miracles.  But now Lazarus was dead.  Really and truly dead.  And not just dead, but dead and buried.  Even if someone tried to argue that Lazarus didn’t really die before his funeral, he had been sealed inside of a tomb for three or four days without food or water.  So, if he was so sick that everyone thought that he was dead, then had a funeral, then was buried, and was inside of sealed stone chamber for more than seventy-two hours… he was most assuredly dead.

But Jesus arrives and asks the mourners and onlookers to roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb and he reminds Martha that he had once told her that if she believed, she would see the glory of God.  Everyone had read, or at least heard the words of, Isaiah.  They knew the promises of God.  They had heard that one day, someday, God would defeat death.  But on this day Jesus wants them to see death overturned.  But Jesus does not act alone.  This is an audience participation event, and as the people trust Jesus, obey him, and move the stone away, Jesus calls out to Lazarus…

…and the dead man walks out of the grave.

This is more than healing the sick.  This is conquering death.  This is a foreshadowing, a preview, an illustration, and an example of what is to come.  Death is overcome and overturned, and the dead are returned to life and walk among the living.

Others, before Jesus had healed the sick.  But dead is dead.  Death is permanent.  No one can raise the dead.

Only God can defeat death.

But there stands Lazarus all the same.

And finally, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, John sees the final fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise in a vision and records Jesus’ last words on the subject in Revelation 21:1-6 where we hear these words:

21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

John begins by saying that, in his vision of the future, both heaven and earth had been remade into a new form and even things that seemed to be permanent, immovable, and unchangeable like the oceans themselves had passed away and were no more.  And in this new, renewed, and changed world, John sees a new holy city, a new Jerusalem, a city no longer in ruins.  John had heard of Jerusalem’s destruction.  Much of the city had been leveled and the Temple pulled down, thrown into the valley below by the Roman Army. General Titus had even been said to plow the earth where the Temple once stood with a team of oxen.  John’s present was full of destruction, violence, and sadness but that was not the future that he saw.  The future in John’s vision saw a new Jerusalem that was more beautiful and glorious than any of the temples that had ever been built, and God himself would reside in the temple and live among his people.  No longer would there be destruction, violence, sadness, mourning, weeping, pain, and death.

The work that Jesus had begun with Lazarus and at Easter would be completed.  Death will be defeated forever and always.  Jesus declares that these words are trustworthy and true because he is the beginning and the end.  He is the creator of the universe.  He is the righteous judge and is entrusted by God to rule over all of humanity.  And Jesus says that he will provide all who are thirsty with water from the spring of life.

We all know that there is a cost of living, but there is also a cost of not living.  For hundreds of years, on several continents, legends of a fountain of youth, or healing rivers persisted because life is hard and often far too short.  All of us would like to have bodies that were as fit was we were in our twenties.  But such legends were never more than myths and wishful thinking, though they were perhaps influenced by the writings of scripture.  The water of life is real, but we will never find it in Florida, or the Bahamas, or anywhere else on this present creation.  We will find it by placing our full faith and trust in Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the redeemer and rescuer of humanity. 

In him there is no longer destruction, violence, sadness, mourning, weeping, pain, and death.

It is in him that we find… hope.



Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*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.

Almost Saved

Almost Saved

October 31, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Ruth 1:1-18                 Mark 12:28-34            Hebrews 9:11-14

I know some of you don’t watch football, but this past week there was a play that is worth talking about because it tells us a story that makes sense of a spiritual theme that we read in today’s scripture passages.  During a game between Troy and South Carolina, Jahmar Brown recovered a fumble, ran fifty yards toward the end zone and, one yard before he crossed the goal line, stated celebrating and threw the ball into the air.  The referees ruled that it was not a touchdown because he did not have possession of the ball when he crossed into the end zone.

He had the ball.  There was no one nearby that could stop him, success was certain, but he became overconfident and started his celebration before he actually crossed the goal line.  When our children ran track, we saw the something similar happen more than once.  A winning runner would start easing off just before they crossed the finish line and, at the last moment, the second-place runner passed them and won the race.  These stories remind us that it isn’t a touchdown until you cross the goal line, and you haven’t actually won the race until you cross the finish line.  The difference between winning and losing often depends upon whether you commit the effort to finish what you started. 

A spiritual lesson with the same theme can be found in scripture.  We begin this morning with the story of Ruth.  Ruth was a daughter-in-law of Naomi and, and both women were widowed while they were living in Moab.  Naomi, her husband, and her sons, were citizens of Bethlehem, but moved to Moab during a time of famine.  We join the story in Ruth 1:1-18.

1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So, a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye, and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

Naomi and her family move to Moab, her sons both marry local girls, and then both Naomi’s husband and sons all die leaving her a widow with two dependent children widow children.  Since the famine in Israel is over, and since she has no job, no family, and no support system in Moab, she decides to return to Israel where she at least has some family from whom she can ask for help.  But as they begin their journey, Naomi recognizes that, as much as she could use the help, her return to Israel won’t do any favors for her daughters-in-law.  In Israel, they will have the same problem that she has in Moab.  They will be far from home, separated from everything they know, and have no family or support system upon which they can depend.  And so, out of compassion, Naomi sacrifices her own needs and tells her daughters to return to their families where they have a better chance to be cared for, or to find new husbands and families for themselves.

Orpah resists and initially rejects Naomi’s offer, but ultimately agrees and returns to her family, but Ruth does the same thing that Naomi had modeled for her.  Instead of returning to her family and doing what was best for herself, Ruth sacrifices her own needs for the good of Naomi because of her loyalty and love for her mother-in-law.  And the sacrifice that we see in the story of Naomi and Ruth is a foreshadowing of an even greater sacrifice that Jesus would make in order to offer a path of rescue, reconciliation, and restoration to the entire world.  But knowing about the sacrifice of Jesus isn’t enough, just as knowing about God, memorizing, and even following, the commandments isn’t.  And that’s what Jesus is talking about with one of the teachers of the Law in Mark 12:28-34 where we hear this:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Jesus says that it’s good that this teacher of the law understands the law and the commandments.  It is good that he follows the law and the commandments.  Understanding and following the law and commandments is almost enough because Jesus says that in doing so the teacher is “not far from the kingdom of God.”  Because he knows, understands, and follows the law and the commandments, the man is almost saved.  But something is still missing.  Jesus has hinted at it, but in Hebrews 9:11-14, Paul explains it more clearly.

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtainingeternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

There are several things here that we, as well as the original recipients and readers of Hebrews, already know.  We know that Jesus is our high priest who intercedes between God and humanity.  We know that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for sin and willingly offered himself as our sacrifice so that we could be redeemed in the eyes of God forever.  We know that because Jesus sacrificed himself for us, we are forgiven of all our sin, can stand before God, and can live with a clear conscience. 

But after Paul repeats these things that we already know, he concludes by saying why God did these things.  He says that God did these things so that we may serve the living God.”  The reason that God has offered us salvation and rescue is so that we can offer him a life of service.  We were purified for service.  We were saved for service.  The reason for Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and the reason for our rescue, is so that we can serve God. 

This is the same thing that we saw modeled for us in the story of Naomi and Ruth, and the same thing that Jesus was hinting at in Mark.  While it is good to believe in God, to know the law, the commandments, and the rest of the scriptures, and while it is good to follow the instructions of God, that isn’t enough.  The thing that Naomi knew, that Ruth learned, and that Jesus was teaching, is that after we begin to follow the instructions of God, we must also be so filled with compassion and love that we begin to model the sacrificial nature of God, to sacrifice ourselves, to sacrifice our wants, our needs, and our desires, for the good of others and for the good of God’s kingdom.

Knowing, believing, and even following are all good things, and they are almost enough.  Doing those things will bring us to place that is, as Jesus described as “not far from the kingdom of God.” 

But Jahmar Brown started celebrating and dropped the ball before he cross the goal line.  The whole point of football is carrying the football across the goal line.  And Paul says that the whole point of God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ is so that we will live lives of service and sacrifice to God.

Let’s not miss the point and quit before we cross the goal line.


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*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.

Things Money Can’t Buy

Things Money Can’t Buy

October 10, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Job 23:1-9, 16-17                   Mark 10:17-31           Hebrews 4:12-16

There are several well-known phrases that we’ve probably all heard.

We’ve all heard that “money can’t buy happiness” and we’ve probably all heard the Beatles sing “Can’t Buy Me Love” in which Paul McCartney sings: “I don’t care too much for money, Money can’t buy me love.”

Let’s be honest, money is powerful and can do many things, but there are things that all the money and power in the world can’t change.  And that idea is an integral part of what today’s scriptures have to say.  We begin in Job 23:1-9, 16-17, as Job complains that as he is suffering with the loss of his family and his fortune, he cannot seem to find God.

23:1 Then Job answered:

“Today also my complaint is bitter;
    his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
    that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
    and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
    and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
    No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him,
    and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

“If I go forward, he is not there;
    or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
    I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.

16 God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me;
17 If only I could vanish in darkness,
    and thick darkness would cover my face!

If we listen, Job’s words hold some interesting contradictions.  Job insists that he wants to find God, to give voice to his arguments about his innocence and insist upon hearing God’s answers.  But, at the same time, he understands that while he expects that God would listen, he knows that God is not likely to engage in an argument and he hopes that God would acquit him of any guilt.  We also hear Job insist that he has been searching everywhere and wants to find God, but at the same time finds the idea of meeting God a terrifying prospect that makes him wish that he could be invisible and disappear into the darkness.  Job essentially says that he can’t find God but he’s afraid that he will.

Job knew that he was a faithful man who had once had money, power, and the blessings of God.  But he also knew that his money, power, and faith, amounted to nothing in comparison to an all-powerful creator God.  Job understood that no matter how much he demanded his day in court there was nothing that he could do to sway God’s opinion.

We often forget that.  We forget how powerless we really are and how powerful God is.  In our modern era of spaceflight and computers, a time when we have bent creation to our will by moving mountains and stopping the flow of rivers, we are persuaded to think too much of ourselves. We have lost Job’s fear of the power of God and have come to believe in a domesticated God that bends to our will.  To be fair, we aren’t the first to have done so.  In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus meets a man of wealth, and probably some power, who has become so accustomed to getting what he wants that he has become arrogant and blind to his own shortcomings.

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

It might be reasonable for you to wonder why I said that this man was blind to his own shortcomings.  And, in answer, I would point to how Jesus answered his question about eternal life.  Jesus begins to recite the ten commandments, from the middle.  He skips past the parts about honoring God, lists almost all the rest, and then deliberately skips one.  Remember that this is exactly the sort of thing that people memorized in the synagogue in preparation for adulthood, so we can be reasonably certain that everyone listening was silently reciting the ten commandments to themselves as Jesus recited them.  But rather than taking note of the commandment that Jesus skipped, the man arrogantly declares that he has kept all the commandments since he was a youth.  But the commandment that Jesus skipped is the one that the man stumbled over.  Do not covet.  Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife, and don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff.  And to make that point even sharper, Jesus tells the man that to find eternal life, to prove that he didn’t covet money, he would need to give away his wealth.

The disciples, I think, got Jesus’ point because they are terrified by his answer.  Jesus is teaching that it is easy for money to tempt us away from God.  Money has a way of making us want… more money.  The disciples knew that while it was easy to say that we didn’t steal or kill, everyone wants more money.  If Jesus is going to use that as a measuring stick to get into heaven, then no one can get in.  Peter protests by saying that even though he likes money, and may even covet the money of others, he has demonstrated his love for Jesus by leaving behind his family, friends, and his job to follow him.  And Jesus agrees.  This was the point he was trying to make.  But Peter had the humility to see and acknowledge that he fell short of God’s standard. 

The disciples realized that they could of great wealth and great power do not.  They are deceived by the illusion of control that is brought by wealth and power and they become arrogant and blind to their own shortcomings.  That is why Jesus says that many who are first will be last and the last will be first.  The people who have everything, and who get to be first in line for everything, will have deceived themselves into believing that they are right with God, but the people who have little, and who are often last in line, are aware of their faults and their need for God.

The writer of Hebrews describes God’s judgement this way in Hebrews 4:12-16:

12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Peter and the other disciples were terrified when they realized that the desire for money and power, something that almost all of us want at least a little of, was a sin that could keep us out of the kingdom of God.  God is the righteous judge. 

Because our faith is in Jesus Christ, and because he was tested and lived his entire life without sin, we rest in knowing that he is our high priest.  Jesus stands between us and God, and between us and judgement.  Because of Jesus, we approach the throne of God, not with fear and the terror of judgement, but with boldness and confidence in the grace of Jesus.  We know that through Jesus Christ we will find mercy and grace in the place of judgement.

Sir Paul was right.  Money can’t buy me love.

Money can’t buy happiness.

It can’t buy peace, cheat death, find God, calm fear, buy forgiveness humility, repentance, righteousness, or admission to heaven.  God will not be domesticated.  All the money and power in the world won’t do us any good on the day of judgement and many people will discover that they put their trust and faith in the wrong places. 

We will all render an accounting of our lives.  Not only for our actions but also for the intentions of our hearts.  Perfection is the standard of God and not one of us is perfect.  The only thing that will save us on the day of judgement, is the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.

Job searched for God but was terrified of what he would find when he met him.

But we look forward to meeting Jesus with humility and boldness… because in him, and in him only, do we find…

…hope.


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*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.

A Date with the Gallows

A Date with the Gallows

September 26, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22               Mark 9:38-50                         James 5:13-20

Do you watch movies?

Have you seen Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean?

There is a literary device that has been used in many books and movies and was used to good effect in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  The literary device to which I refer is one in which one of the main characters has been sentenced to death by hanging and awaits their appointment with death and their date with the gallows.  In The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow stands in line and waits for his meeting with the executioner until Will, and then Elizabeth, intervene to save his life.

As we read such stories or watch such movies, we imagine what it would be like to be in such a position ourselves.  How would we feel if we were sentenced to death and were only waiting for our date with the gallows or our appointment with death?  And imagine how much worse it would be if everyone that we knew, everyone of our family, friends, and community, were similarly condemned?  How would we feel?  What would we do?  It seems impossible, but that is exactly the situation that Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai, and all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire, faced.  An enemy of the Jews, Haman, was a close aide to the king, and had deceptively persuaded the king to sign an edict that doomed every Jew in the Empire.  But Esther had a plan.  Even though the mere act of appearing in the king’s presence without an invitation could be punishable by death, even for the queen, Esther dares to do so anyway.  And when the king rescues her, invites her in, and allows her to speak, she invites him to dinner for further discussion and then in Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22, we hear this:

 7:1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

9:20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Once the truth was known, and the consequences of the king’s edict, and Haman’s treachery, were understood, the king found a way to turn the tables.  The Jews were saved, Haman was hung on the six story tall gallows that he had built, and the sorrow of the Jews was changed into joy, and their tears transformed into gladness.

But sometimes it is hard to tell one side, or one team, from another.  It’s a bit like trying to watch, or even to play, a football game in which all of the players, from both sides, are wearing the same uniform.  That is the situation in which the disciples find themselves in Mark 9:38-50.  They thought they knew which side they were on.  There was Jesus, and then there was the twelve, and then there were the handful of people that generally hung out with them.  But suddenly their entire understanding of “us” and “them” is disrupted.

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck, and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Jesus takes this moment to teach a two-part message.  First, “us” is not so easily defined as “Jesus and the twelve.”  Jesus says that even if someone wasn’t physically following Jesus but was doing “deeds of power” in Jesus’ name then they couldn’t say anything bad about Jesus and must have been connecting to the power of God through Jesus’ name.  For us, that means that we shouldn’t always be so certain that we know who is “us” and who is “them.”  

The second part of that instruction hits even closer to home for the disciples, and probably does for us as well.  Jesus says that not only are there people on our side that we didn’t know about, but we also need to be careful not to drive people out of the kingdom of God by doing, or saying, something foolish.  Our words, and our actions, can sometimes be the things that cause others to trip and fall, or to step off the cliff into unbelief.  And Jesus says that we must not be a stumbling block, we must not be the reason that someone else stops believing.  Worse still, Jesus’ description offers us a terrifying picture of what might happen to those who cause others to stumble.

Finally, Jesus reminds us that, like salt, we were created with a purpose.  And, just like salt that isn’t salty, we cease to be useful if we fail to do the things for which we were created.  Salt that isn’t salty was typically just thrown out and used to fill in potholes on the walking path outside your house.  We wouldn’t want God to have that kind of opinion about our usefulness.

Instead, we should strive to be about God’s business and to do the work that Jesus has left for us to do.  Jesus’ brother James has this to say in James 5:13-20:

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James reminds us that while we are trying to be useful, one of the things for which we were created is to connect with God through prayer.  Pray for the sick and the suffering, sing when things go well, and ask for forgiveness when we fall short.  If the prayers of Elijah could stop the rain for three years and then start it back up again, then we know that our prayers are sufficient to bring the wanderers and the prodigals home again and return the lost to a closer walk with Jesus.

Never forget that rescuing God’s the lost children is the purpose for which we were created.  Without Jesus, we are like those pirates and other characters in books and movies who were waiting for their date with the gallows, or like the Jews who waited for their destruction.  Without Jesus, death awaits us all.  But when we return the lost to Jesus, through prayer or through the actions of individuals or through the work of the church, we change sorrow into joy, and tears into gladness.

Let us not sit idly and watch as others wait for their date with the gallows.

Instead, may God find us busy doing the work of rescue and restoration.


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*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.

Recipe for Greatness

What is it that makes people great?

Video of this message can be found here: https://youtu.be/ow1TdTlm8QM

Recipe for Greatness

September 19, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 31:10-31                 Mark 9:30-37                         James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

What does it take to be great?

We’ve heard of people like Alexander the Great, Peter the Great, Darius the Great (from the book of Daniel), Cyrus the Great (who captured Israel and carried them into the Babylonian captivity), there was Herod the Great in the time of Jesus, and Wikipedia says that there are 91 historical figures known as “the great” including kings, queens, military, religious, and mythological figures.  But obviously, even a list like that doesn’t include magicians that bill themselves that “the great” something-or-other, or a Muppet character like the ironically named, “The Great Gonzo.”  Nor do such lists include people that we would consider to be great in our more modern era, like General George Patton, President Eisenhower, Lee Iacocca, Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, or anyone else.  Referring to people as “the great,” in any form other than stage acts, seems to have fallen out of favor. 

But what is it that makes people great?

In scripture, King Lemuel’s mother had a few ideas, she taught them to her son, and he recorded them in Proverbs 31 (which, incidentally, is the only chapter that we know was essentially written by a woman).  We often hear Proverbs 31 referred to as the description of the “ideal woman” but today I want to avoid any sexism that might be lurking there, and as we read, I want you to consider what it is, that made King Lemuel, his mother, and the writers of Proverbs think that such a person was so great. (Proverbs 31:10-31)

(The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him)

10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.
22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

If you were keeping track, let’s compare what we saw in this ideal human being and see if anything there can inform us about what it is that makes us think of a person as “great.”  As I read, I saw that she does good, is trusting, works hard, is a provider, a negotiator, is perceptive, understanding, generous, kind, well-prepared, well-respected, wise, her kindness is repeated a second time, faithful, godly, and excellent.  And as I think about that list, the thing that I notice is that nearly all those things are things that were done for the benefit of others and not for herself alone.

Let’s hold on to that idea and move on to the story in Mark 9:30-37, when several of Jesus’ disciples argue among themselves about which of them is the greatest.

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Despite Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, that we heard last week, the disciples still don’t understand what Jesus was talking about when he said that he was going to die, be buried, and rise again.  And not only did they not understand, after Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” they’re all afraid to even ask Jesus what he meant when he said those things.  It is no accident that just as we are told that they lack understanding, we also see them arguing about who is the greatest and, in pairing these two ideas, Mark emphasizes that the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus had been trying to teach them all along about greatness and humility either.  Injecting himself into their argument, Jesus explains, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” and, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus not only emphasizes servanthood, but uses children, who had no rights, no property, and no voice as his example.  Children could offer them nothing in return.  Children had no political influence, and they were, perhaps, the epitome of people that might be described as “the least among us.”  And it is they that Jesus points to when he says that we welcome God when we care for, and about, them.  Jesus says that to be great, we must first be a servant of others, and that specifically means caring for those who have less than nothing.  Greatness is not about doing for “me” but about doing for others.

And just in case there is any doubt remaining in our minds, James piles on, repeats some of what we’ve already heard, and stirs in some additional clarity in James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a when he says:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? [that’s the same thing we heard in Proverbs, remember?] Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace forthose who make peace.

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so, you commit murder. And you covetsomething and cannot obtain it; so, you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

James says that we should demonstrate our faith through the good works that we do, wisely, for others and that the opposite of greatness is envy and selfishness.  Boasting out of ego and bending the truth to our own purposes are the hallmarks of earthly, unspiritual, and devilish wisdom because envy and selfishness bring disorder and wickedness along with them.  But real wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, flexible, merciful, and produces goodness without partiality or hypocrisy.  James continues by saying that conflicts between believers are caused by the selfish desires within us.  Our selfish desires turn into covetousness and cause us to fight with others to get what we want. 

All of that explains why God doesn’t answer our prayers.  God ignores our requests because we ask for ourselves and not for others.  God knows that the things for which we are asking will be spent on ourselves, on our comfort, and our pleasure and for that reason God says “no” and our prayers remain unanswered.  Instead of living selfishly, James says, we should surrender our lives, and our prayers, to God and draw near to him. 

The key to greatness is… selflessness.

The recipe for greatness flies in the face of the “me” generation, it runs contrary to the message of “get rich quick,” or “greed is good,” or “what’s in it for me” and stands in utter opposition to the message of the prosperity gospel and countless televangelists.   The real recipe for greatness isn’t about the accumulation of stuff, or amassing piles of money, power, or influence.  The recipe for greatness is about humility, compassion, persistence, producing good fruit, impartiality, peace, mercy, gentleness… and love.

When we put the needs of others ahead of our own, when we dedicate ourselves to using our power to serve others and not ourselves, and when we lift our prayers to heaven on behalf of others, then God will hear our prayers, and only then… will we discover greatness.


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*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.

You Can’t Fix Stupid

Click here to listen

Click here to watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/lKM-13q6Dg4

You Can’t Fix Stupid

September 12, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 1:20-33                   Mark 8:27-38             James 3:1-12

On August 4th, 1991, comic strip writer Jeff MacNelly, coined a phrase in his “Shoe” comic strip that has since passed into common usage across the nation and has been widely used in magazines, newspapers, movies, and at least one book title.  In that comic, newspaper editor “Shoe” calls downstairs to the press his press operator Eugene and says, “Yo, Eugene, how goes it down in the pressroom?”  and Eugene answers, “Horrid!  It’s your editorial page.  I can fix almost anything that runs on those presses… bit I can’t fix stupid.”

Some years later, in the movie “Forrest Gump,” the title character similarly says, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Given the frequency with which most of us do stupid things, it isn’t surprising that someone would say these kinds of things.  The surprising thing is that it took this long for someone to say it, particularly since a similar sentiment is expressed by God in Proverbs 1:20-33.  You’re probably surprised, but I’m serious.  In this passage we hear wisdom speak as if it were a real person, and it begins this way:

20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
    in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused,
    have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm,
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel,
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
    and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure
    and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Today we may say, “You can’t fix stupid” or “Stupid is as stupid does” but three thousand years ago God simply said, “How long will you love being stupid?”  God says that the skeptics delight too much in their skepticism and fools just hate knowledge but in doing so, all of them have ignored God’s advice and refused to hear God’s reprimands.  The result, God says, is that when the inevitable, but completely avoidable, disaster comes, and when they are up to their necks in alligators, in a full-fledged panic, and then call upon God to help them, God will not answer, and they will be utterly unable to find him.  God says that because they hated knowledge, and refused to listen to God’s advice, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their stupidity. 

Apparently, even God can’t fix stupid.  Or, more correctly, God simply won’t fix stupid.

In Proverbs, a personified Wisdom declares that the people who ignore God’s instruction, advice, counsel, and reproof are simple, stubborn, and stupid and God warns that if we ignore him in this way, he will leave us to suffer the consequences of our actions because the calamities and disasters that we experience will have been completely avoidable.  But even though we think we’re doing better than that at listening to God’s instructions, Jesus reprimands Peter for something that is a lot easier for us to fail at doing.  In Mark 8:27-38, we hear this:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

While Jesus is traveling to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, or the area we now know as the Golan Heights, he has a discussion with his disciples about who the people say that he is, and who the disciples think that he is.  But as Jesus describes his upcoming trial, death, and resurrection, Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for being such a fatalist and for thinking such negative thoughts.  But Jesus not only rebukes Peter in return, but he flat-out calls him “Satan” for losing his focus on the things of God and thinking too much about earthly politics and power.

Twenty-one centuries later, losing our focus on the divine, and thinking too much about politics, power, and other earthly problems remains an astoundingly easy thing to do.   And in that case, Jesus’ advice to us is to commit everything that we have, our time, our money, and even our lives to the cause and the mission of God, his kingdom, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

At the end of this passage, Jesus’ words echo those of Wisdom in Proverbs 1.  In Proverbs, Wisdom declares that God will leave those who ignored his teaching and correction to struggle without him through the disasters they could have avoided, and in Mark, Jesus declares that the people who abandon Jesus in this generation will be abandoned by God on the day of judgement.

But if the consistent message of God is that he will leave us in our time of trouble and abandon us on the day of judgement, then the message of scripture is hopeless and terrifying. 

But thank God, that’s not even a little bit true.

The message of scripture is quite the opposite.

In James 3:1-12, Jesus’ brother writes to the church and explains how we can make sure that these things never happen to us.  He says:

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine, figs? No more can saltwater yield fresh.

If I were to summarize James’ words as they apply to our message today, I would simply say that they mean…

Start small.

You don’t need to have a seminary degree.  You don’t need to read deep and difficult to understand treatises on theology, sociology, and morality.  You just need to start small.

Horses are huge, but they can be guided with a bridle and a bit that’s about the size of a pencil.  Ships are gigantic but they are guided by a rudder that is a tiny fraction of their size.  Fires can be incredibly destructive, but they get started by a tiny spark.  And if we want to get started doing the right thing, we need to start small and get control of our tongue.  And to do that, we need to take control of the choices that we make.

And that’s what all of this is about.  We all make choices.  We make hundreds, even thousands of choices every day.  We choose whether to brush our teeth, whether we will brush up and down, or from side to side.  We choose what clothes to wear, what shoes will be comfortable, what to eat for breakfast, how we want to make our coffee or tea, or other breakfast beverage, we make choices every waking moment of every day we walk the earth.  And among those choices are the words that come out of our mouths, and the things with which we will fill our hearts, our minds, and the very substance of our lives.  We get to choose whether we want to read the words of God.  We get to choose whether we listen to God’s instruction and advice.  And by making those choices, we will choose whether our spring is filled with salt water or fresh water, and whether the words that come out of our mouths are life giving.

In Proverbs, God says that he will pour out his thoughts, make his words known, call out to us, and stretch his hand out to catch us and to hold us.  But we still get to choose whether we will listen, hear, and obey.  We get to choose whether we will ignore God’s instruction and advice, but scripture is clear that making that choice… well…, is just stupid.

The message of scripture is clear about God’s incredible love and care for all his people, but we are free to ignore God.  We are free to ignore God’s instruction and advice, and we are free to live our lives without him.

But God’s reply is that if we stubbornly make those choices, God will allow us to be consumed by the consequences of those choices.

All that is required, is that we begin to make good choices.

Feel free to start small.

But be smart… and choose wisely.

Because there is a point after which…

…you can’t fix stupid.


*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.