Freedom

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Freedom

April 04, 2021*

(Easter)

By Pastor John Partridge

Mark 16:1-8                           Acts 10:34-43                         I Corinthians 15:1-11

We are three months early.

Three months from today, July 4th, is our nation’s birthday and a grand celebration of freedom and independence.

An in that sense, our celebration today, on April 4th, is three months early.  But our celebration today is the celebration of a freedom that is far grander, and far more amazing, that our independence from King George and the nation of England.

The freedom that we celebrate today has been the subject of our sermons for the last seven and a half weeks and even then, we’ve barely scratched the surface of why our remembrance of this day is the cause of so much joy, gladness, and celebration.  But make no mistake, like the celebration of July 4th for the citizens of the United States of America, the Easter celebration for the citizens of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ, is a celebration of freedom.  I’m going to briefly recap the last seven weeks and remind you of a few of the freedoms that we are celebrating in a little while, but first I want to read words of Mark 16:1-8 and add to our remembrance of the story of Easter that our youth began this morning in our sunrise service.

16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

As the two Marys and Salome walked to the tomb, they were worried about what Jesus body would smell like, they were worried that the stone was too large for the tree of them to move, worried that there might not be anyone to help them move it, and worried that the Roman soldiers, or whomever was guarding it, would refuse to help them, or even refuse to allow them to re-wrap Jesus’ body with the spices, incense, and aromatic tree sap that they had brought with them.  But upon their arrival, the two-thousand-pound stone had already been moved and they worried about why it had been moved.  But when they entered the tomb to look inside, instead of finding Jesus, they found a messenger from God whose first words were, “Don’t be afraid.”  But after he had given them their instructions and sent them on their way, they were still trembling, confused, and afraid.

But that initial reaction changed as they met Jesus face-to-face and realized that Jesus was alive.  As time passed, they began to understand the things that Jesus had taught them, including the things about death, burial, and resurrection that had always been confusing.  They began to understand that everything that they had seen, had happened exactly as Jesus had said that it would happen, and exactly as the ancient prophets had described hundreds of years earlier.  And, by the time that Peter stays in the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius in Caesarea, he has processed the lessons that he learned from Jesus in an even deeper way (Acts 10:34-43).

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

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

Peter realized that Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament had begun something entirely new and changed the way that God’s people would engage the world around them and change the way their entire relationship with God.  The new covenant, this new contract with God, was a contract without favoritism, without nepotism, without racism, and without judgement except for the judgement of the one person who understood us best, and who was perfect, just, and infinitely wise.

And just a few decades later, Paul, having learned from the disciples, as well as through his own experience, and having had even more time to process what he had learned, seen, and heard, writes to the church in Corinth to help them to understand what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus meant to them, and still means to each one of us (I Corinthians 15:1-11).

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul reminds us that it was by this gospel, this story of life, death, and resurrection, through which we were saved… if we hold firmly to what we have learned.  Paul knows what his life was like before he met Jesus.  Paul knows that he is utterly undeserving of God’s rescue, let alone the honor of being counted among the disciples of Jesus Christ.  Paul remembers that he had been so anti-Jesus that he had become known as the hunter of Christ followers who had them arrested, tortured, and worse.  And because of who he was, and the life that he had once lived, Paul understands the depth of God’s mercy and grace.

Through the story of Easter, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul had found freedom.  And that freedom has flowed down through history to us.  It is a freedom that is far grander than anything that we celebrate on July fourth.  It is more than our freedom from King George and the nation of England.  It is more than the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

The message of the gospel is a message of many freedoms. 

Mary, Mary, and Salome learned that it is a message of freedom from fear.

Peter learned that it was a message of freedom from favoritism, nepotism, and racism.

Paul learned that it is a message of mercy, grace, and freedom from our past.

And as we’ve learned over the last seven and a half weeks, it is a message of freedom from corruption, rescue from the flood, freedom from the Law of Moses, freedom from the demands of other gods, a message of keeping God at the center of our lives, freedom from the misplaced priorities and wisdom of the world, freedom from our failures, freedom from our guilt, freedom from suffering, freedom from sin, and even freedom from death.

And that is why we repeat the story every year, and why Easter should be filled with joy.

The message of Easter was a story about freedom long before the events of the Revolutionary War and long before July fourth had any meaning to the citizens of North America.

We celebrate Easter because today is the day when God gave us the immeasurable gift of freedom.

Happy Easter everyone.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/JpemgjB6bIY

Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.

A New Dawn

A New Dawn

January 03, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Ephesians 3:1-12                   Matthew 2:1-12

We don’t often take the time to sit and watch the sunrise but when we do, we are often rewarded bountifully for our patience.  This is especially true if we are in a place where there is an unobstructed view to the east.  Recently, Patti and I went to South Carolina to attend our nephew’s wedding and on the way, we stayed at a hotel in Myrtle Beach in a room that faced the beach.  Getting up just a little bit early, making a cup of tea, and sitting on the balcony watching the dawn was almost as memorable a moment as the wedding.  The beauty and serenity of the sunrise, combined with the sound and movement of the surf, was a life-giving moment that fed my soul.

It’s a little odd that a sunrise can be so staggering because it happens every day.  Every day, for millions upon millions of years, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  It seems as if it should feel as ordinary as every other moment of every other day.  But every sunrise is different, and every sunrise, just like every New Year’s Day, is meaningful to us because it represents a new day, a moment filled with possibilities, a moment saturated with our dreams and filled with hope.  It is for exactly that reason, that dawn is often used in literature, biblical and otherwise, to represent hopes, dreams, and new beginnings.  And that is what we find as we read Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming messiah, a vision for the future that would, for hundreds of years, fill God’s people with hope.  (Isaiah 60:1-6)

60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah describes the coming of the messiah as if the entire world had been living in darkness and was now experiencing the dawn for the first time.  But rather than seeing the rising of the sun, the world would stand as witnesses as the Lord himself would rise over them and the light that they would see would be the glory of God.  Kings would be drawn to that light and they would bring gifts of gold, and incense as they bring praise and worship to God.

And hundreds of years later, we see Isaiah’s vision fulfilled in Matthew 2:1-12 as the Magi see the glory of God in the heavens and follow his star to the house in Nazareth (not Bethlehem, because this was a year or three later) where Mary and Joseph and Jesus lived.

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Just as Isaiah had said, the future ruler and shepherd of Israel had been born in Bethlehem, and after Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had returned to Nazareth, the Magi found them and again, just as Isaiah had foretold, they recognized Jesus as a king, worshipped him, and brought gifts of gold and incense.  But look at how they arrived there.  First, they stopped in the capitol, assuming that a king would have been born in the palace.  From there, they likely started toward Bethlehem, but we don’t really know that Jesus was there.  Since Joseph’s home had been in Nazareth, it seems reasonable to assume that they returned there after the census was over. 

But even if they had chosen to stay in Bethlehem, we would be right to ask how the Magi found them, but Matthew’s answer leaves us with even more questions.  Matthew says, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”  Listen to that again, “the star they had seen… went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”  That’s the only explanation that Matthew offers.  But clearly, since stars, and even planetary conjunctions, simply do not, and cannot, guide us from one town to another, and certainly do not lead us to distinguish one house over another, we have no idea what it was that the Magi were following.  Except that in some way, they were following God.  And we see that every step led them to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies.

And the arrival of the Magi fulfilled one more prophecy that is a little less obvious, but which is of vital importance to you and me.  Paul recognized its importance, and explains it to the Greek church in Ephesus this way (Ephesians 3:1-12):

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

The arrival of the magi signifies the fulfillment of God’s promise to break out of the confines of Israel, to break out into the world, to adopt the Gentiles into God’s family as well as the Jews, and to become the rescuer of all humanity.  Paul says that the miracle that is revealed in the gospel is that the Gentiles have become heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers in the promise of Jesus Christ.  The arrival of the magi is indeed the moment of a new dawn, the beginning of God’s new work in the world.  It is at this moment when our families, and we ourselves, were invited into, and indeed adopted into, God’s family.  And, with the adoption of the Gentiles, we can easily visualize the vast number of nations, kings, presidents, prime ministers, and others around the world who have, and who now worship Israel’s king.

But why?  As impressive as it was, and as impressive as it still is, why did it happen and why does it matter?

And Paul provides the answer to that as well saying, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”

His intent was that now, through the church, the wisdom of God would be made known because it is in him, and through faith in him, that we have the freedom and confidence to approach God, to share our joys, our troubles, our sorrows, and our prayers with him, and to become, and to participate, in our new family. 

It is a new dawn.

And today our mission remains the same.  God intent, God’s mission, is for us to make the wisdom of God known to rulers, to authorities, and to everyone that has not heard the Good News.

Because it is, indeed, good news, of great joy… for all the people.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/t-yzH9sS9xs

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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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.

And She Told Them

And She Told Them

April 12, 2020*

(Easter Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:1-18              Acts 10:39-43

 

 

Well here we are.

 

Happy Easter.

 

Our church is empty… But so is the tomb.

 

Even though we are unable to be together, and even though our entire planet is grappling with fear, isolation, depression, sickness, and death, we rejoice because today reminds us that we are a people who are connected to one another by our celebration of resurrection. 

 

Death itself has been defeated.

 

But, aside from Easter baskets full of candy, a ham in the oven, and maybe, if we can stay six feet apart, a family gathering, what should we take away from today’s celebration?

 

Well, let’s read the story first, and then we can circle back to that.

 

We begin in what we now remember as the first Easter morning, the day after the Sabbath day, where in John 20:1-18, we hear this:

 

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

 

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

First, I love the way that John finds a way to write this and include a piece of the rivalry that must have existed between him and Simon Peter.  Sure, Jesus told Peter that “on this rock I will build my church,” but in this passage, John always makes sure to refer to himself as “the one Jesus loved” and not once, but three times, John points out that as they raced to the tomb, John was faster than Peter.  I don’t want to dwell on that, but feel free to read that again and count them.  Three times.

 

The second thing to notice is the shift in tense.  Although the disciples don’t yet understand that Jesus has risen from the dead, the crucifixion and even Jesus’ death has shifted to the past tense.  We hear phrases like, “the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.”  Jesus used to be there, but now he wasn’t, the cloth used to be wrapped around his head, but now it wasn’t.  Although they didn’t yet understand exactly what had happened, clearly something had changed.  And so, Peter and John go to the tomb to check things out, they see that the tomb is empty, and they go back to the house where everyone is staying.  Maybe that house is where the Upper Room was, where they shared that last meal together with Jesus, and maybe it was someplace else, but they go, they see, they go home.

 

But Mary stays.

 

Mary stays by the empty tomb and cries.  She is emotionally lost.  First, she watched as Jesus, her anchor, mentor, rescuer, and friend is arrested, tortured, hung on a cross, died, and was buried.  And now, there isn’t even a place for her to mourn him.  The stone has been rolled away and the body is gone.  She is emotionally adrift.

 

And then two angels show up and ask her one of the most ridiculous questions ever to be asked in a cemetery.  “Woman, why are you crying?”  Seriously, if anyone, ever, sees someone crying in a cemetery, it’s painfully obvious why they are crying.  But not to the angels.  And, if we think about it at all, it’s certainly because they knew the truth.  They aren’t confused as to why someone would be crying.  They’re confused as to why anyone would be crying for a person who was no longer dead.  But when she turns around, she doesn’t see the two angels who were just there, instead she turns and sees Jesus.  But again, blinded by her grief, she doesn’t realize that it is Jesus.

 

Until he says her name.

 

There was only, ever, one person who ever said her name like that.  Maybe her grief allowed her to confuse the sound of his voice when he said the other things, but as soon as he said her name, she knew.

 

But what happens next is deeply meaningful for each one of us and for our understanding of our calling as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ.  Jesus says two things, “Don’t hold on to me,” and “Go and tell.”  Jesus tells Mary that she has to let him go, because he still has work that needs to be done.  She has to let go of the old mission, her old role as his follower, so that both she, and Jesus, can move forward to something new.  The first thing on Mary’s new list is to “Go and Tell.”  And, John says, Mary goes, “and she told them.”

 

In that moment, Mary is transformed.  Mary’s role, and her mission, is transformed.  Instead of being simply a follower of Jesus, instead of being in charge of cooking, or taking care of the disciples, or whatever else she may have done, Mary now becomes the world’s first Christian missionary, and the first human being, ever, to share the good news of his resurrection.

 

Jesus’ instructions to Mary were to go and tell… and she told them.

 

Mary is the first, but certainly not the last.

 

Jesus’ instructions to Mary overflow into the disciples, and into every person who chooses to follow Jesus.  In Peter’s famous speech in Acts 10:39-43, he says,

 

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

 

“We are witnesses.” 

 

“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”

 

I want you to hear that again.

 

We are witnesses.”

 

On this odd Easter morning when we find our churches empty, we remember what Mary did as she left an empty tomb.

 

“…and she told them.”

 

We must do the same.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

And…

 

Happy Easter!

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/v8w2ohL_my4


Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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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.