Never Again

Never Again*

November 01, 2020

(All Saints Day)

By Pastor John Partridge

Matthew 5:1-12                     1 John 3:1-3                           Revelation 7:9-17

In J. Rachel Reed’s book, K-9 Korea: The Untold Story of America’s War Dogs in the Korean War, she says,

“Aren’t we as a society better, stronger, when we have these best examples of humanity to rest our hopes on? And aren’t we better when we can look at the failures of humanity and vow, ‘Never again’?”

I think that’s a great question.  Aren’t we better when we look at our failures and vow, “Never again?”

Many of us have done exactly that.  We’ve failed and made some bone-headed decisions, we’ve chosen poorly, we’ve chosen quantity over quality, we’ve worked too much and played too little, we’ve said “yes” when we should have said ‘no” and “no” when we should have said “yes” and a made a host of other regrettable decisions and afterwards many of us learned from our mistakes and promised ourselves, “Never again.”

And, as we celebrate All Saints Day and remember those members, family, and friends that are no longer with us, we also remember, and hold on to, the words “never again” and the deeper meaning that they have to us from our understanding of scripture.  We begin this morning with the words of Jesus, and his sermon of the Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:1-12.

5:1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus proclaims blessings upon the people who are typically looked down upon, ignored, and pushed aside by the ambitious and the powerful as well as those who are struggling with loss.  And it is in these words that Jesus reminds the entire world that God cares more about peace and purity than power, more about comfort and compassion than cash, and more about mercy and morality than money.  Jesus reminds us that God is proud of you when you do the right thing, even if the world persecutes you and lies about the things you did.  And, while it never seems to difficult to imagine, during this election season it seems easier than ever to understand how the people can manipulate and twist the truth into anything they want it to be.  But as long as you are honoring God, and working toward the goals of God’s kingdom, then God calls you blessed and promises that, while persecution and unpleasantness may come to you on earth, blessing and reward have already been set aside for you in heaven.

John the Apostle puts it this way in 1 John 3:1-3,

3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

John says that God loves us so much that we will be called the children of God.  God claims us as his own and the world misunderstands us, and our motives, because they do not know him.  But because we live here and have not yet passed over from this life into the next, we cannot yet see what our new life will look like.  But we do know that when Christ appears, or when our lives end and we go to live with him, we will see him as he really is in all his glory.

And in Revelation 7:9-17, John also writes about his vision of heaven and a hint of what we will see there after our time on earth has ended.

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

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

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

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

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

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

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

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

While John speaks specifically about the saints of God who were killed during the great tribulation, we are given a glimpse of heaven and of God’s love and compassion for his children.  What’s more, it is here that we find those words that we’ve said to ourselves.  On earth we’ve learned wisdom by saying “never again” to the bad decisions of the past, but we are unable to do anything about some of the hardest parts of our lives.  In this life we often can’t do anything about pain, suffering and death, but John says that once we begin our new lives God says, “never again.”  Never again will there be hunger or thirst.  Never again will there be scorching heat, or bitter cold.  Never again will there be mourning, crying, pain, sorrow, suffering, or death.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

And so today, as we celebrate All Saints Day, and as we remember those whom we have lost in the past year, as well as all of our friends and loved ones who have been lost to us, we also rejoice in the new life that they have with Jesus Christ.  Because we remain on earth, we also remember our calling to faithfulness, righteousness, mercy, and compassion.  We remember that, as followers of Jesus Christ we must continue his work as we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak for the voiceless, care for those who have no one to care for them, and in every other way possible to preach the Gospel, rescue the lost, and be Jesus to the world. 

But, at the same time, while we continue our earthly struggles with frustration, hunger, thirst, pain, persecution, suffering, grief, and death, we look forward to the day when we too can rest from our labor and say…

… “Never again.”

 


 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/6ge6H8IvMao

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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.

Pastor’s Report 2020

(Note: What follows is a copy of my report included in this year’s Charge Conference paperwork)


Pastor’s Report – 2020

If you wanted to deliberately turn the life of the church upside-down, you could not have imagined a better tool than COVID-19.  Virtually everything changed.  And yet, they didn’t.  Our committee meetings changed, but once we got comfortable with Zoom, and social distancing protocols, most of our committees are still meeting.  We aren’t using our church building on Sunday, and yet, we’re still “having church” every week.  Sometimes via YouTube, sometimes in our church parking lot, sometimes both and two out of three Sunday school classes are still meeting weekly via Zoom (and it’s the younger group that isn’t).  We can’t pass offering plates on Sunday morning, and yet, our offerings are often as good, or better, than they were last year.

The weekly community dinners have changed but have never stopped.  The first week after the lockdown, one sponsoring church cancelled, but the people of Christ Church immediately stepped up, improvised, and prepared a carry out meal so that those who rely on us were fed.  Since then, our regular church hosts, as well as few others, have all stepped in, and stepped up, and our weekly Tuesday meals have continued, and have… grown.  In the last month, the lines have been longer, and the number of guests has increased.  Occasionally, the food has run out, but the word has spread, everyone is adapting, and more food will be prepared for the next meal.

Obviously, there are things that we can’t do.  Our mission trips to Harrisburg, Liberia and Big Creek, Kentucky have been postponed until it is once again safe to do so, but we have already collected an enormous pile of things to take with us to Kentucky simply because our members have taken advantage of this time and used it to do some Spring cleaning.  Similarly, gifts in support of our trip to Liberia are continuing to appear in our church offerings so that, when the time comes, we will be ready.  And, as our Outreach Committee discussed these changes, they deliberately looked for how the needs of our community might have changed and how we might be a part of caring for new communities or new areas of need that were caused by, or exacerbated by, the pandemic.  And so, while some planned and budgeted gifts are not needed, we have shifted gifts, and fund-raising efforts to new places where the needs are great.

Although things sometimes seem to have turned upside down, the mission never changed, and the church has continued to be the church.  We have changed, we have adapted, we are learning new things every week, but we are still here.  Our membership has remained connected in new ways, and we see new names participating in our online forums.  In short, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are housed, and we continue to look for ways that we can be the church, and places where we can be Jesus to the people around us.

The church is still here.

The mission continues.

We continue to seek Jesus Christ and to share his love with the people around us.

We could do nothing less.


I hope that all of you remain well.  I encourage you to continue our mission, continue to be the church, and continue to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world around you.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Brotherhood and Betrayal

Brotherhood and Betrayal

August 09, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

  

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28            Romans 10:5-15                     Matthew 14:22-33

  

The news makes me sad.

Whether I watch the evening news on television or read it on my computer, in recent months the news just makes me sad.

While our news has almost always been dominated by bad news rather than good news, it seems that, lately, the news stories that we see, and read, are either reporting on, or contributing to, a sense of division within our nation.  We seem to be increasingly divided between white and black, between Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, (and whatever else), Conservative and Liberal, masks and no-masks, face-to-face school and distance learning, and on and on it goes.  Things have gotten so bad that it seems like our only options for peace are to only associate with the shrinking number of people who agree with us on everything, or to become media hermits that just start to tune the world out and increasingly retreat into a tiny, quiet world of our own creation.

But are those our only options?

What should we, as individuals and as a church, be doing?

Does God want us to retreat from the world?  Or are we called to do something else entirely?

Let’s begin by returning to the story of Jacob, which has now leapt ahead in time as we hear the story of Jacob’s twelfth son, Joseph. (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28)

37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So, Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver [about 8 ounces, about $195 at this week’s spot price] to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Joseph was obviously Jacob’s favorite.  He was, by far, the youngest child and was born to Jacob’s favorite wife, and Jacob gave Joseph a special robe of some kind.  This has been translated as a “coat of many colors” and in this reading it was translated as an “ornate” robe, but the truth is, the word that is rendered as “ornate” or “of many colors” is a word that is otherwise unknown to our modern Hebrew experts.  We don’t know what that word is, exactly, but whatever it is, the coat that Jacob gave to Joseph was special, it stood out, it marked him as the favorite, and it inspired and focused the pettiness, envy, and jealousy of his brothers to the point that they were willing to consider murdering him.  Reuben, the oldest, tries to calm his brothers enough to spare Joseph’s life and throw him into a cistern rather than kill him, and plans to return for him later.  But before he can, the rest of Joseph’s brothers decide to sell him to a caravan of merchants in their way to sell spices and other goods in Egypt.

Clearly, the bonds of brotherhood were betrayed and broken.

But, if you know anything at all about the story of Joseph in Egypt, this story in no way glamorizes that betrayal or the behavior of Joseph’s brothers.  Their actions are surprising, shocking, and become a cautionary tale to the world about the sins of hatred, betrayal, envy, and jealousy and the lifetime of danger, regret, and sorrow that flow from their actions.

In contrast, we can look at any number of stories from the life of Jesus but, for today, let’s look at Matthew 14:22-33, where Jesus and the disciples moving on after the execution of John the Baptist and Jesus’ feeding of fifteen thousand people (which is often called the “feeding of the five thousand.”  Remember that in that story, Jesus was trying to get away from the people to spend some time alone with God, and so after the people are fed, and finally go home, probably as evening and darkness approach, Jesus still wants to spend some time alone with God in prayer.

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

While, at first, this might not sound anything at all like the story about Joseph and his brothers, I want to think about the ways in which Jesus treats the people in this story, and in the story of the Jesus feeding the people who had come to hear him preach.  In every instance, Jesus treats the people in these stories with compassion, sympathy, and love even when the difficulties that the people found themselves in were caused by their own choices.  The people were hungry because they had traveled a considerable distance to see Jesus, stayed longer than they intended and, except for one young boy, did not bring anything with them to eat.  Peter was the one who stepped out of the boat, and it was Peter’s fear and lack of faith that caused him to sink, and yet, Jesus feeds the hungry people and he reaches out his hand and lifts Peter back into the boat.  The disciples, event the fishermen, are all afraid when they think that they see a ghost walking on the water, but Jesus soothes them and calls for them to take courage.  And, because of Jesus miracles, as well as his compassion, concern, and love for them, the disciples know that he must be the Son of God.

But how do we connect these dots?  What do either of these stories have to do with us, particularly in the twenty-first century, in the middle of a global pandemic, and a remarkably divisive culture war?

To connect those dots with today, I want to look at what Paul wrote to the church in Rome in Romans 10:5-15.  The church in Rome was a mixed-race church.  There were not only people who had come from all over the Roman Empire, there were a mixture of men and women, slaves, and free persons, as well as Jews and Gentiles who sometimes struggled to get along and find space for one another without the wrestling with the same kinds of jealousy and envy that Joseph’s brothers had felt.  And one of the things that they wrestled with, was how they should understand the laws of Moses and the writings of the prophets (what we call the Old Testament) and how the law applied to their lives in light of the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ.  Paul says:

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Paul explains that the shift from the prophets of old, to the teachings of Jesus Christ, was a shift in the way in which we seek righteousness.  Before, the pursuit of righteousness was an academic one.  We had to remember what all the rules were and how to follow them correctly.  But with the coming of Jesus, our pursuit of righteousness became an issue of the heart.  The word of God now lives in our hearts in such a way that we are saved by faith and express that faith by sharing it with others.  There is no longer a difference between Jews and Gentiles and, because Jesus saves everyone who puts their trust in him, neither group has an advantage over the other.

But Paul’s advice to those fighting against division wasn’t for them to take sides, or for them to retreat from the world, but to send them out into the chaos of the world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone who hadn’t yet heard it.

In a world filled with division, strained relationship, envy, arrogance, and chaos, the church, then and now, cannot retreat.  We must, as never before, move forward and share the good news.

Who do you know that needs to hear it?

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/gwzpTdJV0JU

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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.

Why Are We Here?

Why Are We Here?

(Trinity Sunday)

June 07, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a       Matthew 28:16-20       2 Corinthians 13:11-13

  

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that we’ve probably asked ourselves, and others, these kinds of questions.  And at their core, all of these can be summed up by the question, “Why are we here?”  Why are we attending church?  Why are we following Jesus?  I mean, what’s the point of it all?

And thankfully, the answer is straightforward and not that difficult to find.

Let’s begin our discussion at the very beginning of the discussion, in the first chapter of Genesis, at the very beginning of God’s story (Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a).

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,

First, we note that “In the beginning… God.”  And then we see, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  And then, if we skip ahead to verse 26, we see, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”  All of these, even from the beginning, indicate that while God is one, God is God and Spirit.  While there is only one God, God is also something more than singular.  But we also see that the intent of our creation was for us to share the image of God.  That doesn’t mean that we were created to be godlike, or to be little gods, or to become like God.  But it does mean that we were intended to share the character of God, to be like him in his generosity, compassion, faithfulness, kindness, and love.  Humanity was created and called to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wind animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground” with the same nurture, love, care and benevolence that God has for us.  We weren’t called to subdue the earth by domination and destruction, but through gentle care and careful nurture.

And that understanding of our creation still applies as we read about the coming of the Messiah, as we watch and learn from the example of his ministry, as we witness his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, and as we read about his last moments with his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus offers his last words of instruction as a reminder of their, and our, mission on earth in his absence.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Particularly with today being Trinity Sunday, we are reminded, much as we were as we read from Genesis, that our God is one but, at the same time, is something more than singular.  We do not worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three gods, we worship one God, but acknowledge that, in ways that we cannot fully grasp or understand, God exists in the three persons of the Trinity.  And within the trinity, Jesus declares that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him as he watches over, rules, and sits in judgement of humanity, our planet, and the entire universe.  Our mission, as his followers, and his expectation of us, is that we are to go out into our communities, out into our states, our nations, and into the entire world in order to make disciples, baptize them, and pass on the wisdom, teaching, and commands that Jesus gave to us.

But why?

Why is this our mission?

What is the goal of such a mission?  What is our purpose?  What’s the point?  Why do we need to be the church to get the job done?  Why do we need to work together?  And, despite Paul’s habit of writing incredibly long sentences and intricate explanations, in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 he offers a remarkably short, succinct summary of why we do what we do when he says…

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

So, what’s the point?

Restoration is the point.  God’s purpose and goal for his mission on earth, and therefore ours, is to restore the relationship between God and his people.  To restore the relationship between God and us, the people who know him so that we can have the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have, and to restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and  become estranged from him.

So important is this goal, that all three persons of the trinity have a role in working toward it and that mission has been given to us as well.  And in these two bullet points we find the answers to all those questions we asked at the beginning of this message:

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

“Why are we here?” 

All of it.

Number one, we are here so that we can restore our relationship with God to the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have.

And number two, we are here so that we can learn how we can restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and become estranged from him.

Along the way, by gathering in community, we can encourage one another, support one another, and work together to that all of God’s children can live in peace.

And if the chaotic events of the last week tell us anything, it is this:

We have a lot of work to do.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/blhbTcrm2sw

Did you enjoy reading this?

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.

A Difference Making Difference

A Difference Making Difference

May 31, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:19-22        Acts 2:1-21      1 Corinthians 12:4-13

 Whether we hear it from retiring Baby Boomers or job-changing Gen-Xers, Millennials, or GenY or GenZ workers looking for better, or more fulfilling work, one of the phrases that we often hear is “I want to make a difference.”  I have known Baby Boomers to walked away from six figure jobs to go back to their roots and do basic research, or to take jobs at non-profits so that they could focus on doing what they loved, or on making the world a better place rather than just trying to make as much money as they could.  Many of us either won’t have that opportunity, or we can’t afford to make those kinds of decisions, but many of us do find the time to volunteer in our free time in food pantries, to ring bells for the Salvation Army, or train lifeguards for the Red Cross, teach CPR, or volunteer for other charities so that we can help others and give back to our communities.

There is something in us that wants to be a part of something outside of ourselves, to give of ourselves for something other than our own pleasure or profit, and to make life better for someone else.  But sometimes we just aren’t sure how to do that or, we are trapped by the inertia of our lives, or by indecision, and we just get carried along with the flow of life and we get stuck. 

But we are meant to spend our lives stuck in a rut.

Remember that after Jesus’ resurrection, he came to his disciples and told them about a gift.  You might remember that we read the story of John 20:19-22 a few weeks ago:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Remember that in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for breath, wind, and spirit are the same word.  And so, Jesus breathed on them and told them about the holy breath, the holy wind, and the holy Spirit.  And then in Acts 1: 4-5, just before Jesus left the earth and ascended into heaven, he told them not to leave town until his gift would finally arrive.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

And so, the disciples, and the followers of Jesus, stayed in Jerusalem, praying, and worshipping, and sharing stories about what they had done, and what they had learned from Jesus.  And they kept doing that… until the Day of Pentecost.  And we read that story in Acts 2:1-21.

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly 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. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Although we read this passage every year, we must resist the temptation to think that this is ordinary.  The gift of the Spirit of God was nothing short of transformational in every way.  Everyone changed.  Everyone was empowered.  Everyone was used by God, and everyone used their gifts for the Kingdom of God.  We can see that when they received the gift of the Spirit they immediately went out into the streets and began to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people who had come to Jerusalem, from across the known world, to celebrate the Jewish holiday.  But Peter’s transformation was the most exceptional of all.  Peter, the disciple who denied he knew Jesus three times, the follower who went home to Galilee after the crucifixion, the one who, with the other disciples, would only meet after the resurrection in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked.  Peter was a man who feared being arrested and crucified for following Jesus and he allowed his fear to drive him to deny Jesus, to run away, and to hide behind locked doors. 

But all that changed at Pentecost.

In recent weeks we have seen that after Jesus’ resurrection Peter had begun to change and was becoming increasingly bold and fearless.  And, with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, that transformation is complete.  With the other followers who were gathered in that room, Peter goes out into the streets of Jerusalem, addresses the entire crowd who had gathered around them, and he proclaims that this is the fulfillment of scripture, that the last days foretold by the prophets had arrived and that the Spirit of God had come and was now living in, and among, the people of God.

But impressive as that is, what difference does it make to us?

It certainly might be interesting and exciting to read about the transformation of Peter, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, but what does that have to do with us here in the twenty-first century?

And the answer, again, is everything.

In in letter to church in Corinth, more than two decades after Pentecost, Paul explains it this way:(1 Corinthians 12:4-13)

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.

 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 by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Remember that Paul is writing to a church in Greece, almost two thousand miles from Jerusalem, and more than twenty years after Pentecost.  But he still speaks about the gift of the Spirit of God being distributed to the followers of Jesus Christ and, he says, “it is the same Spirit” that distributes them.  The story of the disciples at Pentecost cannot be disconnected from our story, nor can we discount the story of Pentecost because it was far away and long ago.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, the Spirit that came to rest upon the disciples at Pentecost, is the same Spirit that comes to us today. 

In the church of the twenty-first century, the Spirit of God still brings gifts to the followers of Jesus and, while those gifts might not be the gifts of speaking in tongues (though they might), we are assured that the gifts of God, to each one of us, are given to us for the common good.  We are given gifts that are to be used for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God.  Those gifts might be any of the examples that Paul gave, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, as well as gifts of service and work.  Those broad categories allow for us to receive gifts that Paul could have never understood.  We might receive gifts of facility with computers or social media, gifts of healing through the use of modern medicine, gifts of auto repair, or any other kind of work or service to others.  But regardless of what gifts they might be, we can be certain that the Spirit of God is still in the business of giving these gifts to all the followers of Jesus Christ.

On the Day of Pentecost, these gifts were transformational.  Once they received the gifts of the Spirit, the followers of Jesus were transformed and changed.  The Spirit made a difference in their lives, and that difference allowed them to make a difference in the world around them.  Two thousand years later, we haven’t simply inherited the gifts that the disciples received, the Spirit of God has carefully selected gifts for each person, and gives those gifts to the followers of Jesus for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God. 

So, what difference does it make?

The Spirit of God is the difference that makes a difference.

The Spirit makes a difference in each one of us, so that we can make a difference in the world around us.

So many people are saying, “I want to make a difference.”  Some quit their jobs, or change jobs, or work on their time off, but many are confused or frustrated because they don’t know how.  The answer is simple.  God has given you gifts.  Take the time to discover the gifts that you have been given.  And then ask God to show you how you can use them for the common good.

You can make a difference.

God intends for you to make a difference.

God’s Spirit has already equipped you to make a difference.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

 

Let’s get busy.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/8_PAutzONiM

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

 

 
*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.

Stoned, Stoners, and Stones

Stoned, Stoners, and Stones

May 17, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 14:1-14              Acts 7:55-60                    1 Peter 2:2-10

 

Growing up in the 70’s and going to high school in the 80’s, we were surrounded by references to “stoner” culture even if we chose not to participate in it.  Bob Dylan sang that “Everybody must get stoned,” people tried to be cool by owning a copy of High Times magazine, most of my friends could usually quote lines from Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” movie and just about everyone was familiar with Bob Marley’s Jamaican flavored Reggae music. 

 

That explains the first part of today’s sermon title, “Stoned” and “Stoners” and, for my generation, the third one “The Stones” is simply Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood, better know collectively as, the Rolling Stones.

 

And, while those are the meanings that my generation would automatically assume for those three words, the meaning of those words in scripture, and what they meant to the writers of the New Testament, is entirely different.  But before we get to that, we need to understand the background behind the story of John 14:1-14, where we find the disciples of Jesus are upset because Jesus told them that he is leaving.  They do not understand where he is going and, since they have walked side-by-side with him for the last three years, they don’t understand why they can’t go with him this time.  And so, Jesus explains it this way:

 

14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

First, as his followers, Jesus has a powerful message for each one of us and that is, there is a place for you.  Let me say that again.  

 

There IS a place for you.

 

For everyone who has ever felt like a misfit, or has felt like an outcast, or an outsider, or like they were left out, or forgotten, or not good enough, or not pretty or handsome enough, or not smart enough, or rich enough, or old enough, or young enough, or however that you have felt that you were somehow just not… enough, Jesus wants you to know that there is a place for you.  Jesus promises his disciples, and us, that he will come back so that he can take us to the place that he is, even now, preparing for us.

 

But despite Jesus’ assurances, and despite his promise to return and take them with him, the disciples persist in their worrying.  Thomas wonders how they can go to this place if they don’t know the way, but again, Jesus explains that he is the way.  For most of us, that makes sense.  If we get in the car with a friend who is driving us to a place we have never been, we trust that, since they have been there before, that they can get us there.  When we get on a cruise ship, or an airplane, we have no idea how ships and airplanes work, or how to pilot them, or steer them, or how to get from where we are to where we want to go.  But we trust that the pilot, the captain, and the navigator know those things.  If we can trust them to know the way, surely, we can trust Jesus. If we know Jesus, that is enough.

 

But while this has enormous implications for us as we struggle to feel comfortable in our own skin, why is this important?  What difference does it make if we believe Jesus and trust that there is a place for us?

 

First, it makes a difference in our decision-making process and in how we live our lives.  In Acts 7:55-60 we hear the story of Stephen, one of the earliest followers of Jesus that we know outside of the disciples.  Stephen was a powerful preacher and was becoming well-known for the signs and wonders that he was able to perform in the name of Jesus.  And so, like Jesus, his popularity began to threaten the religious leaders of Jerusalem and they trumped up charges against him and called in some false witnesses against him.  But, rather than being intimidated by them, rather than backing down, when Stephen was given the opportunity to speak, he gave a scripture lesson to a room full of religious scholars and in it, he mercilessly rebuked them for resisting God, ignoring the teaching of scripture, and for their conspiracy to kill both John the Baptist and Jesus.

 

This did not go well.  The temple leaders were not pleased.

 

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

 

Simply put, the example that we are given in this story, is that because Stephen knew Jesus, and because he trusted Jesus, he had the confidence, and the courage, to do whatever God called him to do, and to say whatever needed to be said, regardless of the cost of doing so.  And, even as he was being stoned to death, Stephen prayed for the forgiveness of his murderers.  But we still might be tempted to say that Stephen was special.  That there was something about him that was different than each of us, and that we could never preach, or do miracles, or performs signs and wonders. 

 

But that isn’t what Peter says and it isn’t what Jesus said.  You’ll remember that in the passage from John 14 that we read earlier, Jesus said that the power of Jesus was not his power, but the power of the Father, living in him, that was doing the work.  And, in 1 Peter 2:2-10, Peter also explains that the thing that gave Stephen the power and the courage to do what he did, is the same thing, the same Father, that lives in each one of us.  He says, …

 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

In our earlier story, we discovered that the religious leaders were, literally, the stoners, and Stephen was, again, literally stoned.  But in this passage, we discover that rather that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, we are “The Stones.”  Peter says that Jesus is the “living stone” but we also are like living stones because Jesus is using us, building us, into a spiritual house.  We are being shaped, developed, and built up, so that we can be a holy priesthood, and offer spiritual sacrifices to God. 

 

Peter reminds us that Jesus was the living stone, and was chosen, by God, to be the cornerstone of his church, but the builders, the church leaders of Israel, rejected Jesus.  They stumbled over him because they could neither accept him nor his message.  For them, accepting him meant that they would have to change.  But because they disobeyed, God chose us as his people, and is making us into his royal priesthood and a holy nation.  We belong to God so that we can declare his praises.  Once we were wanderers, but we have been called, and are now the people of God.

 

Think about what that means.

 

As often as you have been in our church, or wherever your local church may be, or any church, or for that matter, any building that you can think of, name one brick, one block, one stone, that isn’t an important part of the whole.  The stones in God’s temple, or our local church, are all important to the structure and function of that building.  The collapse of the twin towers in New York on 9-11 didn’t happen when an airplane flew into them.  Both buildings survived the impact.  But they collapsed when one beam, weakened by the intense heat of the fire, lost its strength, and threw its load onto the beam below it.  And that beam, weakened and overburdened, fell upon the beam below it, and so on.  Every beam, every brick, and every stone plays a part and is vitally important to the structure and to the function of that building.

 

And God says that is you.

 

Jesus want you to know that not only is there a place for you, not only is he making a place for you in his house, but that you are, even now, a living stone, that he is building into a spiritual house.  Not only is there a place for you in his house, you are a vital and important part of that house and an integral piece of what God is doing in his church and in the world.

 

In a world of billions of people, where we often feel like we can easily get lost in the shuffle. God’s message is that you are important, and you have an important, even vital, role to play, and a job to do in his church and in his kingdom.

 

You have value. 

 

You belong. 

 

You are important. 

 

Not only are we in this together, but the church has been called do the work of Jesus Christ and you have been called to be a part of that work.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/_Ww32oH-WF4


Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

 

 

*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.

What to Do While We Wait

What to Do While We Wait

May 03, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Luke 24:44-53                        Acts 1:1-14                                         Ephesians 1:15-23

 

 

As we shelter in place, we are becoming good (or at least better) at waiting.  Some of us have been able to catch up on our reading, organize parts of our home, do spring cleaning, exercise, do crafts, learn new skills, resume an old hobby or take up a new one, start our spring and summer gardening projects, or any number of other things.  Others of us are watching videos, surfing social media sites, and playing video games.  And despite our efforts in all these activities, in addition to our employment and schoolwork, many of us are going a little stir crazy.  While introverts are generally better at being alone, even they are beginning to miss the ability to have a little human interaction from time to time.

 

But what else can, or should, we be doing?

 

Is there a spiritual component to social distancing and quarantine?

 

The answer is “Yes.”  In scripture, and in the history of the church, it was not uncommon for people to spend time apart from others in order to focus on their spiritual life.  When Jesus prepared to begin his ministry, he went out into the desert for forty days, and after Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he went away, out of the public eye, for a year or two to study, learn, and reevaluate his life in light of this experience and new knowledge.  But there was also a moment, that is key to the Easter story, that tell us of a time when all the disciples and the followers of Jesus Christ spent a considerable time waiting.  They waited, of course, after the crucifixion, for the resurrection.  And then they waited for forty days from the resurrection, occasionally meeting Jesus, until Jesus left them and returned to his Father in heaven.  We read a part of that story in Luke 24:44-53 where we hear this:

 

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

 

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

 

The first part of this reminds us of the promise that Jesus made to the disciples before he left them.  Jesus promised that he would send the disciples what God had promised, but that they must stay in Jerusalem and wait until God’s power came upon them.

 

Jesus promised that God’s gift would come, but in order to receive it, they had to wait.

 

That’s good, but it’s a little brief and not terribly clear so in Acts 1:1-14, Luke expands on that story and writes a clearer, more detailed account of what happened, and there he says…

 

1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

 

In this retelling, once again we hear Jesus promise that he would send the Holy Spirit but that the disciples would have to wait a few days, in addition to the 43 days they had already waited, before God’s promise would be fulfilled.  And so, the disciples return to Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives, with great joy and waited.  Between the two accounts we see that they must have spent their time moving between the temple and the house where they were staying and, as they waited, presumably beside the time that they were sleeping and eating, they were almost constantly in prayer.  I would guess that they also spent time remembering the things that Jesus had taught them and speculating on how long they might have to wait, as well as just what Jesus meant by sending the Holy Spirit and what that might mean to them when it happened.

 

But, for the most part, other than this fifteen or twenty people, and those that they encountered at the Temple, they spent their time separated from the rest of the world.  Obviously, this isn’t as isolating as what we are experiencing, but the disciples did as they were told, they followed Jesus’ instructions to wait and, as they did, they spent a significant amount of time in prayer.

 

But we also find some good suggestions of how to spend our time from the Apostle Paul, who again wasn’t exactly practicing social distancing, but who was separated from his friends at the church in Ephesus while he was in prison.  In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul writes…

 

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

 

Paul says that there are several things that he does to occupy his time during this time of forced separation (and imprisonment).  First, he listens to the stories that he hears about his church and his friends, he continually thanks God for their friendship and for their faithfulness and is regularly in prayer for them.  Second, he recommends that his friends take the time to know God better and to build their relationship with him.  And finally, whether it is through prayer, contemplation, or study, to find a reason for hope.  And one of the best reasons for hope is that Jesus rose from the dead, has been given the power and authority over all of creation, and over the church which is the body of Christ.

 

And so finally, as we remember the ascension of Jesus and prepare for Pentecost, we should also remember that there are things that we can do during times when we are separated from others and separated from one another.  Before Jesus left the disciples, he asked them to follow his directions, to wait patiently for the gift that he would send to them.  During that time of waiting, the disciples took the time to listen to what God might have to say to them, to reflect on the things that they had already learned, to pray, and to study with the teachers at the Temple.  While Paul was in prison he listened for news about the church and about his friends, he thanked God for those friends and for the gifts that he had been given, he spent time in prayer, and he encouraged his friends  to take the time to know God better and to build their relationship with him so that they could find a reason for hope.

 

During our time of separation, during this battle with the Coronavirus, let us not only remember and reflect on these lessons but take them to heart and put them into practice.  Let us use this time to grow closer to Jesus, to find a reason for hope, and to share that hope with the people in the community, and in the world around us.

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/wT-tEhG9hJM


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

And She Told Them

And She Told Them

April 12, 2020*

(Easter Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

 

Well here we are.

 

Happy Easter.

 

Our church is empty… But so is the tomb.

 

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

 

Death itself has been defeated.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

But Mary stays.

 

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

 

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

 

Until he says her name.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Mary is the first, but certainly not the last.

 

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

 

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

 

“We are witnesses.” 

 

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

 

I want you to hear that again.

 

We are witnesses.”

 

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

 

“…and she told them.”

 

We must do the same.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

And…

 

Happy Easter!

 

 

 


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


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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.

Come with Us to Africa

Harrisburg Liberia High School
New school under construction in Harrisburg, Liberia.

As many of you know, Patti and I recently announced that we will be returning to Liberia in July of this year.  Although this will be my third trip and Patti’s fourth, this trip will be a little different because this time we will be the leaders of the team.  But there’s something else that we would also like to be different.  We would really like to take some of you with us.

But first, let me back up and offer a little history.  Several years ago, when we went on our first trip, we announced to our congregation (which at that time was Trinity UMC) that although we were familiar with the Farmer to Farmer mission and knew several of the people involved, our first trip was one of exploration.  We wanted to see the mission of Farmer to Farmer in Harrisburg, Liberia for ourselves.  We wanted to see what Farmer to Farmer was doing, to meet the people of Harrisburg, and to understand better what was being done and why they needed our help.

What we saw changed us.

We became friends with the people.  We understood the deep need and we understood why they needed help to move forward from where they were to where they needed to go.  But we also understood that our mission had to be a partnership and not just a means of moving money from the United States to Liberia.  The people of Harrisburg needed more than money and they needed to take ownership of what they had.  That understanding is what drove Farmer to Farmer to organize with a both a board in the United States and an equal board in Harrisburg.  We didn’t, and we don’t, want to tell them what they need.  We want the people of Harrisburg to tell us what they need, and we work together to find ways to accomplish those goals.  At the same time, the over arching goal is to reach a place where the mission in Harrisburg is self-sufficient and we aren’t needed at all.

Last year, Farmer to Farmer launched its first capital funds campaign to address one of Harrisburg’s greatest needs, a new school.  While there are already three elementary schools, the nearest high school is three hours away.  As a result, almost no one continues their education beyond the ninth grade.  But, with the success of that capital funds campaign last year, the first phase of construction for the new Farmer to Farmer agricultural high school has already begun.  And, while Farmer to Farmer has provided the funds to buy raw materials, it is the students, teachers, parents, and other volunteers in Harrisburg that are mixing cement, pounding the cement into forms to manufacture bricks, and offering other labor as their share of ownership in this new school.  More than that, the students and families of the St. John’s elementary school raised the money, and the labor, to build a new building just down the hill from the site of the new high school almost entirely without our help.

There are many more stories that I could tell, but I wanted to share this much to say that, obviously, Patti and I were convinced by our first trip of exploration.  As a result, we returned together in 2018, and Patti went again in 2019, and we are also now members of Farmer to Farmer’s board of directors.  This year, we are returning again to continue the progress that is being made, to paint classrooms, to sing, to pray, to play games with children, to encourage, and whatever else that we find to do that will move the dream of self-sufficiency closer to reality.

And we want some of you to come with us.  We hope to depart on July 21st and return home on August 4th.  We know that if you come with us, meet our friends, experience Liberia, and share the joy of the people of Harrisburg, you will be forever changed, as we were.  But your two-week investment will also change the world for the children of Harrisburg. 

Won’t you join us?

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Mission Impossible

Mission Impossible

February 23, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18          Matthew 5:38-48         1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

 

For those of us old enough to remember the original Mission Impossible television show starring Peter Graves, Martin Landau, and Barbara Bain, or if you’re young enough to only remember the more recent Tom Cruise movies, we can probably hum the theme song to ourselves and some of us have occasionally done that as we merged into traffic on the freeway or imagined that we were embarking on some new daring adventure.

The general theme, or plot, of these adventures is, of course, that the IMF, the Impossible Mission Force, was occasionally offered tasks that, by all outward appearances, were so crazily difficult that they seemed, to anyone else, to be completely impossible.  And in every opening segment, we would hear a recording that essentially said, “Good evening Mr. Phelps.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” followed by a description of something that sounded impossible but which, the team always managed to accomplish by using technology, deception, wit, and trickery. 

But, if we’re honest, sometimes the things that God seems to ask us to do, seem no less difficult than some of the tasks given to the Impossible Mission Force.  With that in mind, let’s look at some of those “impossible” missions that we’ve been given, and think about what they mean to us ordinary people without the resources of an entire secret agency behind us.  We begin in Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 where God explains the mission of his followers to Moses.

19:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

 

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

11 “‘Do not steal.

“‘Do not lie.

“‘Do not deceive one another.

12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.

13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.

15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

 

 

God describes his impossible mission for the church in the first sentence: Be holy.  The rest of the passage is nothing more than an explanation of what God means by “be holy.”  And while some of the things that God commands us to do are reasonable, some of them are harder than others, and doing all these things, all the time seems to be almost humanly impossible. 

 

Remembering to set aside a part of our income for the poor is difficult, but easy to forget.  You would think that not stealing is easier, but statistically 75% of us have stolen office supplies or other things from our employers, and if you include coming in late, leaving early, or overstaying our breaks as theft, then I think that number is probably already pretty close to 100 percent.  Lying or deception creeps into our lives far too easily, showing favoritism toward the poor or toward the wealthy and powerful is a great cultural temptation, holding a grudge is easier than it should be, and actually loving our neighbors is much harder than we ever expected it to be.

 

Keeping one of these commands would consume a lot of time and attention, but keeping all of them, at the same time, suddenly becomes improbable.

 

And if that wasn’t hard enough, in Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus adds more layers of instruction on top of that and makes it even harder.

 

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

 

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good; and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Jesus says that we should not resist an evil person and turn the other cheek, but for most of us who have been taught to be independent adults, it is flat out hard, if not impossible, to not stand up for ourselves and fight back.  And even harder to not stand up for our loved ones.  But Jesus’ warning reminds us that the danger of resisting evil is that, in doing so, we risk committing, or even becoming, evil ourselves.  And after that, Jesus says that we’re supposed to love our enemies?  How hard is that?  And pray for those who persecute you?  Folks, if I am being persecuted, there are a lot of things that I might want to do to the person responsible for my persecution, but praying for them is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind.  But Jesus’ whole point here is that in order to be holy and be the kind of perfect person that God wants us to become, we must be loving, and the kind of love that God wants us to have is hard.  Real love isn’t just love for the people who can do things for you, or for people who are like you, or just for the people who can love you back. 

 

Real love is loving, even to the people who hate you and persecute you.  Real love is loving the people who are too poor, or too young, or too old, or too powerless, to do anything for you in return.  If we want to be the people that God created us to be, if we want to be more like Jesus, then we need to love the way that Jesus loved.  In fact, not only is real love hard, Jesus says that if love is easy, then it may not be real love at all.

 

So, why is our mission impossible?  Why are the commands of God and Jesus so incredibly difficult? First, it’s because God, being perfect, cannot tolerate imperfection and wants us to become perfect as well.  But there’s more to it than that, as Paul explains to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 where he says:

 

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

 

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

 

You and I, and all the followers of Jesus Christ, are building on a foundation laid by Jesus and a foundation which Paul says, is Jesus.  But what we are building on that foundation is more than just a life, it is, we are, God’s temple and, in the eyes of God, God’s temple is sacred and holy.  Together, we are God’s temple.  It isn’t this building that we are sitting in, or some building past, present, or future in Jerusalem, we are God’s temple.  And God intends for his temple to be holy, pure, and perfect.

 

So how does that help us to understand our impossible mission?

 

It helps us to understand because it establishes the goal.

 

In football, gaining a few yards against incredible opposition is good, but it must be in the right direction, and everyone understands that a ninety-nine-yard gain still doesn’t count if you can’t cross the goal line.  It makes a difference, as a runner, if you are just going outside to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine or if your goal is to run, and complete, a half-marathon.  Football players, runners, choirs, bands, artists, and athletes understand that getting stronger requires that we push ourselves and a big part of that is knowing what the goal is.  We don’t get stronger, or faster, or increase our agility and stamina if we only do the things that we can already do easily.  In order to get better than we already are, we must strive toward a goal that is unreachable at our current level of skill and fitness.

 

Our spiritual growth is no different.

 

God wants us to know what the goal is so that we know what direction in which to travel and to push us to work toward that goal.  A runner that begins to train for a half-marathon might not be able to reach that goal, but you can bet that they’re going to become a better runner than they were before they started.  As Christians, if our only goal is “pretty good” or “good enough” then we aren’t likely to ever challenge ourselves enough to change.  It is only by striving toward the goal of perfection that challenges us enough for God to genuinely transform us into something better than we were before.

 

So yes, doing all the things that God wants us to do, and following all the teachings of Jesus are going to be incredibly difficult and almost completely impossible.  But it is only by attempting the impossible that we can become more like Jesus.

 

You can almost hear the message on that tiny tape recorder:

 

“Good evening Mr. Phelps.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is… to become perfect.”

 

I know that it’s going to be difficult.  And I don’t know if I will ever get there.

 

But I’m going to try.

 

How about 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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.