A New Dawn

A New Dawn

January 03, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Ephesians 3:1-12                   Matthew 2:1-12

We don’t often take the time to sit and watch the sunrise but when we do, we are often rewarded bountifully for our patience.  This is especially true if we are in a place where there is an unobstructed view to the east.  Recently, Patti and I went to South Carolina to attend our nephew’s wedding and on the way, we stayed at a hotel in Myrtle Beach in a room that faced the beach.  Getting up just a little bit early, making a cup of tea, and sitting on the balcony watching the dawn was almost as memorable a moment as the wedding.  The beauty and serenity of the sunrise, combined with the sound and movement of the surf, was a life-giving moment that fed my soul.

It’s a little odd that a sunrise can be so staggering because it happens every day.  Every day, for millions upon millions of years, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  It seems as if it should feel as ordinary as every other moment of every other day.  But every sunrise is different, and every sunrise, just like every New Year’s Day, is meaningful to us because it represents a new day, a moment filled with possibilities, a moment saturated with our dreams and filled with hope.  It is for exactly that reason, that dawn is often used in literature, biblical and otherwise, to represent hopes, dreams, and new beginnings.  And that is what we find as we read Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming messiah, a vision for the future that would, for hundreds of years, fill God’s people with hope.  (Isaiah 60:1-6)

60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah describes the coming of the messiah as if the entire world had been living in darkness and was now experiencing the dawn for the first time.  But rather than seeing the rising of the sun, the world would stand as witnesses as the Lord himself would rise over them and the light that they would see would be the glory of God.  Kings would be drawn to that light and they would bring gifts of gold, and incense as they bring praise and worship to God.

And hundreds of years later, we see Isaiah’s vision fulfilled in Matthew 2:1-12 as the Magi see the glory of God in the heavens and follow his star to the house in Nazareth (not Bethlehem, because this was a year or three later) where Mary and Joseph and Jesus lived.

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Just as Isaiah had said, the future ruler and shepherd of Israel had been born in Bethlehem, and after Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had returned to Nazareth, the Magi found them and again, just as Isaiah had foretold, they recognized Jesus as a king, worshipped him, and brought gifts of gold and incense.  But look at how they arrived there.  First, they stopped in the capitol, assuming that a king would have been born in the palace.  From there, they likely started toward Bethlehem, but we don’t really know that Jesus was there.  Since Joseph’s home had been in Nazareth, it seems reasonable to assume that they returned there after the census was over. 

But even if they had chosen to stay in Bethlehem, we would be right to ask how the Magi found them, but Matthew’s answer leaves us with even more questions.  Matthew says, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”  Listen to that again, “the star they had seen… went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”  That’s the only explanation that Matthew offers.  But clearly, since stars, and even planetary conjunctions, simply do not, and cannot, guide us from one town to another, and certainly do not lead us to distinguish one house over another, we have no idea what it was that the Magi were following.  Except that in some way, they were following God.  And we see that every step led them to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies.

And the arrival of the Magi fulfilled one more prophecy that is a little less obvious, but which is of vital importance to you and me.  Paul recognized its importance, and explains it to the Greek church in Ephesus this way (Ephesians 3:1-12):

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

The arrival of the magi signifies the fulfillment of God’s promise to break out of the confines of Israel, to break out into the world, to adopt the Gentiles into God’s family as well as the Jews, and to become the rescuer of all humanity.  Paul says that the miracle that is revealed in the gospel is that the Gentiles have become heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers in the promise of Jesus Christ.  The arrival of the magi is indeed the moment of a new dawn, the beginning of God’s new work in the world.  It is at this moment when our families, and we ourselves, were invited into, and indeed adopted into, God’s family.  And, with the adoption of the Gentiles, we can easily visualize the vast number of nations, kings, presidents, prime ministers, and others around the world who have, and who now worship Israel’s king.

But why?  As impressive as it was, and as impressive as it still is, why did it happen and why does it matter?

And Paul provides the answer to that as well saying, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”

His intent was that now, through the church, the wisdom of God would be made known because it is in him, and through faith in him, that we have the freedom and confidence to approach God, to share our joys, our troubles, our sorrows, and our prayers with him, and to become, and to participate, in our new family. 

It is a new dawn.

And today our mission remains the same.  God intent, God’s mission, is for us to make the wisdom of God known to rulers, to authorities, and to everyone that has not heard the Good News.

Because it is, indeed, good news, of great joy… for all the people.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/t-yzH9sS9xs

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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.

2021, Blessing or Curse?

2021, Blessing or Curse?

December 30, 2020

by John Partridge

Will this pandemic influenced, socially distanced, Christmas, and the following New Year, be filled with “good news of great joy” or feel more like we were hit by a freight train?  And I think that my best guess is, it depends.

I was reminded this week of how we often find exactly the things for which we are looking.  We can watch same news stories and Republicans and Democrats will each hear entirely different things.  And each of those things will conform to the opinions and worldviews that they had before they watched it.  Scientifically, it’s called “confirmation bias.”  We tend to seek out views and opinions with which we agree, and even if we listen to unbiased reporting, what we hear is influenced by what we expected to hear. 

The same is true of much more mundane things.  I read a story once about an entomologist (you know, a guy who studies bugs) and his friend who were walking along a sidewalk in a big city.  Suddenly the man said, “Did you hear that?”  He stopped walking and started searching intently until he found a particular species of cricket in a crack in the sidewalk.  The friend marveled that the man had been able to hear a cricket chirp over the noise of the city, but in answer the entomologist simply pulled a coin from his pocket and dropped it.  Instantly a half dozen people turned and started looking for the dropped coin.  Smiling, the man said, my coin was no louder than the cricket, but people tend to find the things that they are thinking about. 

I don’t know if that story is true or not, but I know that our biases shape our daily lives, and our enjoyment of it, in powerful ways.  Years ago, I had a coworker who saw the entire world as a terrible place that always seemed to be out to destroy her.  Every conversation with her was one in which she described all the accidents and missed opportunities of her recent past and never once included the any stories of her successes, or even stories of her young son.  Her focus on the negative entirely robbed her life of the joys that could be found in her everyday life.

And so, as we enter a new year, and as we continue to live with restrictions and precautions of this current pandemic, I urge you to be careful of your biases about how you look at the world.   If we are looking for crickets or dropped coins, we are likely to find the things for which we are paying attention.  If we look for sadness and disappointment, we will certainly find them.  But, if we look for happiness, good news, and positive influences, I am convinced that we are more likely to find those instead. 

If we look at the Christmas story with this in mind, we realize that Herod was always looking at the world to find the next person that might threaten his power and control.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees, despite being biblical scholars, were always looking out for themselves.  But the wise men were looking for signs and the shepherds were looking for hope.  And so, when the star appeared in the heavens, everyone saw exactly what their focus and biases guided them to see.  The wise men saw a sign, the shepherds found hope, Mary and Joseph found answered prayer, Herod found a threat, and the religious leaders were so focused on themselves that they almost missed it entirely.

And so, as we enter this new year, whether we find blessings or curses in 2021 is almost entirely up to us, to our attitudes, and to our biases.  Rather than enter this new year searching for threats, or looking only for our own selfish interests, let us instead enter it as pilgrims in search of hope, faith, and love.  We are, after all, the ambassadors that carry “good news of great joy, which is for all the people.”  Despite the pandemic and its economic influence, despite our current, hyper-partisan political climate, despite our separation and isolation, if we are paying attention, I am convinced that there are, and will be, nuggets of good, silver linings, and pockets of joy that can be found.  Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, who is the “good news of great joy” for all people, the hope of the world, and the Prince of Peace because whatever it is that we choose to seek…

…is almost certainly what we will find.

I choose to seek faith, hope, joy, peace, and love.

Will you?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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*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.

Reframe, Restart, Re-imagine

As I write this, we are less than two weeks from Thanksgiving.  When you read this, it will likely be almost, or already, December and we will be counting down to Christmas.  We, both individually and collectively, have been trying to manage, and cope with, the constantly changing restrictions on our lives brought on by the Coronavirus since March.  And the latest resurgence and new peaks of COVID-19 are forcing change on us yet again. 

As I met with our Worship Committee and our staff, I had hoped to find a way for us to hold on to some of our Advent and Christmas traditions.  We talked about a drive through service, and even began designing a Christmas Eve service that would travel from station to station, in small groups, through the church and still light candles in the sanctuary.  But with the latest surge in virus cases, and the newest recommended restrictions, I doubt that we will even be able to do that.  Instead, we will pivot, again, and try to find a meaningful way of celebrating Christmas Eve together while we are apart. 

Few of us imagined a Christmas quite like this one in March and, if we’re honest, we’re having a hard time imagining it now.  But as we rush toward the end of what has probably been the strangest year any of us has ever seen, we also struggle to imagine what the new year will bring us.  We have hope that new vaccines will successfully conclude their clinical trials, be approved, and begin distribution but, at this point, we are told that widespread availability probably won’t happen until mid-summer.  Sigh.  That means we probably should prepare ourselves for Coronavirus to dampen our plans for yet another Easter.

But a new year still encourages us to image a new beginning.  A new year now, as always, presses us to reflect on the year we leave behind and envision a better, brighter, bolder, future.  Perhaps this year, more than ever, we look forward to leaving 2020 behind and hoping for something better.  But as we do, let us also grapple with what lessons, however difficult, that we have learned. 

I believe that this pandemic has taught us, or at least boldly reminded us, that “church” is not a building and “mission” is not what happens inside of that building.  We are learning that “community” and “family” are bigger ideas, and stronger ties, than just the people with whom we can shake hands each Sunday and we are finding ways to stay connected to the people we care about, the people in our church family, and the people in our communities in other ways.  We are learning that the “reach” of our church, and our worship, is bigger than just the people who show up in person, on Sunday morning and we are learning, I hope, how to reach out to, and to connect with, the people around us in ways that we hadn’t considered before.  We are already seeing “new faces” in our church that have joined us on the internet and haven’t yet attended a single “in-person” worship service, and despite not having what we might have, a few months ago, considered to be an essential element, they now consider themselves to be a part of our church.

And so, as we hurtle toward the end of one year and the beginning of the next, I hope that we will continue to reframe our ideas of what some of these words mean.  For some of us, words like church, mission, outreach, community, and even family will never be the same even after things return to “normal.”  As we grapple with these new meanings, and with our new knowledge, and yes, new skills, let us also continue to re-imagine what we could be, what we can be, and what God is calling us to be as individuals, as a people, and as a church.  Clearly, the situation that we have is not one that we wanted, or even one that we ever imagined, but I am certain that through it, God is trying to teach us something incredibly valuable…

if we are willing to listen… and learn.

I pray that, years from now, rather than mourn over the things that we lost during the pandemic of 2020, we would instead rejoice over the things that we learned, and what that new knowledge, and that new understanding, allowed us to achieve.

Blessings,

Pastor John

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2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)

2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)

Social Media Year in Review

 

Last week I wrote what is essentially the “first half” of an overview of last year.  I may still write a “top ten” list of the most read posts from last year, but while last week’s post was mostly about the church, this week’s is more personal.  While I did include some blog statistics in last week’s post, it was only those that related to the weekly posts of the Sunday sermon and, although that is probably the bright spot of this report as well, this post will cover more ground than that.

First, and most strangely, my old blog on Blogger, which I no longer maintain, and which I have clearly labelled as having moved to my new address on WordPress, still gets regular traffic.  It seems that, at some point, I might be forced to either edit every single post with a note about moving or delete that account entirely.  In any case, even though no new content has been posted there in almost four years, it still had considerably more traffic (5814 views) than my new one (3994 views).  This is both humbling, and an illustration of how well Google can push traffic toward its own properties.

Obviously, the traffic on my blog is pitifully small, especially when you read that you can begin to “monetize” your webpage or blog once you reach a benchmark of something like 10,000 visitors per month.  Even so, while the number of visitors to my old page is about half of what it was the year before, the number visitors to the new page nearly doubled.  Specifically, there was an 85 percent increase in visitors from 2018 to 2019 which was only slightly better than the 84 percent increase that we saw from 2017 to 2018.  So, while traffic to this blog is still small, its growth has almost doubled in each of the last two years.  And that, is both encouraging and humbling.

Some of that growth is reflected in the increase in subscribers.  At the beginning of 2019, 70 people subscribed to my blog on WordPress, and at the end of 2019 that number increased to 120.  Separate from that group, there are also two lists of folks who subscribe to blog notifications.  The first receives each week’s Sunday sermon, in its entirety, by email.  That list grew from 141 to 213.  The second list receives email notifications every time that I post a blog (like this one) that is not a Sunday sermon.  That email is usually just a notification that there is a new post and includes a link to that post.  Less impressively, his second subscription list increased from 18 to 24.  I’m not sure which of these is “cause” and which is “effect.”  Did increasing blog traffic drive increased subscriptions, or vice-versa, or did they feed one another?

On Facebook, I have, so far, resisted the call to create a new profile and separate my “public” and my “private” or “personal” life, but I do try to be careful not to accept too many friend requests from total strangers.  As of now, I have 812 Facebook “friends”, but I have no idea how much that might have grown since last year.  Neither do I track the growth of my network on LinkedIn, but again I do try, somewhat, to limit that platform to people that I’ve met in person.  Theoretically, Twitter should be the place where I gather “fans” that I haven’t met, but I probably don’t expend enough effort or focus there, so over the course of the year my follower count dropped from 389 to 371.   The number of people who subscribe to paper copies via snail mail decreased from 7 to 5, and although we haven’t been able to get into a routine of getting videos posted, a few things did and the number of people subscribing to my YouTube channel somehow managed to increase from 3 to 7.

Again, even though what I do online is not anything close to my “main” ministry, we are reaching people through this medium and the results are encouraging.  I hope that your New Year is a bright one.

For all of you you’ve been here all year, and for those of you who are new this year, thank you.  Feel free to comment below and let me know how these messages might have helped you this year, or what topics you might like to see addressed in 2020.  As usual, I’m sure there will be more ideas than time, but even if I don’t get to yours, your suggestions and comments are always welcome.


To read the first installment of this year-end review, click here: 2019 By the Numbers (Part 1).


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2019 – By the Numbers

So now that we’ve turned the calendar to another year, and we are already preparing our “End of Year” reports for the Annual Conference, what do the numbers say about where we’ve been?  And, as is often the case, it depends.  There is always more than one way to look at things and our church is no exception but, at the same time, I think that there are some useful numbers worth examining.

Let’s begin with the number that everyone probably asks about first, attendance.  In 2018 we reported an average worship attendance of 71 in our Charge Conference report.  This year, in June, we reported that number as 78, and by the end of 2019 our average was almost 80 (technically 79.82).  Obviously, that’s a significant improvement but we all know that a church “our size” should, and could, have far more than that on an average week.  Still, we should all be pleased that we’re moving in the right direction.  What’s more, I hope that I’m not the only one who has noticed that we’re beginning to see more visitors, more repeat visitors, and a few more children and all those things are good signs.

But so far, none of those increases that we’ve seen in worship have found their way to Sunday School.  Attendance in our Sunday morning classes was 37 in 2017, 39 in 2018, and almost 39 (actually, 38.94) in 2019.  Even so, that isn’t bad news.  Considering the number of members that we’ve lost in the last three years, holding steady is a solid accomplishment.  Moreover, thirty-nine people in Sunday school and eighty in worship, means that 48 percent of our regular attenders are coming to Sunday school every week.  And whether you know it or not, that is a huge percentage that any church would be proud of.

Our social media presence is also, however slowly, increasing as well.  In January of 2019 our church Facebook page had 199 followers and by January of this year that number had risen to 219.  And, although even while 219 “likes” in the social media world is still tiny, a ten percent increase is still good news.  And during that same time period, the number of people who subscribe to our Sunday sermons increased from 206 to 333.  Of course, just because people subscribe doesn’t mean that they read those messages, and although it’s harder to put specific numbers to online readership, the number of readers has increased substantially as well.  Even more difficult, is trying to understand how any of that contributes to attendance or ministry at our physical location in the real world, but in a era when most people visit your webpage before they visit your church, having a healthy online presence is good news.

And, of course, we have many more programs, mission, and volunteer opportunities going on year-round that are even more difficult to count or number.  Our Thanksgiving dinner partnership delivered more than 1100 turkey dinners on Thanksgiving morning, we had a very successful burger event during Carnation Days in the Park, our church donated far in excess of our pledge to Habitat for Humanity for last  year’s Apostle Build and in the process our volunteers had a highly visible presence at last summer’s weekly concerts by the caboose downtown.  Our scouting program is healthy, growing, and continues to produce Eagle scouts and train the leaders of tomorrow.  But more than that, we now have two scout troops because this year Troop 50 has become Troops 50 as they formed a new all-female Troop 50, for girls and young women, alongside of the existing all-male Troop 50.

There are many more stories that could be told, but it seemed as if this was a year in which we were constantly hearing good news.  While we may not yet be where we would like to be, or perhaps moving as quickly as we might like, we are moving in the right direction.  The numbers affirm what many of us have suspected.  Christ Church is moving in the right direction and I want to thank all of you for all the hard work, in a hundred different places, and in dozens of events, and in countless hours of effort on the part of… well, practically everyone.  I want you to know that you are making a difference.

I’m looking forward to what this new year will bring, and I hope you are too.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 


To see “2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)” a review of my social media presence in 2019, click here.

 

 

 


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Perspective is Everything

From my Facebook post on New Year’s Eve:

Tonight as we watch the clock count down to the New Year, scientists around the world are watching two spacecraft doing something totally amazing but altogether different.

The New Horizons probe, which just a few years ago took some incredible photographs (and changed planetary science) as it passed Pluto, tonight, just past midnight, passes by Ultima Thule (Ull-tim-a Too-lee), a smallish object (about the size of New York – 20 miles across) in the Kuiper belt. Ultima Thule hadn’t even been discovered when New Horizons launched. Optima Thule is more than 4.1 BILLION miles from earth and a billion miles beyond the orbit of Pluto, so far away that even at the speed of light, radio messages to earth take six HOURS to return to earth. New Horizons is traveling at almost 10 miles per second (32,000 miles per hour) as it speeds by, but the photos and other information that it collects in the next few hours will take more than a year to transmit home. Ultima Thule is the most distant object that humanity has ever been able to study up close.

NASA OSIRIS-RExAnd earlier this evening, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, after a delicate astrophysical dance that lasted for months, has slipped into orbit around asteroid Bennu. While Bennu is “only” 1.2 billion miles away, it has taken OSIRIS-REx over two years to arrive since its launch. But if Ultima Thule is the most distant object we are studying, Bennu, at only 1600 feet wide, is clearly the smallest. And because Bennu is so small, its gravity is similarly weak, making it incredibly difficult to carefully place OSIRIS-REx into orbit. The spacecraft’s orbital speed is only one TENTH of a mile per hour (or five centimeters per second) and it is orbiting only 1.25 miles (2 km) from the center of Bennu. OSIRIS-REx will study Bennu for about a year, and then, around July of 2020, will descend, capture a sample from the surface of Bennu, and return that sample to earth in 2023.

While sometimes the news headlines make us despair for the future of the human race, we often fail to pay attention to those who represent the better part of our nature.

I often wonder what discoveries await us after the return of Jesus Christ when we will have all eternity to explore.

Happy New Year everyone.

 

 


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A Life’s Calling

A Life’s Calling

December 30, 2018*

First Sunday after Christmas

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26             Luke 2:41-52              Colossians 3:12-17

 

Tomorrow is the last day of the year and Tuesday we celebrate the arrival of a new year.  Many of us will make resolutions, but often those don’t turn out well.  We are filled with good intentions but making a new activity into a habit is a difficult thing.  Gyms tend to be jammed full of new members at the beginning of a new year, but after a few weeks or months, negotiating the parking lots becomes a far more manageable activity.

Despite our failures, our intentions are good.  We’re trying to make a change.  Well-known Christian author C.S. Lewis once said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” And since the beginning of a new year often has us thinking about changing our lives and making a new start, what is it that we should consider changing?  Is there a better way to go about this than simply making resolutions that we don’t keep?

As we consider that question, let’s begin with a small taste of the story of the prophet Samuel that we find in 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26.

18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. 20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home

26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.

Samuel was dedicated, by his mother, to the service of God from the time that he was old enough to be weaned from his mother’s breast.  He worked in the service of the priests and his Mom would guess how much he had grown each year and bring him a new robe when they came for the annual sacrifice at Passover.  But the interesting thing is not that he grew physically every year, as long as we eat, we can hardly avoid that.  The interesting thing is that not only did he grow taller (that is, in stature), but he also grew to be a nice person and the people around him grew to like him and trust him.  But we are also told that Samuel grew in favor in the eyes of God.  So, not only did the people like him as he developed physically and mentally, but God’s love of Samuel increased as he grew spiritually.

But one of the reasons that this is interesting isn’t simply that it happened, but that this phrase is used in other places to describe other people.  Specifically, we find it in the story of Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem, at the age of 12, as an adult under Jewish custom. (Luke 2:41-52)

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Jesus and his family, and likely most of his community, travel to Jerusalem for the same reason that Samuel’s family did, to celebrate the Passover.  As an adult, Jesus was able to make his own choices of where to go and when to go there, and so he did not commit a sin by not traveling with the caravan that was heading home.  Even so, as a twelve-year-old boy, adult or not, his mom and dad were not pleased.  But there are two things that I want to highlight.  First, Jesus already knew something about the call that God had on his life and was already pursuing teachers and scholars who could help him to grow spiritually.  Second, the last sentence is almost the same as what we saw in the story of Samuel.  “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”  As Jesus grew physically, he was also growing in wisdom, and not only did the people around him grow to like him, God did as well.

But what about us?  What should we take home from all of this, especially as we prepare to usher in a new year?  First and foremost, we should remember that whether we are seven, or seventeen, or seventy-seven, we can always grow in wisdom and in spiritual maturity.  If it was important for Jesus to seek out teachers and scholars who could help him to grow, then it seems obvious that none of us should ever feel comfortable saying that we know all that there is to know and that we are done learning.  But beyond that, let’s also look at Paul’s advice to the people in the church of Colossae in his letter to the Colossians.  (Colossians 3:12-17)

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are to wear compassion, humility, gentleness, and patience as obviously, prominently, and regularly as we wear a shirt or pants.  We are to cut each other some slack when we are less than we could be and forgive each other when we mess up.  And more important than all of these, is to remember to love because it is love that holds the whole package together.  Without love, we can’t really be compassionate, gentle, humble, patient, or truly forgiving. 

Every day we must allow Jesus to rule over our hearts and not get caught up in the materialism, greed, narcissism, hedonism, and all the other -isms that our culture tries to teach us.  And the way that we are to grow in spiritual maturity and love is to keep the story and the teaching of Jesus in the center of everything we do.  Find good Christian teachers, read good Christian books, sing Christian songs, coach one another when we make mistakes so that we stay on the right path, teach one another the lessons that we have learned, and we should do all these things because we are grateful to God for what he has done for us.  And every day, both in words and in actions, give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus Christ.

Our goal in the new year, and every year, should be to be like Samuel and Jesus, and grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and the people around us.  Our calling isn’t just to eat and grow physically.  Our goal isn’t to grow taller, or fatter, or balder, or older, we are going to do those things rather naturally.  Our goal is to grow the way that Samuel and Jesus did, to grow in wisdom, to grow so that the people around you notice your gentleness, compassion, and forgiveness and like being around you.  Our goal is to grow in spiritual maturity so that we continually become more and more like Jesus.  That’s one of the reasons that we need to make it a regular habit to come to church, attend a Bible study, and read scripture because these things aren’t going to happen by themselves any more than we are likely to lose weight and build muscle without exercising or going to the gym.  If we are going to grow spiritually, then we need to exercise and work out, spiritually.

Many of these things are called spiritual disciplines for that very reason.  It will take persistence, patience, practice, and discipline to accomplish.

That isn’t something that we’re going to accomplish in January by making a resolution or two.

That is something that we need to make a part of our regular lifestyle… today, tomorrow, next month, next year, and every year after that.

It is a life’s calling.

 

 

 

 


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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.

A Deeper New Year

As we approach the New Year, many in our culture have a tradition of making resolutions.  We make a list of things that we hope to do better or ways in which we hope to improve ourselves.  We resolve to lose weight, go back to school, read that book we always meant to read, exercise more and host of other things.  As we approach this New Year however, I hope you will consider one thing more.
As we enter this New Year, I hope you will join me in deepening our relationship with Jesus.  That may be a new idea for some, you may not really grasp what I am trying to say, and that’s okay, I’ll explain.  Jesus desires to be friends with us at the deepest levels of our heart, he is said to be the friend that sticks closer than a brother and we are, in fact, adopted as brothers and sisters of Jesus.  Too often, our relationship with Jesus looks more like that of a casual acquaintance.  We know who they are, we recognize them on the street and we nod and wave when we see them.  The problem is that Jesus wants more than that.  Jesus wants us to know him, really know him so that we can be “closer than a brother.” 
How well do you know your best friend?  You spend time with them.  You spend a lot of time with them.  You can finish each other’s sentences.  You know what food they like, what makes them happy, or sad, or angry.  Without calling them to ask, you can often tell others just what they will think about a certain subject or how they will react to a particular situation.  Jesus wants us to know him like that.  He doesn’t just want us to know who he is in the way we know a casual acquaintance, but he wants us to have a real, deep, meaningful relationship with him.
But how do we do that?  Obviously, building a relationship like that isn’t something that happens overnight.  You didn’t get to know all about your best friend in a single day, a month, or even a year but spent time, regularly, building your friendship together.  Building your relationship with Jesus will be the same.  It will take time and it will take some commitment.  This year I hope that you will join me in making a commitment to building and deepening your relationship with Jesus.  Spend time in church but also make time to pray, to read the Bible, or attend a Bible study.  Do any or all of these things, do something more than you have done before, and you will begin to know Jesus better.
Jesus wants to be more than the acquaintance that you wave at in church once a week. 
  
         He wants more.    
                      He wants your relationship to go deeper.   
                                         Will you join me in this grand adventure?