Transformed!

Transformed!

January 27, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

butterfly

 

Isaiah 62:1-5             

John 2:1-11               

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

 

Have you ever been strangely captivated by television images of natural disasters and incredible destruction?  In recent years we’ve seen the towers fall on September 11th, 2001, earthquakes in various places around the world, and because of the popularity of cell phones and security cameras, we have seen countless images of tsunamis in Thailand, and Japan.

But imagine with me what would happen if time travel were possible. 

On April 18th, 1906 the earth shook for less than a minute in San Francisco, California, but between the shaking, poor construction, and the resulting fires, the city was devastated.  Nearly 500 city blocks were destroyed, 3,000 people were killed, and 400,000 people, nearly half of the city’s population, were left homeless.  Enormous tent cities grew up in Oakland in and other places across the bay as the homeless found their way across the few bridges that hadn’t been destroyed.

But imagine that someone from the twenty-first century, perhaps you, had travelled back in time and wandered the streets of those tent cities with the displaced residents of San Francisco.  Imagine what they would think of your message as you told them how their city would recover, rebuild, grow, and flourish in the next century.  Assuming that they believed you, can you imagine the hope that your message might bring to them.  It’s difficult to imagine a brighter future, when you’re surrounded by the destruction of everything familiar.  It would take something extraordinary to grasp the vision, to see and understand, that there might be a path that would return the world to normal again.

But that is exactly what Isaiah does.  As Isaiah writes to the people of Judah, Syria and the northern tribes of Israel, and all their lands, have already been captured by the Assyrian army.  Many people have seen the handwriting on the wall, they have heard the prophecy of Isaiah, they understand that soon, the nation of Judah would be next.  The people despair for their nation, lose hope for the future, and struggle to understand what this means to their faith in God.  And in the midst of this uncertainty and despair, Isaiah writes a message of hope for the future.  (Isaiah 62:1-5)

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
    her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
    and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
[ Hephzibah means my delight is in her.]
    and your land Beulah; [Beulah means married.]
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.

For the people of God, the destruction of Israel and Jerusalem is the almost the same as saying that God is a lie.  Jerusalem is God’s city, it contains God’s place of worship, and Israel is God’s people.  If they are all taken away, then what does it say about the reality of God himself?  But Isaiah tells of time when Jerusalem and Israel are vindicated.  When God, and his people, are proven right in front of the entire world.  Jerusalem herself will be renamed.  Instead of being known as “deserted” she will be known as “delightful.”  Instead of “desolate” she will be known as “married” or perhaps we might understand it better as “my beautiful bride.”  Isaiah says that just as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will God rejoice over Jerusalem, over Israel, and over his people.

Much like it would be if we could go back in time and tell the refugees from a destroyed San Francisco about the wonders of their city in the twenty-first century, Isaiah speaks of a time that is a hundred years or more in the future, when their city, their nation, and their people will be rebuilt. 

It is, for them, a message of transformation… and of hope.

And then, eight hundred years later, Jesus is invited to a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee, and, quite by accident, begins his ministry by performing his first miracle.  And in this miracle, Jesus brings hope to the world by bringing about a transformation of an entirely different kind.  (John 2:1-11)

2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Although this is a great story, what we often miss is the culture of the time.  Jesus lived in a culture of honor and shame.  In that culture, there were certain events, certain taboos, that could not be broken without bringing shame, and loss of honor.  That loss of honor could be personal, or quite widespread.  In some cases, in the Old Testament, entire tribes were dishonored and carried that dishonor for hundreds of years.  The loss of honor, as a person, as a family, or even as a tribe, could cost someone money, customers, business contracts and many other things.  In this story, it is quite likely that the servants and hosts in the back rooms were in a blind panic.  Weddings were attended by people from the entire village and beyond. Running out of wine so early in the celebration would have been a major embarrassment that could have caused a loss of honor to the family and to the entire village.  It was a really big deal.

And so, Jesus’ mother, remembering all those things from Jesus birth and childhood that she had “treasured in heart,” comes to him with the confidence that he could do something about this problem.  And Jesus, although not originally intending to begin his ministry this early, transforms 180 gallons of plain water, into fine wine.  By doing so, Jesus doesn’t just save one family from a minor embarrassment and rescue one party, Jesus literally redeems an entire village from a dishonor that could have cost them jobs and livelihoods for generations.

In the very first act of Jesus’ ministry, he provides a glimpse, a sneak peek, into his transformational power that will rescue his people and redeem the entire world from sin and death.

And then, in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, the Apostle Paul describes how that same transformational power flows into the modern world that we live in today.

12:1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth, but he speaks just as clearly to us half a world away in the twenty-first century.  Paul says that we used to be (past tense) pagans and unbelievers that were led astray and worshipped idols.  But now, we have been filled with the Spirit of God and given gifts that have transformed our lives, prepared, and equipped us to serve the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in our world.  Each of these gifts, Paul says, is the manifestation, the living example, of the Spirit of God in the modern world, who is working for the common good of all humanity. 

No one, Paul says, gets skipped, forgotten, ignored, or missed.  To “each one,” to each person, the living example of the Holy Spirit is given.  Not everyone is the same, and not everyone gets the same gift, but everyone is gifted, everyone receives a gift from God through the Holy Spirit.  Some receive wisdom, others knowledge, some receive the gift of faith, others healing, or miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, or gifts of languages.  These are all gifts of the spirit and each of these gifts is determined by the Holy Spirit, in order to advance the message and the mission of Jesus Christ in the world even in the twenty-first century. 

In the time of Isaiah, God revealed that he could and would transform Israel, in the time of Jesus, God revealed that he can transform not only the physical and material world, but the lives of the people and culture around them.  And in our modern world, God continues to do the work of transformation in our physical lives, our culture, our world, and in our spiritual lives as well.  God pours out the gift of transforming power into the lives of his followers by giving us amazing and powerful gifts that he intends for us to use to as his agents.  We are called not only to be grateful for the gifts that he has given to us, we are called  to use those gifts, each and every one of us, to transform the world around us, to carry out the mission, vision, and ministry of Jesus Christ, to rescue to lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be a voice to the voiceless, a father to the fatherless, and in every way possible reveal the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world around us.

It is a huge responsibility and an incredible, even herculean, task.

But that is exactly why we have been transformed, gifted, and equipped by the creator of the universe to do it.

Right now, I want you to think of one person.  I want you to think of one person whose life you can make better this week.  Call them, love them, shovel their sidewalk, pay a bill for them, buy them a cup of coffee, for each of you, and for each person you are thinking of, it will be different.  But I want you to choose one person, whose life you can change, even a little bit, and show them the love of Jesus Christ this week.

Let’s get busy.

Let’s go change the world.

One.

Life.

At a time.

 

 

 


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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.

2018 – By the Numbers

by-the-numbers

So, how are we doing?

Each fall our church staff and volunteers fill out several forms, with line after line of questions, we also submit quite a few other reports, budgets, lists of nominated and elected officers, and all of this is compiled into our Charge Conference report.  By the middle of January, we report even more numbers, on five or six more forms, for our official “End of Year” report.  Many of these numbers are of not that interesting to the casual observer, but there are a few that are, and some of these are useful in “taking the temperature” of the church and help us to see where we are and in what direction we might be going.  I have a few other numbers that I track monthly and the end of the year is a good time to look at that data as well.

Although we report church membership at both Charge Conference and in the End of Year report, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from it.  It is difficult, because our membership is more than three times our annual attendance.  And that, in turn means that either we have a great many inactive members (which might be good if we can get them to attend more regularly) or, that we have many people on the membership rolls that shouldn’t be, or both.  In any case, in 2016 membership at Christ Church was 362, in 2017 it was 356, and in 2018 we ended with 323.  In the last year, we lost 18 members to death, 2 to transfer, and 14 were removed simply because we had lost all contact with them.  We did, however, add one member to our rolls through transfer (Hi, Hayley!).   So is declining membership bad?  Maybe, but it’s hard to tell.

I guess the good news (if you can call it that) is that we don’t remove people every year, those who were removed haven’t attended for a long time, and our number of deaths was much larger than usual.  So, although membership “declined” by 33 people, the impact on our congregation, although significant, is not as bad as the numbers might imply.

On the other hand, while our average Sunday attendance was 69 in 2017, it was 71 in June, and by the end of the year had risen to 78.  Similarly, we saw an increase in Sunday school attendance, an increase in the number of people who were giving to the church, and a healthy increase in our stewardship pledges.  Not only that, but we also saw an increase in participation in missions and outreach, an increase in the number of people we served in our community, and a small decrease in our total church expenses.  In short, attendance is increasing, and we’re doing more, with less.

Another measure that is not yet reported to our district or Annual Conference, but is of growing usefulness, is our ability to engage with our community on social media.  For the moment, the only number that I can report to you is our number of Facebook followers.   In the last year, the number of people who have “liked” our Facebook page has increased by 27, from 172 to 199.  That isn’t a lot, but it’s a positive increase and it at least hints at a growing engagement between our church and our community.

I understand I’ve only been here for half a year, but even if I were here longer, I know that I am not solely responsible for any of this.  We are a church and a community, and we work together as a team.  But as I have said before, what I see in our reports, and what I see in these, and other numbers, is good news.  Clearly, we have work to do, but  in many ways we are doing well, or at least doing better.  Digging through the numbers and filling out reports is not anyone’s idea of fun, but I want to thank Dolores, Julie, and all our staff and volunteers that help us do it.

Because, in the end, when I read through our reports, I see every reason to be hopeful, even excited, about the direction that we are going, the future of Christ Church, our ministry here, and our outreach to our community and the world.

Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

Keep up the good work.

Let’s build on what we have and make 2019 even better.

 

Pastor’s Report – Charge Conference 2018

Every fall, our church has a “Charge conference” in which we present our slate of officers for the next year and next year’s proposed budget, we also vote on staff salaries, and turn in paperwork that is intended to satisfy our District Superintendent, Bishop, Annual Conference, the IRS, and other end of year housekeeping.  As a part of that, I am asked to submit a “pastor’s report” outlining our activities for the year and my expectations for next year.  It’s a lot like the “What I did last summer” reports that we wrote in the fall as school children.  In any event, I wanted to share that report with you, so what follows is the report that I turned in at Charge conference last month.


 

Pastor’s Report

Charge Conference 2018

Having arrived at Christ UMC only three months ago, I really don’t have a lot to reflect upon.  But I can, at least, share my observations.  Christ Church is a busy church with almost constant activity.  We are deeply involved in the community at many levels, from our association with Habitat for Humanity, Men’s Challenge, and the Alliance of Churches, which have office space on our first floor, to our participation in local food pantries and “flight pack” food programs for school children, to the professional involvement of our members in the Chamber of Commerce, the Lion’s Club, and other organizations.  Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts meet here, are strongly supported and our own youth group, though small, has the deep and enthusiastic support of every member regardless of age.  Not only does Christ Church host the weekly community dinner (which is averaging well over 100 people, and often 150), our church isn’t content to simply feed people, it is active in teaching life skills, such as cooking, so that many of those same people can become more independent and self-sufficient.

We have also found, that the people of Christ Church are not just supportive of local outreach efforts but are incredibly supportive of missions nationally and internationally.  Two members of our church volunteered for our planned mission to Kentucky when we had only just arrived here, and they had hardly done more than met me.  There were several others who expressed a sincere interest in going with us but who had scheduling conflicts that prevented it.  I have no doubt that we will be successful in returning to Kentucky with another team at least once next year, and we are exploring the possibility of doing so cooperatively with the chaplain at the University of Mount Union.  What’s more, since we arrived in Alliance and at Christ UMC so close to our planned mission trip to Liberia with the East Ohio Conference’s Farmer to Farmer mission, Patti and I understood that our ability to do fundraising would be limited.  But what we found, was a church family who had already sent their lay leader to Sierra Leone, who was so incredibly supportive of our trip that they repeatedly asked us to do informational presentations, and who raised more support for our trip than we imagined possible even if we had done more extensive fundraising.

As if these things weren’t enough, despite everything that Christ Church and its people are doing, their passion, compassion, and enthusiasm are regularly causing them to ask, “What more can we do?”  As such, this year Christ Church is taking over the Thanksgiving meal that had formerly been spearheaded by the United Church of Christ.  Since last year’s project distributed approximately 1,500 meals, this is an enormous undertaking, but the evidence is that Christ Church, and our Alliance community, are rising to the challenge.

So, even though I have only been at Christ Church for a few months, several things seem clear.  First, although the people of Christ Church sometimes seem a little weary, their enthusiasm, faith, compassion, and heart for Jesus fill them with an enthusiasm that other churches might envy.  Second, as we see with people, and with churches everywhere, although there is a fondness for doing things that “we have always done,” the people of Christ Church are unafraid, open, and even eager, to try new things.  Third, it is apparent from conversations in our community, that Christ Church is viewed by the people in and around Alliance in a very positive way.

Taken together, these things, and others, tell me that God isn’t done with Christ Church yet.  There is much to be done, and the people of Christ Church are interested, and ready, to discover what God is calling us to do next.  I am sure that, working together, we can find a way for Christ Church to be healthy, vital, and vibrant as we make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of Alliance, Ohio… and the world.

21 Facts About Liberia

map-liberia21 Facts About Liberia

(taken from the Monrovia newspaper with some added explanation)

  1. Liberia is the 4th poorest country in the world (United Nations ranking)
  2. Liberia is the 8th unhappiest and most miserable Country in the World (UNDP)
  3. Liberia is the 8th hungriest nation (Concern International)
  4. 230,000 Liberian children suffer from chronic malnutrition (UNICEF)
  5. Liberia ranks #1 among the 10 worst countries for business in Africa (Forbes magazine)
  6. Food insecurity effects 650,000 Liberians (World Food Program)
  7. 65 percent of Liberian children do not attend primary school (UNICEF)
  8. 76 percent of Liberians live on US$1.25 per day (United Nations)
  9. Teenage pregnancy accounts for 38 percent of all live births (United Nations)
  10. Youth unemployment is as high as 85 percent (United Nations)
  11. Monrovia is the worst capital city in the world with a City Prosperity Initiative (CPI) ranking of 0.313. (For comparison, Oslo is #1 at 86.76, New York is #23 at 74.43, Manila is #44 at 55.81 and Nairobi is #49 at 47.77 per UN Habitat data)
  12. Only 25 percent of Liberians have access to safe drinking water (WaterAid International)
  13. Over 80 percent of Liberians lack access to a decent toilet (WaterAid International)
  14. Out of a population of 4 million, 3.7 million Liberians lack access to adequate sanitation. (WaterAid International)
  15. Over 500 children die every year from diarrhea in Liberia (WaterAid International)
  16. Liberia has just 298 doctors for 4.6 million people. The doctor-patient ratio is 1:15,436 (Ministry of Health) [For comparison, Switzerland has 3.6 per 1,000, the United States has 2.3 per 1,000, Kenya has 0.14 per 1,000 and Liberia 0.03 per 1,000]
  17. Liberia imports over US$200 million worth of rice even though it has 4.6 million hectare of arable land (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN)
  18. The infant mortality rate in Liberia is 52.2 deaths to every 1,000 live births (CIA World Factbook) [For comparison, the United States is 6.86 per 1,000 and Japan is 2.0 per 1,000]
  19. The maternal mortality rate in Liberia is 725deaths to every 100,000 live births (CIA World Factbook) [For comparison, while Sierra Leone is #1 at 1,360, the United States is #138 at 14, and Greece is #184 at just 3]
  20. Out of 111 countries, Liberia ranks 101on the Global Hunger Index (United Nations)
  21. Out of 188 countries, Liberia ranks 177 on the Human Development Index (United Nations)

Past, Present, Future

BellsLast night I attended our youth group meeting and had the incredible opportunity to climb the bell tower and see some of the “behind the scenes” things that most people never see.  I posted pictures on Facebook of our bells, the view of the street through the wire mesh, and the incredible size of some of the beams that support the roof.  Those beams are huge, and every few inches is a rivet the size of a half dollar or a half of a golf ball.  Mike Greiner and I were marveling as we remembered what it must have took to put that all in place in 1896.  Fifty years before welding was invented, each of those rivets would have been hammered in by hand while still red-hot, and each of those mammoth beams had to be carefully raised into place three for four stories above the ground. img_20180923_222439_111

While we were in the tower, we also had the chance to jump over one of those beams, climb down a rickety looking ladder, climb the catwalk, maneuver around some other beams, and ultimately stand in the space above our sanctuary ceiling.  It is only in that space that you can see the original sanctuary ceiling which was covered up during a renovation in the 1930’s.  At that time, the ceiling was lowered, perhaps in an effort to add insulation and increase energy efficiency, but that effort also allowed the removal of the great sanctuary chandelier gas lights and install overhead electric lighting in the ceiling instead.

img_20180923_190423428I love being able to do things like that.  I had a great time, and I’m pretty sure that all our youth did too (Thanks Mike!).  But this experience got me thinking.  As our trustees and finance committees meet, I often thank God for the gifts that have been given to us by those giants of the faith who were here before us.  Since 1839, generations of men and women have labored together in this place and contributed their sweat, their time, their passion, their hearts, and their money to the ministry that goes on here still today.

But we also remember, that as impressive as it is, they didn’t do all of this so that we could take up space in an impressive building.  Buildings may be impressive, and they may be beautiful, but they don’t inspire, and they don’t accomplish the mission.  Those men and women who were here from 1839 until now left us a legacy of more than bricks and mortar.  Each of them worked to preach the message of the Gospel, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to care for the widows and the orphans, to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ, to offer light to a dark world, and rescue to people who were condemned by God.

And thinking about all of that brought me to this thought: What will we be remembered for?  Many of us, and many of those in our community, have a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ because generations of people in this place made sure that they passed on what they knew to the next generation.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Those men and women built a church, they carved out a community and a city in the middle of a wilderness, they constructed, and remodeled, a marvelous architectural work of art in which we worship, and they remained faithful to the mission and the vision of Jesus Christ. img_20180923_183536_854

But today, the responsibility for that mission and vision has fallen to us.  If we are to be remembered, then resting on the shoulders of those giants isn’t enough.  We must carry on, and move forward, with the same vision, passion and commitment as those who went before us.  It’s our turn to preach the Gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and orphans, offer light to a dark world, and rescue the lost.

Make no mistake.  Our church building is incredible.  But as we admire its beauty we should ask ourselves:

How will we be remembered?

What legacy will we leave behind?

Who’s Your Favorite?

“Who’s Your Favorite?”

September 09, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23              Mark 7:24-37             James 2:1-17

A quick quiz.

Which of you were the teacher’s pet?

Which of you were Mom’s favorite? Or, Dad’s favorite?

How many of you can identify, at work, the one person that sucks up to the boss and who, as a result, may or may not be the favorite?

We have names for people who are the favorite.  We may get jealous of others when they are the favorite, but when it occasionally happens to us, it can be kind of nice.

But we have favorites of our own.  That’s why, among all our friends, we have “best friends.”  We have favorite churches, and favorite pastors, favorite restaurants, favorite ice cream flavors, favorite foods, favorite places, favorite soft drinks, favorite candy bars, and all kinds of other things.

But there is danger here.

Simply because we are so accustomed to playing favorites, we are also prone to do so when we really shouldn’t.  We know that as parents, we shouldn’t have a “favorite” child, but many of us probably do anyway.  And the same thing is true spiritually.  Scripture provides clear warning that we need to be careful.

We begin in the book of Proverbs where we find all sorts of reliable “rules of thumb” that can often be used to guide our lives. (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)

22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.

The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

22 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court,
23 for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.

Obviously, the specific warning that we find here is to remember that all of us are loved by God regardless of our economic circumstances.  Our natural reactions are to be a little in awe of people who have more than we do, perhaps to even be a little star struck by them, to want to be like them, and therefore tend to take their side in disputes, or at least, to stay out of a dispute that involves them.  At the same time, we tend to look down on people who have less than we do, to accuse them of being lazy or not working hard enough.  We don’t like people who don’t dress as well as we do, or who smell bad, or drive fifteen-year-old rust buckets.  We judge people who are missing teeth and can’t afford dentures or a trip to the dentist.

This isn’t something that came to us as adults.  We learned this from adults and from our peers when we saw how people treated the kids who couldn’t afford band camp, or who couldn’t pay for the class trip, or even go to Cedar Point or Kings Island, Kennywood Park, or even to the movies with the rest of our friends.  Our prejudice, and bias against the poor began early.  But that isn’t the example that we have from Jesus.  In Mark 7:24-37, we hear two stories of Jesus’ healing.  And the people that he healed, were not the people that one would necessarily expect.

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The woman in the story was Greek.  A foreigner, an outsider, and a Gentile.  The Jewish people lived alongside of the Greeks and did business with them when the occasion demanded it, but at the same time, considered them to be unclean.  Jesus even compares helping her with giving the meal intended for your children to the dogs.  But her answer shows great faith.  The woman essentially tells Jesus that she knows that his power, and the power of his God, is so great that what she was asking was of no more consequence than the crumbs left under the table after dinner.

And Jesus heals her daughter.

In the second story, someone brings a man to Jesus who is deaf and who can barely speak.  In that society, it is most likely that this man was destitute.  It would have been difficult for a deaf man who could not communicate to find work, or to keep it.  The odds are good that he relied upon the generosity of his family, friends, and community for his very survival.  But Jesus doesn’t count that against him.  Jesus was the man who spent his time with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, and outsiders.  He was the one who spoke with, touched, cared about, healed, and loved lepers from whom everyone else would run away.  And Jesus was also the person that criticized the rich and the powerful and was so brutal in his estimation of them that he made enemies that would seek to end his life.

And with that in mind, Jesus’ brother James also draws special attention to this same subject and spells out what Jesus’ example should mean to us.  In James 2:1-17 we hear these words:

2:1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Much like our own, the culture in which James lived valued rich people and looked down on the poor.  In fact, Roman culture ran on a system of patronage in which, to get ahead, people put themselves under the influence of wealthier people, helped those wealthy people to make more business contacts, look good in front of others, and get even wealthier.  In return, the wealthy people, or patrons, introduced you to more important and influential contacts, helped you grow your business and get wealthier yourself.  Wealthy patrons were the ones who donated the money to build monuments, or even paid to have major buildings constructed.  King Herod built major improvements to the entire city of Paneas and renamed it Caesarea Philippi to honor his patron Caesar Augustus.  As if that wasn’t enough, Herod also built almost the entirety of the new city of Caesarea Maritima (in which many of the buildings were so opulent\ that they were entirely covered by imported white marble) on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea for the same reason.

This system of patronage was a well-established and rigid system of “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”  Failing to do what your patron wanted could result in the ruin of everything that you had built.  But James fights against the system.  He insists that giving preference, or showing favoritism, to the rich, or discriminating against the poor was the same as sitting in judgement of them and therefore taking the place of God.  James wants to be sure that we understand that the poor are just as chosen, and just as loved, by God as we are, and just as chosen, and just as loved as the rich are.  What James wants to know, and this applies to us just as clearly as it did to those living under the system of Roman patronage, “Why do you show favoritism to the rich, when it’s the rich people that are taking advantage of you?”  Aren’t they the ones that are suing you and taking your property?  And aren’t they the ones that are blaspheming God and saying horrible things about Jesus?

Instead, James says, we need to listen to the words of scripture.  To love our neighbors, rich and poor alike, just as much as we love ourselves.  Showing favoritism is sin and condemns us just as if we were murderers.  Instead of showing favoritism, James says, we ought to be people who are known for showing mercy.  We should speak, and act, like people who will be judged by God.

Having faith without deeds is dead faith and it cannot save you.

The only faith that can save you is a faith that causes you to act like Jesus and to do what Jesus did.

You can’t play favorites.

Don’t tell a hungry person that you’ll pray for them.  Feed them.

Don’t send “warm wishes” to a cold person. Give them your coat.

Don’t send “good thoughts” or “positive energy” to the grieving.  Comfort them.

Because…

…Faith, without action, is dead.

 

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

Connecting the Dots

dog-connect-the-dotsHave you ever played “Dot-to-Dot”?  Do you remember doing those dot-to-dot games and worksheets when you were younger?  When you start one of those sheets, it just looks like a mess, an unorganized mass of dots.  But as we move our pencils and draw lines from one number to the next, the picture begins to fill in.  In Kindergarten, our puzzles only had a few dots, but the older we got, the more complex they became until there were some advanced puzzle sheets that, with a little patience and care, became beautiful and interesting pictures.

Real life in our church is lot like that.

It’s a conversation that I’ve had with our church staff and with a few others and it’s a conversation that we will likely keep having because, like all humans, we tend to forget.

The reason we need to keep talking about it, is this: Our church, like most other churches, does a lot of great things.  We care.  We care about people, and we care about things like scripture, and faithfulness, and Jesus, and sharing the gospel.  But sometimes, we get so focused on doing all the things that we do, that we forget to “connect the dots.”  It’s important to stay focused on the mission of Jesus Christ, to rescue the lost and bring comfort to the poor and the hurting.  But while we do that, we need to remember that coming to faith in Christ is a process that doesn’t happen all at once.  People don’t hear about Jesus and suddenly <<POOF!>> become mature disciples.

And so, as a church, we find ourselves with all these “dots.”  We have a “dot” for evangelism, and a dot for missions, and a dot for Christian Education, and a dot this, and a dot for that, and, if we aren’t careful, it begins to look like a mass of unorganized dots.  The goal is to connect the dots, so that we can not only reach out to the lost, but to also guide them along a process that will lead them to faith in Jesus, and then to church attendance, church membership, growing Christian maturity, and eventually to becoming mature disciples of Jesus Christ working toward the transformation of the world.

I encourage us all to think about how we “connect the dots” here at Christ Church.

As we plan worship services, and mission trips, and evangelism, and all sorts of other “dots”, let’s try to remember to pause occasionally to ask ourselves, “What happens next?”  What part of the process came before this one, and what part should come next?  Let’s think about how we can guide new people and fellow believers alike through the process from unbeliever to mature disciple.

We will need to work together to accomplish our mission and… connect the dots.

Blessings,

John