Eulogy and Obituary for Linda Montgomery

Eulogy for Linda Montgomery

June 22, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

This is hard.

Being here is hard.  Watching this family suffer… is hard.  Losing a friend… is hard.  Not being able to have the celebration of life that Linda deserves, is hard.  All of this is hard.

Everyone that has ever met Linda Montgomery has a story that they remember, and they all want to tell about it.  We have already heard several of those stories.  And, most importantly, as I sat down with Linda’s family this week, they shared their stories with me for almost two hours.  It wasn’t boring or even difficult, but much like it has always been whenever anyone has ever talked about Linda, the stories about her, the love that they had for her, and the joy that she brought into their lives, just flowed out of them.  Everyone who met Linda, felt loved by her because she cared about everyone around her whether they were an old friend or a total stranger.  And in Linda’s world, strangers became friends almost immediately.

The difficulty that I have, is that between the stories that I heard, and those that have been emailed to me, I could stand up here and share with you for hours, and if we opened this microphone and offered you the opportunity to share, we could double that again.  But the reasons that everyone has great stories that they want to share, is because Linda cared about them.  She genuinely cared about everyone around her, she loved them, and more often than not, she put their needs ahead of her own.

One of Linda’s great loves was Mary Poppins, and like Mary Poppins, Linda was “Practically perfect in every way.”  She sang, she danced, and she made everything fun.  Linda literally sang her way through life and made up songs about whatever she was doing regardless of how trivial the task.  And, much like Mary Poppins, Linda brought a new and different energy to any room into which she would step.  In Mary Poppins, Mary and the children stop in the park to feed the birds and to make the acquaintance of the bird lady.  In Linda’s story, she was both Mary and the bird lady.  She loved birds, she loved watching the birds, and feeding the birds, and teaching her children and grandchildren, and anyone else, about the birds.  There was always a bird book near the window facing the bird feeder so that they could identify any unfamiliar birds that visited.  And she got terribly excited when a goldfinch stopped to have a snack and say hello and she made sure that Owen had a good set of binoculars so that he could see the birds too.

And loving birds was only a small part of Linda’s love of nature.  She loved the outdoors and was always happiest there.  She grew up camping and anytime that she went missing, everyone knew that you could probably find her near the fire circle.  And perhaps it was her time spent near the fire circle when she nurtured her ability to make the perfect smore.  She could toast a marshmallow any way that you liked it, from golden brown to crispy, to burnt.  Whatever was perfect for you, she could, and would, toast one just the way you liked it. She loved the water, but she loved being near the water and not on the water.  Whenever she was in a boat, she had white knuckles from holding on much too tightly.  But time on the shore had a much more relaxing and calming effect.

Linda’s father was a photography hobbyist and enthusiast and his love of photography infected her as well.  While she didn’t care to have her own darkroom or develop her own pictures, she was rarely without two or three cameras so that, wherever they went, she could get the perfect shot.

Linda always wanted what was best for her family, she did whatever she had to do, so that her children never knew how tight their money was, and she knew that she could never afford to send Jessica to college so she got work at Mount Union as a housekeeper so that, as staff, she would get a discount.  From there, she worked her way to the supply room, the key room, and the physical plant.  Then she had a heart attack and afterwards the university moved her to a less active secretarial position.  Somewhere along the line, she became “the duck lady” that could herd nesting ducks away from campus buildings and back to the lake.  Later she split her time between the physical plant and the chaplain’s office, and then finally full time at the chapel where, everyone knew that her gifts seemed perfectly matched to her position.  Mary Poppins, in the movie Mary Poppins Returns says, “Everything is possible, even the impossible.” And, Like Mary Poppins, Linda was known at UMU for doing the things that others thought were impossible.

One of things that often stood out, no matter where she went, was that Linda always put the needs of others ahead of her own.  Although she was often critical of herself, no matter who came in her office, she loved them.  Students who were far from home felt like they had a mom they could go to and no matter who she met, she liked to find the things that interested them.  Even when she was undergoing chemo, she was so focused on caring for others, and the needs of others, that many people didn’t even know that she was sick.  And even with all the things that she had on her mind, her friend Sarah Sherer told me that Linda agonized over whether she should retire or not because she didn’t want to leave anyone in the lurch.  She resisted taking sick days or Family leave days even when all of her friends and coworkers were urging her to do so, and to take care of herself, because she wanted to be sure that everyone else was taken care of first.

But as much as she cared for everyone, Linda’s family was everything to her.  As much as she gave of herself as work or at church, she did so many times over at home.  When she discovered that there was a Miami Dolphins playoff game being played while they were in Florida, despite the fact that she was not a Dolphins fan, and despite being undoubtedly expensive, and despite her dislike of driving in heavy traffic, Linda spent all day on the phone, found some available tickets, bought them, and drove to Miami so that Amanda, who was a fan, could have the once in a lifetime chance to see them in a playoff game.

Linda worried too much. She always knew what the weather was in Columbus before Amanda did and would call and warn her to take her umbrella, or to wear her galoshes, or a scarf, or whatever it is that mothers need to tell their children when the weather is bad.  All our moms did that, but Linda made an artform out of doing it long distance.  She worried about Amanda, and that created the need for Amanda to get an Instagram account and what she calls her “Amanda picture of the day.”  Every morning, Amanda would take a picture of herself, and send it to her mom, to reassure her that she was still alive and was doing alright.  This happened every morning, without fail, and if she was late, then Linda worried even more.

She was known for hot chicken sandwiches and cheesy potatoes, She and Sarah often made soup and salad for lunch for some of the faculty, staff, and students after chapel each week, and Linda always knew how to organize it and that chicken and rice certainly ought to be on the menu.  She wasn’t into fancy recipes, but she was a master at comfort food.  She, and her family, were obsessed with ice cream but she never drank alcohol.  This, of course led to a crisis for Amanda when she discovered that Linda was eating Rum Raisin ice cream.  In response to Amanda’s dismay at seeing her teetotaling mom “having alcohol,” Linda just explained that alcohol in ice cream “didn’t count.”

Linda was known for many things.  She was always smiling, rarely angry, she always made sure that the toilet was clean before company came, she had bright shining eyes that everyone noticed and remembered, even strangers would comment that she just smelled good, and somehow she made her favorite Clinique perfumes “Happy” and “Happy Heart,” smell different than they did on anyone else.  Her laugh, the “Linda cackle,” was well-known, could be heard from a considerable distance, often summoned friends who recognized it from around corners, and warmed the hearts of everyone withing earshot.   She loved all things Irish and, whenever the church basement sale received Irish themed items, they generally found their way to Linda before the sale ever started.  She was the favorite aunt that took them to the zoo and bought Evan his favorite dinosaurs and Ben said, “She was always comforting to me.  She always made me feel calm and endlessly happy, like being a kid all over again.  Being with her, and at her house, always relaxed me no matter what bad or stressful things were going on in the world.  I can’t think of someone who is more genuinely happy for others, so proud and thankful for her family, and so strong despite those fears and “quirks” she inherited from Grandma!”

There is so much more.

I know that I can’t tell you all of the stories that I have been told by Lynn, Jessica, Craig (whom she adored), Amanda, various church folk, Sarah, Ben, and Drew.  I apologize for not including them all.  I will add all of them to the text of this eulogy when I post it on by blog, but we just don’t have the time to share them all here.

For you who are her family, I hope that you remember that Linda Montgomery loved Jesus, and loved others like Jesus.  Linda loved others even at the expense of herself and her needs.  But as much as she loved others, she loved you more.  You were her reason to live and her reason to love.  You were her passion.  It was always your happiness that made her happiest.  Mary Poppins said that when the wind changed, it was time to go, even though the children were never ready for her to leave.    Like Mary Poppins, none of us were ready for Linda to leave.  But perhaps, it was just time.  Hold on to the love that Linda had for you.  Remember her laugh, her joy, her smell, her smile, her eyes, her love for others, and her love for you.  It was you who made her happy.  Hold on to the joy, the happiness, and the love that she gave to you.

And, because much of Linda lives on through you, I hope that you will share her love, her joy, and her happiness with the world around you.

Because life is hard, and all of us need more Mary Poppins-es and Linda Montgomerys in our lives.

Linda was indeed, “practically perfect in every way.”


Precious Memories

Linda Montgomery

Rev. Chris Martin

“Precious memories how they linger; how they ever flood my soul. In the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.”

Linda Montgomery was indeed a precious person. Regardless of the situation in which she found herself, Linda always wore a smile on her face. She showed kindness and compassion to everyone she met, always seeing the goodness in others, choosing to overlook anything less.  Her relaxed laughter made strangers into friends the moment she met them.  Linda was an easy person to love because she had the gift of putting people at ease in her presence.  While she was involved in so many things at Christ United Methodist Church, much of what she did was accomplished behind the scenes. She never sought recognition for what she did for others, preferring instead to work alongside others to share her talents and abilities.  Many of us at Christ Church knew her as the “reception” lady.  Often when there was a reception after a special program at church, Linda would not only solicit home-baked cookies from others, she would bake dozens-upon-dozens herself. Her emphasis was always on home-baked.

When the “Threads of Love” group formed to make prayer shawls for members and friends of the church who needed some additional love and concern, Linda took an active interest in this ministry. She was also instrumental in selecting and procuring a cabinet in which to store the prayer shawls until they were distributed.

When Lynn took over the responsibility of maintaining the church building and property, Linda was right there with him sharing in keeping everything clean and polished. Lynn and Linda had fun working together, often laughing as they completed their tasks.  Most of the conversations I shared with Linda were when I would stop at the church on Saturdays and she would be helping Lynn put the finishing touches on things so all would be ready for Sunday morning.  Those were truly precious times as Linda would talk about her daughters, Jessica and Amanda, and, of course, Owen.  I also remember Linda holding baby Owen in the back of the sanctuary during worship.  What joy he brought to her heart.  Jessica, Amanda and not-so-little-anymore Owen, your mom and Oma loved you more than life itself and still does as she watches over you now from her place in heaven.  Lynn and Linda loved and cared for each other in such a beautiful way, especially in the last months of Linda’s illness, when Lynn did everything he could to comfort and care for her.  Indeed, “Precious memories how they linger; how they ever flood my soul. In the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.”  Amen.

Chris Martin,

Pastor of Visitation

Christ United Methodist Church

Alliance, Ohio


Drew Shuster

Subject: Aunt Linda

I don’t have a particular story, but I did want to say that I will miss her laugh and her kind heart.   She had the kind of laugh that always made me laugh.   I will miss hearing her laugh at our family gatherings especially at Christmas when we always have such fun playing games and doing funny gift exchanges as a family.  She loved all of us kids so much and she always made sure we knew it.   Evan also wanted to say that she bought him his favorite dinosaurs when they were out together at the zoo and he will always think of her when he is playing with them.


Ben Shuster

Subject: My Aunt Linda remembrance

I just know that my mom and Grandma’s friends would always joke how Aunt Linda reminded them of Grandma Rickard — there was no mistaking she was Grandma’s daughter.  When I was a boy I loved going to Grandma’s house of course!  I always felt so at home there, a home away from my home.  Grandma would laugh and sit and watch us boys go crazy, say funny things, with love and happiness written all over face.

When Grandma passed, and as I grew up, and it became “Aunt Linda’s house” — every time I’d go visit I would think “wow, she really is looking more and more like grandma!”  Her laugh more like grandma’s, the way she’d sit and watch and laugh at us being silly adults.  And she became an Oma herself and it was official!  She was the new “Grandma.”

Since my dad passed away and we moved away, I’ve always felt so uncomfortable in Alliance — but not at that house on Glenwood, and not with Aunt Linda.  She was always comforting to me.  She always made me feel calm and endlessly happy, like being a kid all over again.  Being with her and at her house always relaxed me no matter what bad or stressful things were going on out in the world.  I can’t think of someone who is more genuinely happy for others, so proud and thankful for her family, and so strong despite those fears and “quirks” she inherited from Grandma!

I’ll keep remembering her like I remember my childhood — happy, laughing, joking, peaceful.  And I’ll plan to teach Alex what she taught us — that no matter how tall the odds or what fears we might have, you face them strong and you fight as best you can because your family loves you and will support you no matter what.

We love you Aunt Linda aka Oma!


Sara Sherer

UMU Director of Residence Life

Thoughts about Linda

Before actual “stories” I will say that the things that stood out to me most about Linda were how much she loved to laugh… and she had a great laugh.  She had a servant’s heart – she worried about other people working too hard, but she never stopped.  She loved her family and worried about them, but she was so proud of her girls, and her nephews and sister.  But, she just cared about people and was a great listener.  She was an awesome co-worker.  She always found a way to get things done, even when other people told you they couldn’t happen.

Stories:

  • When I first started working at Mount Union, I didn’t know my own office phone number… I thought I did, but I didn’t.  I had never lived anywhere where there were 2 exchanges in the same city… so I thought all Alliance phone numbers began with 823…. but my office line didn’t.  So, one time Linda called my office and told me that she called a friend and realized that the last 4 digits were the same as a co-workers… and her friend asked, is your co-worker Sara?  Can you tell her to stop giving out my number??
  • Similarly – I used to re-record my voicemail message every week.  We had to, to update who was the emergency contact on campus.  I hated it recording it and often it took several “takes” before I got all the way through the long message without saying something wrong.  Well, one day, I got a voicemail from Linda and she was just laughing so hard.  When I recorded my voicemail, I thought I was starting over with each of my do-overs, but Linda told me that each and everyone of them were recorded, back to back… and that it had taken me 8 attempts that time and she had listened to every single one, laughing harder with each of my attempts.
  • Then there was the time that I donated a coat to the church basement sale and in the coat pocket was a campus key!  Thank goodness Linda recognized the key and figured out it was mine (I was pretty new to church at that time) and got it back to me! That would have been an expensive loss!
  • I think that it may have been Susan Diser who originally invited me to come to choir… but it was sitting with Linda and Lucinda and Diane in the alto section that made it so much fun. The altos always got into trouble with Lanny, the director.  I’ve missed all of them in choir!  (although the altos still probably are the most unruly section!)  The biggest problem I had, besides getting in trouble with the altos, was that we sat beside the tenors, so often I would find myself singing tenor along with Lynn instead of the alto part!
  • Linda was the first person that Ian and I ever visited (outside of family).  I was on maternity leave (and living on campus) and Linda was at home recovering from a heart-attack, so I loaded Ian up in his stroller and we walked to visit Linda.
  • Similarly – I think that Linda was one of the first people to ever meet Mark… the week after he was born was VBS at church (combined with St. Joe’s that year) and Linda and Lynn agreed to pick up Ian and take him to bible school every night.  When she came the first night, she came in to meet Mark, but made a big fuss over Ian becoming a big brother and brought him a stuffed animal dog – of the golden-retriever variety.  Ian immediately named him Sandy and he was the precious stuffy that had to go on everywhere with us.  I was pretty certain Sandy would end up going to college with Ian.
  • For the last couple of years, Linda and I have planned and provided light lunches, often soup and salad, for a small group of students/faculty/staff after chapel service most weeks.  She was a great partner!  I needed a decision maker.  At the beginning of a semester I sent a whole list of fancy soups that I could make… and the one that Linda requested first was chicken and rice!  It was such an “old standby” that I almost didn’t put it on the list.
  • She agonized about whether or not to retire.  She didn’t want to leave anyone in a lurch.  She fought against taking sick days and eventually FMLA even when we were all urging her to take the time off and take care of herself.  She wanted to make sure that we were all taken care of first.

Obituary for Linda Montgomery

Linda Montgomery

Linda Rickard Montgomery, age 59, of Alliance, passed away on June 18, 2020 at the Cleveland Clinic due to complications after courageously fighting leukemia and lymphoma.

She was born June 25, 1960 in Alliance, Ohio to Kenneth and Marjorie Rickard. A graduate of Alliance High School, class of 1978, Linda worked at the University of Mount Union since 1995 where she held many positions, but finally finding her perfect niche in the Dewald Chapel. She was planning to retire this month.

Linda was a member of Christ United Methodist Church where she spent many years as part of the choir and Threads of Love. She also served as the head of the reception committee and a member of the Friendship II Sunday School class. Linda was also a long-time member of Rainbow Girls and the Eastern Star.

Linda loved camping and being outdoors, spending time with her family, Christmas, bird watching.  She was always smiling and bringing joy to others, especially with her famous laugh, the “Linda cackle”.

Survivors include her longtime partner, Lynn Goldrick; daughters, Jessica (Craig) Crider of Salem, OH, and Amanda Montgomery of Columbus, OH; grandson, Owen Crider; sister, Susan (Dieter) Kahle of Solon, OH; nephews, Drew (Erin) Shuster of North Ridgeville, OH, and Ben (Erin) Shuster of Arlington, VA; great nephews, Evan, Isaac, and Alexander.

She was preceded in death by her parents.

A private funeral service will held.  She will be laid to rest beside her parents at Alliance City Cemetery.

Memorial contributions can be made in her name to American Red Cross (monetary or blood donations) http://www.redcross.org or Christ United Methodist Church 470 Broadway St. Alliance, OH 44601.

Arrangements are entrusted to Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home, Alliance, Ohio.  Friends may register online at www.ctcfuneral.com.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Linda Montgomery, please visit our floral store.

 

The Anti-Blessings of God

The Anti-Blessings of God

June 14, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 18:1-15                  Matthew 9:35 – 10:23                Romans 5:1-8

 

 How would you feel if you prayed that God would protect you and pour out blessings on you, and what you got was trouble, suffering, and pain?  Would you feel protected and blessed?

What if you prayed, in the middle of your pain, for the suffering to end, and it just kept going, and going?  Would you feel as if God answered your prayers?

And imagine that you spent your entire life praying for God to answer one specific prayer, one that everyone around you seemed to have answered, and after a lifetime of prayer, you gave up simply because the answer to your prayer was no longer even possible.  Would you feel blessed?

Contrary to what we might want, and contrary to what some television preachers might tell you, God isn’t a genie that dispenses wealth and happiness in answer to our prayers like some kind of cosmic vending machine.  God is more complicated than that just as our lives are more complicated than simplistic sayings like “earning a living” and “raising a family.”  Life can be hard, but we worship a God who understands our needs better than we do and who dispenses blessings that are far more complex than those things for which we might have asked.  Rather than giving us things that we think we want; God blesses us with gifts that he knows we will need.  Unfortunately, we often find that these “anti-blessings” are gifts for which we would never have prayed and are gifts that we didn’t want.

In Genesis 18:1-15, we hear the story of how Abraham met God, and was given a gift for which he and Sarah, his wife, had prayed for decades.  But now, as Abraham and Sarah had given up on that prayer, after both were long past the age of having children, God begins the fulfillment of an almost forgotten promise.

18:1 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs [about 36 pounds] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

God visits Abraham decades after he changed his name from Abram, which means “father of many,” to Abraham, which means “father of nations.”  By the time of this visit, Abram and Sarah are in their eighties or nineties, or as the passage notes, “already very old, and Sarah was well past the age of childbearing.”  And yet, God honors his promises, and when the visitor returns a year later, the impossible has happened and Sarah, the octogenarian, has given birth to a son named Isaac.  This is amazing, and miraculous, but imagine the pain that the two of them endured for generations.  Imagine introducing yourself as “the father of nations” but having no children.  Why did God allow that to happen?  Isn’t the creation of these circumstances extraordinarily cruel?  What could God possibly have had in mind?

We will come back to that, but now, let’s consider the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples, and the warnings that he gave them, and us, at the same time in Matthew 9:35 – 10:23.

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

 10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you; it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because he saw people who, like sheep, were lost, aimless, alone, and suffering from a total lack of unity.  To combat that isolation, Jesus sent the disciples into the world to cast out spirits and heal the sick.  And while that sounds a bit like sending gallant knights on a brave quest, this blessing, and these gifts, come with a warning that would turn your hair white.  Jesus warns the disciples, and us, that the world isn’t going to be appreciative or grateful for the message that we carry.  Instead, Jesus frighteningly compares those that carry the message of the kingdom of God to sheep among wolves.  The disciples are warned that they will be arrested, judged, hated, beaten by their own churches, persecuted, and made homeless when they do what he has sent them to do.  But, at the same time, they will be given gifts from God, be accompanied by God, and be used by the Spirit of God.

These anti-blessings are gifts that none of us want.  Jesus isn’t promising that his followers will have wealth, comfort, happiness, and career advancement.  He is promising misery, suffering, pain, and death.  These are not the things that you would find on a recruiting poster, these are the things that wake you in a cold sweat run screaming into the night.

And so again, just as we did with Abraham, we ask ourselves, “What could God possibly have in mind?”

We find some of the answers in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 5:1-8).

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul explains to the church that the things we find through our relationship with Jesus aren’t wealth, prosperity, and comfort.  What we find in Jesus… is peace with God.  Paul says that if we want to learn perseverance, we learn it through suffering.  If we want to build character, we build it through persevering through suffering.  And if we want to find hope, we find it while we are journeying through suffering and building character.  If you ask someone if they would like to learn patience, most will say yes.  But we all know that the only way to learn patience, is to live through difficult circumstances that require it.  The same is true here.  While everyone wants to have hope, and character, the path we follow as we learn them takes us through dark places that are filled with pain and suffering.

So why did God allow Abraham and Sarah to endure, and suffer, for fifty or seventy years while they waited for God to fulfill his promise?  Perhaps it is because God needed a man and woman with a specific set of skills and gifts to be the parents of Isaac.  Perhaps God needed parents with perseverance, character, and an abundance of hope.  God called Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of his new nation, but first he needed them to become the kind of people that Isaac, Israel, and the world, would need.

The same applies to the disciples and to us.  God calls us as we are, but to do the work that he has called us to do, it is often necessary for us to become the people that he needs.  And the journey from where we are to where God need us to be often passes through pain and suffering so that we can learn perseverance, character, and hope.

So yes, God just might be answering your prayer for his blessing when you are on the receiving end of trouble, suffering and pain.

And yes, when your suffering lasts longer than you had hoped, and even long after you prayed for it to end, God may just be answering your prayer in ways that you hadn’t expected.

While none of us wants these kinds of anti-blessings, God might just be allowing them today so that we can become the people that he needs tomorrow.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/8ywdXlDfGjI

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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.

Eulogy and Obituary for Thelma Greiner

Eulogy for Thelma Greiner

May 20, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

 

Thelma wanted to have an excerpt of a poem shared at her funeral that was often memorized by grade school children in her day. She memorized it, and although I will share an excerpt of it, Thelma likely memorized all of it.  It became, and remained, a favorite of Thelma’s for her entire life and she often would mention it or recite parts of it.  It was a favorite of Joe’s as well.  If you’d like to read it later, I’ll attach a copy of the entire poem when I post it online.

It is called Thanatopsis.  Thanatopsis which is a Greek word that means meditation on, or contemplation of, death.  It is an elegy that attempts to console humans given that everyone must die.

Thanatopsis

by William Cullen Bryant

So live, that when thy summons comes to join

The innumerable caravan, which moves

To the mysterious realm, where each shall take

His chamber in the silent halls of death,

Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,

Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.


We should have been having a birthday celebration today.  With the Coronavirus lockdown in place, many of the cards for the card shower were, and are, already on the way.  It seems ridiculously simplistic to say that this isn’t what any of us wanted to be doing today.  But we are here for the same reason that those birthday cards are in the mail, because Thelma Greiner invested her life in the lives of others.  Friends, church members, and people whose lives Thelma touched, took the time to send cards and well-wishes because her happiness mattered to them.  She invested her life in schools, and her sorority, and in church, and in her community, she loved them, and they loved her back.  And, as her family, you know that better than anyone.

Although her family always came first, Thelma was passionate about, and dedicated to, many other things.  She was an involved and integral part of Christ Church from the time a neighbor offered to bring her, she belonged to the original “Friendship” class, met her husband there, and continued her membership, and her involvement, throughout her entire life.  She was just as dedicated to teaching her students, and to the profession of teaching, whether she was teaching the alphabet and modeling clay in kindergarten, discussing Greek and Roman gods, or conjugating Latin verbs.  Retirement didn’t change that either because teaching never left her.  It was who she was, and it was always a part of her life.  But that passion, dedication, and commitment, carried over into everything else that she did.  Whatever she committed to do, she did wholeheartedly, dove in and became completely involved, and was willing to assume whatever kind of responsibility and leadership was needed.  Thelma was the person who got along with everyone and who didn’t get upset when things didn’t go exactly according to plan.

Thelma Shultz was born in North Jackson, Ohio and was always connected to her family, and to her family heritage, because she made the effort to stay connected.  She took her family on holiday visits to the family farm in Greenville, Ohio, visited family in Kansas and Florida, and took her family to the World’s Fair.  She taught everyone the family history, of which she was so proud, and made sure that they knew that they had family that came to the American colonies with William Penn, and others that arrived through Ellis Island.

Part of Thelma’s attachment to Christ Church, was the handsome young man, Joe Greiner, whom she met, while attending church, and later married.  Thelma was two years older than Joe, and that bothered her so much that she started telling everyone that there was only a one-year age difference.  Obviously, the difference of one year wouldn’t have mattered to her family, but they didn’t find out the truth until she was celebrating a birthday in her nineties and confessed that she was actually a year older.  Thelma and Joe both attended, and graduated from, Mount Union and married in 1945 after Joe graduated from dental school and became an oral surgeon, and before the US Army sent him to Fort Smith, Arkansas to work at the POW camp there.  After the war was over, Joe would remain in the Army Reserves, get called to Fort Knox and active duty during the Belin crisis and, over the years, many of their family vacations would be planned around Joe’s training.  When Joe went to command school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then Thelma and the family would visit family nearby, and so on.

After Joe was suddenly taken from her in 1975 at the age 58, Thelma led the family alone, but she stayed just as busy, if not busier, than ever.  She continued to travel, but now, instead of Joe, she had Melinda by her side.  And later, her good friend and companion Wayne Jenkins travelled with her, especially to see Melinda and Art in Florida.  They enjoyed traveling and visiting together and were both were welcomed as extended members of the families of the Grainers and the Jenkins.

But no matter how many groups she was involved with, or how many projects that she had, or how much traveling she was doing, Thelma was always there for Mike and Julie.  She was always supportive, always helpful, and didn’t miss anything.  She saved articles about her family, and programs from their school and church activities, and maintained them in her scrapbooks.

Throughout her life, Thelma also had great affection for an “almost” family member, Charles Schulz.  Although his name and her maiden name were not quite spelled the same, she always felt as if they should have been related and virtually adopted him into her life as an honorary relative.  She loved the cast of characters from Schulz’s Peanuts comics, liked his sense of humor, and appreciated the wit and wisdom of his sayings so much that she often shared them with her family and others.  She often repeated saying like,

“Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening; it just stops you from enjoying the good,”

“The smile on my face doesn’t mean my life is perfect.  It means I appreciate what I have and what I have been blessed with.  I choose to be happy,”

and, “Happiness is anyone and anything that’s loved by you.”

Thelma not only repeated these sayings, but her life embraced them.  She had Peanuts saying, and memorabilia to decorate her room for every season and every holiday.  And she especially liked to show off her tiny Schroeder piano that played his music when she touched the keys.

In the end, Thelma knew that her life wasn’t perfect, but she appreciated what she had for as long as she had it, and she appreciated the blessings that God gave to her.  Many of those blessings are here in this room today.  Although this day may not what we had hoped, the birthday cards that have been sent, and more that will likely come, as well as cards and letters of support and grief that you will receive, all stand in mute testimony to the love that Thelma shared for her church, her community, the people around her, and the love that they shared in return.  But I hope that you will never forget that more than any other activity, more than any other people, she loved you and she invested her life in you.  Thelma Greiner loved her Jesus and had confidence in both him and in her eternity.  She lived so that when the summons came to join the caravan to the mysterious realm, she went with an unfaltering trust…

“Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

 


Obituary for Thelma Greiner

Thelma GreinerThelma Greiner, age 103, of Alliance passed away Wednesday May 13, 2020, at Crandall Medical Center in Sebring.

She was born May 20, 1916, in North Jackson, Ohio to Albert J. and Emma V. (Spell) Shultz.

Thelma grew up in Alliance, graduating from Alliance High in 1935. She graduated in 1938 from Mount Union College and was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority. She spent her life as an educator in the Alliance, Columbus, and West Branch school districts.

She was a member of Christ United Methodist Church for 93 years, where she was active in the Crusaders Sunday School class and United Methodist Women. Thelma was active in the community as a charter member and past president of Stark County Dental Auxiliary, past president of Alliance Garden Club and the Belleflower Garden Club, Postscript, past president of Alpha Chi Omega Alumnae, member of City Panhellenic, and Alliance Country Club. She also served as a former board member of the Alliance Woman’s Club, and the YWCA.

Survivors include her son, James J. (Jill) Greiner of Alliance; daughter, Melinda (Art) Bradley of Warne, NC; grandchildren, Michael (Jamie) Greiner, and Julie Greiner.

Preceding her in death were her parents; and husband, Dr. Joseph C. Greiner who passed away in 1975; sisters, Kathryn Plajer, and Lilyan Johns; and friend Wayne Jenkins.

The family wishes to thank the Crandall Medical Center caregivers and staff for their kind attention and compassion.

A private service will be held on May 20, 2020, with a memorial service to be held at a later date. Interment will be held at Alliance City Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Christ United Methodist Church 470 E. Broadway Street Alliance, OH 44601.

Arrangements are entrusted to Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home 75 S. Union Ave., Alliance, OH 44601.

Arrangements are by Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home, 75 S. Union Avenue Alliance, OH 44601.

https://www.ctcfuneralandcremation.com/obituary/Thelma-Greiner


 

Thanatopsis

By William Cullen Bryant

 

To him who in the love of Nature holds

Communion with her visible forms, she speaks

A various language; for his gayer hours

She has a voice of gladness, and a smile

And eloquence of beauty, and she glides

Into his darker musings, with a mild

And healing sympathy, that steals away

Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts

Of the last bitter hour come like a blight

Over thy spirit, and sad images

Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,

And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,

Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—

Go forth, under the open sky, and list

To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—

Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—

Comes a still voice—

Yet a few days, and thee

The all-beholding sun shall see no more

In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,

Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,

Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist

Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim

Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,

And, lost each human trace, surrendering up

Thine individual being, shalt thou go

To mix for ever with the elements,

To be a brother to the insensible rock

And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain

Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak

Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place

Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish

Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down

With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,

The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,

Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,

All in one mighty sepulchre.   The hills

Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales

Stretching in pensive quietness between;

The venerable woods—rivers that move

In majesty, and the complaining brooks

That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,

Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—

Are but the solemn decorations all

Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,

The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,

Are shining on the sad abodes of death,

Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread

The globe are but a handful to the tribes

That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings

Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,

Or lose thyself in the continuous woods

Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,

Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:

And millions in those solitudes, since first

The flight of years began, have laid them down

In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.

So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw

In silence from the living, and no friend

Take note of thy departure? All that breathe

Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh

When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care

Plod on, and each one as before will chase

His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave

Their mirth and their employments, and shall come

And make their bed with thee. As the long train

Of ages glide away, the sons of men,

The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes

In the full strength of years, matron and maid,

The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—

Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,

By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join

The innumerable caravan, which moves

To that mysterious realm, where each shall take

His chamber in the silent halls of death,

Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,

Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

 

The Unloving Jesus

The Unloving Jesus

February 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20                     Matthew 5:21-37                   1 Corinthians 3:1-9

 

What are the things that you hear people say about God?

Got is great, God is Good, God is love?  Occasionally people try to draw some kind of line between an “Old Testament God” and a “New Testament God” because the God of the Old Testament sometimes sounds mean and vindictive and we have a hard time connecting God’s actions in the Old Testament, with the God that we see in the New Testament.  The problem is that we can’t separate the two and so we are compelled to struggle with our understanding of God so that both things are true.

But the same thing happens with Jesus.

What are the things that you hear people say about Jesus?

They say that Jesus was loving, and caring, and inviting.  Jesus cared for people that the church had forgotten or had thrown out or cast aside.  Jesus welcomed the outsiders and the strangers and all kinds of other people.  And all those things are true.  But it is also important to remember that Jesus was disliked, and even hated by many people of his own time.  In the first century, as well as our twenty-first century, Jesus’ own words sometime sound hurtful, hateful, unloving, unbending, inflexible, and radically conservative.

These words of Jesus can be so difficult to understand, that they are often just set aside or unread because we have a hard time making them “fit” with the Jesus that was loving and compassionate.  But, like God, both of these things are true, and if we want to be honest, we need to wrestle with them and try to understand the whole person of Jesus and not some caricature of Jesus that fits some narrative that we desperately want to be true.

That’s a lot to digest, but I hope these things will become a little clearer as we study together.

Let’s begin this morning by reading the choice that God sets in front of the nation of Israel as Moses (now 120 years old) prepared to hand over his leadership to Joshua.  (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

 

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

 

While at first glance, this might sound harsh, God is giving the people the freedom to choose.  Everyone is welcome to choose for themselves whether or not they want to follow God but, God also makes it clear that there is a cost associated with choosing to walk away from him.  Choosing God is the same as choosing life and choosing to walk away is the same as choosing death and destruction.  God doesn’t threaten that he will destroy them, but simply explains that without his protection they would certainly be destroyed.  With that knowledge, the people were free to choose, and we remain free to make that same choice today.  It isn’t unloving to tell the truth.  It’s the same as when we tell children who can’t swim, not to go in the deep end of the pool.  Without Mom, or Dad, or another strong swimmer, going in the deep end alone will not end well.  And that is the core of what God is saying.  It isn’t mean, it’s just the truth.

 

And that’s the same thing that is going on in Matthew 5:21-37 as Jesus interprets scripture as it applies to several common cultural standards and everyday human interactions.  Jesus said,

 

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

 

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

 

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

 

The things that he said here, are the kind of things that made the Pharisees, the Sadducees and other leaders of Israel want Jesus to go away… forever.  Jesus starts with something that everyone can agree on, “anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.”  That isn’t the least bit controversial, but then Jesus says that if you call someone a fool, or use an Aramaic term of contempt like “Raca” which, in English could be understood as something like when Yosemite Sam calls Bugs Bunny an “Idjit” and is certainly similar to many of the insults that we see online being traded between Democrats and Republicans, then Jesus says that using these terms to insult people puts us in danger of condemnation and hell.  This matter is so serious that Jesus recommends meeting with your friends and reconciling with them before you walk into church and make an offering to God and settle your disputes before they go to court.

 

That’s hard.  And like us, the people who heard it had a hard time accepting it.  Surely God was more forgiving, loving, and tolerant than that, wasn’t he?  But then, rather than backing off, Jesus turns up the hear another notch by talking about adultery.  Jesus says that just looking at a person of the opposite sex lustfully qualifies as adultery and earns the condemnation of God.  Worse yet, Jesus continues to throw coal on the fire by taking up the issue of divorce.  At the time, much like today, divorce was relatively common.  We know, historically, that the rabbis of the day accepted that divorce was normal but argued between themselves over what offense was needed to justify it.  All agreed that infidelity qualified, but virtually all of them said that offenses far less serious were enough and some rabbis taught that something as minor as burning breakfast was enough to qualify.  But Jesus’s evaluation was far stricter than any of the rabbis of the day.  When Jesus steps into the middle of this argument, he says that nothing short of infidelity was acceptable.  That meant that Jesus was labelling nearly everyone who had been divorced, or who had married a divorced person, which had to be a sizable percentage of the population, including some of the church leadership, as adulterers. 

 

This didn’t win Jesus any friends, and it was language like this that made the leaders of the church want Jesus dead.  In our twenty-first century world, the people on social media would be screaming that Jesus was an inflexible, unloving, unforgiving, ultra-conservative hater.

 

Except that we know he wasn’t.  So how are we to make sense of all that?

 

Ultimately, it’s the same as what we saw in Deuteronomy.

 

Jesus doesn’t warn us about God’s condemnation because he is mean, or unloving but because he knows how high God’s standards and expectations really are.  He doesn’t speak this way because he hates us, but because he, of all people, understands the truth.  It’s just like a lifeguard telling us that there are dangerous riptides and it isn’t safe to go in the water.  The lifeguard doesn’t hate you.  He is aware that you travelled a long distance to be there and had high hopes for a pleasant swim in the ocean.  But he hopes that despite your disappointment in not being able to swim at the beach, the truth will save your life. 

 

The truth might hurt, but it isn’t meant to be hurtful.

 

People got upset when Jesus said that they were murderers, adulterers and sinners.  They were hurt and angry, and some of them decided that they wanted him dead.  But Jesus didn’t say those things to hurt them.  Jesus said those things to save them and hoped that, rather than watering down the word of God and deciding that sin wasn’t really sin, if people were equipped with a better understanding of God’s high standards, they also understand their need for forgiveness and their need for a savior.

 

Jesus says that we should be so dedicated to the truth, that we should not ever need to swear an oath by God, or by heaven, or on the Bible, or on your mother, or even on the hair of your own head.  You should be so committed to the truth that everyone knows that ‘yes’ means yes and ‘no’ mean no.

 

But we aren’t just called to tell the truth, we are called to be mature disciples of the truth and that means something about how we tell the truth.  In Ephesians 4:15, Paul says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  While we are called to be disciples of, and bearers of, God’s truth, as mature disciples, we must learn to communicate that truth as lovingly as we possibly can.  Not only is that one of the great challenges of Christianity in the twenty-first century, it is often something that Christians are often bad at doing.  In fact, I think that is one of the principle things that has led to the current division in our United Methodist denomination.  Although many of us disagree on what the truth is, I don’t think that’s the problem.  The church has survived disagreements for millennia.  The problem is that somewhere along the line, both sides seem to have abandoned any attempt to speak the truth in a truly loving way.  Regardless of our interpretation of scripture, if we abandon love, no one will ever listen to the message of truth that we carry.

 

No matter how hard it was to hear, and no matter how angry it might have made some of his listeners, Jesus never abandoned the truth, and he never stopped telling the truth to the people around him.  No matter how upset people might get, the lifeguard is not going to stop warning people about the riptides that can kill them.  Jesus knew how dangerous sin really is, and he never stopped warning people about their need for forgiveness.  But, at the same time, Jesus never stopped showing genuine love and concern for the people around him. 

 

Jesus always told the truth, but he told the truth as lovingly as possible.

 

And we must do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Eulogy and Obituary for Diane L. Thomas

Eulogy for Diane L. Thomas

February 13, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

 

 

This may seem like an odd place to start, but one of the strangest, and funniest, scenes in the animated movie “The Incredibles” is when Lucius Best, also known as the hero Frozone, is desperately trying to go out in the street to fight the bad guy, and is having an argument with his wife over where she put his super suit.  Why does this matter at a funeral?  Because in that scene that only lasts a few seconds, we see that in the home of a genuine hero, the amazing abilities and even the heroism of Frozone is completely ignored because they have become entirely ordinary to the people that live with him every day.

 

In the years since I became a pastor, I have seen almost that exact same thing happen in the families of people who, although they didn’t have super-human powers, nearly lost sight of the heroes with whom they lived because of the ordinariness of everyday life.  And, as met with Diane’s family, and as I looked over the notes that I took while they shared her story, that is what I what I saw.

 

Diane was born on May 22nd, 1963, went to Alliance High School, and then to Mount Union.  She was in her mid-20’s when she met Brad at a campground where Brad was visiting friends and Diane had arrived with a mutual friend.  After their meeting, they dated for about a year before getting married in the chapel at Christ Church.  I want you to understand that our chapel is not very big.  It only seats about 30 people if you squeeze.  So small was their wedding, that other than the pastor and a few members of their immediate family, the only people in attendance were the kids who came from the daycare center downstairs.

 

For Diane and Brad, church wasn’t just the place that they had a wedding, it was more of a way of life.  Diane loved to sing, and she sang in the choir, played in the bell choir, and became the church’s financial secretary while Brad became the church’s custodian and jack-of-all-trades.  Diane was known by her coworkers to be one of the most organized people at church and she was always on top of anything with which she was involved.  Brad said that the most amazing thing about Diane was that she was able to put up with him.

 

Diane’s favorite color was purple, she was easygoing and hardly ever picky, she loved chocolate silk pie, she loved the holidays, loved watching movies, and she loved animals, especially her dog, Grace.  Diane and Grace were practically inseparable and although she isn’t human, just the same, Grace is struggling with Diane’s loss as much, or more, than many of you.

 

Diane and her family did just about everything together, from trips to Mexico, Niagara Falls, Myrtle Beach, and a bunch of other places with the word “beach” in them, motorcycling, walking, and lots of restaurants.  And Rachel emphasized that everything they did together was always fun.  While the kids were growing up, Diane was regularly reading to them.  She loved books.  She was not just an avid reader, she read constantly.  In this last year alone, Diane read more than one hundred books.

 

I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to all the children yesterday, but I’m going to guess that the experiences of Heather and Scott weren’t a lot different from the things that Rachel told me.  Rachel talked to her mom while she drove home from work every day, and she said that her mom helped her grow up, was always there for her, helped her with everything, and was absolutely her best friend.

 

But the hardest, and the most inspiring, part of Diane’s story started 12 years ago when she first discovered that she had breast cancer.  She fought it, and she won.  But on her ten-year checkup, they discovered that this beast from her past had returned.  And she fought it again.  She fought hard and she fought bravely, and she battled with the beast for three more years.  And in all that time, Diane never complained.  Brad said that Diane always handled her fight, and her situation, better than he did.  And, in the same way that she had always done everything, no matter what happened, Diane always had a positive attitude.

 

So, while those who were closest to her might be tempted to say that Diane Thomas lived an ordinary life, what are the things that she will be remembered for?  Certainly, she was loving.  There were never any doubts about her love for Brad, or for her kids.  She loved her kids partners as if they were her own.  This past Christmas, the family gathered at Rachel’s house and although they didn’t realize it, all her siblings had the chance to be together one last time.  No one will forget Diane’s love for them.

 

But Diane will be remembered for more than love.  If we think back through the stories that I just shared with you we saw fun, faith, faithfulness, dedication, tolerance, an infectious and consistently positive attitude, and an incredible abundance of courage.

 

A little while ago, I said people lose sight of the heroes with whom they live because of the ordinariness of everyday life and I think that’s what’s happened here.  Although in the middle of the everyday, day-in and day-out struggle, it might have seemed ordinary, upon reflection we realize that Diane spent years of her life fighting one of humanity’s greatest super villains.

 

Although they may not wear capes, we are surrounded by heroes

 

And clearly, Diane Thomas was one of them.

 

Obituary for Diane L. Thomas

 

Diane ThomasDiane L. Thomas, age 56, of Salem, passed away at 4:33 p.m. Saturday, February 8, 2020 at Salem Regional Hospital.  She was born May 22, 1963 in Alliance, Ohio to Hugh E. and Helen Marie (Taylor) Kiel.

A graduate of Alliance High School, Diane also graduated from Mount Union College.

She had been Financial Secretary at Christ United Methodist Church and Assistant Director of Public Affairs at Mount Union College, before retiring as Digital Content Specialist for Coastal Pet.

A member of Christ United Methodist Church, Diane was an avid reader; she loved animals, and spending time with her family and friends.

Survivors include husband, Bradley D. Thomas, whom she married January, 22, 1990; children, Heather Thomas, Scott Thomas, and Rachel Thomas; siblings,  Walter Kiel of Gratis, OH, Marilyn (Will) Omodt of Kingsport, TN, Phillip (Juanita) Kiel of Smithsburg, MD, Paul (Debbie) Kiel of N. Canton, OH; and many nieces and nephews.

Diane was preceded in death by her parents.

Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home. Friends may call from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday.

Interment will be at Alliance City Cemetery.

Memorial Contributions may be made to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, 16133 Ventura Blvd., Suite 1000, Encino, CA 91436.

Arrangements are by Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home, 75 S. Union Avenue Alliance, OH 44601.

https://www.ctcfuneralandcremation.com/obituary/DianeL-Thomas

Juggling Justice and Gentleness

Juggling Justice and Gentleness

January 12, 2020*

Baptism of Jesus

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 42:1-9                          Matthew 3:13-17                               Acts 10:34-43

Have you ever been caught watching a juggler who is so good that you just can’t stop watching?  Sure, there are the average “good” jugglers who can get you to watch for a few minutes.  They’re fun to watch in a parade as the go by, or for a moment as you pause on the midway at the fair for a few minutes.  But every once in a while, there’s that one juggler who is so good that every time you think you’re starting to lose interest, they change their act and suck you right back in again.  Some years ago, there was a guy that would show up in television occasionally, and I’m pretty sure that he even made an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show, but he billed himself as the guy who could juggle anything.  He would start his act by juggling, balls, and then juggling pins, then bowling pins, then pieces of silk, feathers (which is pretty tricky), but then he’d mix in knives, swords, things that were on fire, chainsaws and even bowling balls, and finally he’d finish by juggling all those weird things at the same time.  Sure, it takes talent to juggle feathers, or bowling balls, or chainsaws, but in his closing act, he would juggle a feather, a chainsaw, a sword, and a bowling ball all at the same time.  That was impressive to watch. 

But, when we listen to his instructions and commands of God, sometimes it seems like that is the kind of thing that God is asking us to do.

We find this kind of juggling in the words of Isaiah found in Isaiah 42:1-9

42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

 

God says that his Spirit would enter into the messiah so that he could bring justice to the nations but, that in doing so, he would not shout, cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  His coming, and his work, would be so gentle that he would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.  But despite his gentleness, he will not falter, or be discouraged, until he establishes justice on the earth and brings hope to his people.

 

To most of us, I think that description sounds both wonderful and just a bit confusing.  We are familiar with justice from watching our law enforcement and legal systems, but much of the justice that we see, as hard as they try, often involves the use of brute strength and a lack of subtlety that clearly does not make us think of things like gentleness, tenderness, and hope.  I’m not saying that members of law enforcement and the legal system are brutes and bullies, or that they aren’t trying to do the very best that they can do, but we all know that circumstances, and the way in which our laws are written, sometimes leave them with few other options.  In the end, trying to bring justice and gentleness at the same time seems as difficult an exercise as juggling feathers and bowling balls.

 

But that was precisely what the messiah would be sent to do, and we begin to see how Jesus threads the needle a little bit as he begins his ministry in the story of his baptism contained in Matthew 3:13-17.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

It’s important we notice that John knows that Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized.  Jesus was the messiah, the one who was sent to bring righteousness and indeed, to be righteousness, so John knows that Jesus ought to be the one who baptizes him, not the other way around.  But Jesus explains that although he doesn’t need to be baptized for forgiveness, or to be symbolically purified, he needs to be baptized because that was what the scriptures said would happen, and that was what tradition and proper religious practices required.  Jesus is balancing, juggling if you will, both who he is, as well as who everyone expected him to be.  And in that moment, God recognizes that he is pleased with what Jesus is doing.

 

And, as we read through the gospels, we often see that Jesus is regularly juggling who he is with the mission to which he was called.  Jesus is constantly juggling the fulfillment of scripture, with the forwarding of his mission, with opposing those who are bent on destroying him, while at the same time offering gentleness and hope to those who have already been wounded by life, by God’s people, and even by the church.  And in many ways, that same juggling act, that same struggle for balance, has been passed on to us.  In Acts 10:34-43, Luke records Peter’s speech where we hear these words:

 

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

 

Peter reminds the crowd that they all know what Jesus had done, they had all either seen him or heard the stories about him and many of those gathered had done both.  But because they were the witnesses, because they had seen Jesus with their own eyes, because they had heard him preach, and because they had seen his miracles, they were also obligated to do something about it.  Because they were witnesses, Jesus commanded his followers to preach about Jesus to those who hadn’t heard and who hadn’t seen.   

 

Peter also reminds them that the prophets had promised that people would receive forgiveness of sins through the name of the messiah, Jesus.  But telling others about Jesus’ forgiveness of sins is a part of the juggling act and where we struggle to find balance.  Why? Because God appointed Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead, and because Jesus is the righteous judge, and because people receive forgiveness in the name of Jesus, and because the possibility of forgiveness is often the only thing that offers hope, all of these things must be found together.  We cannot tell the story about forgiveness and hope if we are unforgiving.  No one will listen to stories about a loving Jesus if we are unloving nor will anyone believe the promise of justice if we are not a people of gentleness.

 

No doubt you have all seen people of faith who, with the best of intentions, have attempted to tell the stories of Jesus and to be his witnesses while, at the same time, saying mean, angry, and hurtful things.  It is almost impossible to hear a message from anyone who is hurting you or attacking you.  Instead, we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to learn the art of balance.  We must juggle justice and gentleness, truth and compassion, so that the world around us can hear Jesus’ message of forgiveness and hope.

 

Sometimes that’s going to feel a lot like juggling feathers and bowling balls at the same time, but as hard as it might be, that is the mission to which Jesus has called us.  We are called to be witnesses and to be loving.

 

We must seek truth and compassion.  Forgiveness and hope.  Justice and gentleness. 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Given Grace to Give Grace

Given Grace to Give Grace

December 22, 2019*

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 7:10-16                            Matthew 1:18-25                               Romans 1:1-7

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to know the future?

Sometimes it might be a good thing.  When we’re going through difficult and challenging times it might be nice to know that things are going to turn out well for us.  When we worry about our children or grandchildren, it might be nice to know that they will eventually find their way, get an education, find a good job, and become responsible, productive, people of faith who love God.  Certainly, if we knew what the stock market was going to do next year, or even next week, we could make a lot of money.

But, on the other hand, would you want to know that your difficult and challenging times were only going to get worse?  Or that your children and grandchildren were not going to find their way?  Would you want to know the future if it was full of bad news?  Probably not.  And that’s exactly why Israel’s kings usually cringed whenever the prophets of God came to visit them.  God’s prophets had a reputation of only showing up when there was bad news and were sometimes thought of as harbingers of doom.  King Obadiah called Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”  God’s prophets knew that it wasn’t popular to know the future if the future wasn’t filled with good news.

And that’s a part of what is going on in the story we’re about to read, as Isaiah shares God’s words with King Ahaz of Judah in Isaiah 7:10-16.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

Ahaz remembers that the people of God are not supposed to put God to the test, and that is so ingrained in him that he won’t do it even when God asks him to do it.  God tells Ahaz that he will accomplish whatever it takes to prove to him that the things that Isaiah is saying will truly happen.  But, since Ahaz refuses to ask for such a sign, God names one instead and says that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, if you think about that for a minute, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds a little weird if the only meaning is the one that we remember at Christmastime because a that wouldn’t have answered King Ahaz’s question at all.  But, many of God’s prophecies had not one, but two meanings and two fulfillments.  The first would be one that made sense in the immediate future and the second would make sense in the more distant future.  This is one of those times.  The first meaning was that a young, unmarried woman, quite possibly a woman that both Isaiah and King Ahaz knew, such as the woman who was betrothed to Isaiah, who we would think of as Isaiah’s fiancée, and future wife, would, in a short amount of time, become pregnant and have a baby.  The second meaning, of course, is the one with which we are more familiar and that is one that became understood as something that would happen with the coming of Israel’s messiah.

And so, in this passage, God promises Ahaz that before Isaiah’s baby is old enough the choose right from wrong, traditionally about 12 or 13 years old, those who were attacking him, the kingdoms of Aram and the northern tribes of Israel, would come to an end.  And, while that sounds like good news, if you read the rest of that passage it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those times where things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, in any case, the second meaning is God’s promise of a messiah who would rescue his people for all time.  And it is that fulfillment that we see in the story of Matthew 1:18-25 where we hear these words:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Just as God had promised to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, the rescuer of humanity, God’s messiah, is born to a virgin.  But Joseph was terrified.  The woman to whom he had been pledged in marriage was pregnant and it was clear that he wasn’t the father.  At that point, Joseph had three choices and none of them were particularly good.  Since having sex before marriage was prohibited under the law of Moses, and it would seem obvious to most people that this is what Mary had done (since that was the ordinary way in which pregnancy happens), Mary would not only be seen as violating the law, but also as bringing disgrace to her family, bringing disgrace to Joseph’s family, and also breaking the contract that bound the two of them together. 

Joseph’s first option, under the law, was to publicly humiliate Mary and announce what she had done, and possibly even have her stoned to death (although that rarely, if ever, actually happened).  The second choice would be to quietly divorce her on the grounds that she had already broken the contract between their families.  The third choice was probably the worst choice of all, and that was to go ahead with their marriage.  This option would bring disgrace, humiliation, and financial hardship to both of their families, and would make Joseph, his father, and all of his family look stupid for going ahead with a marriage to a woman who had violated her promise even before their wedding. 

But even though all these choices seemed like bad ones, Joseph, being a nice guy, thought that he would choose the one that was the least damaging to everyone.

But God had other ideas.

God tells Joseph, in a dream, not to be afraid, that Mary had really not slept with anyone else, that the child she was carrying was actually the child of God and would become the one who would rescue God’s people from sin.  And when he woke up, Joseph did what God told him to do and in doing so, models for us some of the best characteristics of God, God’s people, and humanity.  In order to do what Joseph does requires extraordinary trust, abundant love, a mountain of faith, a pile of forgiveness, a large measure of grace, and more an ample amount of hope.

But what is it that we should take away from these stories?  How does the story of Christmas guide us as we live our lives in the twenty-first century?  And, even though he lived two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul understood a part of that answer as he wrote to the church in Rome as we see in Romans 1:1-7.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds everyone in the church that the Gospel message, the story of the messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, was a story that God promised, through the prophets, hundreds of years before it happened.  It was because of God’s love for us that he created a way for us to be rescued from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  Just as Joseph rescued Mary by taking her home to live with him, just as Joseph chose hope, love, and grace, so did God.  Just as Joseph showed mercy and grace to Mary, God showed mercy and grace to us by sending his Son to rescue us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we received these gifts from God and, Paul says, because we have received these gifts from God, through Jesus Christ, we are, in turn, called by God to share this Good News with the rest of the world.

Paul is clear that the message of Jesus Christ was never just a message for the Jews, but has always been a message for the Jews, the Gentiles, and for the entire world.  And while I am sure that Paul didn’t intend for this to be Christmas message, it certainly is one because when Paul says that the Gentiles are being called to belong to Jesus Christ it reminds us of this:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:8-10)

Good news.  For all the people.

We have been given grace, so that we might give grace to those around us, to the people we love, to the people we fear, to the people we hate, to the insiders, to the outsiders, to the connected, to the outcasts, to citizens, to foreigners…

…to everyone.

The world would not have heard the message of Jesus if Joseph didn’t have enough faith and trust in God to show mercy and grace to Mary.

And two thousand years of history hasn’t changed that.

One of the clear messages in the story of Christmas is that we are called to share God’s mercy and grace so that everyone around us can hear the message of Jesus.

As we leave this place, let us remember that we are God’s agents of grace.

 

 

 


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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.

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

August 25, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10                     Hebrews 12:18-29                 Luke 12:49-56

Have you ever asked someone to do something, and you just knew that they were making excuses to avoid saying “no” to your face?  You know what I mean.  How many times can someone need to wash their hair when you ask them out on a date?  Or be out of town every single time you ask them to help with something?  Look, if you don’t want to go on that next mission trip, just tell me that you don’t want to go, and I’ll quit bothering you about it.  But, can you imagine how many excuses God has heard when he asks his people to do stuff?  And, don’t you think that God knows that we’re just making excuses?  Of course, he does.

And in Jeremiah 1:4-10 we hear exactly that kind of a discussion as God calls Jeremiah to be his prophet in Israel and in Judea and to speak God’s words to humanity.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Some theologians have estimated that Jeremiah could have been as young as twelve when God called him to be his prophet.  Of course, it would seem strange to hear the words of God from the mouth of a twelve-year-old, of course the King would be unwilling, or at least unlikely, to listen to a twelve-year-old tell him what to do.  Jeremiah wasn’t stupid.  He knew that he would have a hard time because of his age, especially as someone who had not trained as a public speaker and who didn’t have any experience speaking in front of anyone, let alone princes and kings.

But God basically just commands Jeremiah to stop making excuses.  God tells him not to say that he is too young, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, to even too afraid.  Instead, just do what God has called you to do, just go to the places that God has called you to go to, and just stop making excuses.  God knows what he is doing and if God has called you, then God still knows what he is doing and has a plan to do it that involves you… even if you’re too  young, or too old, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, or too untrained, or too afraid. 

Even if you are afraid, even if you are all those things, just do it anyway and trust that God knows what he is doing.

Jeremiah was afraid that people wouldn’t listen to him or respect him, and he was right.  He was often disrespected and, for the most part, no one listened to him.  But that wasn’t just because he was young.  The people who have carried God’s messages have often, if not always, had that problem.  Prophets, teachers, preachers, and evangelists of all kinds have had similar experiences. 

Even Jesus.

In Luke 13:10-17 we hear yet another story of when the leaders of the church criticized Jesus for doing the things that God had called him to do simply because they had made “the rules” more important that God.

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So, come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Jesus is criticized for doing work on the Sabbath because he healed someone who had been crippled and suffering for eighteen years.  Holy cow!  Can you imagine the relief that she felt?  Can you imagine the joy?  And can you imagine what was going through her mind as her own church leaders criticized Jesus for doing the thing that brought her that joy?  Can you imagine what she felt as she realized that if Jesus had only followed the rules, he probably would have left town before he could heal her?  And even if not, she would have suffered for at least another day. 

But Jesus has a different answer. 

Jesus’ answer is that it was the teachers and the leaders who were wrong about God.  Yes, God has rules.  Yes, we are expected to obey them.  But those rules should never become so important that they become unchangeable dogma that overwhelms the heart of God.  Yes, we are called to keep a Sabbath and take a day of rest and spend time with God.  Yes, we should avoid work if we’re going to try to get some rest.  But (and this is vitally important) healing is not work.  Freedom is not work.  Mercy, decency, kindness, compassion, and love are not work.  These are the things that reflect the heart of God, and all these things are far more important than some religious doctrine, dogma, or some arbitrary set of rules that were written by human beings.  Just this week I heard stories about churches who criticized people because they were divorced, or remarried, or had tattoos, or showed too much skin, or had a big bosom, or because they accidently took a new medication incorrectly.  As a church, before we ever get too involved in enforcing “the rules,” we would do well to look deeper to see exactly who wrote them and how they compare to the heart of God.

So, with the coming of Jesus, with his death and resurrection, how do we see the world, and the church differently?  How do we respond to the call of God and how is it different than it was when God called Jeremiah?  The Apostle Paul provides at least a partial answer to that question in Hebrews 12:18-29.

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Through the stories that we heard about the ministry of Moses and Joshua, and in the centuries since Moses, and especially with the coming of Jesus, we have learned more about the heart of God.  Paul reminds us that we no longer fear God in the way that you would fear a tyrant as people often did in the time of Moses.  Instead, the city of God is known to be a place of peace and joy.  It is the church and the home of Jesus Christ and all the people who have put their trust in him.  When we come to God, we come to the place where the righteous will be made perfect and where Jesus is the mediator and for all of us through the new covenant in which Jesus has paid for our forgiveness and repaired our relationship with God.

And in that place of peace and forgiveness, we should take care not to say “No” to God.  How can we turn away from a God who has already done so much for us?  We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and so we should be filled with reverence and awe and be thankful for all that we have been given.  We should stop focusing on the minutia, the details, the doctrine, the dogma, and the rules that God never wrote in the first place and instead focus on his heart.  Like Jeremiah, we must stop making excuses and get on with the work of answering God’s call and telling the world about the healing, freedom, mercy, decency, compassion, and love of God.  We are called to do the work of the kingdom of God. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Each of us is called to do something for the kingdom of God.  We may not all be called to be prophets, pastors, or evangelist, but all of us are called…

…to have the heart of God.

 

 

 


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

Choosing Discomfort

We were cold. But would be hot almost within the hour. The fog was still liftng from the mountan valleys as we walked to breakfast just after dawn. There was a chill in the air and several of us had spent a fitful night tryig to keep warm in our tents. But as we walked to breakfast, we were also aware that soon, almost within the hour, the sun wouold rise above the mountains and temperatures would rise enough to make us sweat. And so, as each of us dressed that morning, we had made choices. We were all faced with the same facts, but each of us had made different choices. One had long sleeves and long pants, another long sleeves and shorts, another long pants and short sleeves, and still another both short pants and sleeves. Would we be comfortablly warm now, and cold later?  Or cold now, and comfortable later? Each of us knew that our choice was transient. Discomfort was inevitable. We were choosing the form of our discomfort. And it was so ordinary that no one gave it a second thought. But in other situations we seem shocked by it… and we shouldn`t be. We wonder why migrants would choose to come across our border when they know that the journey is arduous, that the “coyotes” that guide them vicious, rape ordinary, and often detention when caught. The thing is, many are aware of the dangers before they begin but, when faced with daily violence, death and mayhem at home, they’ve chosen the most comfortable discomfort. The discomfort they face at home seems endless and unsolvable, but the discomfort on the road to citizenship, or even residence, in a foreign country seems like a light of hope at the end of a dark tunnel. We wonder why young people who grew up in the church, and who believe that life begins in the womb, still sometimes choose to end that life through abortion. But often these young people, married and unmarried, are faced with impossible choices, none of which are good. While we may not agree with their choices, we should understand that they are choosing their discomfort. When every possible choice seems to be a path of pain, they must choose which path of pain seems ever so lightly less painful. We wonder why people who have few posessions and little money make choices that seem wasteful and foolish.  But they are doing the same thing.  They are choosing their discomfort.  It can easily be understood that although none of their choices are good, they choose a path that offers a little joy, however transient. We wonder why our friends choose to vote for candidates that do not represent their values, or who are known to act in ways that are contrary to the interests of the voters.  But the same principle applies.  It is often the case that voters are fully aware of the candidate’s failings, faults, and voting patterns.  But, believing that the other candidates are just as flawed, or who violate their conscience in other ways, the voters are compelled to choose their discomfort. Which path of pain seems the most bearable? Which uncomfortable choice offers a chance at hope? I didn`t laugh at my friends on the way to breakfast because I understood that each of us, in our own way, was choosing the uncomfortable path that we though offered the least discomfort. If we can understand that, then shouldn’t we extend the same grace to others who are making harder, more painful choices between their available paths of discomfort? Isn’t that what Jesus taught us? Each of us must make choices that guide us through paths of discomfort. We should have the grace to allow others to do the same. Friends… …always choose grace.    
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Love is an Action

Love is an Action

July 14, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 10:25-37                        Colossians 1:1-14

 

How many of you can say that there is, or that has been, at least one person in your life that has loved you?

I’m hoping that everyone here can say yes.  Almost all of us have at least a close circle of family and friends whom we could say, with some certainty, probably love us. 

But… how do you know?

When we think about the people who have loved us, and when we think about the people that we love in return, how do we really know that they love us, and how do they really know that we love them?

It certainly isn’t the words that come out of our mouths.  Almost all of us can give examples of people in our lives who told us that they loved us, or that they were our friends, and who later demonstrated that their words were less than truthful.  But rewind just a few words and I think we have our first clue.  Those people “demonstrated” their love, or their lack of love, for us.  Their love for us wasn’t revealed in what they said about us, or to us, but it was demonstrated in the things that they did.

One of the books that I use in premarital counseling and often recommend to others, is Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages.” In it, Chapman describes the five ways that human beings express and feel love.  Most people, Chapman says, only “hear” or feel one or two of these love languages, so it’s important to know which love language your significant other, or your children, can hear, feel, and experience so that they can receive the love that you want to show them.  In any case, the five love languages that appear in that book are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.  But let me read that list again and see if you notice something, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. 

Of the five, only one, Words of Affirmation, are spoken words at all, and even then, Words of Affirmation are not careless words that someone would throw about easily.  Words of Affirmation are thoughtful, well-chosen words that require some understanding and knowledge of the person to whom they are offered.  “You did a great job on that project.”  “I have been consistently impressed with your enthusiasm.”  “I appreciate how you go out of your way to make new people feel welcome.”  “We are all so very proud of the work that you do and the difference that you make in our community.”  And those are just a few examples of just one of the five Love Languages.

When we think about love in that way, it becomes increasingly obvious that love isn’t something that we say at all.  Instead, love is something that we… do.

One of the best biblical examples of this is found in Luke 10:25-37, and Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii [two days wages[1]] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The entire Law can be boiled down into two simple statements, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But while the legal expert that came to Jesus was fine with the first one, he was having trouble understanding the second.  Just who is my neighbor, and how do I love them?  And, although the legal expert might not have liked the answer that he got, Jesus’ parable answers both questions.

Even better, Jesus’ parable leads the legal expert to answer his own question.  After hearing the story, Jesus asks him to choose, from all of the characters in the story, between the two men who were traditionally supposed to be the good guys, the priest and the Levite, and the one man who represented the enemy of the Jews, which one was a neighbor to the man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead?  Obviously, the hero of the story is the man that the entire audience really wanted to hate but the legal expert is left with no other choice.  Who was the man’s neighbor?  The one who had mercy.

And Jesus leaves the man, and us, with a singular instruction: “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus’ instruction on how to love our neighbor isn’t an instruction of something to say, preach, write, film, or to advertise, but simply one that we are to… do.

We can’t just say that we love our neighbors, or the poor, or the outcasts, or the hungry, or addicts, or anyone else, we must show them that we love them.  We are commanded to love our neighbors, but in order to truly love them, we must “Go and do likewise.”

As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, he compliments them because of the things that he has heard about them.  From the news that travelers have shared with him, Paul knows that the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t just something that the Colossians are talking about, it’s something that they are doing. (Colossians 1:1-14)

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,  10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Paul says “…we have heard of your faith in Jesus Christ and the love that you have for all God’s people…”  And then goes on to say that “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you…”  The Colossian church is bearing fruit and growing because they are showing the love of Jesus Christ to the people around them and the love that they have is so obvious to the people around them that when Epaphras travels from Colossae to see Paul, he shares news of the things that the church has been doing.  If the gospel was only something that the church talked about, Epaphras wouldn’t have taken the time to walk hundreds of miles and share that news with Paul.  And because the church is bearing fruit and growing, we know that the neighbors and the community that surround the church must also see the work that the church is doing.  Epaphras told Paul that the people in the church at Colossae are a people who have demonstrated, through their actions, the love of God to the world. 

Love is all about actions.

Words and talk are invisible, but actions can be seen by the world.

The Priest was supposed to be a man of God, but he crossed over to the other side.

The Levite was supposed to be an expert with great knowledge of the scriptures, but he didn’t help either.

The Samaritan was supposed to be a hated enemy of the Jews, but he stopped, bandaged the wounds of a beaten, broken and bloody stranger, took him to a place of rest, and paid for his care.

It was obvious to everyone which of these three men loved his neighbor because after all the talking and preaching was over, only one showed up and acted like it.

Paul was proud of the people of the Colossian church because they were living out the gospel of Jesus Christ by acting in love toward the people around them and the people could see it.  And because the people in the community of Colossae saw, and felt, the love of the church, the church began to bear fruit and grow.

We don’t feel loved until the people who love us show us how much they love us.

We can’t just say that we love our neighbors, or the poor, or the outcasts, or the hungry, or addicts, or the homeless, or migrants, or anyone else, we must show them that we love them. 

The people who live in Alliance, Ohio and in the other communities around our church, in our workplaces, our schools, in our neighborhoods, in mission stations all over the country, around the world, and wherever we are, won’t feel loved until we show them how much we love them.

Jesus demonstrated his love for us.  Over and over again, he showed us how much he loved us.

And Jesus’ words to that legal expert still resonate with us today:

“Go and do likewise.”

 

 


Footnotes:
[1] The median income in the United States in 2018 was $61,891.  That’s $29.76 per hour, so two days wage for the average American would be about $476.
 

 


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