The Miracle of Contradictions

(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/aOLC9MA9-GA)

The Miracle of Contradictions

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

December 19, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

What are your favorite Christmas gifts?

We often see television commercials that try to convince us that fifty-thousand-dollar pickup trucks are an appropriate gift with which to surprise your spouse, apparently without consulting them on such a huge expenditure.  Yikes.

But advertisers also try to convince us that bigger is better and that Christmas is a time to overextend our spending and buy diamonds, or giant flat screen televisions, or other things that almost certainly don’t fit in out budgets.  But is it the big things that we remember?  What gifts do you have in your homes, or in your memories, that you treasure the most?  I still have a Mickey Mouse watch that I wore when I was in elementary school, and I have a paperweight that my grandfather brought home from a trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.  And I remember a Christmas when my brother Dean gave me a little plastic railroad crossing gate for the model railroad that my father and I were building in the basement.  Dean didn’t know anything about our project, but he knew that I liked trains.  It wasn’t an expensive gift.  And it came out of the package broken.  Dean was visibly disappointed that he had given me something broken.  But you know what?  I glued it back together and it found a place in our layout.  But more than that, I knew that he cared.  I’m pretty sure that crossing gate got thrown out or lost several decades ago, but I think about that gift, and the thought and love behind it often when I see crossing gates on model railroads anywhere. 

It sounds like a contradiction, but often the most meaningful and the most memorable gifts aren’t the biggest or most expensive but were in fact the smallest and most inexpensive.

And we see those same kinds of contradictions at work in the story of Christmas as God upsets the status quo and sends the king of the universe to be born in stable and sleep in a feeding trough.  And the entire story of Christmas and the coming of the messiah is steeped in, and filled with, those contradictions from the earliest prophecies of his coming.  And, as we look for, and investigate, these contradictions, we find that these contradictions are some of the greatest miracles of all.  We begin this morning with God’s prophecy of the coming messiah found in Micah 5:2-5a where it says:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth;and he shall be the one of peace.

Micah declares that the smallest of Israel’s clans will produce the greatest king that Israel would ever have and continues by saying that God was bringing something new into the world that was already ancient.  Micah says that someone new is coming to rule in Israel who already existed in the dark recesses of their ancient past.  And so, Judah would be both small and great, the messiah would be both new and ancient, and would have great strength but would bring peace instead of bloodshed.  And then with the coming of Jesus, the contradictions continue as we read Luke 1:39-45 where he says:

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Elizabeth declares that Mary, despite being poor, is the most blessed woman on the planet.  Also, Elizabeth recognized Mary’s child, who was unborn, as her Lord and king.  And if those contradictions weren’t enough, Elizabeth’s child, John, despite being blind and still inside of his mother’s womb, sees clearly, and has the perception to recognize the arrival of Jesus and Mary.

And the contradictions continue in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews as he summarizes the coming of Jesus this way in Hebrews 10:5-10:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
  (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Jesus said that sacrifices and offerings were not desired by God even though history, tradition, scripture, and the law of Moses required them.  And then Paul says that the coming of Jesus not only abolishes God’s system of worship for his people, but also establishes a new system of worship for his people.

That’s a lot of contradiction in just a small sampling of scripture from the Christmas story.  But why would I say that this is a miracle?  What is this miracle of contradictions?

Simply put, the miracle of contradictions is that the story of Christmas isn’t just one big miracle about the birth of the messiah.  It isn’t just a story about the birth of a king, or even the birth of God’s son.  It’s a bigger and deeper story that involves ordinary people, with ordinary lives, and a story in which God, repeatedly, does the unexpected, in new, different, and surprising ways.

Judah is small, but great.

The Messiah is new, but ancient.

Would be strong enough to rule the ends of the earth but would bring peace instead of bloodshed.

Mary is poor but blessed beyond measure.

Jesus is unborn, but king.

John is blind but sees.

The sacrifices of God are required but undesired.

The messiah’s arrival abolishes but establishes.

The story of Christmas is filled with the miracle of contradictions, and it is that miracle that makes the story unexpected, fills the story with mystery and wonder, draws us in, and welcomes us, not only as spectators, but participants in the story.  The story of the coming of the messiah is filled, not with kings and princes, and rich and powerful people of influence, but ordinary people like us.  The story of Christmas is a story of poor people, farmers, laborers, sheep herders, scholars, infants, old people, the forgotten, the outcasts, and the unwanted.  In God’s most powerful and meaningful story, the pivotal actors are all people like us.  Ordinary.

God did not choose to use kings and princes.  Instead, he used ordinary people of faith.  God chose to trust the people who trusted him to begin his most miraculous work of all and to share the story of that miracle with the world.

And that’s still the way that God works.

That’s a part of the mystery and wonder of the story.

God still calls ordinary people; people like you and me.  God still calls farmers, laborers, sheep herders, children, the elderly, the forgotten, the outcasts, the unwanted, and the unexpected.  The greatest movements in history, the greatest agents of change in the world, are usually not presidents and prime ministers, bad boys, and billionaires, or even millionaires, movie stars and the monied elites.  The people who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the orphans and the widows, bandage the wounded, and do the work of Jesus in the world are, most often, unsung, unheralded, unnoticed, ordinary people of faith because God trusts the people who trust him.

It’s mysterious and it’s wonderful.

The miracle of contradictions is that the God who spoke the universe into existence, wants me, and wants you, to do his work, to represent him, to be his ambassadors, to share his story with the world, and to be Jesus to the people around us.

We see it in the Christmas story, but God has been working like that all along.

It is one of life’s greatest contradictions. 

But these are the contradictions that welcome us into the story.

Not just as spectators… but as participants.

And may just be the most meaningful Christmas gift of all.


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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.

Should We Rejoice or Flee?

(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/IOd2NYgjGNk)

Should We Rejoice or Flee?

(Third Sunday of Advent)

December 12, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Zephaniah 3:14-20 Luke 3:7-18 Philippians 4:4-7

What does it cost, and what is it worth to be a member of something?

Many of you will remember the advertising campaign that was used by American Express from 1974 to 1987 that said, “Membership has its privileges.”  Membership, of course, cost money, but for many frequent travelers, the membership benefits were, and are, worth far more than the annual fee for the card.

Similarly, joining the local Country Club can be worthwhile if you like to play golf on a regular basis and if you use the benefits that come with membership.

If you just want to show off, you can probably find someone that will, for a small fee, make you a fake American Express Gold Card or a fake Country Club membership card that you can show off at parties.  But your fake card isn’t going to give you any of the benefits that you get with the real thing.  You won’t get 24 hour concierge service, or emergency airline ticketing, or collect reward points, you won’t get to play golf or even get in the door to eat in the country club banquet room.  A fake card lets you pretend that you’re a member, but does not give you any of the benefits of actual membership.

All that may seem to be an odd thing to think about during Advent, but it may help us to understand some of the things we hear in our scripture passages this morning.  We begin with God’s words about the coming messiah, to the people of Israel, recorded by the prophet Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:14-20)

14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
    he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall fear disaster no more.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
    do not let your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew youin his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18     as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
    so that you will not bear reproach for it.
19 I will deal with all your oppressors
    at that time.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you home,
    at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes, says the Lord.

God makes it clear that the coming of the Messiah will be a reason for rejoicing and happiness.  On that day fear will be taken away and replaced with joy, gladness, and love.  Shame will be transformed into praise as the people who have been dispersed around the world will return and be welcomed home at last.

That fits with the joyful themes that we expect as we prepare for Christmas during the season of Advent.  But we might be a little confused when we discover that this isn’t at all the picture that John the Baptist paints as he preaches in the wilderness in Luke 3:7-18.

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation and, be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

John starts with, “You brood of vipers” and a warning to flee from God’s punishment and anger, but still ends with Luke describing his words as “good news.”  How does that work?  Much of John’s message is about God uprooting unproductive followers, and a reminder that we cannot rest on the faith and work of our parents or other ancestors, and he cautions everyone to be fair to others regardless of their profession, and to honor God in all that they do.  But still, how does this get summarized as “good news?”

And, as it that wasn’t confusing enough, Paul seems to echo the optimism of Zephaniah as he writes to the church in Philippi (Philippians 4:4-7) saying:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.  5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So, which is it?  Should we rejoice or flee?  Should we have peace, or should we be worried about God’s wrath, anger, and punishment?

And the answer is just as simple as it was for American Express or the country club across town.  Membership has its privileges but the card you carry in your pocket needs to be the real one.  Coming to church on Sunday just so that you can tell your friends that you are a Christian isn’t going to be enough if you live the rest of the week as if Jesus, and everything that he teaches, doesn’t matter.  Putting money in the offering plate won’t make a bit of difference if your faith doesn’t change the way that you live your life when you aren’t in the church building.  Saying that you are a Christian doesn’t make you one.  Being a genuine follower of Jesus Christ means living a life that models the teachings of Jesus.  Love your neighbor, love those how hate you and who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger and the foreigner, care for the poor, and all those other things that you find in the Gospel message that we talk about here every week.

We can’t just go to church; we have to be the church.  We can’t just say that we love Jesus, we have to live, and we have to love, like Jesus.

Once we manage that, then we will be the people that Paul was describing.  Our gentleness will be known to everyone, we won’t need to worry, and we can rest in the peace of God.  John’s message is that fake membership cards aren’t going to be enough, but that genuine membership is free.

And it is for that reason that we rejoice.   Because this is indeed good news, of great joy, for all the people.


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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.

Prepare the… What?

(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/RJ4_5liF5cs )

Prepare the… What?

(Second Sunday of Advent)

December 05, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Malachi 3:1-4 Luke 3:1-6 Philippians 1:3-11

This morning we need to talk about preparation.  We know that the motto of our Troops 50 scouts is to always “Be Prepared.”  But for what should we prepare?  If we look at how we often use the world preparation, it appears in quite a few places and means something different in each case. 

If a restaurant advertises for a Prep Cook, what they need is someone to get their day started, to make the ingredients for meals, so that food can be made to order later.  Prep cooks might make bread dough, or mix batches of pancake batter in the morning, or they could be peeling potatoes or chopping vegetables that will be used later.

If we go shopping and we buy “prepared food,” what we’ve purchased is food that has already had most of the work done for us.  If we cook from scratch, as we read through our cookbooks or online recipes, we find that each one often tells us how much “prep time,” or preparation time, is required before we start cooking.  And, if we’re trying to pass an upcoming state board exam, we might sign up, and pay, for a “test prep” class to make sure that all the most important information is fresh on our minds. 

All these things are important and I want you to keep them in mind as we read today’s scriptures and consider what it is for which we are preparing.  We begin this morning with the Old Testament prophecy of the coming messiah found in Malachi 3:1-4 where we hear these words:

3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.  4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Malachi says that God is sending a messenger to prepare the way ahead of his arrival and when he arrives, he will refine and purify his people until they become suitable and righteous offerings that are pleasing to God.  And then in Luke 3:1-6, we hear Isaiah’s words used to describe John the Baptist as a person who has come to prepare the way before the arrival of the Lord when he says…

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was rulerof Galilee, and his brother Philip rulerof the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias rulerof Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Luke says that John’s mission was to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah that had been foretold by Malachi, Isaiah, and other Old Testament prophets, and the purpose of his preparations were so that every human being could see the salvation and rescue of God.  John’s appearance as the fulfillment of scripture, as the person whom God sent to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah, is an important part of Advent and the story of Christmas.  But we all know that the Messiah, Jesus came.  So, what does that mean for each of us?  The arrival of Jesus happened more than two thousand years ago.  We can’t take John’s job; we can no longer prepare for the arrival of Jesus… or can we?

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he writes to a church that was established well after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Like us, they knew the Christmas story and they knew, as we do, that they could not prepare for Jesus’ arrival.  But there was still something that God was calling them to do, and we hear that calling in the words of Philippians 1:3-11 when Paul says:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s gracewith me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Paul says that the calling of the church is not to prepare for Jesus’s arrival, but to be so filled with the love of Jesus that our love overflows into the world and into the lives of the people around us.  But our calling to love is in addition to our calling to prepare.  While we are no longer called to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah, we now have three callings instead.  We are now called to prepare our minds so that we will increase our knowledge, gain insight, and grow in faith, to prepare our hearts so that we will be pure and righteous, and to prepare our actions so that we will share the message of Jesus and produce a harvest of righteousness that brings glory and praise to God.

As we walk through the season of Advent and as we read the story of Christmas, let us remember that it is not just a story from long ago and far away.  It is a story of here and now, of you and me, and it is a calling for us to have hope, to have faith, and to prepare the way with just as much joy and passion as John the Baptist did two thousand years ago.  But while John was called to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah, we are called to prepare ourselves, our neighbors, our friends, our communities, our nation, and our world for the King that will rule for all eternity.


(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/RJ4_5liF5cs )


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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.

Facing Anxiety, Hopelessness, and Disaster

Facing Anxiety, Hopelessness, and Disaster

November 14, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

But we’re still here.

We endured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all that time, God was silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

…we are not alone.


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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.

Favoritism, Mercy, and Dead Faith

Video of this message can be found here: https://youtu.be/lzZoTyv6N_g

Favoritism, Mercy, and Dead Faith

September 05, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23              Mark 7:24-37             James 2:1-17

Last week, it was clear that we don’t like fakes. 

But not far behind our dislike for fakes, is our dislike of favoritism.  You know what I mean.  As kids, we knew who Mom’s favorite was (it was me), we knew who the teacher’s pet was, we’ve seen favoritism in nearly every group to which we belonged, from sports teams, to marching band, to our employment as adults with brown nosers, suck-ups, and other sycophants.  Sometimes we don’t mind as much when the favoritism is earned and the favorite is genuinely exceptional, but when it’s just politics and ego it can be ugly.

But what would you say if I told you that God plays favorites? 

He does.

But the way that God plays favorites may surprise you.

For background, let’s begin with a sampling of verses from Proverbs 22 (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23).

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
    the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
    for they share their bread with the poor.

22 Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
    or crush the afflicted at the gate;
23 for the Lord pleads their cause
    and despoils of life those who despoil them.

While we recognize that the Proverbs are an expression of common wisdom and not the promises of God, these are powerful and sensible words.  A good name is more valuable than riches.  Favor is better than money.  Regardless of who is the favorite, we all have common ground because God is the creator of both the rich and the poor.  Whether you call it God, or karma, or something else, the people who spread injustice and anger seem to always find calamity and failure rather than prosperity and comfort.  And in the same line of thinking, we often find that the people who spend their lives giving of their time and their money to others are the ones who are blessed by God. 

The guideline for us as we think about these things is that God really does take sides.  God takes the side of the poor.  He pleads their case in court and champions their cause in the public square.  Anyone who robs the poor or crushes the afflicted discover that they stand against God.  We see this demonstrated throughout Jesus’ life and ministry and we find several examples of this in Jesus’ journey recorded in Mark 7:24-37.

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesusordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Jesus was sent to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  His mission was with the Jews, but he meets an immigrant woman who begs him to save her daughter.  Jesus argues that she isn’t a part of his mission and that the children to whom he was sent should be fed first, but her response shows that she understands Jesus’ true power.  She knows that Jesus’ power was so great that healing her daughter will not take power away from the Jews any more than losing crumbs to the dogs under the table starves the children who sit at the table above them.  And so, Jesus takes the side of the underdog, casts out the demon, and heals her daughter. 

We see something similar in the next story.  The Decapolis were ten cities built by the Greeks and were, largely, cities of Greek influence and culture.  And for that reason, we don’t know the religious affiliation of the deaf man, but there’s a good chance that he wasn’t Jewish.  But regardless of his religion, being both deaf and having a speech impediment, he was almost certainly impoverished.  It would have been difficult, or impossible, for him to earn a decent living.  He could do nothing for Jesus, and there was no benefit to Jesus for helping him.  But Jesus heals him anyway.

These stories provide us insight and balance to our understanding of the mission, mind, and heart of Jesus and allow us to understand him better.  Yes, Jesus did miracles for rich people and for powerful people, but he also, often, did miracles for people who could offer nothing to him in return.  If we were to count how many rich people Jesus helped and compared that to the number of poor people that Jesus helped, we would see that it was far more common for Jesus to help the poor.

That kind of favoritism is echoed in the writings of Jesus’ brother James in James 2:1-17 where he says:

2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James writes in reaction to people in the church that are favoring those with nice clothes over those who wear dirty clothes. They give preferred seating to people who could do something for them rather than the people who could do nothing for them.  They preferred the rich and the powerful over the poor and the common.   But James reminds them that God always favors the poor, the downtrodden, the outsiders, the sick, the hungry, the dirty, the outcasts, and just about everyone who, by definition, can’t do anything in return for his generosity, mercy, and compassion.  James says that by favoring the rich and the powerful the people of the church violate God’s command to love their neighbor.  Rather than judge the poor for being poor, James says, we are called instead to show compassion and mercy.

It’s great to have faith.  It’s important, and wonderful, and vital to have faith. 

But faith that lacks mercy is dead faith.

Faith that sees the poor and wishes them well, but does nothing to bring them warmth, comfort, and full bellies, is dead faith.  Faith that spreads injustice and anger and robs the poor is not only dead faith but stands in opposition to God and invites God’s judgement.

God really does take sides.  God takes the side of the poor.  He pleads their case in court and champions their cause in the public square.  And to do any differently is to invite the judgement of God.

Scripture, the teachings of God, and the witness of Jesus Christ are united, and they are clear.  We should play favorites.  But our choice of favorites had better be the same as those of scripture, of God, and of Jesus.  And our neighbors stand as witnesses to our faith, not by the faith that we have in our hearts, but to the faith that we show them on the streets.

Let us pray that our faith will be lived out in mercy, compassion, and love so that the world will know that mercy triumphs over judgement.


*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.

Religion: Doers or Deception?

Religion: Doers or Deception?

August 29, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Song of Solomon 2:8-13              Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23             James 1:17-27

Have you ever been called a fake?

One of the worst accusations that our friends and acquaintances can level at us, is the accusation of being fake.  We don’t like fakes.  We don’t like fake friends, we don’t want to buy a fake Rolex watch, or a television that’s supposed to be a good name brand that turns out to be a fake.  The government has teams of people that regulate commerce by at least attempting to prevent the sale of fake products and it’s important.  Fake purses or fake watches fraudulently cost consumers money, but fake computer chips, or fake bolts, or fake gas valves, in critical applications can be deadly.  The government even has an entire department, the department of the Treasury, and the Secret Service, whose job it is to prevent people from printing fake money because enough fake currency could potentially destabilize our entire economy. 

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

Fake money can hurt the economy.  Fake products can hurt people.  And fake friends can do serious damage to our psychological and emotional well-being.

But there’s at least one more fake that we need to be concerned about, and that’s fake religion.

But before we get too far in that direction, let’s begin, not by looking at what is fake, but at what is real.  Let’s look at what real religion, real faith, looks like.  And to do that, let’s begin by reading from God’s love story contained in the Song of Solomon 2:8-13.

The voice of my beloved!
    Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
    looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away.

The story contained in the Song of Solomon isn’t just about the love that King Solomon had for his bride (or at least one of them) and she for him, but its inclusion in scripture at least hints that this love story might also be an allegory for God’s love for his people and, by extension, the church.  It describes a love that is tender, passionate, and filled with longing.  And, if we understand it this way, at the end of this passage we hear God calling his people to “come away” with him.  But even if, as some interpreters assert, that this is only about love, and not about our relationship with God, it still describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.  And although he never references the Song of Songs, that kind of pure relationship seems to be exactly what Jesus is getting at in his conversation with the Pharisees in Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not liveaccording to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The Pharisees and the scribes rigorously and religiously adhered to traditions that were not required by scripture, and they criticized Jesus’ disciples for not following them as well.  Their implication was that the disciples, and Jesus, were not sufficiently faithful to God because they failed to adhere to these man-made traditions.  And Jesus’ response was to criticize them for treating the traditions of human beings as if they were the doctrines and teachings of God, and at the same time, ignoring and disobeying the real commandments of God.  Jesus says that the intentions of our hearts matter, what we think about matters, that sex, theft, murder, greed, wickedness, loose living, envy, slander, pride, deception, and sometimes even just foolishness are evil things that come from the inside, and it is those things, the things that that come out of us, that defile us. 

Jesus says that it is the faith of the Pharisees that is lacking and not the faith of his disciples.  Because, while his disciples may have eaten lunch without washing their hands and dishes in exactly the right way, it is the Pharisees who are harboring these sorts of evil desires inside themselves.  For Jesus, real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

Jesus’ brother James echoes this same language, and this same understanding, as he describes what real faith looks like in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ in James 1:17-27 when he says…

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselvesin a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

In this passage, and in a whole lot of other ones, James makes the argument that faith is not an abstract concept, thought experiment, or something that is only internal and private.  Faith is not something that we do for show, it is not an act, but instead is life changing and transformative.  Faith isn’t something that we can practice in the privacy of our own homes without anyone noticing, but changes who we are, how we think, how we care for ourselves and one another, and is reflected outward in everything that we do.  Faith, James says, is revealed not when we become believers, but when we become doers of God’s word.

The Song of Solomon describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.

And since we know that faith is an expression of the loving relationship that we have with God, we understand when Jesus says that real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

And just like a real, tender, and passionate loving relationship, real faith changes us.  We’ve seen it all in the movies as well as in real life.  When two people are really in love with one another, it’s almost impossible to hide it.  Real love isn’t fake or deceptive.  Real love, and real faith, aren’t just words, but are pure, life changing, and transformative.  They change the way that we think, the way that we live, and the way that we act, and they are lived out in everything that we do.

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

We don’t like fake purses, fake watches, fake televisions, fake money, fake friends, or fake relationships.

And the same is true about faith.

Real faith isn’t just and act. 

Real faith isn’t evil.

Real faith can’t have anything to do with fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply grows out of a pure and loving relationship with God and with Jesus Christ.

Real faith produces generosity, truth, patience, righteousness, purity, openness, humility, mercy, compassion, and love that is unstained by the world.

If it’s real, faith isn’t something that we only have in our heads, or even in our hearts.  When its real, faith is transformative and is revealed, and demonstrated to the world in everything that we do.

Let us not only be hearers of God’s word.

Let us instead commit ourselves to being doers of the word so that the world can know that what we have…

…is real.


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

The Power Within

The Power Within

July 25, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

What is it that gives us power?

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

But what about us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Andrew’s response was different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wealth, Power, and Equality

Power, Wealth, and Equality

June 27, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27               Mark 5:21-43             2 Corinthians 8:7-15

I have two words for us to consider today. 

Wealth… and Power.

Those two words bring with them a whole host of emotions, ideas, thoughts, and baggage of all sorts.  There are elements of our culture and our politics that divisively try to convince us that we should hate people who are rich, which others try to convince us to hate the poor.  We are told that the problems of the poor are caused because the poor are lazy.  But any of us who know poor people, or who have been poor people, certainly know different.  Most poor people work hard. 

We are told that the rich are lazy and make all their money on the backs of the poor.  But the truth is quite different.  Only 21 percent of millionaires received an inheritance of any kind, only 3 percent of millionaires inherited a million dollars, and 84 percent of millionaires inherited less than $100,000.  Some time ago, I heard that the number one vehicle driven by millionaires wasn’t some fancy sports car but was instead the Ford F-150 pickup truck.  What does that mean?  It means that almost every millionaire that you might ever meet, worked for a living, made their money for themselves, and probably still works, and sweats, for a living. 

But that really isn’t my point.  My point is that hating the poor, or envying the rich, isn’t what Jesus has called us to do.  Wealth isn’t a sin, and poverty isn’t a curse.  Likewise, political power, or the lack of it, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The part where we get in trouble, is when we begin to use our wealth and power in the wrong ways.  Scripture is filled with stories about money and power, and this morning we’re going to read two or three examples and look at some of God’s instruction on how we are supposed to use what we have for the good of everyone, and for the good of God’s kingdom.

We begin this morning in 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, where we hear of the end of King Saul’s life, David’s grief, and learn a thing or two about integrity, honor, and being a godly example.

1:1 After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 18 and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

19 “A gazelle[an ancient symbol for a dignitary or important person] lies slain on your heights, Israel.
    How the mighty have fallen!

20 “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

21 “Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there, the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.

22 “From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
    the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.
23 Saul and Jonathan— in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

24 “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
    who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

27 “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”

David grieves for the loss of Saul and his son Jonathan and not just because Jonathan was David’s best friend.  David writes a song, or story of lament and ordered that it be taught to the entire nation.  David declares Saul and Jonathan to the national heroes and pours out honor on their memories, despite the years that Saul had pursued and hunted David.  Saul had often sent the entire army out into the wilderness so that he could find David and kill him. 

But even when David was alone in a dark cave with Saul and had the opportunity to kill him, David refused and gave Saul honor instead.  Even though David had already been anointed as king by God’s prophet, David refused to bring dishonor upon himself, or upon Saul and his family, by taking God’s judgement into his own hands.  And in this story, we see that even though Saul was dead, and even though David would soon be given Saul’s throne and become the king of Judah and a united nation of Israel, David still chooses the path of honor, integrity, and godliness.

And today’s passage in Mark 5:21-43 gives us several more examples in the actions of Jesus and the people in search of miracles. 

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came, and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother, and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this and told them to give her something to eat.

There are several people here that are worth mentioning.  The first that we encounter is the woman who suffered from a bleeding disorder.  Whatever it was had caused her great suffering for more than a decade.  She had gone from one doctor to another, one witch doctor to another, each one tried their own medical experiment, and each one was happy to take more of her money, until she was poor but still suffering.  In desperation, she sets out to find Jesus, thinking perhaps that Jesus was such a great healer, such a great man of God, that if she could just touch him, she would be healed.  And that is exactly what happened.  She reaches through the crush of the crowd to touch Jesus’ shirt.  Some translations say it was only the “hem” of his garment and some have said that the Greek word that is used here is more accurately translated into English not as “hem” but as “fringe,” the dangly threads that would hand from a Jewish man’s clothing.  And she is healed.

The woman touches the barest edge of Jesus’ clothing… and is healed.

But Jesus feels it.  Jesus feels the power of God flow through him and into… somebody.  And once Jesus meets the woman, he declares that it was her great faith that has healed her, and he releases her to go in peace and freedom from her suffering.

But while Jesus was stopped, the child he had been asked to heal had died.  But when Jesus is told that she is dead, he goes there anyway.  But it is important to consider the girl’s father.  We are told that he was a synagogue leader.  From our reading, we know that the synagogue leaders were typically skeptical of Jesus’ power, but Jairus has nowhere else to turn.  His daughter is at death’s door, and he is willing to sacrifice his reputation, his position, and his power to save her.  Similarly, Jesus had every reason to say no to one more religious leader after so many of them had tried to trap him, humiliate him, and worse.  But Jesus honors the man, follows him home, and brings his daughter back from the dead.

But why?

Why did Jesus act this way?  And why does it matter?

And in answer, we turn to Paul’s letter of 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 where he explains this way:

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Paul says that Jesus became poor for us, that through Jesus’ poverty, we have become rich.  Jesus was powerful, but through grace, chose to share that power with the people around him, and with us.  Jesus shared his power to bring healing to the woman who suffered even though she was poor, and Jesus shared his power to bring life to Jairus’ daughter even though he had every right to be suspicious of Jairus’ intensions.  Jesus had power, and by his actions, showed us that the proper use of power is to share it to help the people around us.

Paul said that if we excel, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in earnestness, in passion, or in love, then we must also excel in giving.  Whatever God has chosen to bless us with, we are called to share that wealth with others just as Jesus did.  Our assignment, therefore, is to carry on the work of Jesus, to continue the mission that he began, to seek and to save the lost children of God’s kingdom.  Whomever has much is to share with those who have little.  Sometimes we may be on the giving end, and sometimes we may be on the receiving end.  The goal, Paul says, is equality such that no one has too much, and no one has too little.


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

The Promise of Power

The Promise of Power

May 16, 2021*

(Ascension Day)

 By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 24:44-53                        Acts 1:1-11                             Ephesians 1:15-23

Whether it’s Jesus or Adolf Hitler, Harry Truman or Fidel Castro, Donald Trump or Joe Biden, there is a common theme that revolves around many of their followers and closest associates.  And that theme is often the promise, explicitly stated or dubiously implied, that those followers and associates will be given some sort of power and authority because of their association with the person they are following.  While many of those followers may be there because of their idealism, there are always some that are there because of the promise of power.

Of course, we know that Jesus was nothing like any earthly leader, but even so, scripture tells us that many of Jesus’ followers were expecting him to pursue earthly power and for them to benefit from it in some way.  Or at least they did so untihol Jesus told them otherwise, but even then, they didn’t really understand what he was trying to tell them.  It is at least in part, for that reason that they were so despondent after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Any dreams they had of gaining earthly, political power died with Jesus on the cross. 

But just because their dreams of political power died, doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t have power to give them.  There’s no question that Jesus wielded incredible power, it just that the disciples had to understand that power, and the purpose of that power, in an entirely different way than they had before.  Luke tells us that Jesus began to prepare the disciples for a transfer of power after his resurrection, and shortly before his return to heaven.  First, we read this story in Luke 24:44-53 where Jesus gives his disciples some last-minute instructions:

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

The next to the last thing that Jesus did before he left this earth and returned to heaven, was to promise his disciples that he was “going to send you what my Father has promised.”  And so, they stayed in town, they stayed together, and they continued to worship daily in the temple.  Clearly, Jesus was reminding them of a promise of God that they had discussed before and it must have been a discussion that they all remembered.  But since we didn’t live with them for the three years of Jesus’ ministry, we aren’t quite as clear about which promise Jesus was referring.  But the good news for us, is that Luke knew that.  Luke knew that when he was describing these events to people who were less intimately familiar with the disciples that more details would be needed.  And that is exactly what he does when he writes to his friend Theophilus and describes these same events in Acts 1:1-11 where he says:

1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days, you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

And in this retelling, we can see details about that earlier conversation.  It is here that we see Jesus tell his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift that God had promised and Jesus says that if they wait, as he instructed, in a few days God would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and, when that spirit came, they would receive power so that, as witnesses, they could carry the message of what they had seen to their city, their state, their nation, and to the ends of the earth.

But still, what does that mean.  What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit?  And what does it mean to receive power when that happens?  And what does any of that have to do with us twenty centuries later?  And again, Paul provides some of those answers as he writes to the church in Ephesus where he says (Ephesians 1:15-23):

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spiritof wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

According to Paul, the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives grants us wisdom, revelation, the ability to know God better, to know hope, and to have the power and mighty strength that God used in raising Jesus from the dead.  The promise of power that we have as the followers of Jesus Christ is nothing like the power of politics, earthly kingdoms, and military might.  It is far greater than any of those but pointed in an entirely different direction.  Earthly power is the power to control and to enslave, but the power promised to us by Jesus is the power to rescue and free the lost and the enslaved.  Moments before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told the disciples that the purpose of God’s power, given to us by his Spirit, was to give us the tools that we need to carry his message of freedom, rescue, hope, and love to our city, our state, our nation, and to the ends of the earth.

This is the real promise of power.

Not control, but freedom.  Not earthly wealth, but spiritual wealth.  Not for personal benefit, but to give hope to the world.

It was this power that allowed the message of a small, largely uneducated group of followers, in a tiny country that was occupied by a hostile superpower, to grow and spread all over the known world.  That power wasn’t limited to a handful of disciples but is given to every follower who puts their faith and trust in Jesus.  And it is that same power which is given to us today.

The mission of the church has not changed.

The only question, is if we will use the power that we have been given.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/2OgDGwhgWv0

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

The Mark of the Feast

The Mark of the Feast

May 09, 2021*

(Mothers’ Day)

 By Pastor John Partridge

John 15:9-17                          Acts 10:44-48                         1 John 5:1-6

With today being Mother’s Day, I thought that I would start by thinking about what it is that many of our Mother’s taught us.  But right up front, I want to recognize that not everyone has had a positive experience with their mothers.  Some of the people we know, and some of you who are reading this, experienced verbal, mental, or physical abuse and for that, or other reasons, you do not have a positive association with Mother’s Day.  Similarly, I want to recognize that Mother’s Day is a source of pain for some of you who wanted children, but either couldn’t have them, or lost them.  I get it.  We made friends with many people who shared these kinds of experiences and walked with us, and encouraged us, along our adoption journey.  But for all of you for whom Mothers’ Day is a day to be avoided, as well as for all of you who have fond and loving associations with this day, I hope that you will bear with me and not avoid today’s message because while a loving mother is a human ideal, it is just part of our human experience that God uses to point to something better.

When mothers do their jobs well, we remember them for teaching us how to dress ourselves, for our sense of fashion and style, for teaching us values, and although it takes a while for us to realize it, for demonstrating the value of sacrificing ourselves to meet the needs of others.  Our mothers taught us how to cook, how to clean, how to count, how to share, how to be nice, and a host of other things that we learned by demonstration, rote learning, osmosis, and sometimes mind-numbing repetition, but when motherhood is done well, one of the things we remember most… is love.

And that leads us to the first of today’s scriptures where, in John 15:9-17, Jesus explains why demonstrating love to others is important:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus says that God loved him, and because of God’s love for him, Jesus showed his love to us.  But just to be sure that we know what love is, Jesus offers us a block of instruction.  First, we are encouraged to stay inside of Jesus’ love and the requirement to do that, is to obey the commands of Jesus.  That seems straightforward, but to be sure that we understand, Jesus explains further saying that our obedience isn’t intended to make us slaves, but to bring us joy.  And the command that we are supposed to obey, is this: Love each other in the way that Jesus loved us.  Jesus says that he chose us and appointed us to go out into the world and bear fruit that will last for eternity.  And finally, Jesus repeats his definition and his instruction for clarity and for emphasis, “This is my command: Love each other.”

Out of all the commands of God, and all the teachings of scripture, that Jesus could have highlighted, and out of all the things to which our relationship with God might have been connected, Jesus doesn’t choose anything that we could judge to be oppressive, or onerous, or burdensome but instead summarizes all the commands of God necessary for our rescue as salvation as simply, “love each other.”

At some point, someone in our lives showed us what love looked like.  For many of us, it was our mothers, but even if it wasn’t, Jesus says that love is something that we learn from experience, and something that we pass on to others.  God loved him, so Jesus loved us, and now it’s our job to pass that love on to the people, and to the world, around us.

But as simple as that is, the disciples had a problem understanding what it meant to love the people around them.  The Jewish tradition, at that time, was that the promises of God, and virtually all of God’s instructions, were intended for the Jews, and for the Jews alone.  When God said to love your neighbor, the traditional understanding of many people was that God meant that you should love your Jewish neighbor, that while it was important to love the person that belonged to your church, or that belonged to your religion, it wasn’t necessary to love the people that didn’t go to church, or that belonged to a different religion.  But that wasn’t what Jesus taught, and although it took a while for it to sink in, the disciples began to understand what that meant.  In Acts 10:44-48, Peter is preaching to a group of people who are both Jewish and non-Jewish and as he does, something unexpected happens…

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tonguesand praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

When Peter is speaking, the Jewish believers witness the Holy Spirit of God as it enters into everyone, both Jew and Gentile, the insiders, and the outsiders, and they were astounded.  They were sure that the Gentiles didn’t count.  For their entire lives they had been taught by their church leaders that the rules and God’s promises only applied to them and not to the outsiders.  But their eyes told them something different.  It was clear that when God said everyone, God meant… everyone, and so Peter invites the Gentiles to be baptized.  This is an important point. Because that was a big deal.  While circumcision was the mark that said a man belonged to God’s people, the people of Israel, the Jews, baptism was the mark, the symbol, that signified that people belonged to Jesus, and to his church, and to the people that would become known as Christians.  Baptism was the mark of belonging, and the mark of being invited.  Rather than calling it the mark of the beast, it was the mark of the feast, because it revealed to the world that you belonged to Jesus.

And if that wasn’t clear enough, John amplifies and clarifies that message in his letter to the church in Asia in 1 John 5:1-6 where he says:

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth.

John says that everyone (there’s that word again) that believes that Jesus is the savior and rescuer of the world is a child of God and the way that we show our love for God is to carry out his commands and love his children.  But John wants to be even clearer.  He says that Jesus was born into the world both by water and by blood.  Both “by water” and “by blood” are metaphors.  Saying that Jesus came by water is a reference to Jesus being born as a human being to a human mother and that makes Jesus like us.  But John also reminds us that Jesus came into the world “by blood” which is saying that Jesus was born into the world through death.  While we generally think of death as how we leave this world, Jesus rose from the dead and lives for eternity, so John is saying that just as we are born to our mothers in this life, Jesus was born into a new life by passing through death.

But what does that mean, and what difference does it make?

What it means, is that when we are born to a mother, we are born into a family and born into this earthly life.  But when we meet Jesus and accept him as the savior and rescuer of the world, we are born into something bigger than our earthly family.

And it makes a difference because while the example of sacrificial love that good mothers demonstrate for their families is important, it is only part of the story.  When we put our faith and trust in Jesus and accept him as the savior and rescuer of the world, we are born into a new, bigger, and more important family that will last forever.  As much as good mothers might model sacrificial love, Jesus is the better example of real and perfect love.

Everyone is invited to belong, the insiders, the outsiders, the imperfect, the screw-ups, the loving, the unloving, the church people, the people that have never set foot in a church, and everyone that ever needed a second chance.  Everyone means everyone.

We are all invited to belong, to receive the “Mark of the Feast” if you will, and to be baptized and demonstrate to the world that you belong to Jesus.

Jesus chose you and has given you the task of going out into the world and bearing eternal fruit.

And along the way Jesus commands us to do one thing…

Love each other.

Because everyone means… everyone.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/GolLW9LrWsQ

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


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