The Fire of Change

The fire of change (a picture of fire)

The Fire of Change

May 15, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Acts 11:1-18

Last week I shared a little about what is happening in our United Methodist denomination and what may or may not happen in the future.  We are still at a place where much can change, and the situation could be quite different after the next General Conference in 2024.  In the end, we still have no idea how that might affect us here at Christ Church but regardless of what happens, we can anticipate that whatever happens, there will, eventually, be some significant, and dramatic changes. 

And it was last week’s conversation that struck me as I read this week’s scripture from Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles contained in Acts 11:1-18 where he says this:

11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance, I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

As I read this, I noticed something that we often skip past, and when I thought about it, that one thing reframed how I thought about the entire passage.  The thing that we often fail to notice is in the very beginning when it says who had heard about what Peter was doing.  It says that “the apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles” had received the word of God.  When they heard these stories, they summoned Peter and criticized him for preaching to uncircumcised men or, in other words, Gentiles or, you know, those people.  That doesn’t seem too surprising, but remembering that among the people having this conversation with Peter were the apostles, the eleven disciples of Jesus, and the other believers who were among those men and women who personally knew Jesus, their presence then becomes important to understanding Peter’s explanation of what he did, what he saw, and what happened.

And then we get to verse fifteen, Peter says that as he was speaking to the Gentiles that had gathered in Caesarea and “the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.”  And this is where it’s important to remember who was there.  It was the disciples and the early followers of Jesus that were listening.  When Peter says that the Spirit of God came upon the Gentiles just as it had come upon them, we remember that on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came with a “sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”  And so, when Peter tells them that this is exactly the way that it happened to the Gentiles, this is what they all remember and I’m certain that’s why this passage concludes by saying, “When they heard this, they had no further objections.”

I’m certain, that the day, and the events, of Pentecost were something that none of them could ever forget.  And hearing that the same thing had happened to the Gentiles immediately eliminated any other objections that they might have had as faithful, orthodox, and practicing Jews.  It was obvious that the world was changing in ways that none of them had ever expected, or even imagined.  But the message was also clear, that God was at work and that God could be found within those changes.

Today we are facing profound challenges and a world that is changing in ways that we never expected or imagined.  The Covid-19 pandemic has changed, and continues to change, the world around us.  The war in Ukraine has sent ripples of change around the world that has impacted fuel prices, supply chains, caused shortages in diapers, baby formula, fresh vegetables, sound system components, paper, floor wax, and all sorts of other things.  And as we continue to watch the unfolding drama within our own denomination, regardless of where the future may carry us, the one thing of which we can be certain, is that we will see profound change.

But as we face these changes, and as we leave the old “normal” behind us forever, there remains one thing of which we can always be certain.

God is at work in the world and God can always be found within the changes.

Rather than worrying and living in fear, let us instead look for God, look to see what God is doing in the world, and seek to understand what work that God has for us to do as we move forward into a new normal.


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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.

Update on Methodist Denominational Struggles

What’s going on with the UMC?

(Excerpt from May 8th, 2022 worship)

With May 1st marking the official “launch” of the conservative Global Methodist Church (GMC), we’re seeing all sorts of stories on national media and more circulating on social media. A few of them are accurate, but many leave their viewers and readers misinformed. Here is my assessment of where we currently stand as a local congregation (as of May 8th 2022).

Click here to watch this 4 minute video: https://youtu.be/b04zxb5_hSw


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A Master of Magnetism

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A Master of Magnetism

May 08, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 10:22-30                                    Acts 9:36-43                           Revelation 7:9-17

If you have ever watched any of the movies from the Marvel universe, you are familiar with Magneto, Master of Magnetism, the principal villain of the X-men movies.  Magneto is one of the most powerful mutants in the world and can move, bend, or otherwise manipulate anything made of a magnetic metal and leads an army of other mutants who seek to overthrow the governments of the world that are ruled by normal, non-mutant, humans.  But, when we think about his position and his abilities, we realize that Magneto has two kinds of power.  First, and most obvious, is his ability to control magnetism, but the second is in his ability to persuade, cajole, manipulate, threaten, and otherwise control the army that fights with, and for, him.  The first is an ability of physics, but the second is an ability of persuasion that we would typically call a magnetic personality.

In scripture, we certainly won’t find any mutants that can manipulate the laws of physics, but we do find some critically important examples of human and spiritual magnetism.  We begin this morning by reading from the Gospel of John 10:22-30 where Jesus explains the spiritual magnetism that belongs, uniquely to him.

22 Then came the Festival of Dedicationat Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Jesus had made any number of statements, that we find throughout the Gospels, in which he made his claim as the promised Messiah, but the leaders of Israel always found ways to deny that it was true, deny that Jesus said what he said, or tried to explain away the things that Jesus had done.  But here Jesus simply says that this actions, done in the name of God, are testimony to who he is, and those that follow him, and who have become his sheep, listen to what he says.  Anyone who is a genuine follower of Jesus, listens to his teaching and in exchange, those followers will have eternal life.  The magnetism of Jesus is drawing the entire world to him but not everyone will choose to listen.

But in the story of Acts, Luke tells us how the magnetism of Jesus breaks out into the world even after Jesus returns to heaven.  And one example of that breakout is seen in Acts 9:36-43 as Peter performs a miracle.

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so, when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived, he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and, seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Joppa wasn’t much of a harbor, but it was vitally important because, until Herod and his engineers build an incredible artificial harbor at Caesarea, Joppa was the only seaport in all of Israel.  And it was because of that seaport, that much of the world met Israel in that place and it was for that reason that this city was important as the message of the gospel began to spread outward from Jerusalem, Judea, and to all the world.  It is also worth noting that the word “disciple” (used to describe Tabitha) is the only appearance, in the entirety of the New Testament, that we ever see the Greek language, feminine form of that word.  The implication is not certain, but this singular appearance of that descriptive word might imply additional importance to this woman. 

Tabitha, or Dorcas, was always doing good, always helping the poor, and from the gathering of people who came to mourn her, seems also to have always been doing things to help the widows of Joppa.  As we remember and honor mothers on Mother’s Day, we might easily think of Tabitha as a mother to mothers or as a mother to all women.  But, hearing that Peter was nearby, two men were sent to urge him to come and join this mournful gathering.  We don’t know if they dared hope that Peter could perform a miracle, or if they only hoped that he might bring comfort to their community, or to lead in the time of mourning, or to preside over Tabitha’s burial.  But whatever their hopes might have been, Peter came, prayed, told the dead woman to get up, and she did.  Peter did what only Jesus, and one or two of Israel’s greatest prophets, had ever done. 

Peter had raised the dead.

Not surprisingly, news of this travelled.

People talked.  It became known that the power of Jesus Christ did not die with him on the cross but lived on in the lives of his followers.  And because of Peter’s actions, and because of the power of God that had worked through him, the church grew.  The church grew because of what they had seen in the actions of the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The message of Jesus, heard through the actions of his followers, was magnetic.

And all these things, and all of scripture, leads to the events found in John’s Revelation (Revelation 7:9-17) where he saw this:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

In all of that, for me, today, three phrases are worth noting.  First, that the people gathered around the throne of God were not uniformly Jewish, or even Mediterranean.  The people who will be a part of that multitude were from everywhere.  There were people from every country, every ethnic group, who spoke every language ever spoken on the face of the earth.  And all of them, from the first to the last, from the least to the greatest, worshipped and gave praise to God.

The second phrase that stands out is the acknowledgement that the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was at the center of God’s throne and that Jesus would be the shepherd of everyone who had gathered there.

And third, that this group of people, having come out of the great tribulation, who suffered and died during that tribulation, would not only follow Jesus, but that he would lead them to “streams of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This picture of the end of days reminds us that what Jesus said was true.  That his sheep know his voice, they follow him, even through tribulation and death, but even in death none will perish, not one person will be stolen from the hand of God, and every one of them will receive eternal life.

Jesus is the Master of Magnetism.

But what about you?

Will you be a Master of Magnetism?

The message of Peter, and the resurrection of Tabitha, teaches us that the power of Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but lives on in the lives of his followers.

The church grew because of what the people around them had seen in the actions of the followers of Jesus Christ. 

Let me say that again.

The church grew because of what the people around them had seen in the actions of the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The message of Jesus, heard through the actions of his followers, was magnetic.

And so, the question of the day is this:

What will you do, what actions will you take, so that the people around you can hear the message of Jesus Christ through you?


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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.

Duty, Mission, Reward

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Duty, Mission, Reward

April 17, 2022*

(Easter Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 24:1-12                          Acts 10:34-43                         1 Corinthians 15:19-26

There are things that we do that are unpleasant, but we do them anyway.  Some things we can delegate to others, but some things, regardless of how much we might dislike the task, simply must be done, and so we do them.  Sometimes these things are commanded by others, like cleaning latrines, or emptying “honey pots” in the military (if you know, you know), but sometimes these are things that we “command” ourselves to do, like changing stinky diapers, cleaning the bathroom after being sick, changing the cat litter, or cleaning up the dog poo in the back yard.  Sometimes, regardless of the unpleasantness, we just do those things that must be done.  Sometimes it is necessity that pushes us, sometimes survival, and often, duty. 

And regardless of what you might want to call it, it is that sense of duty in the face of unpleasantness, that begins the Easter story.  John 20 says, “Early on the first day, while it was still dark,” Mary Magdalene and some of the other women went to the tomb to embalm the body of Jesus with spices that would mask the stench of decay.  But Jesus had already been dead for at least 36 hours, and although the smell of decomposition may not yet have been overpowering, they were not expecting it to be a pleasant task.  But, pleasant or not, these women had either violated the Sabbath to prepare the things that they needed, or they had been awake since the earliest hours of the morning so that they could do what needed to be done.  In Luke 24:1-12, Luke says,

24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

As the women planned and prepared to do what had to be done, one of the first items of business always had to be asking someone, anyone, to help them move the stone.  I’ve seen them.  Even the small ones are not small, and the big ones are enormous.  The stones are almost invariably round, and usually rest in a smooth stone trench so that they roll… easier.  But six hundred pounds, or one thousand pounds, or more isn’t going to be easy and, I suspect, that the women did not plan to do all that work alone.  My guess is that they hoped that the soldiers, who had been commanded to guard the tomb, could be persuaded to help them move the stone as long as their assistance wasn’t required to do the unpleasant work inside.  But, as they drew closer, there were no guards, and when they arrived, they found that the stone had already been rolled away.  Amid their confusion and curiosity, they entered the tomb, and discovered that Jesus’ body was missing as well.  And, as they wondered, and discussed, what might have happened, angels appear and ask why they are looking in a grave for a man who was alive.

But when they ran to tell the disciples what had happened to them, they didn’t make any sense.  Their words, however true, sounded like gibberish.  No guards, open tomb, missing body, blinding lights, angels, resurrection.  None of it made any rational sense.  Surely the women must’ve accidently eaten poison, or in their grief, had too much to drink overnight.  But Peter wants to know what really happened, and so he runs to the tomb… and finds it empty just as the women had described.

That’s the story that most of us have heard a few dozen times. 

But what does it mean?

Peter was the one who wanted to see the tomb, with his own eyes, after hearing the story told by Mary Magdalene and the other women.  It was Peter, we are told, who wondered, and thought about what had happened.  And, after meeting the risen Jesus, we listen as Peter explains to others what it all means in Acts 10:34-43.

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

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

Peter summarizes three years of ministry with Jesus, the trial, the cross, and the resurrection, by saying God accepts anyone and everyone who fears him and who does what is right.  Peter reminds his audience that they know the message, and that they had all heard the stories about Jesus and his ministry.  And it is the mission of the disciples, and all who knew Jesus, and everyone who follows them, to stand up as witnesses of what he did, and what he taught.  The message of Jesus is a message for everyone, that forgiveness is available to anyone who believes in him, and it is our mission to tell them.

But now that we know what the story means, and what we are supposed to do about it, the next question we need to answer is… why.

Why is it important to be a witness to the world?  Why is it important that every follower of Jesus be a participant in sharing his message of forgiveness with the world?  Why can’t we be satisfied that the minister can do it, or the missionaries can do it, or that a few people from our congregation might be excited, or even just willing, to learn about evangelism?

And Paul answers the “why” question in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 when he says…

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Paul says that the good news of Jesus Christ is important to everyone because Jesus rose from the dead.  Yeah, yeah, we get that, I mean, it’s Easter.  That’s the message we expected to hear this morning.  But Paul’s point is that all of us are going to die.  Every person that you have ever known, every person that you know, every person that you will ever know, is going to die.  Every person that has ever lived, even Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead, has died, or will die. 

But…

But because Jesus rose from the dead, and because Jesus was the first human being to defeat death and rise from the dead, everyone who chooses to follow Jesus can be, and will be, made alive again after our death.  It isn’t going to happen today, but it will happen.  There is a day coming when there will be no presidents, no governments, no armies, no irritating or difficult persons of power or authority, no bureaucracies, just the freedom of eternal life.  On the day that Jesus returns, everyone who belongs to Jesus will be made alive again.  Paul is clear in saying that resurrection isn’t going to happen to everyone, but it will happen to everyone who chooses to follow Jesus while they are alive.  But it’s a limited time offer.  Because human beings have a limited life span, we don’t have forever to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.

How would you feel on judgement day if your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers, and the people you love, look at you and ask why you never told them that they could live forever with Jesus?

It’s not just the job of the preachers, or the missionaries, or even a handful of people who want to learn about evangelism.  Our mission is to share the good news with everybody. 

And the only way possible for us to do that, is for all of us to work together.


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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.

Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

A photograph of palm branches
Click here to listen to the podcast. (Our apologies for a couple dropouts when my wireless microphone died)

Click here to watch the livestream of this service:https://youtu.be/hVAPawqTrwQ


Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

(Palm Sunday)

April 10, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 19:28-40

Today we begin the final week of our preparations for Easter.  We remember the time that, as the church, we refer to as “Holy Week.”  This is that time of remembrance that begins with the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we remember today as Palm Sunday but continues with Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest, illegal trial, crucifixion, death, burial, and his resurrection on Easter morning.  I hope that you will join us, not just for the bookends of Palm Sunday and Easter, but for the entire journey through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Saturday, and then, after we have walked through that season of frustration, anger, despair, and darkness, to arrive together and celebrate the joy of Easter morning.

But this morning, we remember the story of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover as recorded in Luke 19:28-40.

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead, went, and found it just as he had told them.  33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.  36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

For such a short passage, there is a lot going on.  First, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village ahead of them.  He knew that they would find a colt that had been tied out, he knew that it was such a green colt that it had never been ridden, and although this last one is hardly surprising, Jesus also knew that the owner of the colt would want to know why they were taking it.  Just as Jesus had seen Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him to follow Jesus in John 1:48, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village.  But what is even more surprising, and to my skeptical and sometimes a little cynical mind, even more miraculous, was that the owner of the colt allowed the disciples to borrow it.  Think about that for a minute.  We take it for granted because it was Jesus, because we are reading the Bible, and because we’ve heard the story dozens of times. 

But seriously?  The disciples meet a random stranger, whose horse or donkey has only recently had a baby.  That baby hasn’t been ridden, it wasn’t old enough to take to the trainer, or to start working at its training, two total strangers off the street start untying it, and the only explanation they offer is that their boss needs it.  Seriously?  If you owned a new car, that the dealer just delivered to your house on a flatbed trailer, and you hadn’t even had time to drive it yet, how likely are you to loan it to a total stranger?  Think about that.  If your dog had puppies and they had barely started eating solid food, what the chances that you’d let a stranger “borrow” one?  This wasn’t just a baby, horses and donkeys were valuable and they typically only have one baby every 12 to 18 months.  So, as I think about this story, and think about what we all know about human nature, I think that although there might be more to the story than Luke chose to tell us, I also think that this might just be one of the greatest miracles in the Easter story next to the resurrection itself.

In any case, the owner allows the disciples to borrow the colt, they bring it to Jesus, throw their outer garments over it’s back, and Jesus rides it.  And that, if you know anything about horses, may also be a significant miracle.  Ask your friends who know horses, what’s likely to happen if you just jump on the back of a horse that’s never been ridden.  The odds are good that, outside of that rider being Jesus, that such a story isn’t going to end well.

And as Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives toward the gates of the city of Jerusalem, the crowd that was with Jesus began to praise God, in loud voices, for all the miracles that they had seen.  They pulled palm branches from the trees and laid them in the road in front of Jesus, and if Palm branches weren’t handy, they laid down their own shirts so that even the animal upon which Jesus rode would, symbolically, not get its feet dirty.  And more than that, they began to shout an historic welcome found in scripture, notably in Psalm 118, that the people of Israel had used as kings entered the city of Jerusalem.  They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” and they said, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 

And the Pharisees who saw what they were doing, and who heard what they were shouting were displeased.  They recognized that the disciples were offering Jesus a king’s welcome.  They understood that these symbols were used, and were reserved for, the recognition of kings.  And they knew that not far away, inside of the city, sharing a wall with the temple itself, was the Fortress Antonia and a detachment of Roman soldiers.  They knew that those soldiers were there to keep the peace, they knew that the only king that could ever be accepted was Caesar, and they knew that blood had been spilled the last time someone claimed to be the king of Israel.  The arrival of Jesus, and his disciples’ cries proclaiming him to be king, was threatening to upset the status quo.  And the people who had the most to lose from a change in the status quo were the Pharisees.

They insist that Jesus tell his disciples to stop before too many people hear, or at least before the wrong people, the powerful people, the people with swords, could hear them.  But Jesus stares them down and declares that if the disciples keep quiet, the stones along the sides of the road would cry out instead.

And so, the actions of the disciples, and Jesus’ refusal to stop them, combined with all the previous interactions that Jesus had with the Pharisees, had reached a climax.  The Pharisees could no longer look the other way, there was no longer any doubt, they absolutely knew that Jesus was going to upset the status quo.  If Jesus lived, more people were going to follow him.  And if those people were going to label Jesus as a king, it was going to stir up the worst kind of trouble.  The deal that the Pharisees and the other leaders of Israel had made with Rome was that they could remain in power if they helped Rome to rule over Israel and if they helped them to keep the peace.  If the disciples proclaimed that Jesus was a king, then this contract would be broken, and the Romans would blame the Pharisees.  It was their necks, their jobs, their careers, their lives, that were on the line.  It was no longer an intellectual argument.  In this moment, the Pharisees had to choose between themselves, and Jesus.  And they knew what had to happen.

Jesus.  Must.   Die.


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

An Easter Challenge

An Easter Challenge

by Pastor John Partridge

As I write this, Easter is less than three weeks away and by the time you read it, it will be closer to two weeks.  But as we grow nearer to our grand celebration of resurrection, I have a challenge for you.  But first, a few reminders.

Here in the northern hemisphere, Easter arrives in the Spring and so many of the signs and symbols of spring are also associated with Easter and resurrection.  Trees that seemed dead all winter, return to life as they bud and flower.  Spring flowers that disappeared over the winter, sprout anew and bloom even when they are sometimes covered with late season frost and snow.  Our songbirds begin to return from their sojourn in warmer climates to our south, build nests, lay eggs, and new life appears.  And after a winter of sheltering indoors and wrapping ourselves in layer after layer of winter clothing, we too feel reborn as we emerge from our cocoons of blankets, parkas, mittens, and gloves.

For these, and many other reasons, spring has been, for us, associated with resurrection and Easter.  But Easter is about more than that.  Easter is about Jesus conquering sin and death, not just for himself, but for us.  Jesus’ return from death to life was only the first resurrection and why Jesus is the “firstborn from among the dead.”  Jesus was the first, but his defeat of death, and our celebration of Easter, are symbols and reminders that everyone who has put their faith in him will also find resurrection.  We will all rise from the dead into an eternal life.

 But, as God’s rescued and resurrected people, our calling isn’t just to say “Thank you” at Easter and go on about our everyday lives.  As we have heard several times in recent weeks and months, our calling as rescued people is to busy ourselves rescuing others.  We are called to be agents of hope, reconciliation, and resurrection.  As such, the people around us should see resurrection in us in the way that we live our lives every day.

If Jesus has rescued us, and raised us from the dead, let us trust that he can also work toward “resurrecting” and bringing new life to our church.  We are witnesses to that possibility because in recent months we have brought in several new members.  But even though we have returned to our sanctuary, and even though our attendance is improving, we could, and we should, do better.  Because we are grateful for what Jesus has done for us, we should be at work sharing that gratitude, and the good news of Jesus Christ with others.   

  And so, here’s the challenge:  Even though there are only two weeks between now and Easter, I want to challenge every member, and every non-member who regularly attends Christ Church, to bring someone to church.  And when I say, “bring someone” to church I do not mean “invite someone to church.”  I mean that we should invite people, over, and over again, until we get at least one of them to commit to coming with us to Christ Church.  We all know that Christ Church is an awesome place to make friends, to worship, and to be in mission to the world but how will others know how great it is if no one invites, and brings them?

To be fair, it might take longer than two weeks, but Easter is a good goal because many people are open to an invitation at Easter and Christmas.  But the challenge remains.  Start talking to your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, the cashier at the grocery store, the person who does your hair or your nails, it could be anyone.  Invite them to church.  Invite them to Easter.  And keep inviting them.  And don’t stop after Easter.  If all of us do this, if all of us become truly invitational, we should have visitors in our congregation every week and not just at Easter.  And, if we regularly have visitors, some of them will certainly decide to stay.

And that’s when we will witness resurrection power.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Religious Extravagance

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Religious Extravagance

April 03, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 43:16-21                      John 12:1-8                Philippians 3:4b-14

What do you think of when I say the word… extravagant?

We buy things that we need, but how nice those things are often depends upon how much money we have available to spend on things that don’t matter.  We might need a watch, but we could buy a cheap one at the dollar store that will keep time, or we can buy a decent Timex that will last longer.  But when we have a little more disposable income, we might consider buying an Apple watch or a Garmin sport watch that not only keeps time but counts our steps, calories, tracks our heartrate, and a bunch of other things.  And there are some people who have enough money that they can wear a year’s salary, or even the value of a house, on their wrist with wildly expensive watches made of gold and platinum.  But do you know what those expensive watches say at three o’clock in the afternoon?  They say that it’s three o’clock.  The difference between a Timex and a Rolex isn’t that the time is different, or that expensive watches somehow give their wearers twenty-five hours in a day instead of the usual twenty-four, the difference is in their level of extravagance.

We could say that a house with four bedrooms is better than a house with one bedroom if you have a larger family.  But at some point, as homes grow larger and pass three thousand square feet, four thousand, five thousand square feet, and even larger, at some point we’ve crossed a line from utilitarian and into extravagance.

And so, if I were to ask you what comes to mind when I say the words “religious extravagance,” I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you began to think about the mansions that we’ve seen on television that belong to a variety televangelists and other religious leaders who have capitalized, in one way or another, on their position, power, or notoriety.  But is religious extravagance about 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets? 

As we consider that question, let’s begin by remembering what God said through his prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:16-21.

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

As I read that passage, I divided it into four sections that each said something different.  The first, asks God’s people to remember what God is capable of doing and all the amazing, awesome, powerful, and even impossible things that God has done.  The second, simply says that while we should remember what God has done, we should not live in the past or get stuck there.  The third, says that as we keep the first two things in mind, the big news is that God is doing something new.  Now, God is doing the impossible.  He is making a road through the impassable wilderness and bringing free flowing water to the desert.  The fourth thing explains why God does everything that God does.  The reason that God does extravagant miracles, achieves the impossible, blesses his people, feeds them, and cares for them, is not just so that they will give thanks, but so that they will tell the world about his greatness.

But in John 12:1-8 we see an entirely different sort of extravagance as the time of Jesus’s crucifixion draws near.

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor.  Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pintof pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied.  “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

For perspective, let’s consider the value of what Mary did for Jesus.  It’s one thing to say that she anointed Jesus with perfume that cost a year’s wages, but it’s another thing entirely to put that into language that is personally meaningful to our wallets.  Thinking about a year’s wages in a vague sort of way sounds like it might be a lot, but we feel a punch in the gut when we put that into numbers that we understand.  And a number that most of us can understand is the median income.  The “median” is the annual income at which half of all wage earners made more, and half made less.  And in the United States, the median income in 2021 was $79,900.  So, when we say that Mary poured $80,000 on the ground, we feel that it a different way than saying that it was worth about a year’s wages.  John uses this as an opportunity to criticize Judas for being a thief, but it’s hard not to think, as Judas suggested, about how much food, clothing, rental assistance, bus passes, or other things that we could buy for the poor with $80,000.  Mary’s gift was not just costly, it was extravagant.  But Jesus understands and explains to everyone present that there was a limited time that anyone could give such a gift, and while God’s intent was that this gift should have been for Jesus’ burial, Mary chose to give her gift to Jesus while he was still alive rather than after he was dead.

And in Philippians 3:4b-14, the Apostle Paul frames the discussion about extravagance differently.  Rather than reminding everyone about the extravagant gifts that God has given to us, or about the extravagant gift that Mary gave to Jesus, Paul explains how his life changed because of his reaction and response to God’s extravagance.  Paul says:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul begins by reminding his readers that for all the worldly reasons that people can have confidence, trust, and even arrogance, Paul has all of them… in abundance.  Paul had money, possessions, accomplishments, power, authority and more.  He was born into the right kind of prestigious family, he mixed with the right kinds of prestigious people, he followed all of the church’s rules in a very public way in the sect of the Pharisees, and even among the Pharisees, he was outstanding in his passion, zeal, and herculean efforts as a defender of the faith and a warrior for the church as he persecuted those who followed Jesus, and he did all these things so well that no one could find fault with his theology or practice.  Paul was beyond a rising star in the leadership of the church and was on track to be among those in the very highest levels of the Jewish church and the leadership of Israel.

But Paul after he met Jesus, he threw it all away.

Because he chose to follow Jesus, Paul lost his position in Jewish leadership, was cast out of the Pharisees, excommunicated, banned from the Temple, and we suspect that he may have even been disowned by his family.  Paul says that he has now given up anything that he once considered to be valuable because the value of knowing Jesus was worth more than anything that he had before.  In fact, what Paul received when he put his faith in Jesus was so extravagantly valuable that in comparison, everything that he had before was worth no more than garbage to him.

The value of what Paul received from God through faith in Jesus Christ is so valuable, that even after he has given up everything that he had, Paul still looks forward to the future and presses onward so that he can become whatever God called him to be, and to do whatever God called him to do.  Paul freely admits that Gods work in him, and through him, is not yet finished, but he continues to do the work of Jesus Christ, and to press on so that he can earn the reward that God has prepared for him.

Isaiah said that our mission it to show the world how amazing, wonderful, and awesome God is, and not spend our time and money showing people how awesome we are.  The goal is to get the people around us to give thanks to God and give praise to him, not to give thanks and give praise to us.  Mary shows her gratitude to Jesus by giving him the most extravagant gift that she can imagine.  It is a gift that is her life savings and represents her pension and her rainy-day fund all wrapped up in one package.  Paul says that God’s gift to us, the gift of his own son, Jesus Christ, is such an extravagant gift, that nothing that we have, and nothing that we can do, can ever begin to show God how grateful we are.  Instead, Paul’s response was to give up all that he had and spend his entire life giving of himself to do the work of God’s kingdom.

My friends, religious extravagance isn’t about churches that seat tens of thousands, or 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets.  Those sorts of things point people in exactly the opposite direction that God wants us pointing.  Religious extravagance is demonstrating to the world that what God has given to us in Jesus Christ is so valuable that we will give, or do, anything to show God our gratitude and to do the work of the kingdom of God so that, as God said through Isaiah, the world would proclaim God’s praise.

When the followers of Jesus Christ are extravagant, every part of that extravagance should point to God so that the world sees the wonders of our amazing God… and not us.


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

Life and Death Reversed

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Life and Death Reversed

March 27, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Joshua 5:9-12                         Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32              2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Some of you know may that we used to own a 1948 Farmall Cub tractor. I did not grow up in a home that worked on cars, motors, or machinery of any kind, and although my maternal grandfather was known to do be pretty handy, I didn’t learn any of those things from him. But with the arrival of that antique tractor, and a 1970’s era Cub Cadet, with not a lot of money, and a need to maintain our seven-acre mini-farm, I learned. I had all the manuals, I joined an online antique tractor forum, I asked lots of questions, and I learned. I got to the point where I split that tractor completely in half, replaced the clutch, and put it all back together.

There was still a lot that I didn’t, and don’t know, but I learned. And along the way, I gained an appreciation of the guys that could pull an abandoned piece of rusty iron out of a barn or a field, free a seized engine, sandblast the rust, replace, repair, renew, and eventually restore something that most people would see as a lost cause and transform it into a piece of art that looked like it just came off the showroom floor.

Now, on YouTube, I occasionally watch videos of people who rescue old tractors, bulldozers, and other things that have been left to rot away at the side of a road, out in the forest, field, desert, or other places. I love to watch shows like This Old House, and I’ve watched videos of a guy that bought an old missile silo and is transforming it into a home for his family. The transformation that happens as hopeless, discarded relics are restored so that they look and run as if they were new is nothing short of amazing.

And those are just machines and houses.

But what if we could do that for people?

What if lives could be rescued instead of tractors and houses?

And that’s the point of our message today as we begin in Joshua 5:9-12

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So, the place has been called Gilgal to this day. [Note: in Hebrew, Gilgal sounds like “roll”]

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day afterthey ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

For many of us, God’s word to Joshua hinges on the word “reproach.”  God says that he will roll away the reproach of Egypt for the people of Israel and, since “reproach” isn’t a word that we often use, many of us will read that and miss a good portion of the point. Reproach means criticism or disapproval. Egypt’s opinion of the Israelites was that they were “just slaves” and incapable of caring for themselves, that they needed overseers to guide them, direct them, and care for them even if their care was cruel, harsh, and unwanted. The Egyptians believed that the slaves who fled to freedom would surely wither away and die. But that wasn’t God’s plan. God brought the people to a place where they could plant and harvest crops and care for themselves. And on the day after Passover, the day after they started eating the food that they had harvested for themselves, God stopped providing food for them. God had finished his work of transforming them from slaves into a free people, and now he set them loose to care for themselves.

But in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, we read about an entirely different sort of transformation. In this story the transformation isn’t from slavery to freedom, but from ignorance to understanding.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The accusation against Jesus was that he was hanging out with, offering hospitality to, and even fraternizing with disreputable people who were enemy collaborators and outcasts. Sharing meals with people was seen as an act of intimacy that should only be enjoyed by your closest friends and it was shocking that Jesus would offer this level of inclusion and intimacy to people who were social pariahs.

And in reply to that sort of accusation, Jesus tells a story about a son who disrespected and dishonored his father, his family, and his community in every possible way. The son is so selfish and self-focused, that he says that he wished that his father was dead and wants to receive his inheritance now. This means that his father’s entire estate would be divided into thirds so that his older brother, as the firstborn, would receive two-thirds, and the younger one third.

But what he was demanding wasn’t just the money that he would, eventually, inherit, it represented his father’s security, his family honor, his retirement, and his assets that allowed him to care for his family, dependents, and employees. But not only did the son demand, and take, the money, he treated that money carelessly. He was shortsighted, thought of his present pleasure and comfort without any concern for the future. He did not plan and had no vision, and the price of his short-sightedness is that he ended up with nothing. No money, no home, no pride, and no purity. He ends up homeless, doing a job that no one else wanted, a Jew feeding religiously unclean pigs.

And in his misery, he realizes what he had given up and what he could have had if he had not been so selfish. He decides to beg for his father’s forgiveness and ask to hire him as a servant because he knew that what he had done was unforgivable. He understood that there was no hope of ever again finding acceptance as a family member, but even as a servant he would have food, clothing, and a place to live.

“And while he was still a long way off…” the father saw him. His father had been watching, waiting, and hoping that his son would one day return to him. There had been no word, no letters, no phone calls, no emails and for all that he knew, his son was dead. But, despite his hurt, disappointment, dishonor, and humiliation he still he watched the road and hoped that one day his son might return. And when he does, he casts aside propriety and does what no self-respecting eastern man would do, and he pulls up the hem of his robe like a little boy and he runs to put his arms around his son, he interrupts the prepared speech about being a servant, puts a ring on his finger, and welcomes him back into the family.  And, when the older son remains bitter, and complains, the father explains that relationships aren’t about money, but that there is joy in restoration and reconciliation.

And that is the same lesson that Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 when he says:

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Although he doesn’t mention it by name, Paul uses the imagery of Jesus’ parable of the lost son to explain how that story matters to the people of his church, and to us. Before we became his followers, we saw Jesus as someone who was a philosopher, preacher, and teacher. But as we chose to follow him, we are transformed. We are transformed in our opinions, attitudes, mind, body, and soul just as the lost son, in realizing what he had lost, suddenly gained more than he ever expected or imagined. When we became the followers of Jesus we became a new creation, death had been reversed, we were once dead, but are now alive. We are reconciled, renewed, restored, welcomed, included, and embraced into our new family as brothers and sister of Jesus Christ.

And that’s just the beginning because just as the lost son had to build a new life after his return to his family, our work begins when we come faith. Paul says that because we have been reconciled, we have all been given the message, mission, and ministry of reconciliation. We are sent into the world, as ambassadors of God’s kingdom, as if God were sharing his message through us. We cry out to the world to be reconciled to God, to realize what we lost because of our selfishness, to return to God, to his family, and be restored to life as a new creation.

You have to admit that restoring old pieces of unwanted, abandoned, and hopelessly rusted machines is an amazing process to watch. But rescuing and restoring unwanted, outcast, abandoned, and hopelessly lost people is way better.

God doesn’t send us to rescue the people around us because we’re good, or because we’re loyal.

God sends us to rescue the people around us because he once rescued us.


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

God Was Not Pleased

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God Was Not Pleased

March 20, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 55:1-9                           Luke 13:1-9                 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Have you ever had a bad boss? 

Wherever we go, wherever we work, play, or volunteer, we learn things.  Sometimes we learn how to do things with excellence from good mentors, bosses, trainers, drill sergeants, coaches, pastors, and others.  But sometimes the lessons that we learned were lessons in how not to do things from some of those same kinds of people who did things badly.  In one of my military non-commissioned officer training courses, I had learned that a supervisor should never, ever, reprimand a subordinate in public and humiliate them.  Correction and reprimand should always be done as privately as possible.  But in my last engineering job, I witnessed several supervisors contribute to a semi-toxic work relationship by doing exactly that. 

While I learned that this was the wrong thing to do in the military, if I had any doubts about it, watching that negative example unfold in front of me, and seeing the fallout from it in employee retention and morale resolved those doubts forever.  If we’re smart, we learn from both good and bad examples.  We can learn how to do things, and how not to do things.

And, as we read the stories preserved for us in scripture, we see those same kinds of lessons, both good and bad.  There are examples for us to follow, and examples of how not to follow, things we should do and things we shouldn’t do.  In Isaiah 55:1-9, we hear God’s invitation to follow and a calling to become a part of the covenant that God made with King David, but also a reminder of our limitations.

55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God invites the world to come, drink from the water of life, to drink wine and milk, and to eat bread at no cost.  God asks why we spend our money and our time on things that do not, and cannot, satisfy us and invites us to listen to his teachings so that we might live.  God promises to make and eternal contract with his Messiah, Jesus, just as he did with David so that we can, like David, be an example, witness, and role model that will draw others to God.  Our calling is to seek God while we have the chance and to do what we can to encourage others to turn back to God. 

But is everything in life a sign from God?  Is everything that happens to us something that is sent to us, or caused by God?  Generally, no.  While God is involved in leading and guiding our actions and those of the people around us, God isn’t the cause of everything.  Random events happen, accidents happen, people make choices, both good and bad, God isn’t always the cause of those things, and that’s what Jesus tries to explain to the people in the story found in Luke 13:1-9.

13:1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Pontius Pilate was a paranoid madman who, historians theorize may have been driven mad by the degenerative effects of brain damage from an advanced syphilis infection.  Pilate had murdered a group of Galilean worshippers as they brought sacrifices to God and people were speculating that God must have been punishing them for being terrible sinners.  But Jesus says no.  Everyone, Jesus says, is a sinner and everyone must repent of their sins before God, or we will all die.  The people who were murdered by Pilate, were not being punished for their sins by God, and nor were the people who were crushed when a tower collapsed.  Random things happen.  Accidents happen.  Jesus knew, as we’ve all seen in recent weeks, that crazy despotic leaders do crazy despotic things.  Death is coming for us all sooner or later.  But if we want to find ourselves on the right side of God’s judgement, we must repent of our sin, turn from our wicked ways, and do the best that we can to reproduce our faith and bear fruit for God.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul emphasizes the need for us to make good choices.  Some people can be given every opportunity to know the truth about God and still make poor choices.  He notes these examples in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13:

10:1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptationhas overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be temptedbeyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Paul reminds his congregation that there were people who knew Moses, who were rescued by God from slavery in Egypt, who saw God’s presence in the cloud during the day and a pillar of light at night, who saw the Red Sea part and walked across its bottom, who ate the manna that God provided, who saw all the miracles, and who had every opportunity to follow God, but still God was not pleased with most of them.  Despite repeatedly seeing God and his miracles in person and despite having their entire lives transformed by the acts of God, they still did not have faith and chose to do evil, act immorally, to worship an idol in the form of a golden calf, and to complain about God and the food that he provided them.  And Paul says that these things happened as examples and warnings for us.  How often have we heard someone say that they would believe if only God would somehow reveal himself to them, and yet here were thousands of people who saw God, who saw God’s miracles, and experienced God in ways that most people can only dream about and still they fell away, made bad choices, and put their faith in other things.

But that doesn’t mean that we are without hope.  Paul says that while we must be careful not to fall away, and while temptation is common to every human being who has ever lived, God is faithful.  God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability to stand up against it, God will provide a path out of your temptation and, if you only take the time to ask, God will help you to endure.

Role models come is all shapes and sizes.  There are good role models, bad role models, good bosses, bad bosses, good examples, bad examples, models that we should follow, models that teach us what not to do, and examples that warn us of the consequences of making bad choices.  Years from now, when others look back on our lives, I pray that what they remember is not, “God was not pleased” but rather, that we are remembered for our faith and that God found joy in what we did.

But these things don’t happen in a vacuum.  Good bosses don’t happen by accident.  Good bosses made good choices and had good training and good mentors.  And like them, making good choices and strengthening our faith requires good role models and constant, thoughtful, preparation.

What will you do this week to strengthen and deepen your faith?

What will you do to draw closer to God?

What will you do to stand up against temptation?


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

Family vs. Citizenship

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Family vs. Citizenship

March 13, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18                     Luke 13:31-35             Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

What would you do if you won a prize that you couldn’t use?

A graduating high school senior would not be impressed with winning a burial plot or custom casket from the funeral home.  Someone who can’t swim and is afraid of the water probably wouldn’t be too impressed if you told them that they won a new bass boat.  And someone who can no longer drive, doesn’t stray far from home, and whom most of us would think of as being a shut-in, would not be terribly excited about winning a cruise or an adventure vacation package to go hiking in Grand Teton National Park.  It is just that sort of… lack of enthusiasm that God receives when he tells an elderly Abram, who was already ninety-nine years old, that he would be given a “great reward.”  We begin our scripture lesson this morning with that story from Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 where we hear this:

15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inheritmy estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so, a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspringbe.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadiof Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God offers Abram the grand prize to beat all grand prizes and Abram’s response is, “meh”, or “so what?” because he’s already written his will and knows that his entire estate will be inherited by one of his favorite, and most trusted, servants.  Abram has no children and no family other than his faithful wife.  And, since he left his ancestral home decades before, he doesn’t even have any nieces or nephews or extended family that he cared to name in his will.  To Abram, at the age of 99, it’s too late.  He doesn’t need any more money, or power, or fame, or anything else than he already has and he has no heirs to whom to leave it.  But God knows that and includes a bonus in the grand prize that Abram didn’t expect.  God includes an heir, a son, born in his old age, as a part of the prize package.  And, just to reassure Abram that this is the real deal, God signs a covenant contract with animals slaughtered in a particular way, that was a well-known system of signing treaties between lords and vassals in Abram’s time, and one that Abram would certainly have known and understood.  In in his contract with Abram, God not only promises gifts to Abram’s yet unborn son, but also to his heirs many generations into the future.  God’s promise extended beyond Abram, to all of Abram’s family and the nation that would one day descend from them.  But was God’s promise limited to people who were genetically connected to Abram?

Well, many of those people certainly thought so.  And it may well be that attitude that we see in Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees in Luke 13:31-35.  Here the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod may want to kill Jesus because he thinks that he is the resurrected John the Baptist, but also because the Pharisees just want Jesus to go away.

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

So, yes, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to go away, but they had also heard that Herod was afraid that Jesus was able to do miracles because he was John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded, who had been raised from the dead.  And in this, although it is certainly self-serving on the part of the Pharisees, there may also an element of “Us vs. Them.”  Jesus and the Pharisees, even though they often were at odds with one another, were on the same “side.”  Since they were all Jews, they were all descendants of Abraham, they were all from the people of Israel, they were from the same family, and at some level, for many of them, Herod was the outsider and the enemy. 

Over the hundreds of years between Abraham and Jesus, the people of Israel often came to see their nationality and their citizenship as being inextricably connected to, and intermingled with, their ideas of family.  This was a thing that started early, and God often gave Israel instructions to push back against that idea by commanding them to treat foreigners the same as everyone else under the law and to treat them decently as human beings and as people of faith.  It was necessary for God to do that because people so intermixed the ideas of family and citizenship that they discriminated against anyone who wasn’t born into the right family tree.

God never said that his Abram’s blessing meant that God would not bless people outside of Abram’s family and God often had to remind his people of that but, with the coming of Jesus, and after Jesus’ resurrection, that familial, genetic understanding was explicitly, and openly confronted by the followers of Jesus.  And that’s what we see in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi in Philippians 3:17 – 4:1 where he writes these words:

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Much like the world we live in, Paul’s world was a confusing and frightening place.  People who claimed to represent Jesus did things, and taught things, that were not in line with the teachings of scripture or those of Jesus.  And there were also people inside and outside of the church whose primary motivation was to enrich themselves rather than to advance the cause of the kingdom of God.  And so, Paul encourages everyone to follow his example and to choose good role models that live and teach in the same selfless way that the disciples, Paul, and his other ministry partners did.  He admits that there are people who “live as enemies of the cross of Christ” but he reminds the church that our true citizenship is not to be found in our families, not in the nation in which we live (although that is not to be ignored), but in heaven.  We look forward to the return of Jesus Christ and our final transformation into the bodies of our eternal form.

Abram knew that God’s grand prize didn’t have much value if he didn’t have anyone with whom to share it and God knew that too, so he made a covenant with Abram to pass that blessing on to the future generations of his offspring.  The mistake that many of his descendants made was to assume that God’s promise was inherited to Abram’s genetic offspring and not the descendants that inherited his faith.  God regularly reminded his people that they needed to welcome the stranger, to welcome the foreigner, to treat foreigners the same under the law as they treated the citizens of their own nation and members of their own family.  And the coming of Jesus, and then the ministry of Paul, broadened that understanding even further.  Everyone who puts their faith in Jesus becomes a member of Abraham’s family and we all inherit the blessings of God and an eternity in God’s house as co-heirs, brothers, and sisters of Jesus Christ. 

But Abram saw that his inheritance lost its value if he didn’t have anyone with whom to share it and the same is true for us.  We have been given a great inheritance that includes the blessings of God, a transformed eternal body, citizenship in the kingdom of God, and an eternal home in God’s house.  But as good as that is, its value fades if we have no one with whom to share it.  Our calling is to stand firm in our faith, to pattern our lives after Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and the best role models that we can find, so that we can live our lives as ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, and so that we can share what we have with our family, our friends, our nation, and the world.

Because Abram knew that the greatest value of God’s gift wasn’t in having it, but in sharing it.


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