Which Shepherd Are You?

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Which Shepherd Are You?

November 20, 2022*

(Christ the King Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 23:1-6                     Luke 23:33-43            Colossians 1:11-20

I saw a cartoon the other day about pyramids.  The joke was simply that instead of thinking that aliens were needed to explain why cultures around the globe chose to build pyramid shaped structures, maybe it was just because everyone figured out that this shape allowed them to make an enormous building that didn’t fall over.  It wasn’t aliens.  It was physics.

In any case, while we don’t build as many pyramids as once did, we do use pyramids to describe a lot of things.  “Pyramid schemes” are bad because, as investment vehicles, only the people at the top ever make any money. But most businesses, non-profits, not-for-profits, military units, charities, churches, scout troops, and almost everyone else, use some kind of pyramid shaped organizational structure.  There is one, or at least a very small number of people at the very top, then more people that report to them, then an even larger number of people that report to them, and so on.  Sometimes those pyramids are quite large and sometimes they are flatter.  The Catholic Church has the Pope at the top, then cardinals, then archbishops, bishops, and then priests (I think), and our church is a little shorter without a pope, we have bishops, district superintendents, and pastors.  But that’s not exactly right, but we’ll come back to it before we’re finished.

Years ago, when I first read The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, I encountered a word that I had never seen used before.  While its component parts were all familiar, the assembly was new to me.  The word that I met, and have grown to appreciate over the years, is… “under-shepherd.”  The idea is familiar to any of us with experience with pyramids and organizational charts.  There’s a shepherd, and then there are subordinate shepherds that work for the shepherd who are therefore under-shepherds.  The concept is simple enough, but it is a useful, and meaningful, way of thinking about our relationship with Jesus.  This is, I think, particularly true as we read God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 23:1-6 when he says:

23:1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for Davida righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

Obviously, in the time of Jeremiah, Jesus had not yet come, but even so, even as far back as the book of Genesis, God was often referred to as the shepherd of his people.  But more to the point, the rulers of the nation and the leaders of the church were called to be, and were known as, the shepherds of God’s people.  And some of those under-shepherds were not behaving… shepherd-ly.  The leaders of God’s people were scattering and destroying God’s sheep and God was taking it quite personally.  Because of their actions, God declares a curse and a punishment upon them for the evil that they had done.  God says that he himself will regather a remnant of his flock and will find new shepherds who will do what shepherds are called to do.  They will care for the people under their authority, they will have a spine, and will stand up against the enemies and the dangers that face them, and they will protect their flock so that none of them are afraid or go missing.  In fact, it is at this point that God declares that he will raise up the good shepherd, a righteous branch from the root of David’s family tree, who will do what is right, who will reunite the nations of Judah and Israel, and who will be called, The Lord, our righteous Savior.

And although it may not seem like it at first, that is the image that we have of Jesus in his last moments on the cross.  Although he is dying, the good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.  In Luke 23:33-43, we hear these words:

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there, hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Even in his last moments, with one of the last breaths that he had left in his body, Jesus was rescuing the lost and, with his dying breath, he gave his life so that he could rescue God’s sheep.  Jesus is the good shepherd, the righteous branch of David’s line that God promised to his people.  He is the king of kings, the ruler of the nations, and the rescuer of all humanity.  But, as I often ask, what difference does it make?  How does any of that teach me what I need to know to get through my day today?  How does that offer me guidance on how I live my life?  And we find the answer to some of those questions in Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae in these words from Colossians 1:11-20.

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.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Paul’s prayer for the church was that they would be filled with a knowledge and an understanding of God’s will for their lives, mission, and ministry so that they could live lives that were worthy of God and would please God in every way.  Paul prayed that the church would be strengthened with God’s power, have great endurance and patience, and give thanks to God for qualifying the church to share in the inheritance of eternity in heaven.  But Paul also prayed that the church would bear fruit through every good work, and daily grow in their knowledge of God.  I want to repeat that part for emphasis.  Paul prayed that the church would bear fruit through every good work and grow in their knowledge of God. 

And then, Paul repeats the resumé of Jesus and reminds everyone that Jesus is the Messiah, the good shepherd who rose from the dead, and sits on the throne of God as he seeks to rescue all people, reconcile all who are lost with God, and make peace throughout all creation.

All of that, from Jeremiah, to Luke, Jesus, and Paul, serves to remind us that our role, our mission, our place in the pyramid organizational chart, as the followers of Jesus Christ and as the members of his church, is to be under-shepherds.  It is our work, not to scatter and destroy God’s sheep, but to gather them and protect them with our lives, to grow his flock, to rescue the lost sheep, to risk everything that we have to recover the ones that have wandered, to bear fruit, to grow God’s flock, to do good works, to grow in the knowledge of God, to be filled with great endurance and patience, and to give joyful thanks to God.

As the good shepherd has rescued us, let us, as under-shepherds, spend our lives rescuing others, growing, and caring for his flock, so that we might live lives that are worthy of God and please him in every way.


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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 quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

To Heaven, Through Hell

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To Heaven, Through Hell

November 13, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 65:17-25                      Luke 21:5-19              2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Anyone with more than a few laps around the sun is well aware that sometimes life is not a bed of roses, or a bowl of cherries, or however you want to say it, life is not always all that great.  Sometimes it flat-out sucks pond water.  Life is filled with pain, sickness, hurt feelings, tragedy, betrayal, abandonment, loss, suffering, and death.  But it isn’t always bad.  As bad as life can be, and the bad stuff can sometimes last far longer than we’d like, we also know that life can also be filled with joy, healing, excitement, victory, hope, encouragement, friendship, and love.

This understanding is the source of two great quotes that help us to keep our pain in perspective.

Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

When we struggle with death and loss, and when whenever good things end, it helps to remember that the reason that we are mourning, is because of the good things that happened.  But when we are faced with pain in our future, or when we are enduring it in our present, we should remember that Winston Churchill famously said…

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

And it is those perspectives that I would like you to keep in mind this morning as we consider where we are going, what we will pass through on the way there, and how should live our lives in the present so that we can keep moving toward our final destination.  We begin this morning reading from Isaiah 65:17-25, as God paints a picture of what life will be like in the world that is to come.

17 “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,  or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

God will create a new heaven and a new earth that is fundamentally different from the one in which we live, and we will live there for so long, and our healing will be so complete and enduring, that we will hardly remember the pain and the suffering that we once endured.  Life will no longer be a struggle but will be filled with joy instead of weeping.  Old age will be normal and there will never be the sorrow of mourning the loss of a child.  No longer will people and nations be uprooted by famine, warfare, natural disasters, pestilence, unemployment, taxation, or anything else but God’s people will live, work, grow, plant, and endure in one place, in one home, with their families.  Even the animal kingdom will be changed so that we will have no fear of them, they of us, or them for one another.  God’s promise is that there is a better future for all those who love him.

But that isn’t at all the picture that Jesus draws for his disciples.  The future that Jesus describes reminds us that what God showed to Isaiah is the distant “not yet.”  In between our now, and the “not yet” is more of the ugliness that we have seen throughout history, and worse.  As Jesus and his disciples are walking through Jerusalem, the disciples marvel at the beautiful stonework of the temple and its surroundings.  But Jesus uses those stones as a warning of what is to come.  We hear these words in Luke 21:5-19.

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

Jesus says that his followers will be hated by their families, friends, neighbors, and the entire world simply because of their love for him.  But in the end, we will endure because who and what we are in Jesus Christ endures even beyond death.  The only way that we can lose is to give up.  Stand firm.  Keep moving forward.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

But what does that mean for us today?  How does that inform us, or teach us, about how we might survive, one day at a time, through the weirdness that is life in the twenty-first century?  And that is one of the things that Paul addresses in his letter to the church in Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teachingyou received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

Clearly, this isn’t a prescriptive text that tells us everything about how to live as a church in times of disruption and chaos, but Paul says that one of the things that we need to be to be doing, as we have heard in other passages in recent weeks, is to keep busy, and to stay on task.  And one of the ways that we do that is to stay away from people who are bad examples.  The first among these bad examples are people who aren’t doing anything.  But worse than that are the people who aren’t doing anything and are using their free time to disrupt the people who are doing something.  Also, a part of Paul’s description of these disruptors is that they are people who claim to believe, and count themselves among the believers of the church, but do not live as if they believe because they don’t do the things that the scriptures teach.

Paul says that, because he and his ministry team intentionally wanted to be a good example, they did not accept a salary, or gifts, or meals, or anything else while they were in Thessalonica.  They didn’t do so because pastors, missionaries, and work teams aren’t entitled to being paid or even being treated well, but because they wanted to be a model for the people to follow.

It is worth noting at this point, that the phrase Paul uses here, has been borrowed, grossly misinterpreted, and misused by a recent political campaign.  Apparently, there has been someone, during the most recent election, that was claiming that the phrase, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” implies that welfare or giving to the poor runs against biblical principles.  But that is, frankly, spiritual malpractice.  Paul’s statement, and this example, in this case, is for internal church use and is ministry specific.  When the church was busy working, and fed its workers afterward, it didn’t make sense to feed people who didn’t do any work.  Paul wasn’t saying that the church shouldn’t feed the poor, that would be contrary to the words of Jesus.  What he was saying was, don’t show up to eat lunch at the Habitat for Humanity work project if you aren’t doing any work.  In that specific case, the food was intended to feed the workers.  And so that sentence should not, and cannot, be misconstrued to try to say that Jesus doesn’t want us to feed the poor.

Let’s summarize.  What we heard today is that we are on our way to someplace better.  God is at work, even now, preparing a place for us to live forever and in that place all the broken things of this world will be fixed.  There will be no more mourning, or crying or pain, parents will no longer have to bury their children, no longer will people and nations be uprooted by famine, warfare, natural disasters, or pestilence, and will all live, work, grow, plant, and endure in one place, in one home, with our families forever.

But between here and there, will be pain, and suffering, and death, and all the other terrible things that we have come to expect from our broken world.  Not only will those things continue but, at times, they’ll be a lot worse.  In the meantime, whether things are better for us or worse, the message is to stay on task, to keep doing the work that God has given us to do.  And while we’re doing that, we should stay away from busybodies who keep other people from doing their work.  Stay away from people who are idle and disruptive because they’re just going to waste your time and keep you from doing the work that God has given you to do.

The message for today is just to stay busy.  God has given us work to do as individuals, and as a church.  We can expect to go through difficult stuff.  We can expect that the horrors of this broken world will not get better and will often get worse.  But through it all, we need to keep moving forward, keep doing the work of Jesus Christ, and keep on calling the world to hear the message of the gospel so that they too can receive healing, rescue, and restoration.

Never tire of doing good.


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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 quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Straight on till Morning

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Straight on till Morning

(All Saints Sunday)

October 23, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4                     Luke 19:1-10             2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

I’m sure all of us have seen it, but in the Walt Disney version of Peter Pan, Peter famously makes up directions as he explains to Wendy how one finds their way to Neverland.  And in so doing he says that the way they must go is to take the “Second star to the right, and straight on ‘till morning.”  Of course, the original book by J. M. Barrie did not include the word “star” and so folks have argued whether Mr. Disney intended to say that Neverland was in outer space somewhere, or simply wanted to refer to the old seafaring tradition of navigating by the stars.

We see similar conversations about navigation in all sorts of movies and television shows with such dialog as, “Come right three degrees, and full speed ahead.”  Navigation is all about checking to see where you are and making course corrections as necessary until you arrive at your destination.  And that describes much of the teaching that we will find in today’s scriptures.  As we read these passages of scripture, let us consider where we are, what direction we are going, and how we might make the journey to our destination.  We begin this morning in another book that we seem to rarely visit.  We begin with the words of the prophet Habakkuk in Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.

1:1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.

2:1 I will stand at my watch
    and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
    and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
    and make it plain on tablets
    so that a heraldmay run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
    it speaks of the end
    and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
    it will certainly come
    and will not delay.

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
    his desires are not upright—
    but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.

Habakkuk cries out that God is silent and is not answering his prayers or the prayers of his people.  There is violence, injustice, wrongdoing, destruction, strife and conflict, the law of their nation is paralyzed and doesn’t do anything and only codifies, institutionalizes, and perpetuates the injustice so that the wicked always win and persecute the righteous.  But, even in the face of injustice and all these other things, Habakkuk decides to stand at his watch, to do what is right, and continue to do his duty regardless of the wrongdoing and injustice that surrounds him.

And God replies that this is the right choice.  Habakkuk is told that God’s word is coming.  It may wait longer than expected but it is coming.  But until then, God’s command is to continue, to hold fast, persist, endure, persevere, and to live by faithfulness.  How often do we find ourselves in the middle of difficulty, suffering, or pain, worry, discomfort, confusion, uncertainty, or other unpleasantness and wonder why God isn’t answering our prayers?  How often do we witness injustice and a failure of our government, our church, our employers, our schools, or the people around us to do anything about it?  And God’s answer is that Habakkuk has made the right choice.  Hold fast, persist, endure, persevere, do your duty to God, and live by faithfulness until God’s answer finally comes.

But what about the people who have wandered from their faith?  What about the people who have become so married to the problem, so far down the rabbit hole, that they themselves have become a part of the problem?  And for that answer, we turn to the familiar story found in Luke 19:1-10 where we hear these words:

19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short, he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus was wealthy and some, or even most, of his money had come from his employment as a tax collector for the empire of Rome.  Tax collectors were given a license, a franchise, to collect taxes.  They had certain… deliverables, targets, or quotas that they were expected to return to the Roman treasury but aside from that, they were permitted, and expected, to collect what they needed to pay for their salaries, the salaries of their employees, which may have included bodyguards, if necessary, plus all expenses.  Some tax collectors were more honest than others and some were notoriously corrupt and enriched themselves by collecting far more than necessary. 

Zacchaeus was well-known in that place.  Everyone knew who he was and what he did for a living and as we saw in this story, he was automatically condemned by his job description and his association with the Roman government, and considered to be a sinner, an outcast, and a traitor to his country because of what he did.  But after Jesus invites himself, and all his friends, to his house for dinner, Zacchaeus proclaims that he will give half of all that he owns as well as four times the amount of anything that he did dishonestly. 

What we hear in this proclamation by Zacchaeus, I think, is him standing in front of Jesus and swearing that he had done his best to do his work as honestly as possible, and to oversee his employees so that they did their work honestly as well.  If Zacchaeus had been in the business of being deliberately dishonest, as some tax collectors were, then doing what he said that he would do, would not only bankrupt him but would wipe him out financially.  Zacchaeus stands before Jesus and desperately wants to do what is right and in doing so, Jesus sees his heart and proclaims that “Today salvation has come to this house” because… the mission of Jesus Christ was, and is, to seek and to save the lost.

Most of us learned the story of Zacchaeus before we were in grade school. and we’ve always used it as a story of rejoicing as one of God’s lost children returns to the kingdom. But if we look a little deeper, if we look at Zacchaeus as someone who was not being deliberately dishonest, as I think his proclamation to Jesus would indicate, then the story isn’t just about the lost being saved.  It’s about Jesus rescuing someone whose heart was in the right place, a person who always loved God, and who always desired to remain faithful, but was lost because the church, and its people, threw him out.  Zacchaeus was lost because people didn’t like his employer, or his employment.  Zacchaeus was lost because no one believed that it was even possible for tax collectors to be honest.  Zacchaeus was lost because his politics didn’t align with his church.

But Zacchaeus was saved because he remained faithful despite the criticism and ostracism that he experienced from his friends, countrymen, and his church.  Zacchaeus endured, persevered, and remained faithful, Jesus saw that Zacchaeus’ heart was in the right place, and he opened a door to let the outsider come back inside.

And those were exactly the things for which Paul praised the church in Thessalonica as he wrote them a letter in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 and said:

1:1 Paul, Silas,and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

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

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul thanks God for the church in Thessalonica because the faith of its people is growing and because the love that they all have for one another is increasing.  Paul boasts to his other churches about the perseverance, faith, and endurance that the Thessalonians have shown in the face of trials and persecution.  And so, Paul, Silas, and Timothy pray for the church, and for the people, of Thessalonica regularly and constantly, praying that God might answer every prayer for goodness, and bless every action that was motivated by faith, so that the name of Jesus would be glorified.

But the three passages that we read today are all quite different from one another.  What is it that connects them?  What is it that we can take away from our time together today?  Let’s review and see what we find.  First, we learned from Habakkuk, that God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way that we would like him to nor as fast as we think God should.  Life doesn’t always go the way that we want.  Our government doesn’t always do the right thing.  Our legal system and our church do not always find justice the way that they should.  But we are called to do our duty, to remain faithful, to do what is right, to persist, persevere, and to endure because God is coming.  Although we may not live to see it on this earth, there is a day coming that God will bring justice.

Second, we learned from the story of Zacchaeus that sometimes even the church gets lost.  Sometimes people and institutions get so caught up in politics, culture wars, the pursuit of wealth and power, and other things, that they forget the things that are really important and chase out people who are genuinely faithful and who are doing the best they can.  But as the followers of Jesus Christ, our mission is to do what Jesus did.  Our calling is to remain faithful even if our church loses its focus and gets lost.  Our mission is to find the people whose hearts are in the right place, find the people who lost heart, and find the people who couldn’t find their way to God because the church was such a poor example, and then open the door so that they can find their way back to God.

And third, although this echoes the first two, is that the focus of our ministry, the focus of our lives on this earth, is to be guided by our faith in Jesus Christ so that our faith and love for one another grow, and that our actions are led by our desire for goodness, and our deeds prompted by our faith so that the name of Jesus Christ is glorified by what we do, by who we are, by how we love, and by the grace that we show others.

No matter how difficult life gets, no matter how lost our culture, our government, and even our church may be, as the followers of Jesus, our mission is to remain faithful, to seek out the lost, to invite them in, and to have the grace to hold open the door even to people that other people threw out.  Our goal is to be like Jesus, to love others like Jesus, and to lead others toward Jesus, until it’s our turn to join the saints in that final journey.  And, although our destination isn’t Neverland, we might imagine that the last directions we hear as we leave might be to take the…

“Second star to the right, and straight on ‘till morning.” 


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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.

Coming Soon!

Click here to listen to the podcast

Click here to watch the recorded livestream: https://youtu.be/psvtD_P47Lc
Or click here to skip straight to the sermon: https://youtu.be/05dgjGhOKY4

Children’s message: How is Jesus like a steam locomotive? https://youtu.be/iHXcL3eD4O0

This week’s challenge: What does it mean to “be prepared in season and out of season”? https://youtu.be/wL-8uCk8TAw


Coming Soon!

October 23, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 31:27-34                 Luke 18:1-8                2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

For those of us who grew up going to real movie theaters, as well as possibly the Netflix generation in a different format, we remember the movie posters and the movie trailers that would run, interspersed with commercials for popcorn, candy, and soft drinks, for fifteen minutes before the movie started.  And the banner under which all these appeared was, “Coming Soon.”  “Coming Soon” was meant to inform us that something amazing, spectacular, and wonderful was about to happen and build our anticipation and desire to see it when it came to town.  This was, I think, especially true for the golden age movie serials as well as the Star Wars type movies that were patterned after them.  Coming soon, is a phrase that is designed to get our attention, to take our focus, of only for a moment, away from our present troubles and busyness, and look forward to the future and the appearance of something new.

And, although we won’t find the words “Coming Soon” anywhere in scripture, the idea that it represents is a common theme of the prophets, Jesus, and the gospel writers alike.  We heard the words in the scriptures that Susan used last week, and I’m going to use some of those same scriptures this morning but will look at them from a different direction.  The first words that we heard last week from the prophet Jeremiah, and will hear again this week, compare almost exactly to the modern usage of “Coming Soon.”  In Jeremiah 31:27-34, we hear…

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord… doesn’t that sound a lot like “Coming soon?”

27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband tothem,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

God announces through Jeremiah that something new is coming.  The days are coming, when God will once again plant his people, kingdoms, and nations and watch over them as they rebuild.  In those days, as we heard last week, everyone will be held responsible for their own sin because… in those days, in the days that are coming soon, God will make a new covenant with his people that will be different from the covenant that he made with them when he led them out of slavery in Egypt.  This will be a new covenant, a new contract, a new promise that God will write upon the minds and hearts of his people.  It will be a new day, a new era, and a new relationship between God and his people.  And that day is… coming soon. 

No matter how you translate it, whether you say, “the days are coming,” or “coming soon,” or “I will…” God presses his people to look forward, to look past their present suffering, to put their trust in God, and look toward the future.  And in the parable that we heard last week, and again this week, this is very much what Jesus is doing as well as we hear these words in Luke 18:1-8:

18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you; he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

God promises to bring justice to his people who cry out to him, but Jesus encourages us not to stop, to continue praying, to continue to cry out to God for justice, because prayer is the expression of our faith.  Prayer is a mechanism by which we shift our focus, look past our present condition, and look forward, because fundamentally, prayer is an expression of our faith in God and our hope for the future.

But… as we hold on to our faith, and as we look toward the future, how do we live, love, and care for the people around us… today?  These are exactly the kind of questions that Paul answers in his second letter to his protégé Timothy as we hear these words in 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

What should we do today?  We should continue to do the things that we’ve been taught to do, to teach the things that we’ve been convinced of by the Spirit of Jesus Christ and continue in our faith.  We should continue to study scripture, and use it to teach, rebuke, correct, and train others in righteousness so that the people of God might be fully equipped for every good work.

Paul’s charge, or assignment, to Timothy carries forward to each of us two thousand years later.  Preach the word, be prepared, at all times, to tell the gospel story and the message of salvation and rescue.  Correct, rebuke, and encourage, and offer instruction, but do these things with great care and patience so that the message that we bring is the message of scripture and not just a modern interpretation that resonates with our culture and makes us feel good.  Keep your head, stay calm… no matter what, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and be in ministry, at all times, to all the people around you.

Paul’s instruction to Timothy, much like the words of Jeremiah and the parable of Jesus, remind us that the day is coming, and coming soon, when we will all stand in judgement.  Our mission is not to get bogged down in the troubles of today, but to look forward past our present troubled and divisive times, to look past our present condition, and live, love, teach, preach, correct, rebuke, and encourage so that we can bring as many of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and classmates into the gates of heaven as we possibly can.

No one can know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, but just as God’s people were called in the time of Jeremiah, and just as they were in the time of Jesus and Paul, we are called to look forward, to look past our present struggles, to put our trust in God, and look toward the future.  Because even if we don’t know when he’s coming, we know that he is… coming soon.


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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.

Will Faith be Found on Earth?

An image of earth in God's hand

Will Faith be Found on Earth?

October 16, 2022

Dr. Susan Haddox

This Sunday was Laity Sunday wherein the wonderful lay persons (ie. not clergy persons) of Christ Church took over our worship service. Dr. Susan Haddox, who is a professor of Religion at the University of Mount Union here in Alliance, brought us all a wonderful message about faith and how it can be found in the twenty-first century. There is, however, no text for me to post here, but I invite you to click the links below that will take you to the podcast, the recording of the full livestream, or to an edited version that only includes Dr. Haddox’s message and scripture readings.


Click here to listen to the podcast

Click here to watch the livestream: https://youtu.be/tmj3jwL77eg

Click here to see Dr. Haddox’s message, “Will Faith be Found on Earth?”


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Pastor’s Report 2022

Hipster pointing to a white board that says "Pastor's Report"

Pastor’s Report 2022

Christ United Methodist Church

Rev. John Partridge

Every year, I am asked to present a report of the year for our annual Charge Conference. It’s really sort of a “what I did last summer” kind of report that asks, “What did your church do for the last year?” Long ago I decided that my answers should not be seen as any kind of a secret, and so I publish them here, and in our church newsletter. I’m excited about the future of Christ Church and its people and I hope that by talking more about it, others might learn about it and join us in our mission to care for the people around us, and around the world, the way that Jesus cares for us.

The official question that was asked this year was this:


Explain how the church is fulfilling its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Review the current year and how you plan to meet your congregational goals for the upcoming years. What specific goals relate to your mission field.


An my answer is as follows:

Christ Church has continued to move forward into a new post-Covid world in which many people remain unsure of attending social gatherings and events with large groups, and church attendance seems to sometimes be among these.  In addition, some of those who were regular in attendance prior to the pandemic simply fell out of the habit.  But, for whatever reason, we continue do everything at Christ Church with excellence so that, as we invite out neighbors, coworkers, and friends, and as those who previously attended test the waters and find their way back, they will all find a community of faith, love, and support that is filled with hope for the future and for an eternity with Jesus.

Christ Church is also considering ways in which we can be more intentional about attracting and inviting others into fellowship and inclusion in our community of faith.  To do that we are exploring opportunities that might exist for each committee and small group within the church as well as potential new ways to reach out to our neighborhoods, new ministries, and even additions to staff.  We have already launched a new children’s ministry offering Sunday school and children’s church so that these options are available to all families in attendance and give them the flexibility to choose what works best for them.

And, at the same time, we have not stopped doing what we have always done.  Volunteers from Christ Church once again provided free concessions each week at the Alliance Chamber of Commerce Concert at the Caboose series of events and raised $737 in donations in support of the Alliance Area Habitat for Humanity, over one hundred meals pass through our doors every Tuesday through the Alliance of Churches, Scouts BSA Pack and Troops 50 continue to mentor and teach valuable skills to young men an women, our United Women in Faith will again teach cooking skills to our neighbors, we continue to support Red Bird missions in Kentucky, provide education for students in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the list goes on.

Our mission calls us to be a bright shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope to the hopeless, and a place of healing to a hurting world where we can be Jesus to our neighbors and to the world.  I believe that Christ Church is not only doing those things, but we are looking for ways to do them better.


I hope that, if you haven’t already, you would join us at Christ Church in-person, or online. Because I have no doubt that together we’re going to change the world.


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Survive, Endure, Be Grateful

Podcast: Survive, Endure, Be Grateful

Click here to watch the entire livestream: https://youtu.be/alKeAqQZN7g

Benediction: What Does Gratitude Look Like?

Click here to watch today’s Challenge: What Does Gratitude Look Like? https://youtu.be/SO7vEC0Mxv0


Survive, Endure, Be Grateful

October 09, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 29:1-7                     Luke 17:11-19                        2 Timothy 2:8-15

Many of us, and quite likely most of us, have been through some tough times.  As we noted in the last week or two, suffering is common to the human condition.  Some of us started finding our way through tough times while we were still in childhood, and all of us passed through some stuff before we were far into adulthood. Cassandra Clare, in her book “City of Heavenly Fire” said, “Temper us in fire, and we grow stronger. When we suffer, we survive.”  But sometimes the fire through which we passed was almost overwhelming.  It was about those times that ancient Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

But once we were on the far side of our difficulties and struggles, many of us have found that we learned something.  We came away from our trials stronger, and perhaps wiser, than before.  And sometimes we discovered that our suffering left other things behind within us.  Ben Okri wrote that “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.”  But in the middle of our suffering, we could not think about what we might learn, or gain, from it. Nick Hornby, in “How to Be Good” wrote, “You don’t ask people with knives in their stomachs what would make them happy; happiness is no longer the point. It’s all about survival; it’s all about whether you pull the knife out and bleed to death or keep it in…”

And as the prophet Jeremiah writes to the survivors of the siege of Jerusalem, a people who witnessed so much bloodshed, suffered from so much loss, were witness to the destruction of everything that they knew, and who were now in captivity in Babylon, he writes to people who feel as if they have a knife in their stomachs.  Many of them are in such agony and turmoil that they are considering whether they should just stop eating until they die.  And to them, Jeremiah shares a word from God. (Jeremiah 29:1-7)

29:1 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jehoiachinand the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah’s message to the Hebrew people in Babylon was not the news that they wanted to hear, and it was not the news that their false prophets were sharing with them.  God’s message to his people was, ‘You are not going home. Plan on being a Babylon for a lifetime.”  Through Jeremiah, God had told the people that they would be in captivity for 70 years.  But at the time that Jeremiah writes this letter to the surviving elders among the exiles, they are mourning the loss of their temple, their nation, and their way of life, but they are still hoping that God will miraculously rescue them just as the false prophets were proclaiming.  But God’s message to his people is they should make plans for a life in Babylon and even pray for Babylon and her rulers because their prosperity was now tied to the prosperity of their conquerors.  It wasn’t what they wanted, but now, adapting to their new reality was how they would survive.

But even knowing that they would survive, and having hope that one day, even though far in the future, that they would return to Israel, surviving until then meant finding a way to endure whatever captivity held for them in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead of them.  And that kind of endurance is what Paul talks about in his second letter to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:8-15 when he says…

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

11 Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful,
    for he cannot disown himself.

14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Paul tells Timothy that he endures chains and imprisonment so that others might hear the good news of Jesus Christ and the gospel message.  Paul was able to survive and endure because he found purpose in his mission and purpose in his imprisonment.  Even in prison, Paul found a way to minister to the people around him, to offer grace to those who worked in the prison, to preach to the lawyers, judges and anyone who would listen, and to write letters of encouragement to Timothy and to the churches where he had ministered.  Although Paul was chained and imprisoned, he knew that the word of God had the freedom and the power to change lives, and to rescue the people with whom he had contact.

And then we remember Jesus’ healing of the ten men who were suffering and enduring the pain and the isolation of leprosy in Luke 17:11-19 and learn another important lesson about survival and endurance.

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

We should notice that these lepers had survived and endured any way that they could.  They were outcasts from their society, and they were feared and chased away everywhere that they went.  But with through the kindness of family members, the charity of strangers, and by caring for one another, and working together, they had found ways to live.  Hearing the stories about Jesus’ miraculous healing power, they found him and cried to him for help and for mercy.  And, without touching them, or breaking any rules regarding lepers or cleanliness, Jesus sends them to the priests for the legally required examination to certify their cleanliness and healing.  They believe, they obey, they are healed as they go, they are declared clean by the priest, and receive the blessing and restoration of God and the freedom for which they had so desperately hoped.

Because they were healed, we know that all ten had found faith in Jesus Christ.  But, caught up in the excitement of their healing, perhaps because they so desperately wanted to go and see their families and tell everyone that they knew the story of their own personal miraculous healing, nine out of ten forgot something important.  Only one, and then only the one that we should least expect, the Samaritan, the foreigner, the enemy, it is only he that returns to Jesus to say thank you.  Even Jesus, filled with grace and mercy asks, “Where are the other nine?”

How often does that describe us?  How often do we pray for healing, or for rescue, or for strength to survive and to endure?  And, when we have received the things for which we had so hopefully and fervently prayed, how often are we so excited to get on with our lives, to get back to normal, to return to the things and the people that we loved, that we forget to return to God…

…and say, “Thank you?”

We pray that we may never face the kinds of trials, pain, sorrow, and suffering that were faced by the people of Israel in Babylon, or those endured by Paul in prison, but until they carry us out of the room feet first, we will certainly face trials through which we will suffer and endure.  I am certain that we will pray and ask God for strength, patience, courage, healing, intervention, mercy, grace, and whatever else that we think that we need to survive and to endure. 

And that’s a good thing.

God wants us to have faith in him.  God wants us to cry out to him.  God wants us to talk to him and to ask him for the things that we need.

But afterwards… after we have survived… after we have endured… let us never forget…gratitude.

All of us have stories about answered prayers.  We have witnessed life giving rescue, healing, and received hope.  We have been given strength to endure, been given children, money, health, jobs, promotions, protection from storms, fires, earthquakes, bullies, bosses, drunk drivers on the highway, and all sorts of other things.  I am confident that if we shared our stories of answered prayer, we would be here for hours.

But when we have received the answers to our prayers, let us never forget…

… to be grateful.


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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.

Sources of Suffering

Click here to listen to the podcast

Click here to watch the livestream: https://youtu.be/fM8SVM6jHnU


Sources of Suffering

October 02, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Lamentations 1:1-6               Luke 17:5-10             2 Timothy 1:1-14

On January 1, 1970, George V. Higgins, while he was still employed as Assistant US Attorney, but who would eventually be described as the grand master of crime fiction, published his first crime novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”  In that story, gun runner Jackie Brown famously said, “This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”  That quote has often been misattributed to John Wayne, but there is no record of John Wayne, nor any of his movie characters, ever saying such a thing.  In any case, many of us have found this to be true.  “This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”  Few, if any of us, have managed to always make good decisions, and while we have learned valuable lessons from them, those bad decisions often made our lives much more difficult and painful than they needed to be.  But, at the same time, sometimes life is hard because we made good decisions.  Changing careers, working as a student pastor, with a student pastor’s salary, going to school full-time, while raising three children was hard, despite being a good choice.  And many of you could describe similar choices and similar struggles.

But despite our experiences, and our past struggles, many people ask the question, “Why is there suffering?” Or “Why am I suffering?”  And while I don’t have the definitive answer that applies to all people for all time, this morning we’re going to read several stories which illustrate several kinds of sadness, sorrow, and suffering and maybe, along the way, we will find some of the answers to our questions about suffering. We begin this morning, in a place where we don’t often go, to the book of Lamentations.  A lamentation is defined as a “passionate expression of grief or sorrow” and so this book of scripture is the place where we find the mournful prayers of the people of Israel who have lost the war with the Babylonian army, been ripped from their homes, watched as their city and their temple were destroyed, enslaved, and dragged into Babylon to make a new life in captivity.  Not surprisingly, tears were shed, and God’s people asked why this had happened to them.  “Why are we here?”  “When will we go home?”  Will we ever go home?”  “Why did God allow this to happen?”  And “Why has God allowed us to suffer?”  We begin in Lamentations 1:1-6, where we hear these words:

1:1 How deserted lies the city,once so full of people!
How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

4 The roads to Zion mourn,for no one comes to her appointed festivals.
All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan,
her young women grieve, and she is in bitter anguish.

5 Her foes have become her masters;her enemies are at ease.
The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.
Her children have gone into exile, captive before the foe.

6 All the splendor has departed from Daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer that find no pasture;
in weakness they have fled before the pursuer.

Not everyone was taken into captivity because farmers and laborers were needed tend the land, harvest crops, and send taxes and tribute to the nation of Babylon.  It was not in Babylon’s best interests to take everyone, and so, much like the takeover of the communists in China, they took, or killed, the king, the royalty, the leaders of the military, the government, the church, and anyone else who might lead and rally people together in rebellion.  To borrow an expression from our nation’s experience in Vietnam, what Babylon wanted was a pacified Israel that would obey the orders of Babylon’s king and pay their taxes.

The people who were left behind may have been almost as miserable as those who have been taken into captivity.  Every day they remembered.  They remembered what their cities had once been, they remembered how beautiful their temple had been, how busy the roads had been, how peaceful it was to go to the synagogue and hear the words of God read from the Torah scroll.  But now that was all gone.  The roads mourn in their emptiness, the city gates are broken and desolate.  The people are gone.  Their friends and allies abandoned them in their time of need.

But there is recognition of why this had happened to them.  Jeremiah might not have been popular when he came to Jerusalem to proclaim the words, warnings, and condemnation of God, but the people remembered what he, and other prophets had said.  They knew that their grief and their suffering had come about because they loved their sin and had turned their backs on God.  And now life was harder, infinitely more difficult, and filled with weeping, sadness, mourning, suffering, and pain because of the bad choices that they had made.

But we often twist the question and, rather than ask “why are we suffering?” we ask, “why isn’t God blessing us?” and essentially ask why God is shortchanging us for doing good or assume that we aren’t getting what we want, or aren’t getting the expected result of God’s blessing, because we don’t have enough faith.  That’s the question that the disciples are asking Jesus in Luke 17:5-10 when Jesus is telling them about the consequences of sin and the need for his followers to forgive others.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Jesus says that you don’t need a lot of faith because even a little bit of faith is a powerful thing.  The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough faith, the problem is that we expect God to bless us every time we do what we’re supposed to do.  We don’t expect our employer, or our boss, to thank us every time that we show up for work in the morning.  Rather than expecting God to pour out blessings on us for every little thing, our expectations should be, at minimum, that we will do the things that God has commanded us to do.

Let me say that again.

Our expectations should be, at minimum, that we will do the things that God has commanded us to do just as our employer expects that we will show up for work on time and do the job that we’ve been hired to do.  Doing the minimum doesn’t give us the right to expect bonuses and an abundance of praise and thanksgiving.  We shouldn’t expect God to bless us because we did half of what was expected. Doing the minimum is the least of what God expects from us.  Jesus said that servants are expected to do what servants do and at the end of the day simply acknowledge that “we have only done our duty.”

I’m sure that’s not the most encouraging thing that I’ve ever preached, nor is it the most encouraging thing that you’ve ever heard in church. 

But it gets worse.

In his second letter to his friend Timothy, the Apostle Paul explains that while God will empower us, and give us the tools, and the strength that we need to do what he has called us to do, even making the right choices, and doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, may still result in suffering.  In 2 Timothy 1:1-14, we hear Paul say this:

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my dear son:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald, an apostle, and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Paul breaks down the ideas of faith and works for Timothy by saying at he knows Timothy has faith. Because he has faith, he knows that he has received the gift of the Spirit of God.  Because the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline, then Timothy should not be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to tell the people around him about Jesus Christ or about Paul’s     imprisonment.  Instead of being embarrassed, Paul says that Timothy should join with him in suffering for the sake of the gospel message, which is, in Paul’s view, suffering by the power of God.  Paul says that God did not call us because we deserved it, or because we had great qualifications, or because we had any qualifications at all, God called us because we fit into his plan, for his own purposes, and God called us because he chose to pour out his grace into our lives.

In the end, we are like Paul.  We have been called to be the heralds, proclaimers, apostles, town criers, and the announcers of the gospel message and the good news of Jesus Christ.  But suffering has always been and, until the day of judgement, always will be a part of the human experience.  Sometimes life is hard, and we suffer because we’re stupid and we made poor choices.  Sometimes we suffer because we get so selfish and self-focused that we put God in second, or third, place.  And sometimes we suffer for all the right reasons.  We made the right choices, did the right things, the right way, for the right reasons, and suffered anyway.  The odds are good that most of us here have endured through some hard times and in this life, the odds are good that we’re not done.  Suffering is just a part of the human experience.  But, if we’re going to suffer, let it be because we’ve made the right choices, done the right things, the right way, and for the right reasons.  Let it be so, that when we suffer, we suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ and for his kingdom.  Let us busy ourselves answering his call, and doing his work, so that when the day comes, we cannot be accused of only doing half of what we were called to do but can instead proclaim that ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”


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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.

Hope and Warning Signs

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Hope and Warning Signs

September 25, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15                     Luke 16:19-31                        1 Timothy 6:6-19

Depending on where you work, you might see a sign like this, or something similar, every day.  It is a sign that warns us not to block the fire exit and similar signs warn us not to park in a fire lane, not to open a fire door that has an alarm.  These and other cautionary warnings remind us that blocking or opening that door or parking in that place can result in a fine or other disciplinary action.  But those signs also give us hope.  When we see them, we know that the architects gave thought to how people would leave the building in an emergency, how the fire department and other emergency services would need gain access, and we know that there is a plan to get out of the building safely in the event of an emergency. 

And that image may give us some insight to the message that God sent to the people of Israel through his prophet Jeremiah.  Although God had sent many warnings that Jerusalem would fall and Israel would be captured, God also sent another message, an unusual message of hope, in Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 where we hear these words:

32:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.

Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do?

Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’

“Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’

“I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. 11 I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— 12 and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.

13 “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: 14 ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. 15 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’

Although God had sent warnings to Israel for some time, and although few had believed Jeremiah or the warnings that he carried, Jerusalem was now under siege, surrounded by the enemy, and facing shortages of foot, starvation, disease, and death. The situation seemed utterly hopeless.  If the siege didn’t kill them, certainly the enemy at the gates would.  And if the enemy didn’t kill them, it was almost certain that they would live the rest of their lives as slaves.  But in the middle of Israel’s hopelessness, God commands Jeremiah to buy his cousin’s farm field at a time when that field, outside the gates and walls of the city, would have been completely useless.  Even worse, what good would it be to hold the deed to property in Israel once they were killed or in captivity?  But, through this real estate transaction, and the care that Jeremiah took in preserving two copies of the deed, God sends a message of hope that his people would return, build houses, plant crops, harvest, and live their lives, once again, in Israel.  In the middle of their despair, God sends a message of hope.

We see a similar mixture of warning signs and hope in the parable of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31, where we hear Jesus say…

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

First off, even though there are plenty of preachers who will try to tell you that hell is only an allegory, in this parable it seems clear that Jesus believes that it is a real place.  And the warning is that living a life of selfishness can cause you to go to such a place.  In addition, the rich man in the story begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family so that they do not come to that place of torment at the end of their lives.  But Abraham’s reply is that they have already had lots of warning.  They have heard the warnings of Moses and all of God’s prophets, and if they didn’t listen to them, they wouldn’t listen even if Lazarus came back from the dead and warned them again.  Jesus’ message is that all of scripture is filled with warning signs.  God has sent a literal book full of warnings to show us the way that we should go and the way that leads to life rather than following the way that leads only to death. 

But the good news is that torment and suffering are avoidable.  All anyone needs to do is to heed the warnings that have been sent.  To hear the warnings of Moses, the prophets, and of Jesus, and to do the will of God that they all patiently explained to us.  The warning signs are many, but much like the signs around the fire escape, if we hear them, and obey them, we will live.

And finally, we hear an important message of warning and hope that Paul wrote to his friend Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6-19 about how we should live our lives.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

While our culture normally associates gain with climbing the social and corporate ladders and acquiring money and power, Paul describes something entirely different.  Rather than constantly pursuing more money, more land, bigger houses, bigger cars, more influence, more expensive clothing, and more toys, Paul says that great gain comes instead from godliness and contentment.  Instead of being one of our life’s goals, Paul warns that wealth is a temptation that traps people into pursuing foolish and harmful desires that lead to ruin and destruction.  While the cultures of the first century and the twenty first centuries, and virtually all of those in between, have all taught that money is the thing that will satisfy us, Paul says that it is the pursuit of, and the love of, money that plants seeds of all kinds of evil in our lives.

Instead of spending our years on earth in a never-ending pursuit of more, more, more, we should invest ourselves in a pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  These are the things that lead us to eternal life and away from death.  Instead of becoming arrogant, hoping that we have invested enough, and trusting in the bottom line of our retirement fund, especially in uncertain times with uncertain markets, let us instead put our hope in God, do good, be rich in good deeds, be generous, and be willing to share what we have with others.  These are the things that store up true riches in our eternal accounts for the life that come after this one.

In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation, scripture is filled with both signs of warning and of hope.  For thousands of years people in the cultures that surround the followers of God have scoffed at the idea that there is a God, that there is a place of punishment, or that the values we espouse are foolish, backward, quaint, or outdated.  But just as the warning signs marking and protecting the location of the fire escape are there not only to warn us about the danger of fire, but to show us a way out, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and the writings of Moses, the Prophets, and stories of Jesus are there not only to warn us, but to give us hope, and to offer us a path to find rescue.

We have free will.  We can ignore the signs, block the fire doors, and park in the fire lane but ignoring the warnings doesn’t make the danger any less real.  The only way to save ourselves from danger is to heed the warnings, to do the things that they ask, and accept the offer of hope that they provide.  It makes so much sense when we’re talking about fire safety, but isn’t it worth our time to listen to the warnings about where we will spend eternity?  We ignore important warnings at our own peril.

Especially when those warnings offer us a path toward hope and rescue.


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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.

Broken Trust

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Broken Trust

September 18, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1               Luke 16:1-13              1 Timothy 2:1-7

When our children were just beginning elementary school, our school district had a problem.  They had too many elementary school-age children and not enough space to fit them all.  That is not a unique problem.  The problem was that they had an additional elementary school building that was in good repair, that they couldn’t use.  Immediately behind the district administration building was an empty elementary school whose steam plant was active and supplied heat to the administration building. The problem, and the reason that the school was empty, was asbestos. 

Before the school could be safely filled with children and teachers, the district would need to spend a half a million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  At the same time, they couldn’t tear it down because it provided heat to the administration building and because… it would cost a half million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  The obvious solution would have been to ask the taxpayers for a one-time, emergency, tax levy to raise the half million dollars that would be needed to remove the asbestos and return that school to its useful purpose.  But, because taxpayers have been lied to by politicians for so long, it was impossible to pass a temporary tax levy because no one trusts a politician when they say that a new tax would be temporary.

The trust between taxpayers and their government has been broken so repeatedly, that we now simply assume politicians are lying most of the time.  Frank Sonnenberg said that “Trust is like blood pressure. It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly.” And Dr. Jane Greer had this to say about trust, “Broken trust forces us, first, to acknowledge a painful reality we may have chosen to ignore, then, to make some difficult decisions.” That’s exactly what the taxpayers of our school district did.  They made some difficult decisions, which caused more problems and more difficult decisions later.  It is this cycle of broken trust that has complicated the administration of our government, the operation and conduct of our churches, our schools, and it creeps into every facet of our lives.

And, as we read the words of Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1, what we hear underneath the words of a nation mourning from its captivity in Babylon, is the pain of the trust that was broken between the people of Israel and their God.

18 You who are my Comforterin sorrow,
    my heart is faint within me.
19 Listen to the cry of my people
    from a land far away:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King no longer there?”

“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
    with their worthless foreign idols?”

20 “The harvest is past,
    the summer has ended,
    and we are not saved.”

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?

9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
    for the slain of my people.

Jeremiah speaks for his people and says that they faint with sorrow over the loss of their nation and their God but, at the same time, he is angry that his people broke their trust with God and aroused his anger by abandoning him and worshiping the idols of another nation.  The people are saying that “the harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”  The realization of reality is finally hitting them that God isn’t going to bail them out easily and quickly this time and that they are not going home any time soon.  Jeremiah says that with this realization, horror grips him and there is no comfort, no physician, and no healing to be found as they mourn what they have lost, come to grips with their new reality, and weep for all those who died because of their rebellion and broken trust.

And then in Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a story about an entirely different kind of broken trust but compliments the man who does wrong because of the lesson that the church should learn from him about how we can operate within a system that often struggles with trust issues.

16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels[about thirty tons] of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus praises the dishonest man for his shrewdness in using the tools that he had available to him.  Despite being fired, he had time left, and tools at his disposal, to prepare for, and to secure resources for his future.  Clearly his actions amount to fraud and theft, and certainly Jesus expects that we will not do those things.  But, although we are held to a higher standard, and expected to be trustworthy and live up to our promises to our employers and the people around us, we are encouraged to use the tools that we have been given by our employers, by our community, our leaders, our governments, and by our Constitution, to further the cause of the kingdom of God.  We are to prove ourselves trustworthy with what we have been given here, so that we can demonstrate to God that he can trust us with real wealth and true riches in heaven.

But how do we connect that story with the heartbreak experienced by Jeremiah and the people of Israel during their captivity in Babylon?  We begin with the idea that the phrase “we cannot serve two masters,” can be about money, it can also be about other things that take the place of God.  In a letter to his young friend and protégé Timothy, Paul briefly describes the relationship that we should be cultivating with the powers that surround us. (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth; I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Paul urges Timothy and the church to pray for kings and the people in authority in their governments even though, like now, those leaders had often broken trust with the people over whom they ruled.  Some had not only broken trust but had actively persecuted their citizens.  And yet, Paul’s encouragement isn’t to rebel, or to resist, but to pray for them, and to do whatever they could do to live peaceful and quiet lives of integrity and honesty that were both godly and holy.

Our goal is to peacefully coexist with our government, not to put our trust in the government and not to break our trust with God by putting our faith in money, power, or government officials.  Neither should we abdicate our responsibilities to God or entrust our government with do the work that God has commanded us to do.  Our calling is to shrewdly use the freedoms and the tools that we have been given, but to remain faithful to our God, to our integrity, honesty, and to the promises that we have made. 

The missionary journeys of Paul and the other disciples were made possible by the infrastructure and the safety and freedom to travel brought about by the Roman empire and its military.  In his letters, we sometimes see Paul use his Roman citizenship as a tool to accomplish his mission for Jesus Christ, but Paul never concedes that Caesar is lord, and he never puts his faith and trust in the Roman government.  For Paul, citizenship was a useful tool, but his loyalty was always firmly in Jesus Christ, and his faith and trust always belonged, without question, to the kingdom of God first.  We are similarly challenged.  Finding the balance that Paul had will be as challenging to us as it was for him.  But our calling is to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, to put our whole trust only in God, and to shrewdly use the rights, freedom, citizenship, money, and other tools at our disposal to further the interests of God’s kingdom wherever we can.  At the same time, we must live lives that are trustworthy, honest, filled with integrity, and remain faithful to the promises that we have made so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

If he were here, I am certain that Paul would confess that finding that balance, while living in a powerful military empire, was challenging, and doing so is likely to be similarly challenging for us in twenty-first century United States.  But one thing we can learn from Jeremiah is that getting that balance wrong can have devastating, and sometimes eternal, consequences.


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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.