Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy (Part 2)

Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy
(Part 2: What is a Worthy Life?)

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July 17, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Amos 8:1-12               Colossians 1:1-14

We live in a nation, a world, and denomination that is filled with division.

That seems obvious to even the casual observer and even more obvious to anyone who reads, or watches, the news.  Last week we talked about how the followers of Jesus Christ are called to live and to love in a divided world, we heard God’s calling to Amos, how God’s patience has limits, how God intended to measure the people with a plumb line to see who was straight and who was crooked, and we heard Jesus’ example of the Good Samaritan that shows us how our love and mercy can, and should flow across the lines of division that surround us.  (All this can be found in last week’s message here: https://pastorpartridge.com/2022/07/10/truth-conspiracy-and-living-worthy-part-1/)

But how else are we called to live?  What is it that God wants to measure in us?  What is it that tries God’s patience?  And what would it look like if we lived our lives in a way that was worthy of the God that we claim to follow?

Those questions cover a lot of ground so let’s get started by hearing God’s explanation to Amos and the charges that God was bringing against his church and his people that we find in Amos 8:1-12.

8:1 This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. “What do you see, Amos?” he asked.

“A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered.

Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample the needy
    and do away with the poor of the land,

saying,

“When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

“Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

“I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.

God says that his people go to the temple, sing songs of praise to God, leave the church, and then trample the needy and abuse the poor.  They worship God but are impatient and can’t wait for the religious holiday to be over, they can’t wait for the sabbath to be over so they can get back to work and make more money.  And when they go back to work, they lie, cheat, and steal because, to them, money is a greater god than the God of Israel.  They cheat their customers, they cheat the poor, they ignore God’s command to share and to help the poor among them even to the point of sweeping up and selling what’s spilled on the floor rather than allowing the poor to glean it.  So much do they ignore God’s commands about the poor, that they are unforgiving and deliberately drive the poor into bankruptcy so that they can buy the needy as slaves by purchasing debts as small as the cost of a pair of shoes. 

Can you imagine being sold into slavery for a debt as inconsequential as a hundred-dollar pair of shoes?  That was the world in which Amos lived.  And God’s judgement is that he will never forget anything that they have done.  As he always has, God will stand up for the poor and the needy and God will bring punishment to those who have abused them.  God says that he is removing his blessings from them and sending all manner of punishment and declares that there is a day coming when no faithful priests will remain to teach the truth.

God’s patience with his two-faced, hypocritical people is at an end and the poor will be avenged.  When they have lost the money that they desired more than God, through their suffering, perhaps they will learn the meaning of mercy, compassion, and love.

That brings us some clarity and understanding about what tries God’s patience, and how God measures us, but we still need to better understand how that translates into living justly in the twenty-first century.  What would it look like for us to live a life that is worthy of the God we claim to follow?  And for that, let’s turn to Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae found in Colossians 1:1-14, where we hear these words:

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 sistersin 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 ourbehalf, 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 youto 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.

This is an example of a good church, and it is one with which Paul is pleased, publicly praises, prays for, and for which Paul gives thanks to God.  And it is a church that people are talking about.  While Paul is in prison, or at least house arrest, in Rome, he hears stories about the things that they are doing.  Some of these stories came from Epaphras, a Gentile convert who was mentored by Paul, and who now is a preacher, teacher, evangelist, and church planter in Greece, but Paul’s words make it sound as if this was not the first time that he’d heard good things about what was happening there.  People were telling stories about the church in Colossae, and they were stories about their faith and their love for their neighbors and for one another.  And people weren’t just telling stories about them, the church was bearing fruit, it was evangelizing, sharing the stories of Jesus and the gospels, and people were coming to faith because of the love and the grace that they saw in the people of the church.

That doesn’t mean that they were left on their own.  Paul, Timothy, and their ministry team, continue to pray for them, support them, mentor them, answer questions, guide them, offer advice, and whatever else they can to help them learn and grow.  Paul wants this entire church to become worthy of the Lord, Jesus Christ.  And Paul explains what he means by “worthy” so that everyone will know what that looks like.  Living a life that is “worthy” means living a life that pleases God, that bears fruit by exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit and by reproducing their faith and bringing new people to faith in Jesus.  Living worthy means doing good works, regularly and continually growing in knowledge, building up to great endurance, learning great patience, and giving joyful thanks to God who qualified you to share in his inheritance.

God cares about what his people are doing and how we live our lives.  His patience has limits, and he will measure us with his plumb line to make sure we stay on the straight and narrow and not get warped and crooked.  God calls us to overcome the divisions that surround us by loving the people with whom we disagree, and even loving our enemies, as much as we love ourselves.  But living a worthy life isn’t just a one-time rescue mission or something that we do occasionally.  Living a life worthy of Jesus Christ is a lifetime commitment to pleasing God, bearing fruit, doing good, growing in knowledge, and growing in endurance, patience, and thanksgiving to God.

You see, a few verses later, in Colossians 1:28-29, Paul explains that the goal isn’t just for us to become better people, and it isn’t just to love our neighbors.  Paul says:

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

The end goal of living a life worthy of Jesus Christ isn’t just focused on me and isn’t just focused on the local church.  The end goal isn’t even to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, although that’s certainly part of it.  The goal of living a worthy life is to present… everyone to God, not just as converts and believers, but to present… everyone… to God as… fully mature disciples.  Paul says that it is that goal toward which he is strenuously working, and toward which the church is called, with all the energy of Jesus Christ that works within us and through us.

The goal isn’t just to be lifeguards that pull drowning people out of the water.  The goal is to pull everyone out of the water, and then train them, educate them, and mentor them, until everyone is a lifeguard.  It is, I admit, and enormous task.  It’s too big for any one of us to accomplish alone.  That’s why we can’t be Lone Ranger Christians.  We must all work together, as the church, through the power of Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of God that lives within us, to make and mature disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

That is how we overcome division.

And that is how we live lives that are worthy of Jesus Christ.


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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.

Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy (Part 1)

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Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy

(Part 1: Neighborly Division?)

July 10, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Amos 7:7-17                           Luke 10:25-37                        Colossians 1:1-14

There’s a word that we have been using more in the last few years than we have in the last few decades.  That word is…

…Division.

There are divisions between races, between political parties, divisions over guns, abortion, supreme court justices, election results, inflation, corporate greed, government corruption, as well as the ongoing division within our denomination.  And within those divisions, everyone thinks that they are right, that they have exclusive access to the truth and that any information that disagrees with their viewpoint is part of a conspiracy of some kind.  I’ve seen internet memes about Supreme Court conspiracies, presidential election conspiracies (from at least two entirely different points of view), gun control conspiracies, tax conspiracies, gasoline conspiracies, pandemic conspiracies of all sorts, and there were even a few flat earth and faked moon-landing conspiracies throw in. 

I’m not going to even try to wade into that mess except to say that psychologically speaking, it’s easier to say that something is a conspiracy, than it is to admit that we simply don’t understand how something could, or did, happen.  Instead, this morning I want to look at where the followers of Jesus Christ should be, what position we should take, when everyone around us is drawing lines in the sand and taking sides.  We begin this morning by reading the words of the prophet Amos.  I think the words of Amos sound particularly relevant and familiar to the twenty-first century world that we see in the news every day.  You see, Amos was a sheep herder and a tree trimmer who was called by God to speak the truth to a nation, a church, a government, and a king that didn’t want to hear the truth.  And in Amos 7:7-17 we hear these words:

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
    and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
    with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.  Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagancountry.
And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

The first thing we hear is God showing Amos a plumb line.  Not everyone may be familiar with this simple device, but masons, carpenters, and builders of all kinds use these things to make sure that what they are building is straight and not curved, bent, angled, or warped.  God’s patience has limits and God has had enough of the corruption of his church, his priests, his people, and even Israel’s king and says that he is going to measure them all and see who is built the right way.

Once Amos begins to deliver this message from God, Amaziah the priest, who is supposed to be a representative of God, tells the king that Amos is spreading fake news and is raising a conspiracy against the king.  Amaziah continues by telling Amos to go home and make money prophesying somewhere else.  Amos, of course, isn’t paid to preach.  Contrary to Amaziah’s assumptions, Amos isn’t on the government payroll, he isn’t on the take, and he doesn’t prophecy for profit.  But Amaziah, although he is a priest, obviously works for the king and for the government, but not for the truth and not for God.  And, because he wears the robes and vestments of the priesthood, but shills for the government and tells God’s prophet to shut up and go away, God levies a particularly nasty judgement and curse against him.

And again, as we live in a world where preachers are accused of being “in it for the money,” where every politician claims that God is on their side, where everyone lays claim to their own individual brand of truth, and where every voice of opposition is labeled as a conspiracy, the words of Amos sound eerily familiar.  But what should we do about it?  What truth should we believe?

A part of our answer for today comes from Jesus’ encounter with a church theologian who specialized in interpreting the Law of Moses.  As we will see, he didn’t come to Jesus because he didn’t know the answer, he came because he wanted Jesus to agree with him and validate his opinion.  We hear these words in Luke 10:25-37:

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 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.”

This man is a theological lawyer.  His expertise and experience are likely in interpreting and applying the Law of Moses to modern society and court cases though he is not described as a magistrate or a judge.  And so, as I said, we might best understand his work as both a theologian and a lawyer.  In any case, he didn’t just want an answer, because he understood the scriptures well enough to find the answer for himself, what he really wanted was for Jesus to tell him that he was right.  Our scripture says that “he wanted to justify himself.”  He wanted Jesus to tell him that he was right, his interpretation was right, that his life was right, and that he didn’t need to change anything to gain eternal life.  That’s what he wanted. 

And doesn’t that sound familiar in our twenty-first century world?  How often do we do that as individuals, or see it done by politicians, members of Congress, or even in the church?  How often do we only listen to the echo chambers of social media, or biased news, so that we can hear opinions that agree with our own and confirm that we’re “just fine” the way we are?  It happens constantly.  But Jesus’ answer doesn’t do what the lawyer wanted.  Jesus is not an echo chamber.  Rather than validate the man’s opinion, Jesus exposes his bias and challenges him to examine an entirely disturbing way of looking at things. 

In the traditional scriptural interpretation, your neighbor was any other descendant of Abraham, Israelite, or Jew.  Gentiles, backsliders, sinners and the unclean were not neighbors.  But Jesus creates a story in which an enemy of Israel was the hero of the story who sacrificed his time, his money, and his convenience to show compassion to a Jew and likely to save his life.  In Jesus’ opinion, your neighbor isn’t the person who looks like you, or who goes to church with you, who believes like you, or who even comes from the same country as you.  Jesus turns the rules and the law on its head by saying that our neighbors aren’t even people who like us, but instead are all the people of the world up to, and including, our fiercest enemies.  And folks, if you haven’t already figured it out, the reason that this turns the culture of Jesus’ day on its head, and why it still turns our twenty-first century culture on its head, is that this is not the expected answer and not the way that any of us usually think about the world and our place in it. 

This conversation with Jesus started with a statement of law, “‘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 if my sworn enemy is my neighbor, if my boss that hates me is my neighbor, if the guy that lets his dog poop in my yard is my neighbor, if abortionists and pro-lifers, black lives matter and the Ku Klux Klan, Iranian, Iraqis, Russians, Ukrainians, Muslims, atheists, Catholics, Presbyterians, United Methodists, Global Methodists and everything in between are all my neighbors, then my life just got a lot more complicated because Jesus wants me to treat them, and love them, the way that I love myself. 

That’s about as far as we’re going to go today, but we will resume, continue, and hopefully conclude, this topic next week.  But for today, let me leave you with these thoughts:

All our divisions, whether they are between political parties, divisions over guns, abortion, supreme court justices, election results, inflation, corporate greed, government corruption or the ongoing division within our denomination, all look a lot different if, and when, we remember that all the people on the “other side” are our neighbors.  And because Jesus says that they are our neighbors, and because we are commanded to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, it completely re-frames how we treat them and refocuses everything that we do, and how we live our lives.

We live in a nation, and a world, which is filled with division, but we are commanded to love as if it isn’t.


Read the rest of this two-part message, “Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy: What *is* a Worthy Life?” here: https://pastorpartridge.com/2022/07/17/truth-conspiracy-and-living-worthy-part-2/


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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.

Past Pain, Present Gifts

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Past Pain, Present Gifts

(formerly – Violence, Division, and Unexpected Gifts)

May 29, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 17:20-26            Acts 16:16-34             Revelation 22:12-17, 20-21

Mary Todd Lincoln was crazy.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln, was a sufferer of an undiagnosed mental illness and was extraordinarily difficult to live with.  By making a long-distance examination from historically documented accounts, historians of today guess that Mary Todd Lincoln may well have suffered from bipolar disorder and, in an era far removed from a diagnosis, let alone a treatment of any kind, her disorder often made life in her household unpleasant. 

Other husbands of that era might have, and sometimes did, have their wives and family members with such a disorder committed to an insane asylum.  Many of them clearly were not insane by our modern standards but were simply so difficult to live with that they were removed to the care of someone else.  Abraham Lincoln didn’t do that.  He loved his wife Mary, he cared for her, and he found it within himself to withstand her rages, outbursts, depression, and other manifestations of her disorder. 

Our nation benefited from his suffering.  Historians speculate that the mental fortitude of Abraham Lincoln, forged and strengthened through years of caring for Mary, and enduring the suffering that went with it, made him singularly qualified to stand against the stress, arguments, negotiations, and other mental and emotional difficulties that were thrust upon him during the American Civil War.  Anyone who had not lived through what he had already endured, might not have been able to cope with the demands of the presidency in that era. 

In an odd sort of way, his suffering was a gift.

But what does any of that have to do with us?  Well, before we get to that part, let’s begin at the beginning and remember when Jesus explains what the purpose of life will be for his disciples and all who would choose to follow him.  We hear that story in John 17:20-26 as Jesus prays…

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made youknown to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

In this short prayer, there are a few things that I want to highlight.  First, Jesus asks that our relationship with God be the same as his, that just as God is in Jesus, we might also be in them.  More specifically, Jesus says that he passed the glory of God that had inhabited him, on to his followers so that we might be one, in the same way that Jesus and God are one.  And because of the glory of God that dwells within us, and because of our unity of purpose and togetherness, that the world would know that God loves us. 

Second, Jesus asks that his followers would be able to come to where he is, and to see his glory.  And third, that Jesus’ purpose in revealing God to us, was so that we might be filled with the love of God.  And we can see that this last one, combined with Jesus’ command to go into all the world and preach the good news, tells us that God’s goal is not to rule the world, but to fill the world with his love.

But how do we do that?  How do we reveal God’s glory and God’s love to the world around us?  Certainly, there are more ways to do that than we can count, but one particularly dramatic way is found in one of Paul’s missionary journeys recorded in Acts 16:16-34 where we hear this:

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment, the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

I cannot even begin to count how many sermons can be, and have been, written about this passage.  But for today, I want to look at two specific things.  First, that this earthquake was extraordinarily specific.  It was strong enough to wake everyone up and to shake the foundations of the prison, but where earthquakes ordinarily collapse buildings and jam doors shut, this one unlocks and opens doors, opens padlocks, loosens chains, and releases feet bound in iron stocks.  That is particularly specific and not at all the way that earthquakes and other natural disasters usually work, and this is how we see God in the story.

Second, when the jailer discovers that this has happened, he draws his sword to kill himself rather than be tortured to death, which was what usually happened to anyone who allowed a Roman prisoner to escape.  But Paul hears the sword come out of its sheath, knows what the jailer intends to do and calls to him that everyone is still there.  Once again, this must be an act of God.  Even if Paul and Silas convinced the other prisoners not to escape, the chances of no one leaving are so slim that this is also evidence of God’s hand because they were all there.

And the jailer comes to faith in God because he saw, with his own eyes the hand of God at work in the world on behalf of Paul and Silas.  He witnessed that the doors were unlocked, the chains loosened, and the iron shackles unbound, and he witnessed the power that kept a jail full of prisoners from escaping when the doors stood wide open.  And he experienced the simple act of human kindness that Paul showed to him.  All that Paul had to do to escape was to leave.  All that Paul had to do to get revenge for the beating that was inflicted upon him was to remain silent.  But Paul did not remain silent.  He did not try to escape or to pursue revenge.  Instead, Paul showed kindness to the jailer.

And he, and his entire household, were saved.

And we connect the dots by remembering the words of Jesus that we find in John’s Revelation contained in chapter 22:12-17, 20-21.  Jesus said:

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give youthis testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes, take the free gift of the water of life.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

The important idea here are that there will be a judgement but that anyone can come into the kingdom of God.  Everyone is invited and sharing the gift of eternal life is a gift that each of us can give to all the people that we care about. 

God’s goal is to share the message of the gospel throughout the entire world so that the world is filled with God’s love.  Paul brought that jailer and his family into the kingdom of God simply through an act of kindness when anyone would have understood his desire for revenge.  And sometimes, suffering and pain are the doorway through which we must pass in order to receive an unexpected gift.

Abraham Lincoln’s struggles made him strong enough to bless a nation.

Paul and Silas’ suffering allowed them to rescue the jailer and his entire family.

What can you do this week, to point others toward the kingdom of God?

How might the pain of your past bless others in the present, or in the future?

How many of the people around you might you give the gift of God’s love?

And how many of those people are separated from eternal life by one… simple… act of kindness?


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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.

An Unexpected, Unconventional, Unorthodox God

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An Unexpected, Unconventional, Unorthodox God

May 22, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:23-29              Acts 16:9-15          Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

Have you ever thought about the gods of the ancient world? 

I remember taking mythology in high school and although many of my classmates didn’t like it, and seemed to think that it was weird, I found it to be interesting, and I enjoyed it.  But, although those ancient Greek and Roman gods, as well as the gods of Israel’s neighbors, are not something we think about often, they can add to our understanding of the God of Israel that we find in the Old and New Testaments.   The reason that the gods of the ancient world add to our understanding, is because when we spend all our time studying and discussing the God of Israel, we are deceived into thinking that Israel’s God was normal.  So, let’s be clear, Israel’s God is not normal.

The gods and goddesses of the ancient world, like Zeus, Poseidon, Demeter, Mars, and the rest, often behaved badly, cheated, had affairs and illegitimate children, acted on whims and were often moody, and unpredictable.  These gods ruled by intimidation and fear and demanded sacrifices and gifts simply to appease them.  Failing to appease them could mean that they would be angry and refuse to help.  The same was true for Baal, the god of the Philistines, as well as other gods of that region such as Chemosh, Dagon, and the fertility goddess Ashtoreth.  These gods demanded sacrifices, sometimes blood or human sacrifices, to ensure safety or a good harvest.

But Israel’s God was different.  From the beginning, particularly as we watch the story of the family of Abraham, the God of Israel begins his relationship with his people from a position of love and compassion.  God cares about his people and their children and does good things for them long before they do anything for him in return.  We see this difference illustrated in the gospel of John 14:23-29 as he shares these words of Jesus:

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus says that if we love him, we will obey his teaching.  Jesus doesn’t say that if we fear him, we will obey, or if we want a successful harvest, or if we want safe travel, or if we want to appease an angry god, then we should do these things.  Jesus says that our obedience should grow, not out of fear or intimidation, but out of love.  And, when Jesus explains that he is leaving, he promises to send the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and remind us of everything that Jesus said to us.  The Spirit of God is sent, and does its work, before we even have the opportunity to do anything in return.  Moreover, Jesus says that the gift that he leaves with his followers, is not a gift of victory, wealth, abundance, or safety, but instead is the gift of peace and the absence of fear. 

In the world of history, and among the gods of the world, our God is unconventional.  In fact, our God is so unorthodox, that even those who have dedicated their lives to following and to studying, are still surprised by the way God chooses to do things.  In Acts 16:9-15, the Apostle Paul, and those who traveled with him, were surprised because, once again, God chose to turn their preconceived notions of orthodoxy on their heads.  Luke records this story:

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony, and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

There are several things in this story that are surprising and/or unexpected.  In Paul’s vision, he is called to Macedonia by a man and so he almost certainly expects to find one there when he arrives, but no one introduces themselves, and unlike the stories we’ve heard in recent weeks of both Paul’s Damascus road experience and Peter’s call to preach to the Gentiles, no one in Macedonia introduces themselves, and God does not direct them to anyone specifically.  Failing that, Paul and his team wait until the Sabbath and visit the river because traditionally, persons of the Jewish faith would meet at the river, likely because it was peaceful, but also because it was “living water” and provided a means of purification before worship. 

But when they walk along the river, with every expectation that they would find worshiping Jews, they, again, find no men.  They do, however, find some women, and one of them, Lydia, is either Jewish, or was otherwise sympathetic to, and a follower of, Israel’s God.  Lydia also is a business owner, a person of some wealth, and the head of her household.  She listens to Paul’s message, comes to faith in Jesus Christ, asks to be baptized, leads here entire household to faith and baptism, invites Paul and his team to stay in her home, and becomes the leader of the new church movement in Macedonia. 

None of this was what Paul or the other Jewish men expected, none of it was traditional, none of it followed the pattern of orthodox Jewish thinking, but it illustrates that our God often works in ways that are unexpected and unconventional.  And that pattern continues throughout scripture and even to the end of time described by John in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where he says:

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Once again, this is a passage that we’ve read so many times that we no longer notice that there is anything unusual in it.  Through sheer repetition, the extraordinary is reduced to boring and yawn-inducing normality.  So, let’s back up and consider why John’s description is so unorthodox and unconventional.  John’s vision begins normally enough as he is carried to a great high mountain to see the Holy City of God.  That was normal.  The Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the Parthenon in Greece, and many other Jewish and pagan temples and places of worship are found on mountaintops because if the gods lived somewhere “up there” in the sky, then, logically, human beings were closer to the gods when they were on the top of a mountain, right?

But this mountain was not stationary but was coming down out of heaven.  Other than superhero movies and other works of fiction, mountains don’t come down out of the sky.  Even stranger, is that the Holy City doesn’t have a temple.  In John’s world, and in ours, every major city had a temple of some sort, and one would assume that a holy city would have one.  But no.  No temples, no synagogues, no cathedrals, no churches, zip, nothing, nada.  And the reason, is because that God himself, and the Lamb, his Son Jesus Christ, are the temple.  Why go to church to worship Jesus when you can meet Jesus face-to-face? 

And if that wasn’t enough, there is a river that flows out of the throne of God, trees that provide food to eat all year-round, gates that never close because there is no fear of an enemy attack, a tree that offers healing to people and nations, a day that never sees nighttime or darkness, and everything about it represents a place of goodness, righteousness, and purity that is without fear, and where life, the city itself, and everything in it, is designed, and expected, to last forever.

In every generation from Adam, to Abraham, to David, to Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and to us today, our God is different.  Human beings have always tried and have always failed to put God in a box.  Our God doesn’t demand obedience, as a payment in exchange for services.  Our God loves us, first, last, and always.  Our God asks us to follow him, asks us to love him, and asks us to serve him, not because we fear him, but because we’ve grown to love him, trust him, and be grateful to him for the love that God has already shown to us even before we knew him, and even when we were completely unlovable.

Our God isn’t like other gods.

Our God isn’t like the box that we try to squeeze him into.

Our God is unexpected, unconventional, unorthodox, and loves us first, last, and always.

And, when we have felt his love for us, only then can we hear him asking if we might love him in return.

And so, the question that I ask you today is this, do you love God?  Do you love God enough to follow him, and to trust him?  Do you love God enough to obey his instructions and commands?

And, if so, will you love the people around you, people you don’t know, people who are different from you, people who think differently than you, people who you might not even like very much, people in other communities, other states, and other countries?  Will you love them so much that they can feel God’s love for them?

Because only then, will they be able to hear his voice.


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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.

Christian Extra-Terrestrials?

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Christian Extra-Terrestrials?

February 20, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Luke 6:27-38

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

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

And besides, it made you curious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Missing the Point

You can find the livestream of this service here: https://youtu.be/NPJQzZy3N9U

Missing the Point Podcast

Some thoughts on how the followers of Jesus should have conversations about politics and other difficult (and divisive) subjects can be found in this special video short of today’s benediction:

https://youtu.be/K-5cLL-5p-s

Missing the Point

January 30, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Luke 4:21-30

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

To find an example for this morning’s message, I opened my search engine and entered, “People who missed the point” and I was not disappointed.  I was instantly directed to an article on Buzzfeed with a title that almost exactly matched my search, and while some of the illustrations are too visual to explain here there were still plenty of examples to make you smile… and groan a little.  There was the photo a handicap “accessible” bathroom that was at the top of two stairs, a person using the blade of a Swiss army knife to open a wine bottle while the corkscrew was plainly in view a fraction of an inch from their thumb, a photo of a CNN “Breaking News” bulletin that the Titanic had sunk 102 years ago, a “connect the dots” coloring book in which the printed dots were already connected, a company named “Just Wireless” that was selling computer cable wires, a restaurant that offered a veggie burger with bacon, and Crest mouthwash that advertised 24-hour protection with instructions to use twice per day.

Sometimes people seem to completely miss the point… and sometimes it’s funny when they do.  We probably all do it from time to time.  But sometimes missing the point isn’t funny at all, and sometimes the results of missing the point can be downright tragic.  We begin in Jeremiah 1:4-10 where we hear God cautioning a very young Jeremiah, possibly only 12 years old, that he should not miss the point.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knewyou,
    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.”

God tells Jeremiah that he has known everything about him, about his life, about his purpose, and about his calling to mission and ministry since before he was even conceived by his parents.  But Jeremiah is certain that God has made a mistake, misses the point, and argues with God because he is certain that God cannot use a twelve-year-old to bring a message to the leaders, priests, royalty, and the king of Israel.  But, again, Jeremiah misses the point and God says something that amounts to, “What part of I set you apart,” or “I appointed you” did you not understand?  God says that the point is not that Jeremiah is young and will, almost certainly, be disrespected by the elders of Israel because of his age, the point is that God, the creator of the universe, is sending him, is going with him, and promises to rescue him from whatever happens.  And to make that point even clearer, God touches Jeremiah and says that he has put the words of God into his mouth and gives him the authority to uproot, tear down, destroy, overthrow, build, or to plant entire nations and kingdoms. 

Boom. 

That’s the point.

And, as we rejoin the story of Jesus that we began last week (The Power of Systems Integration), we discover that the people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth missed the point quite spectacularly in Luke 4:21-30 after Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll and announced the fulfillment of scripture.

21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosyin the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Jesus announces that the people in the synagogue are witnesses as he begins the fulfillment of some of the messianic prophecies found in the writings of Isaiah, and the response of the people is “Who does this guy think he is?  We know him. We’ve known him his entire life.  We grew up with his parents. Obviously, the Jesus we know cannot be the Messiah.”  Jesus replies by pointing out that their attitude was expected.  Prophets throughout history were commonly misunderstood and completely disrespected in their hometowns for the same reasons that the people of Nazareth misunderstood Jesus.  And it was for that reason that Elijah performed a miracle for an outcast, outsider, and foreigner and why Elisha healed the leprosy of the commander of an enemy army rather than any of the people of Israel.

Jeremiah and the people of Nazareth made the same mistake.  They assumed that the focus was on them when God repeatedly tells us that the work of the kingdom is not about us.  It’s about God.  And when Jesus reminded them that they weren’t the center of attention, that Israel’s greatest prophets revealed God’s power to outsiders, and that he simply isn’t going to perform miracles on command, they got so angry that they transformed into a mob that tried to kill him.  And that’s when the miracle happens.  The synagogue mob tries to throw Jesus off a cliff… and he walks right through the crowd and goes on his way.  There seems to be only two possibilities.  Either Jesus simply faces down the mob and they suddenly have a change of heart, or some other miracle happened such that they were stunned, or Jesus became invisible, or something.  But from what we know about mobs, and how intense they are when they become violent, it seems obvious that God miraculously intervened at this moment so that Jesus just walks away and goes on about his business.

The people in the synagogue in Nazareth completely missed the point.

But how often are we guilty of the same thing?

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Paul writes to the church and cautions them not to miss the point saying:

13:1 If I speak in the tonguesof men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul says that the whole point of ministry in the kingdom of God, is to be loving while we’re doing it.  The point is that everything eventually ends.  Prophecies end, languages end, voices end, childhood ends, people end, knowledge ends, everything eventually ends.  The only exceptions to the rule, the only things that last forever, are faith, hope, and love.  And love is the greatest of the three.

Too often we, even in the church, miss the point.  Too often, like Jeremiah, we think that ministry is about us. That we can’t witness, that we can’t minister to others, that we can’t participate in God’s mission and ministry because of some limitation that we think we have.  We’re too young, we’re too old, we’re too shy, we’re not good with words, we’re not popular enough, or rich enough, or good looking enough, or some other excuse with which we’ve convinced ourselves.  But God’s reply to us is the same as it was to Jeremiah.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about the God who created the universe.  And if, and when, God sends us, he goes with us and give us the power to do the thing that he sent us to do.

Too often miss the point like the people in the synagogue of Nazareth.  We think that God will perform miracles for us on command.  We pray for something that we want and get angry, and even we lose faith, when God doesn’t do what we think God ought to do.

And too often we miss the point like the people of Corinth.  We want to do ministry the way that we want to do it.  We want things to be the way that we want them.  We want the rules to be the way we want them.  We want to say whatever we want to say in whatever way we feel like saying it.  We want to do whatever we want to do.  We do things our way and convince ourselves that we’re doing the work of God.  And we do all these things without any regard to how it makes other people feel.  But Paul reminds us that we’ve forgotten the point if we forget to be loving.  We can’t tell the world about a loving God while we’re hurting them.  Mission and ministry are great.  God calls all of us to kingdom work.  All of us are called to be a part of God’s mission and ministry.  But we miss the point if the people around us can’t see that our ministry is filled with faith, hope, and love.

Yes, we need to tell the people of the world about Jesus.

But they can’t, and they won’t, hear about his love if they can’t feel our love first.


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

The Miracle of Contradictions

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

The Miracle of Contradictions

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

December 19, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

What are your favorite Christmas gifts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judah is small, but great.

The Messiah is new, but ancient.

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

Mary is poor but blessed beyond measure.

Jesus is unborn, but king.

John is blind but sees.

The sacrifices of God are required but undesired.

The messiah’s arrival abolishes but establishes.

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

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

And that’s still the way that God works.

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

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

It’s mysterious and it’s wonderful.

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

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

It is one of life’s greatest contradictions. 

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

Not just as spectators… but as participants.

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


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

Should We Rejoice or Flee?

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

Should We Rejoice or Flee?

(Third Sunday of Advent)

December 12, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Prepare the… What?

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

Prepare the… What?

(Second Sunday of Advent)

December 05, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Facing Anxiety, Hopelessness, and Disaster

Facing Anxiety, Hopelessness, and Disaster

November 14, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

But we’re still here.

We endured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all that time, God was silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

…we are not alone.


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