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.

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
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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.

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.

From Ruin to Rescue

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From Ruin to Rescue

February 06, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 6:1-13

Luke 5:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

There is a story that is common to special Sundays with the Gideon’s, or to inspirational speakers who are recovered alcoholics, or drug addicts, or former gang members.  It’s the same attraction that we have to the stories of people like Chuck Colson.  Colson was convicted of breaking into the Watergate building and was a key participant in that Nixon-era scandal, but he encountered the message of the risen Jesus in prison and founded Prison Fellowship ministry to reach others who find themselves on the wrong side of iron bars.  We are inspired by stories of people who got lost or reached rock bottom, but ultimately found a way to rebuild their lives.

As we read the stories of scripture, we find many stories like that and, in fact, the whole point of God’s message is a story of redemption, rescue, and restoration.  But before a story of rescue can be told, we often need to hear a story of ruin.  Before we hear how a person rose from the ashes like a phoenix, there is often a story of how they crashed and burned.  And, for that, we begin with the story of Israel contained in Isaiah 6:1-13 where we hear this:

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
    and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
    and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
    it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
    leave stumps when they are cut down,
    so the holy seed will be the stump* in the land.”

Isaiah has a vision of God in all his glory, sitting on the throne of heaven and Isaiah cries out that he is ruined or, we perhaps understand his intentions better by translating that as “I am a dead man walking.”    It was a common belief that any imperfect and sinful mortal who saw a perfect and holy God face to face would immediately die.  But an angel, a seraph, takes a hot coal from the altar, touches it to Isaiah’s lips and says that his guilt has been taken away and atonement has been made for his sin.  And so, when God asks who he might send into the world as his ambassador, Isaiah raises his hand and volunteers. 

.

But the message that God has for the people of Israel is terrifying.  God’s message is that the people just aren’t getting it.  They don’t see, they don’t understand, they’re sick, and they don’t want to get better, and God’s judgement is that for their disobedience, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their unbelief.  And, when Isaiah asks how long this punishment will endure, God replies that Israel will be left to their own devices until their houses, fields, people, and everything else are utterly ruined and the trees are left as stumps. 

Stumps.

The word “stumps” is worth noting because a few chapters later, Isaiah refers to the messiah as a shoot that comes up from the “stump of Jesse.” (Isaiah 11:1) God’s punishment is to turn Israel over to the natural consequences of their disobedient actions and refuse to rescue them.  But, in the same passage, God hints at the hope of future rescue.

And then, after we have heard about what happens to a disobedient people, and what happens to them when they refuse to hear the words of God, in Luke 5:1-11, we are given a vision of what happens when God’s people do listen and are obedient to his words as Jesus begins his ministry and encounters fishermen by the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.

Jesus had barely started his ministry but even so, Simon, who would later be called Peter, was willing to let Jesus borrow his boat as a place to preach to the people gathered on the shores of Galilee.  After Jesus was done preaching, he asked Simon, a professional fisherman who had been fishing the shores of this lake for his entire life, to go out into deep water and to throw out the nets that he and his partners had just spent hours cleaning.  Worse still, the fisherman had not only just cleaned the nets, they had spent the entire night fishing with them and caught nothing but weeds, grass, sticks, and rocks.  They had been awake all night.  They had been throwing heavy, wet, nets into the sea and hauling them back out, hand over hand, time after time, hour after hour, all night.  And then, after they had spent their morning cleaning and repairing those same nets, they were ready to go home, see their families, eat, get some sleep, and get ready to do it again.  They were tired, sore, hungry, and probably more than a little grouchy.

But despite their hunger, irritation, fatigue, professional experience, and every other reason that they had to say no, and tell Jesus to get stuffed, Simon tells Jesus, “…because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

“Because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

And because Simon and his friends are willing to be obedient, even when they don’t even really know Jesus, and even though everything says that they should just go home and get some sleep, their lives are completely transformed.  This is the opposite of what we saw a moment ago in Isaiah 6.  There, the people of God knew the words of God but selfishly chose to go their own way and to do their own thing.  Here, even though they haven’t yet recognized Jesus as the Messiah, these fishermen are willing to be obedient, even in the face of their own hunger, fatigue, and irritation.  And it is that willingness to be obedient that transforms their lives.

And that brings us to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where we find Paul warning the church in Corinth that they seem to be drifting toward selfishness and away from obedience.  Paul says:

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

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

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

Paul says that the people of the church need to remember where they started, to remember the gospel message that they had originally found so compelling that they had left behind their former gods, and former religions, and chosen to follow Jesus instead.  It was that message, Paul says, that saved them and abandoning that message would make everything that they had done, and everything that they had endured, completely pointless.  He then recites four points that are still contained on many of our creeds today, that Christ died, was buried, raised on the third day, and appeared to Peter and the twelve. 

But Paul also says that although he had once persecuted the church, he was shown grace by God, had been transformed, and was now a missionary to the Gentiles for the cause of Jesus Christ.  Like Peter, Paul’s entire life was transformed by his obedience to God, and he urges the people of the church in Corinth to remember that this was the power of the gospel in which they had put their faith.

We face a choice between ruin and redemption, between ruin and rescue, and the thing that transforms one to the other is our obedience to God and our willingness to do the things that Jesus asks us to do.  Clinging to selfishness will inevitably lead to our destruction, but like Peter, the fishermen, and like Paul, our obedience to Jesus Christ can completely transform our lives into something new, powerful, unexpected, and completely amazing.

But, having been rescued, God asks us to rescue others.  God is still asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

Are you ready to be obedient?  Are you ready to fish for people?

What will be your answer? 


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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.

Missing the Point

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

Missing the Point Podcast

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

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

Missing the Point

January 30, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Luke 4:21-30

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

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

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

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knewyou,
    before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

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

Boom. 

That’s the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how often are we guilty of the same thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Power of Systems Integration

Podcast

Click here to watch the video: https://youtu.be/e5Zm5-wfXSM


The Power of Systems Integration

January 23, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Nehemiah 8:1-10

Luke 4:14-21

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Have you ever heard of systems integration?

As an engineer, it’s a term that is familiar to me, but even if you aren’t familiar with the term, you have seen its power in several ways.

Armies in combat once used flags, trumpets, drums, or sent runners with messages to coordinate their movements.  Then came carrier pigeons, then wired telephones, then radio, and each advance made a nation’s military stronger because its parts could work together.  Today, technology is making it possible for military units to not only communicate, but to literally see what other units, aircraft, drones, and even individuals are seeing.  The radar of a forward observer can appear on the map of an aircraft carrier or an airborne command center so that other planes can be sent in support or rerouted to avoid detection.

Similarly, although our railroads have been using computers for decades, I read an article this week that explained that some of those railroads are now going a step further.  Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, and CSX have agreed to integrate some of the information on their computer systems so that shipments traveling across the country can be tracked by customers, in real time, so they will know where their shipment is, and when they will be expected to pick it up.  The hope, and the expectation, is that this integration will make the transitions between railroads faster and more efficient, reduce congestion at port facilities, and improve customer satisfaction.

And of course, we all understand that internet has changed the world.  Despite wasting time looking at cat pictures and posting photos of food, the internet has put a wealth of information at our fingertips, changed the world, and changed our lives, forever.  And all that happened because someone invented a way to connect computers in libraries, research centers, laboratories, and living rooms together in a global network.  That, my friends, is systems integration.

But what does any of that have to do with our faith, our church, or with our local congregation?  To answer that, let’s begin with the story found in Nehemiah 8:1-10, where the people gather to hear the Law of Moses read to them, after it had been lost and forgotten for several generations.

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clearand giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

After 70 years of exile in Babylon, Ezra and those who had remained faithful to God returned to Israel and, while cleaning and rebuilding, Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered the book of the law buried in the rubble of the Temple.  Although people like Ezra were experts in the law and had studied the law as much as possible while in Babylon, no one had heard the law read in this way since Israel had been taken into captivity.  People were weeping with joy, and perhaps with conviction, when they finally heard God’s commands and understood, in a new way, their covenant relationship with God and their connectedness to God and to one another.  Much like the evolution from waving flags and sending runners to telephones and radio, this was a great leap forward from remembered oral traditions to hearing God’s words read aloud from a scroll.

That tradition of reading the scriptures aloud, and explaining their meaning, not only continued, but became a tradition.  Copies of the law were made and became the prized possession of every synagogue where people would gather regularly to hear, learn, and understand.  And Jesus steps into that tradition in Luke 4:14-21 when he returns to Galilee and reads from the book of Isaiah on the Sabbath.

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus proclaims that he is, in the presence of the synagogue congregation, fulfilling some of the scriptures that foretold of the coming messiah.  This is a sort of spiritual systems integration.  Jesus says that people are being assembled, or integrated, into a larger whole.  Pieces that were lost are being regathered, outcasts are being brought in, the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed, and all those who had been lost are being found and returned to the family of God.  This regathering is important because of how God intends to execute the mission of his kingdom.  We understand these things better as we read Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized byone Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Did you follow that?  Paul is saying is that although each of us have different personalities, capabilities, education, experience, skills, and gifts, we all belong to a larger, interconnected, whole.  What’s more, from what we already know about systems integration, the assembling, or integrating, of people in this way creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Norfolk Southern has had computers for decades and the same is true for Union Pacific and CSX, but by integrating just a little bit of data from each of their systems they create a system that makes each of them better, and more capable, than they were.  Likewise, while flying a drone over a battlefield or sending infantry scouts behind enemy lines can produce useful data, having real-time access to that data instead of waiting for hours, or days, makes each drone, soldier, marine, tank, artillery piece, ship, aircraft, and every other resources even more useful, more flexible, more valuable, more powerful and multiplies the abilities and potential of every one of them. 

Paul is describing… spiritual systems integration.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, each of us is different.  We have different strengths, different weaknesses, different skills, experiences, gifts and abilities, and we are each capable of doing something to serve God, fulfill his mission, and do the work of his kingdom.  But we are not called to do it alone.  We are called to become a part of a larger whole so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  We are called to do the work of God… together… because we can accomplish far more together than we could ever imagine doing separately.  That’s why we join a church instead of trying to be “Lone Ranger” Christians.  That’s why our church is stronger when we work together as a district, annual conference, and as a denomination.  And that’s why brothers and sisters in Christ of different denominations, from different nations, and with different languages all work together to accomplish the mission and vision of Jesus Christ.  We don’t always do that well, but we are stronger, better, faster, and more capable when we do.

God doesn’t want you to be a Lone Ranger Christian.  Find a church where you can plug in and take your place as a part of larger whole.  Every single person is useful, and every person is needed.

That’s the power of systems integration.


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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.

Wedding Gifts

What would God give you for your wedding?
Click here to listen to the Podcast

Click here to watch the video: https://youtu.be/bjVI86lTxmM

Wedding Gifts

January 16, 2022*

by Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 62:1-5

John 2:1-11

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

What is an appropriate gift that you would give at a wedding?  What we give, and how much we can afford to spend, changes with our own marital status, income level, relationship with the people being married, how well we like them, and probably what kind of mood we were in when we went shopping.  We hear about the typical gifts of toasters, blenders, electric blankets, and other small appliances, sometimes we shop from the list that the couple provided on their gift registry, the crafty among us give thoughtful, handmade gifts time and self, but there is variety in our gift giving and it changes with the passage of time and changes in culture. 

When my parents were married, not long after World War Two, most people were “getting by” but didn’t have a lot of money and so, among other things, my parents received enough towel sets that they were still unboxing them fifteen or twenty years into their marriage.  One of my college roommates gave Patti and I a plunger with rolls of toilet paper slid onto the handle.  His logic was that, when he and his wife lived in their first apartment, the toilet overflowed and… they didn’t own a plunger.  Panic ensued.  But, in any case, the lesson that he learned was that sooner or later, whether you realize it or not on your wedding day, everyone will eventually need a plunger.  But when you need it is a terrible time to go shopping for one.  Honestly, despite this being a relatively inexpensive gift, we needed it, we appreciated it, we used it, and I still think that his logic is a bit brilliant in its own way.

But with all those gift-giving ideas floating around in our minds, what sorts of wedding gifts do you think that we might find in the pages of scripture?  As you might expect, they can be quite different depending on who is giving them, who is receiving them, and the time, place, and culture in which the gifts were given.  But there’s a twist here.  Before we’re finished, we will discover that some of the wedding gifts that we find in scripture are gifts that are being given… to us.  But before we get to that, let’s begin with the words of the prophet Isaiah found in Isaiah 62:1-5 where he says:

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.

Isaiah says that he will not shut up until Israel is vindicated by God and the world sees God’s glory and Israel’s splendor as a jewel in God’s hand.  At that time, Isaiah says, Israel’s name will be changed from Deserted to Delighted, and from Desolate to Married, or perhaps, from Desolate to “Beloved Bride.”  Isaiah says that at that time it will be as if Israel’s builder will marry her, and rejoice over her, like a bridegroom marries and finds joy in his bride. 

And then in John 2:1-11, we see Jesus give an entirely different sort of gift to an unknown couple from the village of Cana in Galilee.  We don’t know who they were, but Jesus’ mother was invited and so was Jesus, and so were all his disciples.  As we will see in a moment, it was a seriously big wedding and an enormous party afterward.

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.

We don’t know the people who are being married.  We don’t know their parents.  And no one in the entire story is named other than Mary and Jesus.  We aren’t even sure how Mary or Jesus knows them because the wedding is in Cana and they were from Nazareth, but most likely Mary, Jesus, or both, knew the bride, the groom, their parents, or had some connection.  My guess is that the disciples were invited out of politeness because they were known to be “with” Jesus.  It was common, at that time, for weddings to included entire villages, last for a week or more and, as we look at the story about the wine, we can see just how big this party is going to be.

At some point, and we really don’t know how long it took, the wine ran out.  This is not trivial.  This is a big deal.  Jesus lived in a culture that was based on a system of honor.  The loss of honor could cost a family, or an entire village, the ability to do business, lose customers, make it difficult to find spouses for their children, or even buy and sell at a disadvantage in the marketplace.  Honor was everything.  And running out of wine, halfway through the wedding party could cost this family, and possibly the entire village, their honor.  Our story says that before the master of the feast even finds out what is going on, Jesus has the servants fill six stone jars with what adds up to be as much as 180 gallons of water. 

I think that it’s interesting that, before Jesus performs this miracle, he is essentially drafted by his mother.  Jesus protests that it is not yet time for his ministry to begin, or since he has already gathered his disciples, that it is not yet time for him to reveal himself by performing miracles, but just as mothers have done for, well, pretty much forever, when Jesus disagrees with her, Mary just ignores him entirely and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.  And even though Jesus is 33 years old, runs his father’s business, is the head of the household, and the Son of God, he does what dutiful sons do, and obeys his mother. 

Jesus obeys his mother and, in addition to whatever gifts they might have brought with them, Jesus gives the bride, the groom, their families, and even their village, the gift of what we would calculate to be 75 cases or more than 900 bottles of wine.  And, if we assume that the original supply got them at least halfway through the party, 900 bottles of wine, for the two or three days that remained of the wedding reception tells us that there were a lot of guests, that this was a really big party, and a really big deal.  Jesus’ gift wasn’t just a gift of wine, it was a gift of honor and a rescue from an enormous embarrassment.  Much like Isaiah had described 800 years earlier, Jesus brought a wedding gift of vindication before it was even needed, and transformed embarrassment, ruin, and dishonor into delight before the disaster even happened.

But the promise that we read in Isaiah wasn’t just that the builder and creator of the universe would show up at a wedding, but that he would be the bridegroom and would marry the church and its people.  And, as you might expect, Jesus brings gifts to his bride as a part of that relationship, and we see some of those gifts listed in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth as we read his words in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

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 says that the gifts that God gives to his people are varied and are unique to the needs, personality, goals, purpose, and mission of each person that chooses to follow Jesus.  We are given different gifts, called to different kinds of service, and given different kinds of work to do, but all those varied, unique, and individual pieces of the puzzle are a part of larger whole, a part of a greater purpose than our own lives or the lives of our immediate family.  The gifts given to us by God’s spirit are not only given for our benefit but are intended for use toward the common good of our community, our church, and the kingdom of God.

Whether we have been given wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, a facility in speaking or understanding languages, or any other gift, our wedding gifts are not intended to sit on a shelf and gather dust.  Neither are those gifts intended to enrich our selfish desires.  God’s purpose in giving wedding gifts to his bride, to us, is now, and has always been, is for us to share those gifts with others; to use them for the common good, to help the people around us, to benefit the churches to which we belong, to rescue to the lost, bring comfort to the suffering, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, share the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to grow the kingdom of God.  God’s gifts to us weren’t intended to be hoarded.  They were intended to be shared with entire world.

And so, unlike the gifts that we give to a bride a groom at a wedding, God isn’t waiting for us to send a thank you card, and God isn’t wondering how well we liked his gifts.  The question that God is asking is…

            …how are you healing, how are you helping, how are you growing, how are you helping, and what are you doing with the gifts that I gave 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.  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.

Prepare the… What?

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

Prepare the… What?

(Second Sunday of Advent)

December 05, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Did you enjoy reading this?

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

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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.