Remembering the Darkness

Remembering the Darkness

April 15, 2022*

(Good Friday)

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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


Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 10:16-25

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

17 Then he adds:

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

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

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

John 18:1 – 19:42

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

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

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

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

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

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

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He replied, “I am not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

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

So, this is what the soldiers did.

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

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

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

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


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

Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

A photograph of palm branches
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Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

(Palm Sunday)

April 10, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 19:28-40

Today we begin the final week of our preparations for Easter.  We remember the time that, as the church, we refer to as “Holy Week.”  This is that time of remembrance that begins with the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we remember today as Palm Sunday but continues with Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest, illegal trial, crucifixion, death, burial, and his resurrection on Easter morning.  I hope that you will join us, not just for the bookends of Palm Sunday and Easter, but for the entire journey through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Saturday, and then, after we have walked through that season of frustration, anger, despair, and darkness, to arrive together and celebrate the joy of Easter morning.

But this morning, we remember the story of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover as recorded in Luke 19:28-40.

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead, went, and found it just as he had told them.  33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.  36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

For such a short passage, there is a lot going on.  First, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village ahead of them.  He knew that they would find a colt that had been tied out, he knew that it was such a green colt that it had never been ridden, and although this last one is hardly surprising, Jesus also knew that the owner of the colt would want to know why they were taking it.  Just as Jesus had seen Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him to follow Jesus in John 1:48, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village.  But what is even more surprising, and to my skeptical and sometimes a little cynical mind, even more miraculous, was that the owner of the colt allowed the disciples to borrow it.  Think about that for a minute.  We take it for granted because it was Jesus, because we are reading the Bible, and because we’ve heard the story dozens of times. 

But seriously?  The disciples meet a random stranger, whose horse or donkey has only recently had a baby.  That baby hasn’t been ridden, it wasn’t old enough to take to the trainer, or to start working at its training, two total strangers off the street start untying it, and the only explanation they offer is that their boss needs it.  Seriously?  If you owned a new car, that the dealer just delivered to your house on a flatbed trailer, and you hadn’t even had time to drive it yet, how likely are you to loan it to a total stranger?  Think about that.  If your dog had puppies and they had barely started eating solid food, what the chances that you’d let a stranger “borrow” one?  This wasn’t just a baby, horses and donkeys were valuable and they typically only have one baby every 12 to 18 months.  So, as I think about this story, and think about what we all know about human nature, I think that although there might be more to the story than Luke chose to tell us, I also think that this might just be one of the greatest miracles in the Easter story next to the resurrection itself.

In any case, the owner allows the disciples to borrow the colt, they bring it to Jesus, throw their outer garments over it’s back, and Jesus rides it.  And that, if you know anything about horses, may also be a significant miracle.  Ask your friends who know horses, what’s likely to happen if you just jump on the back of a horse that’s never been ridden.  The odds are good that, outside of that rider being Jesus, that such a story isn’t going to end well.

And as Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives toward the gates of the city of Jerusalem, the crowd that was with Jesus began to praise God, in loud voices, for all the miracles that they had seen.  They pulled palm branches from the trees and laid them in the road in front of Jesus, and if Palm branches weren’t handy, they laid down their own shirts so that even the animal upon which Jesus rode would, symbolically, not get its feet dirty.  And more than that, they began to shout an historic welcome found in scripture, notably in Psalm 118, that the people of Israel had used as kings entered the city of Jerusalem.  They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” and they said, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 

And the Pharisees who saw what they were doing, and who heard what they were shouting were displeased.  They recognized that the disciples were offering Jesus a king’s welcome.  They understood that these symbols were used, and were reserved for, the recognition of kings.  And they knew that not far away, inside of the city, sharing a wall with the temple itself, was the Fortress Antonia and a detachment of Roman soldiers.  They knew that those soldiers were there to keep the peace, they knew that the only king that could ever be accepted was Caesar, and they knew that blood had been spilled the last time someone claimed to be the king of Israel.  The arrival of Jesus, and his disciples’ cries proclaiming him to be king, was threatening to upset the status quo.  And the people who had the most to lose from a change in the status quo were the Pharisees.

They insist that Jesus tell his disciples to stop before too many people hear, or at least before the wrong people, the powerful people, the people with swords, could hear them.  But Jesus stares them down and declares that if the disciples keep quiet, the stones along the sides of the road would cry out instead.

And so, the actions of the disciples, and Jesus’ refusal to stop them, combined with all the previous interactions that Jesus had with the Pharisees, had reached a climax.  The Pharisees could no longer look the other way, there was no longer any doubt, they absolutely knew that Jesus was going to upset the status quo.  If Jesus lived, more people were going to follow him.  And if those people were going to label Jesus as a king, it was going to stir up the worst kind of trouble.  The deal that the Pharisees and the other leaders of Israel had made with Rome was that they could remain in power if they helped Rome to rule over Israel and if they helped them to keep the peace.  If the disciples proclaimed that Jesus was a king, then this contract would be broken, and the Romans would blame the Pharisees.  It was their necks, their jobs, their careers, their lives, that were on the line.  It was no longer an intellectual argument.  In this moment, the Pharisees had to choose between themselves, and Jesus.  And they knew what had to happen.

Jesus.  Must.   Die.


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

Religious Extravagance

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Religious Extravagance

April 03, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 43:16-21                      John 12:1-8                Philippians 3:4b-14

What do you think of when I say the word… extravagant?

We buy things that we need, but how nice those things are often depends upon how much money we have available to spend on things that don’t matter.  We might need a watch, but we could buy a cheap one at the dollar store that will keep time, or we can buy a decent Timex that will last longer.  But when we have a little more disposable income, we might consider buying an Apple watch or a Garmin sport watch that not only keeps time but counts our steps, calories, tracks our heartrate, and a bunch of other things.  And there are some people who have enough money that they can wear a year’s salary, or even the value of a house, on their wrist with wildly expensive watches made of gold and platinum.  But do you know what those expensive watches say at three o’clock in the afternoon?  They say that it’s three o’clock.  The difference between a Timex and a Rolex isn’t that the time is different, or that expensive watches somehow give their wearers twenty-five hours in a day instead of the usual twenty-four, the difference is in their level of extravagance.

We could say that a house with four bedrooms is better than a house with one bedroom if you have a larger family.  But at some point, as homes grow larger and pass three thousand square feet, four thousand, five thousand square feet, and even larger, at some point we’ve crossed a line from utilitarian and into extravagance.

And so, if I were to ask you what comes to mind when I say the words “religious extravagance,” I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you began to think about the mansions that we’ve seen on television that belong to a variety televangelists and other religious leaders who have capitalized, in one way or another, on their position, power, or notoriety.  But is religious extravagance about 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets? 

As we consider that question, let’s begin by remembering what God said through his prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:16-21.

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

As I read that passage, I divided it into four sections that each said something different.  The first, asks God’s people to remember what God is capable of doing and all the amazing, awesome, powerful, and even impossible things that God has done.  The second, simply says that while we should remember what God has done, we should not live in the past or get stuck there.  The third, says that as we keep the first two things in mind, the big news is that God is doing something new.  Now, God is doing the impossible.  He is making a road through the impassable wilderness and bringing free flowing water to the desert.  The fourth thing explains why God does everything that God does.  The reason that God does extravagant miracles, achieves the impossible, blesses his people, feeds them, and cares for them, is not just so that they will give thanks, but so that they will tell the world about his greatness.

But in John 12:1-8 we see an entirely different sort of extravagance as the time of Jesus’s crucifixion draws near.

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor.  Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pintof pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied.  “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

For perspective, let’s consider the value of what Mary did for Jesus.  It’s one thing to say that she anointed Jesus with perfume that cost a year’s wages, but it’s another thing entirely to put that into language that is personally meaningful to our wallets.  Thinking about a year’s wages in a vague sort of way sounds like it might be a lot, but we feel a punch in the gut when we put that into numbers that we understand.  And a number that most of us can understand is the median income.  The “median” is the annual income at which half of all wage earners made more, and half made less.  And in the United States, the median income in 2021 was $79,900.  So, when we say that Mary poured $80,000 on the ground, we feel that it a different way than saying that it was worth about a year’s wages.  John uses this as an opportunity to criticize Judas for being a thief, but it’s hard not to think, as Judas suggested, about how much food, clothing, rental assistance, bus passes, or other things that we could buy for the poor with $80,000.  Mary’s gift was not just costly, it was extravagant.  But Jesus understands and explains to everyone present that there was a limited time that anyone could give such a gift, and while God’s intent was that this gift should have been for Jesus’ burial, Mary chose to give her gift to Jesus while he was still alive rather than after he was dead.

And in Philippians 3:4b-14, the Apostle Paul frames the discussion about extravagance differently.  Rather than reminding everyone about the extravagant gifts that God has given to us, or about the extravagant gift that Mary gave to Jesus, Paul explains how his life changed because of his reaction and response to God’s extravagance.  Paul says:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul begins by reminding his readers that for all the worldly reasons that people can have confidence, trust, and even arrogance, Paul has all of them… in abundance.  Paul had money, possessions, accomplishments, power, authority and more.  He was born into the right kind of prestigious family, he mixed with the right kinds of prestigious people, he followed all of the church’s rules in a very public way in the sect of the Pharisees, and even among the Pharisees, he was outstanding in his passion, zeal, and herculean efforts as a defender of the faith and a warrior for the church as he persecuted those who followed Jesus, and he did all these things so well that no one could find fault with his theology or practice.  Paul was beyond a rising star in the leadership of the church and was on track to be among those in the very highest levels of the Jewish church and the leadership of Israel.

But Paul after he met Jesus, he threw it all away.

Because he chose to follow Jesus, Paul lost his position in Jewish leadership, was cast out of the Pharisees, excommunicated, banned from the Temple, and we suspect that he may have even been disowned by his family.  Paul says that he has now given up anything that he once considered to be valuable because the value of knowing Jesus was worth more than anything that he had before.  In fact, what Paul received when he put his faith in Jesus was so extravagantly valuable that in comparison, everything that he had before was worth no more than garbage to him.

The value of what Paul received from God through faith in Jesus Christ is so valuable, that even after he has given up everything that he had, Paul still looks forward to the future and presses onward so that he can become whatever God called him to be, and to do whatever God called him to do.  Paul freely admits that Gods work in him, and through him, is not yet finished, but he continues to do the work of Jesus Christ, and to press on so that he can earn the reward that God has prepared for him.

Isaiah said that our mission it to show the world how amazing, wonderful, and awesome God is, and not spend our time and money showing people how awesome we are.  The goal is to get the people around us to give thanks to God and give praise to him, not to give thanks and give praise to us.  Mary shows her gratitude to Jesus by giving him the most extravagant gift that she can imagine.  It is a gift that is her life savings and represents her pension and her rainy-day fund all wrapped up in one package.  Paul says that God’s gift to us, the gift of his own son, Jesus Christ, is such an extravagant gift, that nothing that we have, and nothing that we can do, can ever begin to show God how grateful we are.  Instead, Paul’s response was to give up all that he had and spend his entire life giving of himself to do the work of God’s kingdom.

My friends, religious extravagance isn’t about churches that seat tens of thousands, or 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets.  Those sorts of things point people in exactly the opposite direction that God wants us pointing.  Religious extravagance is demonstrating to the world that what God has given to us in Jesus Christ is so valuable that we will give, or do, anything to show God our gratitude and to do the work of the kingdom of God so that, as God said through Isaiah, the world would proclaim God’s praise.

When the followers of Jesus Christ are extravagant, every part of that extravagance should point to God so that the world sees the wonders of our amazing God… and not us.


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

Life and Death Reversed

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Life and Death Reversed

March 27, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Joshua 5:9-12                         Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32              2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Some of you know may that we used to own a 1948 Farmall Cub tractor. I did not grow up in a home that worked on cars, motors, or machinery of any kind, and although my maternal grandfather was known to do be pretty handy, I didn’t learn any of those things from him. But with the arrival of that antique tractor, and a 1970’s era Cub Cadet, with not a lot of money, and a need to maintain our seven-acre mini-farm, I learned. I had all the manuals, I joined an online antique tractor forum, I asked lots of questions, and I learned. I got to the point where I split that tractor completely in half, replaced the clutch, and put it all back together.

There was still a lot that I didn’t, and don’t know, but I learned. And along the way, I gained an appreciation of the guys that could pull an abandoned piece of rusty iron out of a barn or a field, free a seized engine, sandblast the rust, replace, repair, renew, and eventually restore something that most people would see as a lost cause and transform it into a piece of art that looked like it just came off the showroom floor.

Now, on YouTube, I occasionally watch videos of people who rescue old tractors, bulldozers, and other things that have been left to rot away at the side of a road, out in the forest, field, desert, or other places. I love to watch shows like This Old House, and I’ve watched videos of a guy that bought an old missile silo and is transforming it into a home for his family. The transformation that happens as hopeless, discarded relics are restored so that they look and run as if they were new is nothing short of amazing.

And those are just machines and houses.

But what if we could do that for people?

What if lives could be rescued instead of tractors and houses?

And that’s the point of our message today as we begin in Joshua 5:9-12

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So, the place has been called Gilgal to this day. [Note: in Hebrew, Gilgal sounds like “roll”]

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day afterthey ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

For many of us, God’s word to Joshua hinges on the word “reproach.”  God says that he will roll away the reproach of Egypt for the people of Israel and, since “reproach” isn’t a word that we often use, many of us will read that and miss a good portion of the point. Reproach means criticism or disapproval. Egypt’s opinion of the Israelites was that they were “just slaves” and incapable of caring for themselves, that they needed overseers to guide them, direct them, and care for them even if their care was cruel, harsh, and unwanted. The Egyptians believed that the slaves who fled to freedom would surely wither away and die. But that wasn’t God’s plan. God brought the people to a place where they could plant and harvest crops and care for themselves. And on the day after Passover, the day after they started eating the food that they had harvested for themselves, God stopped providing food for them. God had finished his work of transforming them from slaves into a free people, and now he set them loose to care for themselves.

But in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, we read about an entirely different sort of transformation. In this story the transformation isn’t from slavery to freedom, but from ignorance to understanding.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The accusation against Jesus was that he was hanging out with, offering hospitality to, and even fraternizing with disreputable people who were enemy collaborators and outcasts. Sharing meals with people was seen as an act of intimacy that should only be enjoyed by your closest friends and it was shocking that Jesus would offer this level of inclusion and intimacy to people who were social pariahs.

And in reply to that sort of accusation, Jesus tells a story about a son who disrespected and dishonored his father, his family, and his community in every possible way. The son is so selfish and self-focused, that he says that he wished that his father was dead and wants to receive his inheritance now. This means that his father’s entire estate would be divided into thirds so that his older brother, as the firstborn, would receive two-thirds, and the younger one third.

But what he was demanding wasn’t just the money that he would, eventually, inherit, it represented his father’s security, his family honor, his retirement, and his assets that allowed him to care for his family, dependents, and employees. But not only did the son demand, and take, the money, he treated that money carelessly. He was shortsighted, thought of his present pleasure and comfort without any concern for the future. He did not plan and had no vision, and the price of his short-sightedness is that he ended up with nothing. No money, no home, no pride, and no purity. He ends up homeless, doing a job that no one else wanted, a Jew feeding religiously unclean pigs.

And in his misery, he realizes what he had given up and what he could have had if he had not been so selfish. He decides to beg for his father’s forgiveness and ask to hire him as a servant because he knew that what he had done was unforgivable. He understood that there was no hope of ever again finding acceptance as a family member, but even as a servant he would have food, clothing, and a place to live.

“And while he was still a long way off…” the father saw him. His father had been watching, waiting, and hoping that his son would one day return to him. There had been no word, no letters, no phone calls, no emails and for all that he knew, his son was dead. But, despite his hurt, disappointment, dishonor, and humiliation he still he watched the road and hoped that one day his son might return. And when he does, he casts aside propriety and does what no self-respecting eastern man would do, and he pulls up the hem of his robe like a little boy and he runs to put his arms around his son, he interrupts the prepared speech about being a servant, puts a ring on his finger, and welcomes him back into the family.  And, when the older son remains bitter, and complains, the father explains that relationships aren’t about money, but that there is joy in restoration and reconciliation.

And that is the same lesson that Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 when he says:

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Although he doesn’t mention it by name, Paul uses the imagery of Jesus’ parable of the lost son to explain how that story matters to the people of his church, and to us. Before we became his followers, we saw Jesus as someone who was a philosopher, preacher, and teacher. But as we chose to follow him, we are transformed. We are transformed in our opinions, attitudes, mind, body, and soul just as the lost son, in realizing what he had lost, suddenly gained more than he ever expected or imagined. When we became the followers of Jesus we became a new creation, death had been reversed, we were once dead, but are now alive. We are reconciled, renewed, restored, welcomed, included, and embraced into our new family as brothers and sister of Jesus Christ.

And that’s just the beginning because just as the lost son had to build a new life after his return to his family, our work begins when we come faith. Paul says that because we have been reconciled, we have all been given the message, mission, and ministry of reconciliation. We are sent into the world, as ambassadors of God’s kingdom, as if God were sharing his message through us. We cry out to the world to be reconciled to God, to realize what we lost because of our selfishness, to return to God, to his family, and be restored to life as a new creation.

You have to admit that restoring old pieces of unwanted, abandoned, and hopelessly rusted machines is an amazing process to watch. But rescuing and restoring unwanted, outcast, abandoned, and hopelessly lost people is way better.

God doesn’t send us to rescue the people around us because we’re good, or because we’re loyal.

God sends us to rescue the people around us because he once rescued us.


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

God Was Not Pleased

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God Was Not Pleased

March 20, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 55:1-9                           Luke 13:1-9                 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Have you ever had a bad boss? 

Wherever we go, wherever we work, play, or volunteer, we learn things.  Sometimes we learn how to do things with excellence from good mentors, bosses, trainers, drill sergeants, coaches, pastors, and others.  But sometimes the lessons that we learned were lessons in how not to do things from some of those same kinds of people who did things badly.  In one of my military non-commissioned officer training courses, I had learned that a supervisor should never, ever, reprimand a subordinate in public and humiliate them.  Correction and reprimand should always be done as privately as possible.  But in my last engineering job, I witnessed several supervisors contribute to a semi-toxic work relationship by doing exactly that. 

While I learned that this was the wrong thing to do in the military, if I had any doubts about it, watching that negative example unfold in front of me, and seeing the fallout from it in employee retention and morale resolved those doubts forever.  If we’re smart, we learn from both good and bad examples.  We can learn how to do things, and how not to do things.

And, as we read the stories preserved for us in scripture, we see those same kinds of lessons, both good and bad.  There are examples for us to follow, and examples of how not to follow, things we should do and things we shouldn’t do.  In Isaiah 55:1-9, we hear God’s invitation to follow and a calling to become a part of the covenant that God made with King David, but also a reminder of our limitations.

55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God invites the world to come, drink from the water of life, to drink wine and milk, and to eat bread at no cost.  God asks why we spend our money and our time on things that do not, and cannot, satisfy us and invites us to listen to his teachings so that we might live.  God promises to make and eternal contract with his Messiah, Jesus, just as he did with David so that we can, like David, be an example, witness, and role model that will draw others to God.  Our calling is to seek God while we have the chance and to do what we can to encourage others to turn back to God. 

But is everything in life a sign from God?  Is everything that happens to us something that is sent to us, or caused by God?  Generally, no.  While God is involved in leading and guiding our actions and those of the people around us, God isn’t the cause of everything.  Random events happen, accidents happen, people make choices, both good and bad, God isn’t always the cause of those things, and that’s what Jesus tries to explain to the people in the story found in Luke 13:1-9.

13:1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Pontius Pilate was a paranoid madman who, historians theorize may have been driven mad by the degenerative effects of brain damage from an advanced syphilis infection.  Pilate had murdered a group of Galilean worshippers as they brought sacrifices to God and people were speculating that God must have been punishing them for being terrible sinners.  But Jesus says no.  Everyone, Jesus says, is a sinner and everyone must repent of their sins before God, or we will all die.  The people who were murdered by Pilate, were not being punished for their sins by God, and nor were the people who were crushed when a tower collapsed.  Random things happen.  Accidents happen.  Jesus knew, as we’ve all seen in recent weeks, that crazy despotic leaders do crazy despotic things.  Death is coming for us all sooner or later.  But if we want to find ourselves on the right side of God’s judgement, we must repent of our sin, turn from our wicked ways, and do the best that we can to reproduce our faith and bear fruit for God.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul emphasizes the need for us to make good choices.  Some people can be given every opportunity to know the truth about God and still make poor choices.  He notes these examples in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13:

10:1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptationhas overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be temptedbeyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Paul reminds his congregation that there were people who knew Moses, who were rescued by God from slavery in Egypt, who saw God’s presence in the cloud during the day and a pillar of light at night, who saw the Red Sea part and walked across its bottom, who ate the manna that God provided, who saw all the miracles, and who had every opportunity to follow God, but still God was not pleased with most of them.  Despite repeatedly seeing God and his miracles in person and despite having their entire lives transformed by the acts of God, they still did not have faith and chose to do evil, act immorally, to worship an idol in the form of a golden calf, and to complain about God and the food that he provided them.  And Paul says that these things happened as examples and warnings for us.  How often have we heard someone say that they would believe if only God would somehow reveal himself to them, and yet here were thousands of people who saw God, who saw God’s miracles, and experienced God in ways that most people can only dream about and still they fell away, made bad choices, and put their faith in other things.

But that doesn’t mean that we are without hope.  Paul says that while we must be careful not to fall away, and while temptation is common to every human being who has ever lived, God is faithful.  God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability to stand up against it, God will provide a path out of your temptation and, if you only take the time to ask, God will help you to endure.

Role models come is all shapes and sizes.  There are good role models, bad role models, good bosses, bad bosses, good examples, bad examples, models that we should follow, models that teach us what not to do, and examples that warn us of the consequences of making bad choices.  Years from now, when others look back on our lives, I pray that what they remember is not, “God was not pleased” but rather, that we are remembered for our faith and that God found joy in what we did.

But these things don’t happen in a vacuum.  Good bosses don’t happen by accident.  Good bosses made good choices and had good training and good mentors.  And like them, making good choices and strengthening our faith requires good role models and constant, thoughtful, preparation.

What will you do this week to strengthen and deepen your faith?

What will you do to draw closer to God?

What will you do to stand up against temptation?


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

Family vs. Citizenship

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Family vs. Citizenship

March 13, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18                     Luke 13:31-35             Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

What would you do if you won a prize that you couldn’t use?

A graduating high school senior would not be impressed with winning a burial plot or custom casket from the funeral home.  Someone who can’t swim and is afraid of the water probably wouldn’t be too impressed if you told them that they won a new bass boat.  And someone who can no longer drive, doesn’t stray far from home, and whom most of us would think of as being a shut-in, would not be terribly excited about winning a cruise or an adventure vacation package to go hiking in Grand Teton National Park.  It is just that sort of… lack of enthusiasm that God receives when he tells an elderly Abram, who was already ninety-nine years old, that he would be given a “great reward.”  We begin our scripture lesson this morning with that story from Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 where we hear this:

15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inheritmy estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so, a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspringbe.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadiof Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God offers Abram the grand prize to beat all grand prizes and Abram’s response is, “meh”, or “so what?” because he’s already written his will and knows that his entire estate will be inherited by one of his favorite, and most trusted, servants.  Abram has no children and no family other than his faithful wife.  And, since he left his ancestral home decades before, he doesn’t even have any nieces or nephews or extended family that he cared to name in his will.  To Abram, at the age of 99, it’s too late.  He doesn’t need any more money, or power, or fame, or anything else than he already has and he has no heirs to whom to leave it.  But God knows that and includes a bonus in the grand prize that Abram didn’t expect.  God includes an heir, a son, born in his old age, as a part of the prize package.  And, just to reassure Abram that this is the real deal, God signs a covenant contract with animals slaughtered in a particular way, that was a well-known system of signing treaties between lords and vassals in Abram’s time, and one that Abram would certainly have known and understood.  In in his contract with Abram, God not only promises gifts to Abram’s yet unborn son, but also to his heirs many generations into the future.  God’s promise extended beyond Abram, to all of Abram’s family and the nation that would one day descend from them.  But was God’s promise limited to people who were genetically connected to Abram?

Well, many of those people certainly thought so.  And it may well be that attitude that we see in Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees in Luke 13:31-35.  Here the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod may want to kill Jesus because he thinks that he is the resurrected John the Baptist, but also because the Pharisees just want Jesus to go away.

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

So, yes, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to go away, but they had also heard that Herod was afraid that Jesus was able to do miracles because he was John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded, who had been raised from the dead.  And in this, although it is certainly self-serving on the part of the Pharisees, there may also an element of “Us vs. Them.”  Jesus and the Pharisees, even though they often were at odds with one another, were on the same “side.”  Since they were all Jews, they were all descendants of Abraham, they were all from the people of Israel, they were from the same family, and at some level, for many of them, Herod was the outsider and the enemy. 

Over the hundreds of years between Abraham and Jesus, the people of Israel often came to see their nationality and their citizenship as being inextricably connected to, and intermingled with, their ideas of family.  This was a thing that started early, and God often gave Israel instructions to push back against that idea by commanding them to treat foreigners the same as everyone else under the law and to treat them decently as human beings and as people of faith.  It was necessary for God to do that because people so intermixed the ideas of family and citizenship that they discriminated against anyone who wasn’t born into the right family tree.

God never said that his Abram’s blessing meant that God would not bless people outside of Abram’s family and God often had to remind his people of that but, with the coming of Jesus, and after Jesus’ resurrection, that familial, genetic understanding was explicitly, and openly confronted by the followers of Jesus.  And that’s what we see in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi in Philippians 3:17 – 4:1 where he writes these words:

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Much like the world we live in, Paul’s world was a confusing and frightening place.  People who claimed to represent Jesus did things, and taught things, that were not in line with the teachings of scripture or those of Jesus.  And there were also people inside and outside of the church whose primary motivation was to enrich themselves rather than to advance the cause of the kingdom of God.  And so, Paul encourages everyone to follow his example and to choose good role models that live and teach in the same selfless way that the disciples, Paul, and his other ministry partners did.  He admits that there are people who “live as enemies of the cross of Christ” but he reminds the church that our true citizenship is not to be found in our families, not in the nation in which we live (although that is not to be ignored), but in heaven.  We look forward to the return of Jesus Christ and our final transformation into the bodies of our eternal form.

Abram knew that God’s grand prize didn’t have much value if he didn’t have anyone with whom to share it and God knew that too, so he made a covenant with Abram to pass that blessing on to the future generations of his offspring.  The mistake that many of his descendants made was to assume that God’s promise was inherited to Abram’s genetic offspring and not the descendants that inherited his faith.  God regularly reminded his people that they needed to welcome the stranger, to welcome the foreigner, to treat foreigners the same under the law as they treated the citizens of their own nation and members of their own family.  And the coming of Jesus, and then the ministry of Paul, broadened that understanding even further.  Everyone who puts their faith in Jesus becomes a member of Abraham’s family and we all inherit the blessings of God and an eternity in God’s house as co-heirs, brothers, and sisters of Jesus Christ. 

But Abram saw that his inheritance lost its value if he didn’t have anyone with whom to share it and the same is true for us.  We have been given a great inheritance that includes the blessings of God, a transformed eternal body, citizenship in the kingdom of God, and an eternal home in God’s house.  But as good as that is, its value fades if we have no one with whom to share it.  Our calling is to stand firm in our faith, to pattern our lives after Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and the best role models that we can find, so that we can live our lives as ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, and so that we can share what we have with our family, our friends, our nation, and the world.

Because Abram knew that the greatest value of God’s gift wasn’t in having it, but in sharing it.


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

Facing Temptations Today

Facing Temptations Today

March 06, 2022

Rev. Chris Martin

Rev. Chris Martin reminds us of the story of Jesus’ baptism, the beginning of his ministry, his forty days in the desert, his temptation at the hands of Satan, and what it all means to us as we face life’s temptations today. You’ve heard the story before, but not from the likes of this master storyteller. Click here to listen to this podcast.

Facing Temptations Today – Rev. Chris Martin

Click here to watch the livestream of this worship service: https://youtu.be/QoqPorzTaCM


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Giving up COVID for Lent?

An image of a crown of thorns

Giving up Covid for Lent?

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

But what will that look like?

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

Our hearts ache for the return of “normal.”

And isn’t that sort of the point? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Pastor John

Christ United Methodist Church

Whiners Executed.

Whiners Executed

March 14, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Numbers 21:4-9                     John 3:14-21                          Ephesians 2:1-10

Throughout history, one of the things that human beings seem to be incredibly, repeatedly, and reliably, good at, is complaining.  It isn’t difficult at all to imagine that the soldiers who crowded into the Trojan Horse were complaining about the cramped spaces and the smell of the guys next to them.  We’ve read stories about how even as the troops sailed ever closer to the coast of France on D-day, they complained about the weather and their seasickness.  Any student of history can tell you that no matter what nation you examine, no matter what system of government was in place, the people of every nation have always found reasons to complain about their leadership, and the same is true of virtually every church, every corporation, every union, and every employer… even when we are self-employed.  In good circumstances and bad, in feast and in famine, in joy and sorrow, no matter where humanity finds itself, we always seem able to find something to complain about.

And the people whose lives are recorded in scripture were no different.  But from them, we learn that we should be careful about what we complain about.  In Numbers 21:4-9, we read the story of the people of Israel, recently freed from 400 years of slavery and bondage in Egypt and discover that the joy of receiving their freedom faded quickly from their memory.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

For four hundred years, the people of Israel had prayed that God would rescue them and bring them freedom.  But when God answers their prayers, it doesn’t take much time at all before they begin to complain about the conditions of their freedom.  Worse, they blame God, and Moses, for causing their suffering.  As a result of their whining, God sends poisonous snakes to slither among the people, and many of those who are bitten, die. 

The people cry out to Moses, repent of their sin, and in answer to his prayers for the people, God instructs Moses to construct bronze snake, and lift it up on a wooden pole.  And anyone who had been bitten, and had faith in God, could look at the snake and would be saved from death.

The people had sinned when they blamed God for causing their problems by answering their prayers and they suffered and died, because of their sin, when they were bitten by the snakes that came among them.  But God provided a way for the people to be saved if only they would have the faith to believe in the power of God and look up to the bronze figure as God had commanded.  And that imagery is recalled in John 3:14-21 as John compares God’s rescue of Israel in the time of Moses, to God’s rescue of the world through the crucifixion of Jesus.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

In the time of Moses, anyone who believed that God could save them from the venom of poisonous snakes could look up to the bronze figure of a snake and be saved.  And John says that now, anyone who believes that God can rescue them from sin and death can look up to Jesus on the cross and be saved.  In both cases, God provided a way for his people to be saved, if only they had the faith to believe.  Jesus did not come to earth to condemn us for our sin, but to save us from it.  All that is needed is for us to believe in Jesus and in the power of his death and resurrection to rescue us.  Anyone who believes in Jesus is not condemned but has been given the gift of life for all eternity.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way in Ephesians 2:1-10:

2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Just in case we were tempted to think that we had anything at all to do with out rescue, Paul disabuses of that notion by bluntly saying, “you were dead.”  Much like the people who had been bitten by snakes and already had a fatal dose of venom circulating through their bloodstream, we had already consumed a fatal dose of sin and were just waiting around to die.  Because we lived the way that the culture of the world lives, and lived only to gratify our desires, we were deserving of, and already condemned to, death.  But God chose to be merciful and demonstrate his great love for us through grace.  Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God opened a path for us to be rescued from death.  Paul emphasizes that our rescue is a work of God’s grace, kindness, and love and the only part that we play in our rescue is in looking up to Jesus and placing our faith in him.  Our rescue is God’s undeserved gift to us and not anything that we could ever earn through works of any kind.  And, because our rescue is a work of God, because we are a new creation through the work of Jesus Christ, our life’s purpose is to do good for the people, and for the world, around us.  God has rescued us so that we could do the work that he has planned, prepared, and intended for us to do.

Although human beings have always been extraordinarily good at complaining, and just as good at being selfish, committing sin, and offending God, we need not sit as people condemned and wait for our execution and death.  Instead, we have been rescued by God’s grace, kindness, and love, and have been given a new life, a life whose purpose is to do good and to do the work of the kingdom of God.

During this season of Lent, let us stop complaining and look up to the cross.  Remember God’s grace, mercy, kindness, and love, and recommit ourselves to doing good for the people, and for the world around us, so that everyone might hear the good news, be rescued, and receive God’s incredible gift… of life… and love.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/EmHE8dCyeEc

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

Where is Your Center?

Where is Your Center?

March 07, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 20:1-17                      John 2:13-22                          1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Throughout our lives, there are many times when the center becomes important.

The most important actor is said to be center-stage.  Children that want to feel important are trying to be the center of attention.  When we ride a bicycle, design, or fly an airplane, the center of gravity is critical.  In rocketry the relationship between the center of gravity and the center of pressure determines whether you fly or crash.  If you are setting a project up on a lathe, you must carefully calculate where the center of the work-piece is or, wherever the chuck and the spindle are set will quickly become the center regardless of whether you intended it to be that way.  If you are trying to walk across a balance beam, or a tightrope, or even just a log across a creek, keeping your center of gravity over the beam, rope, or log is the key to crossing successfully.  In all these things, and in a great many others, it is the center that is important, and keeping the center in the right place is critical to arriving at your destination safely and achieving your goal.  With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that scripture says the same thing.  If we want to arrive at our destination safely, and achieve our goals, it is critical that we center our lives in the right place.

We begin this morning with what many people consider to be some of the simplest rules for life, the Nine or Ten Commandments (depending on how you count them) found in Exodus 20:1-17. 

20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Obviously, I could preach an entire series of sermons on these basic instructions, but this morning I want to focus on just two or three.  Depending on you how you count them, “You shall have no other gods before me.” and “You shall not make for yourself an image…” is either one, or two, commandments but either way, the instruction is clear.  Our relationship with God is important and God will not accept second place.  And that relationship is also why God sets aside one day each week for us to rest, to remember, and to spend time together when he commands us to, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

God insists, even requires, that we keep him, and our relationship with him, at the center our lives.

And one of the best-known illustrations of the seriousness with which God takes our obedience to that commandment is found in John 2:13-22, where Jesus arrives in God’s temple in Jerusalem, and finds the Court of the Gentiles, the place of prayer for non-Jews, filled will merchants, bankers, and livestock.

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the freedom of the Jewish people and to give thanks to God for his strength, wisdom, and guidance in leading Moses and the people of Israel out of their captivity in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  But in a place that had been deliberately set aside as a place for Gentiles to meet God, Jesus finds it filled with people who have put profit before prayer, wealth before worship, and greed before God.  In this place that was supposed to be the center of praise, prayer, and worship, Jesus finds the leaders of the church breaking commandments 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, and, if we include the events of Easter, we can add commandments 6 and 9 as well.

Jesus is so offended by this violation of God’s house that he drives out the animals, scatters the money across the courtyard, and flips over the tables of the vendors and bankers.  And, rather than dispute their wrongdoing or profess their innocence, the offenders ask Jesus what authority he has to rebuke them, and Jesus responds by offering his own death and resurrection as proof.  But, of course, not even his disciples understood his meaning until after the events of Easter had unfolded.  But, when they remembered what Jesus had done, and what he had said, “they believed the scriptures and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

The mistake of the vendors, the bankers, and the church leaders was that they allowed something other than God to become the center.  Certainly, in a temple that was dedicated to the worship of a Jewish God, the court of the Gentiles was used less frequently than any other.  It was entirely possible that, particularly during a Jewish feast or festival such as Passover, that few, if any Gentiles would be using the space set aside for them.  But God had deliberately created a place for them.  And when the church decided to use that space, they moved God aside and placed practicality, profit, convenience, and greed in the center of their lives and in the center of their worship in his place.

It is that idea of centered-ness that helps us to understand some of the other difficult things that we find in scripture as well as in our spiritual lives.  And this is the idea that allows us to understand what Paul is saying to the church in Corinth, and to us, in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 when he says:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

There have been times when I read this passage and puzzled a bit over what Paul meant by destroying the wisdom of the wise when much of scripture points toward, and sings the praises of, wisdom.  Similarly, it is difficult to say bad things about intelligence, or intelligent people, so if I didn’t also know some particularly foolish intelligent people that would also be difficult.  But Paul goes on to criticize the teachers of the law, philosophers, and preachers and it can be hard to make sense of what he’s getting at.  But, if we look at this passage through the lens of centered-ness, it comes into better focus.

The message of the cross is foolishness to the people who are perishing.  Or, put another way, the message of the cross doesn’t make sense to the people who have rejected Jesus.  But while that rejection can come in many forms, and while some of those forms can occasionally be surprising to us, at their core, all of them have the same root cause, the removal, or the absence of God at the center.  Those who seek wisdom without God in the center become foolish.  Those who study to become learned and intelligent but who do not keep God at the center will be frustrated.  The teachers of the law and scripture, who shift God away from the center and allow rules, or politics, or power, or anything else to take God’s place in the center has, ultimately, rejected God.

Without God at the center of our lives, our strength, our philosophy, our wisdom, our religiosity, all fail.

Not only are we commanded to keep God in the center, and not only is Jesus deadly serious about maintaining that centered-ness, but our very lives also depend upon it.

Allowing God to drift away from the center means that we have rejected him and allowed something other than God to take his place.  And rejecting God… is death.

If you are trying to walk across a balance beam, or a tightrope, or even just a log across a creek, keeping your center of gravity over the beam, rope, or log is the key to crossing successfully.  In all these things, and in a great many others, it is the center that is important, and keeping the center in the right place is critical to arriving at your destination safely and achieving your goal.  If we want to arrive at our destination safely, and achieve our goals, it is critical that we center our lives in the right place.

As we continue our journey through Lent, I urge you to think about where your heart is and to reflect upon the condition of your inner being as you answer the question of the first four commandments:

Where is your center?


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