It’s More Than Selfish

Note: The video of this commentary can be found at: https://youtu.be/R7cfHs15CNQ


 

It’s More than Selfish

 

For the last few days, we have all been watching people go crazy.  While society hasn’t broken down, it has certainly proven to itself that Agent ‘K’ in the “Men in Black” movie was absolutely correct when he said:

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”

And, when people are scared, they are the most panicky, dangerous animals in the planet.  It seems obvious to everyone, whether you are a Christian or not, that there is something horribly wrong with what is going on around us.  But for those of us who have spent some time in church, or in reading scripture, we have a pretty simple name for it. 

Sin.

In Matthew 22:36-40 some Pharisees asked Jesus which commandment he thought was the most important.  To which, Jesus replied that there were only two important ones.

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The second, of the two great commandments, is for us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, and this is, fundamentally, a condemnation of selfishness.  It’s okay for us to take care of ourselves, and it’s okay for us to be concerned for our own welfare, but it’s not okay for us to be so selfish that we no longer care about the needs of our neighbors, and indeed take so much for ourselves, that there our neighbors cannot meet their most basic needs.

There’s no way that any one family, let alone any one person, really needed to go out and buy a hundred rolls of toilet paper or several gallons of hand sanitizer.  I’ve seen a large bottle of hand sanitizer, out in a public place at church, last through three or four entire flu seasons for our entire congregation.  I’m sure that there is no good reason that anyone really needed to buy an entire case of them for themselves.

If you’ve been shopping this week, or if you’ve seen the photographs of your friends who have, you probably noticed that the shelves are empty of almost anything remotely edible.  Sure, we’re going to need food to eat, but you know what?  Since those stores normally provide the food that most of us need week in, and week out, year in, and year out, it seems obvious that people are not only stocking up, but that, in their fear and panic, they have almost certainly bought more than they can possibly use and my bet is that, while some of our neighbors are going hungry, much of that food is going to spoil and go to waste.

And that bothers me.

Folks, I’m not going to mince words here.  This kind of behavior is not only selfish, and not only tragic.

It’s sin.

 

 

 


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Given Grace to Give Grace

Given Grace to Give Grace

December 22, 2019*

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 7:10-16                            Matthew 1:18-25                               Romans 1:1-7

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to know the future?

Sometimes it might be a good thing.  When we’re going through difficult and challenging times it might be nice to know that things are going to turn out well for us.  When we worry about our children or grandchildren, it might be nice to know that they will eventually find their way, get an education, find a good job, and become responsible, productive, people of faith who love God.  Certainly, if we knew what the stock market was going to do next year, or even next week, we could make a lot of money.

But, on the other hand, would you want to know that your difficult and challenging times were only going to get worse?  Or that your children and grandchildren were not going to find their way?  Would you want to know the future if it was full of bad news?  Probably not.  And that’s exactly why Israel’s kings usually cringed whenever the prophets of God came to visit them.  God’s prophets had a reputation of only showing up when there was bad news and were sometimes thought of as harbingers of doom.  King Obadiah called Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”  God’s prophets knew that it wasn’t popular to know the future if the future wasn’t filled with good news.

And that’s a part of what is going on in the story we’re about to read, as Isaiah shares God’s words with King Ahaz of Judah in Isaiah 7:10-16.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

Ahaz remembers that the people of God are not supposed to put God to the test, and that is so ingrained in him that he won’t do it even when God asks him to do it.  God tells Ahaz that he will accomplish whatever it takes to prove to him that the things that Isaiah is saying will truly happen.  But, since Ahaz refuses to ask for such a sign, God names one instead and says that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, if you think about that for a minute, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds a little weird if the only meaning is the one that we remember at Christmastime because a that wouldn’t have answered King Ahaz’s question at all.  But, many of God’s prophecies had not one, but two meanings and two fulfillments.  The first would be one that made sense in the immediate future and the second would make sense in the more distant future.  This is one of those times.  The first meaning was that a young, unmarried woman, quite possibly a woman that both Isaiah and King Ahaz knew, such as the woman who was betrothed to Isaiah, who we would think of as Isaiah’s fiancée, and future wife, would, in a short amount of time, become pregnant and have a baby.  The second meaning, of course, is the one with which we are more familiar and that is one that became understood as something that would happen with the coming of Israel’s messiah.

And so, in this passage, God promises Ahaz that before Isaiah’s baby is old enough the choose right from wrong, traditionally about 12 or 13 years old, those who were attacking him, the kingdoms of Aram and the northern tribes of Israel, would come to an end.  And, while that sounds like good news, if you read the rest of that passage it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those times where things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, in any case, the second meaning is God’s promise of a messiah who would rescue his people for all time.  And it is that fulfillment that we see in the story of Matthew 1:18-25 where we hear these words:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Just as God had promised to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, the rescuer of humanity, God’s messiah, is born to a virgin.  But Joseph was terrified.  The woman to whom he had been pledged in marriage was pregnant and it was clear that he wasn’t the father.  At that point, Joseph had three choices and none of them were particularly good.  Since having sex before marriage was prohibited under the law of Moses, and it would seem obvious to most people that this is what Mary had done (since that was the ordinary way in which pregnancy happens), Mary would not only be seen as violating the law, but also as bringing disgrace to her family, bringing disgrace to Joseph’s family, and also breaking the contract that bound the two of them together. 

Joseph’s first option, under the law, was to publicly humiliate Mary and announce what she had done, and possibly even have her stoned to death (although that rarely, if ever, actually happened).  The second choice would be to quietly divorce her on the grounds that she had already broken the contract between their families.  The third choice was probably the worst choice of all, and that was to go ahead with their marriage.  This option would bring disgrace, humiliation, and financial hardship to both of their families, and would make Joseph, his father, and all of his family look stupid for going ahead with a marriage to a woman who had violated her promise even before their wedding. 

But even though all these choices seemed like bad ones, Joseph, being a nice guy, thought that he would choose the one that was the least damaging to everyone.

But God had other ideas.

God tells Joseph, in a dream, not to be afraid, that Mary had really not slept with anyone else, that the child she was carrying was actually the child of God and would become the one who would rescue God’s people from sin.  And when he woke up, Joseph did what God told him to do and in doing so, models for us some of the best characteristics of God, God’s people, and humanity.  In order to do what Joseph does requires extraordinary trust, abundant love, a mountain of faith, a pile of forgiveness, a large measure of grace, and more an ample amount of hope.

But what is it that we should take away from these stories?  How does the story of Christmas guide us as we live our lives in the twenty-first century?  And, even though he lived two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul understood a part of that answer as he wrote to the church in Rome as we see in Romans 1:1-7.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds everyone in the church that the Gospel message, the story of the messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, was a story that God promised, through the prophets, hundreds of years before it happened.  It was because of God’s love for us that he created a way for us to be rescued from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  Just as Joseph rescued Mary by taking her home to live with him, just as Joseph chose hope, love, and grace, so did God.  Just as Joseph showed mercy and grace to Mary, God showed mercy and grace to us by sending his Son to rescue us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we received these gifts from God and, Paul says, because we have received these gifts from God, through Jesus Christ, we are, in turn, called by God to share this Good News with the rest of the world.

Paul is clear that the message of Jesus Christ was never just a message for the Jews, but has always been a message for the Jews, the Gentiles, and for the entire world.  And while I am sure that Paul didn’t intend for this to be Christmas message, it certainly is one because when Paul says that the Gentiles are being called to belong to Jesus Christ it reminds us of this:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:8-10)

Good news.  For all the people.

We have been given grace, so that we might give grace to those around us, to the people we love, to the people we fear, to the people we hate, to the insiders, to the outsiders, to the connected, to the outcasts, to citizens, to foreigners…

…to everyone.

The world would not have heard the message of Jesus if Joseph didn’t have enough faith and trust in God to show mercy and grace to Mary.

And two thousand years of history hasn’t changed that.

One of the clear messages in the story of Christmas is that we are called to share God’s mercy and grace so that everyone around us can hear the message of Jesus.

As we leave this place, let us remember that we are God’s agents of grace.

 

 

 


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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 Don Rickles Christmas Story

A Don Rickles Christmas Story

December 05, 2019

(Meditation for Communion at Copeland Oaks)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 3:7-18

I probably couldn’t use this illustration in a younger audience, but I’m confident that everyone here will understand.  Do you remember when Don Rickles was invited to speak at Ronald Reagan’s inauguration?  There was some concern about what he would say because, well, because he was Don Rickles, the master of the put-down.  But second, because it was no secret that Don Rickles was a Democrat and had actively campaigned for Ronald Reagan’s opponent.  Maybe because that was back when people had some sense, when you could count on an entertainer to do the right thing, and when politicians had a sense of humor, but he was, ultimately invited, he accepted the invitation, and his roast of the president was absolutely hilarious.

But, imagine if you went to hear an evangelist and were attacked in the way that Don Rickles roasted people.  And then, imagine that the roasts weren’t funny, but instead were deadly serious.  It seems difficult to believe that such a thing would be a good formula to reach people and draw them to any kind of faith in God.  But as weird as that sounds, that is almost exactly how John the Baptist preached to the people who came to see him… at least at first.  In Luke 3:7-18, as John the Baptist proclaims the coming of the Messiah and the coming judgment, but also offers helpful instruction… and hope.

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

I cannot remember a single time when I have taken classes on preaching or public speaking, when anyone thought it was a good idea to begin a message by openly insulting and taunting our listeners.  In fact, I am virtually certain that, unless you were Don Rickles, this is a bad idea most of the time.  But this is exactly what John does.  John begins by calling everyone snakes and talks about judgment and the wrath of God.

According to John, no one can be saved because they were born in the church, born to people who went to church, or because they themselves go to church.  For John, the only real measure of godliness is the fruit that grows out of repentance.

Today, some of us would wonder what the fruit of repentance would look like, and the people in the crowd felt exactly the same way.  John’s answer is to share what you have, with people who don’t have any.  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked.  But even that isn’t enough because some people want to know specifics.  Tax collectors, who were widely considered to be cheats, scoundrels, and enemy collaborators, are told to just do their jobs as honestly as they could.  Soldiers, who were, in fact, the enemy, were told to do their job, not to take money they weren’t entitled to take, and not to accuse innocent people.  It is interesting to note, that although both groups were widely hated because of what they did, John did not advise them to quit or to change jobs, but simply to do them honestly.

John then tells the people of the coming Messiah who will bring judgment as he separates the wheat (which is fruit) from the chaff (which is basically useless).  And he appealed to the people that they should hear the good news of the coming Messiah.

And, although an important part of the Advent message is a message of repentance and the need to get our hearts right before God, but John tells us that repentance is just the first step.  What comes next, producing fruit, is just as critical.  Fruit trees without fruit will be cut down and burned in the fire.  The wheat and the chaff will be separated, and the useless chaff burned in the fire.  John warns everyone, including us, that our purpose is to live a life of fruitfulness, to do our jobs well, but honestly, and to willingly share what we have with those who do not have.

But despite the Don Rickles style delivery, and despite all the talk about repentance, judgement, and burning chaff, John’s message ultimately is a message of hope.  Although John openly condemned the leaders of the church who put on a good show but used their position for their own benefit while abusing the elderly and the poor, John also made it plain that even those who were widely thought to be the enemies of Israel and the enemies of God, could seek repentance, receive forgiveness, and be restored and welcomed into to God’s family.

Don Rickles’ attacks could be absolutely scathing, but they included just enough truth to be funny.  John the Baptist’s delivery was just as, if not more abusive but as angry as offensive as it might have sounded to the rich, it was a beautiful song of welcome, forgiveness, and hope to the poor, the helpless, hopeless, and the outcasts.

As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to that same mission today.  To challenge the establishment, to confront power, to share what we have with those who are in need, and to sing God’s message of hope to the poor, the hungry, the helpless, the hopeless, the outsiders, and the outcasts.

No matter where we are, no matter who we are, that is Good News worth sharing.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio 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.

Pastor’s Report – 2019

Pastor’s Report – 2019

Note:  Each year I write a Pastor’s Report for our annual Charge Conference.  The following is my report for this year:


As I reflect on the past year, there are several things that I remember.  While there are no single, earth-shattering, monumental achievement to report, there are many small, sometimes incremental, changes that are building a sense of excitement and hope for the future.  Some of these are things that Christ Church has been doing for a long time but sometimes in a new way, others are new altogether, some are growing, and some are happening again after a long absence.

A class of confirmands graduated and joined the church and there have been two new member classes that have, so far, resulted in two new members, in addition to those from confirmation and transfer.  Among these were also two baptisms and a wedding.  We have trained and certified several of our members for the UMVIM Early Response Team disaster response mission opportunities that may arise in the future.  And several of our Sunday school classes have been discussing the call of scripture, and the command of Jesus Christ, to be invitational as well as how we can overcome our fear of inviting others to meet Jesus.

Our United Methodist Women continue to be a strong, positive, and missional influence on our church, our community, and beyond as they reach out in many ways and in many places with the love of Jesus.  Not least of these efforts is their continuing Cooking for the Soul mission, in which they are teaching the women of our community the basics on how to cook at home and save money by cooking from scratch instead of buying prepared foods.  These classes continue to be filled to capacity and often have a waiting list to get in.  It is my hope that, with a little encouragement, these classes might be expanded to include other subjects such as basic sewing, or home/auto maintenance and repair.

Likewise, the meetings of our church trustees have taken on a new tone as we are no longer just discussing issues of church maintenance and repair, but ways that we can make our church more inviting, friendly, useful, and available to new and emerging ministry opportunities.  Among these discussions are facility upgrades like expanding the areas served by air conditioning, new interior and exterior signage, electronic defibrillators, and upgrades to our electrical service to more easily facilitate our plan to once again prepare and serve over one thousand Thanksgiving dinners to the people of our community (which was a new ministry which we took over from another church last year).

The support of our entire church for mission, of all types, local, national, and international continues to be strong and passionate.  The people of Christ Church are often asking how we can do more and contribute to ongoing projects in unexpected ways without being asked.  We continue to support, both financially and with many volunteer hours, the Alliance Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, and other community missions, support Red Bird Mission and its outreach centers in Kentucky, provide scholarships to school children in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as contribute to the construction of a new high school in Harrisburg, Liberia through our conference Farmer to Farmer mission.  And extensive as it is, this is certainly not a comprehensive list.  Christ Church and its people are doing the work of Jesus Christ in so many places, in so many ways, that it’s often difficult to keep track of them all.

There is an old question that I have heard in various places, from church conferences, to district superintendents, to books, to internet memes that asks, “If your church were to close tomorrow, would anybody notice?”  Christ Church can answer that question with a resounding “YES!”  As I reflect on our activities of the last year, I can say with confidence that we are here, we are active, and that Christ Church is making a difference in Alliance, in Stark County, and around the world.

I Love You, But…

I Love You, But…

June 30, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14                Luke 9:51-62              Galatians 5:1, 13-25

 

Have you ever watched those Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel?  Or even old westerns, or some of the romanticized war movies?  In a great many of those movies, there is a scene where the two romantic leads go their separate ways, and there is always a conversation that runs along the lines of, “I love you honey, but this thing is bigger than two of us.”  It’s a phrase that’s been around for so long, and used in so many books and movies, that no one can even guess where it was used first.  It’s a cliché in movies, but it has obvious, and tragic, uses in “real life” too. 

Whether it has been said out loud or not, how many times have relationships ended because one person was more in love with their independence than they were with the other person?  Or their commitment to another person, or an addiction, or any number of things was greater than their commitment to the other romantic lead.  In these cases, the phrase “I love you, but…” can just as easily be replaced with, I don’t love you enough to be what you need, or what you want.  Or maybe it’s too harsh to boil that down to just, “I don’t love you enough.”

Those kinds of break-up stories aren’t limited to romantic relationships.  We leave jobs for many of the same reasons and tell our employers that our families, or our checkbooks, or our feeling of self-fulfillment is more important to us than they are.  And unfortunately, our relationships with God are often much the same.  Too often, we tell God, through our actions, if not our words, that other things are more important to us than God is.

But before we talk about abandonment, let’s begin this morning with a story that illustrates true commitment and dedication.  We begin this morning with one of the greatest stories of transition and succession in all of history.  As the great prophet Elijah, advanced in age and near death, comes to the end of his career, he is followed and assisted in everything that he does by his protégé, Elisha.  And, as God calls Elijah home, we hear this story in 2 Kings 2:1-14.

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Elisha declares that he will never leave his mentor Elijah even though they both knew that this was the day that God would take Elijah from the earth.  And, as they travel, they discover that all the other prophets of Israel know that as well.  Each time they pass by one of the places where God’s prophets gather, the prophets in that place already know what’s going on.  And when the time finally comes, and God sends a chariot of fire to carry Elijah away, it was necessary for the horses of the chariot to separate them because Elisha stayed true to his word and refused to leave his mentor’s side.  And even then, he tears his garment in a sign of mourning that they have been separated. 

Elisha was true to his word no matter what.

But the reverse is true for everyone who makes those same kinds of promises to Jesus in Luke 9:51-62.

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The Samaritans don’t want Jesus because they knew he was traveling to the temple in Jerusalem and not to their temple.  Their position was, “We love you, but only if you worship like us.”  The disciples wanted to destroy the Samaritans and it was as if they were saying, “We love you, but we were hoping you would destroy anyone who isn’t like us.”  The next man offers to follow Jesus, but Jesus knows that he won’t.  Jesus knows that what he’s really saying is, “I love you, but not if you’re homeless.”  The next two are willing, but essentially answer Jesus by saying, “I love you, but only when it’s convenient.”  But none of these answers rise to the level of Jesus’ expectation.  Jesus says that when you set out to plow a field, you focus on what is ahead and not on what is behind.  The focus of the farmer must be on farming and if it isn’t then he should probably be doing something else.

What God wants is the kind of dedication that Elisha had for Elijah, a single-minded determination that was focused exclusively on his love for his mentor.  For Elisha, “I will not leave you” meant exactly that and nothing else.  Only God himself could separate them.  And that’s what Jesus wants for us as his followers as well.  When we are called to be the followers of Jesus, we are called to love him with our whole heart, but that’s often harder than we expect it to be when put into practice.  In real life, we are easily distracted by the things that make us feel good.  In Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Paul explains it this way:

5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

In Paul’s mind, because we have been set free from sin, then we ought to do everything we can to live lives separate from sin so that we do not become burdened and tied to the same sin from which we were once set free.  As Americans, we often talk about enjoying freedom, and many times that discussion involves talking about how we are free to do the things that scripture teaches us not to do.  But Paul’s idea is quite different.  Real freedom, he says, is not found in indulging ourselves and doing things that feel good, instead, real freedom is found in service to others, humility, love, and obedience to God.  The Spirit of God and the desires of our fleshly bodies often run contrary to one another.  Our freedom means that we should not do whatever we want to do because Jesus died so that we could be set free from sin, not set free for sin. 

But, just to be sure that we are getting his point, Paul lists some of the common things of the flesh that cause human beings to go astray, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”  When we pursue these things, we wander from the path of salvation and risk losing our inheritance altogether.  Instead, we are to seek to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.  When we are truly following the example of Jesus Christ, our neighbors and friends will see things like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” in our lives.

When we say “I love you” to God, it shouldn’t include exceptions that make it sound like “I love you, but…”  God wants us to love him without reservation, with all our heart, all our mind, and with all our soul.

If we want to follow Jesus, and become like Jesus, then we have to give one hundred percent.

If we want to bear spiritual fruit, “I love you, but…”

…is not going to get us where we want to go.

 

 

 

 

 


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

Never Tire of Doing Good

 

Today we woke up to news that several tornadoes touched down near Dayton.

Sunday, we talked about flooding in Oklahoma and I asked our congregation to consider donating toward the construction and operation of a new high school in Harrisburg, Liberia.  Before that, there was flooding in Iowa and Nebraska and we were raising money for a Habitat for Humanity house here in Alliance, Ohio.  Before that, it was something else, and there was something else before that, and so on.

There seems to be a never-ending stream of need.

There is always someone, or some organization, asking for our money or our time.  And, after a while, we can be tempted to shut it all out, to numb ourselves to the needs of the people around us, and just live quietly in our own world while we pretend that the rest of the world will be okay without our help or participation.  This is not uncommon.  In fact, there’s even a scientific name for it.

It’s called “compassion fatigue.”

The constant demand for our attention, for our money, for our time, and for our effort can wear us down.  We get tired of helping and we grow weary of even being asked.

But this isn’t new to the twenty first century.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica, he writes about people, inside the church, who won’t do their share of the work but still show up to get food and other help from the rest of the church.  It was bad enough that they even instituted an official policy, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  But even so, some of the idle non-workers were spending their time gossiping about everyone else and it was disrupting the entire church.  People were frustrated.  They were tired.  They felt as if they were being taken advantage of.

They had compassion fatigue.

But after Paul calls out the busybodies and urges them to earn the food that they were eating, he sends this message to the rest of the church who were already doing more than their fair share:

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Never tire of doing good.

I know that someone always seems to be asking for something.  I know that sometimes it feels like someone is trying to take advantage of us.  I know that the pleas for disasters and calls to alleviate poverty and suffering from across the country and around the world seem to be almost constant and never-ending.

But it has always been that way and it will almost certainly continue as long as we draw breath.

Three out of the four gospel writers record Jesus words, “You will always have the poor among you…”  (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8).  And these words remind us that until the world is remade at the end of time, there will always be people in need.

But, as the followers of Jesus Christ we have been called to do something about it.  We can’t do everything, but we can do something.  John Wesley put it this way:

Do all the good you can.

By all the means you can.

In all the ways you can.

In all the places you can.

At all the times you can.

To all the people you can.

As long as ever you can.

 

We have been both blessed and called by God to be his agents in the world.  We are the only Jesus that most people will ever see.  We are his hands and his feet in a hurting, suffering, hungry world.

May we never tire of doing good.

 

Blessings,

Pastor John

Madelon J. Andrews – Eulogy and Obituary

Eulogy for Madelon J. Andrews

May 13, 2019

A Memory shared by Mary Neese

 

When I first met Madelon, I had a feeling that we were going to be good friends.  We talked a lot about our families and other things.  Then the 10-cent sale came along.  When we first started, I worked in the gym and I think she did too.  We would kid each other about different things, then one year, Denise asked me if I would work the boutique, and I was so glad when Madelon decided to work with me.  It was a lot of work, but we had fun doing it.  The last time we worked it, we were both so tired at the end that we both said that we were getting too old for the job, so we retired, but I wouldn’t change my time that we had together for anything.  During the time we had together, we learned a lot about each other.  She was a special person in my life, and I am glad that we had all that time together.

 

 

A Life “Full”

by Pastor John Partridge

 

I was told quite clearly that this time of remembrance is not a time of mourning but is intended to be a celebration of the life that was Madelon J. Andrews.  She was our friend, coworker, family member, grandmother, and mother and it is without dispute or doubt that her life has deeply enriched all of ours and, in fact, for many of us who are gathered here, much of who we are is because of what Madelon was and what she taught us.

I want to confess, up front, the majority of the words that I have prepared for today are not my own.  Steve has coordinated and collected stories from Madelon’s family as well as from some of her church friends and that is what most what you are about to hear.  All that I have done is to put in a “file tabs” to classify them into a handful of ideas.  Madelon’s was a life that was “full” in  many ways.

First, Madelon was help-“full.”   Her life was all about helping others.  Sandy Watkins remembered that you could always count on Madelon.  If she told you that she would do something, then you absolutely knew that she would do it.  But not only was Madelon helpful, she was also faith-“full.”  Madelon was always volunteering.  When Park Church first launched the Free Store, Madelon was one of the very first volunteers, and every Thursday she was, faithfully, at work at the Good Neighbors community food bank in Goodyear Heights.

Madelon was all about helping others.  Whether she was at the Free Store sorting clothes, or greeting people as they registered at Good Neighbors, Madelon was always in the middle of things.  She spent one day each week at the Lawndale Elementary School helping in the Kindergarten class.  She would help out doing whatever was needed, but most likely would be found reading to the kids.  She was affectionately known as Gramma Madelon.  And with that ongoing relationship with the teachers, she became a liaison to Park Church, where a yearly collection of school supplies for the kids was developed, as well as having a luncheon for the teachers before the start of each new school year.  And, of course, she was also a part of the 10-cent sale at Park Church for many years.  She would be here, sorting clothes with Mary Neese, Johanna Henline, Nancy Reichman, and others.  On occasion, Madelon would find a, um, “unique” outfit and model it for everyone.  I’m told that there are pictures, but discretion forbids us from showing them to you at this time.

Pastor Linda Somerville remembers that it was Madelon, Johanna, and Mary who were always trying to find the flashiest, cheapest, tackiest, jewelry and show it off at Bible Study.  And of course, one of the advantages of sorting things for the ten-cent sale was the opportunity to “pre-shop” the donated items.  When Pastor Linda had knee surgery and couldn’t make it to the ten-cent sale one year, it was Madelon who found the tackiest items in the entire room that year, put them in the biggest pill case that you’ve ever seen, and “gifted” them to the pastor, during Sunday worship, in front of everyone.  The funny thing is, Pastor Linda is still using that pill case.  Pastor Linda also remembers what she refers to as “that spunky nature of hers” that sometimes displayed itself as an incredible courage in the face of really unpleasant things.  But, despite her courage, spunkiness, and determination, Linda also noticed the softness that Madelon displayed whenever she was with Matthew and TJ.

In the last year, despite her own problems, Madelon was helping her across-the-street-neighbor, Carol.  Carol has had trouble with her vision, and so whenever Carol needed to go shopping, or pick up a prescription, Madelon would pick her up and take here where she needed to go… but that usually meant that they would also have to stop off at Wink’s in Barberton to get a hamburger while they were out.

But Madelon’s life wasn’t just about being “faithful” and “helpful” but it was also simply “full” of love.  Madelon was all about family.  Family gatherings, family celebrations, family vacations, and supporting her family in all of their activities whether they were band shows, concerts, award ceremonies, dance recitals, basketball, soccer, or baseball games.  Our family, even though we were sort of extended in-laws, benefitted from Madelon’s sense of family too.  Each year it was as if our kids had an extra set of grandparents because they could expect some kind of Christmas present whenever we met for the annual Thanksgiving feast.  Patti and I, as well as my mom, my brother Dean, and pretty much anybody who showed up, always went home with a big box of mixed nuts or something as well.

The story of their family vacations has some history to it that is worth retelling. In the early years, Susie’s family would go on vacation and pull a tent camper.  But as the family began to grow, and as siblings got married, camping turned into large family vacations at the beach.  First there was Ocean City, then Assateague Island with the wild horses roaming around, then Bethany Beach where it rained so hard that the family all has memories of walking together in the flooded streets.  And then, finally, for many years it was Top Sail Island.  And, as we remember family vacations, I am supposed to mention to the Madelon’s family these three words: Red. Hot. Dogs.  I don’t know what that means.  You’ll have to ask if one of them will tell you about it.

As a sidebar to Madelon’s vacation stories, it was obvious that Madelon never met a stranger.  When the family started taking trips to Top Sail Island, they would have to make a couple of stops along the way.  And they lost count of the times that they came out of the bathrooms to find Madelon talking to the occupants of the car next to them.  She would ask them where they were going, what they were going to do there, and on and on.  It only took a moment for Madelon to notice a license plate or someone walking their dog, or simply asking, “where are you going?” and she was off making new friends and having a great conversation with someone who, just a moment ago had been a total stranger.

Madelon loved her grandchildren, and she loved it whenever they could cove to visit her.  Whether it was just an overnighter, or for a week, it was a special time.  Going to the Akron Zoo was always a must, arts and crafts were usually a part of their time together and, on occasion, a cooking class or two.  At some point, Madelon had taken some painting classes that had been offered by a former Park Church pianist and so, when the kids came to visit, Madelon would practice her newfound techniques with them.  Sometimes those visits included a night or two out at the Acres in the trailer, and with each of the kids there was something special.  With each one it was different.  There were always special breakfasts and suppers, for Matt, TJ, and Stacey, it was spaghetti and meatballs, and with Madelon, Cameron, and Patrick, it was Galuch’s Pizza.

Madelon’s love of her family was obvious to everyone of us who had eyes.  Sandy remembers that Madelon only had praise and love for her family and was always proud of all of them.  If Madelon didn’t show up at Bible Study, everyone knew that she was probably enjoying some time with her grandchildren.  Whenever Susie would go to Jamaica on another mission trip, Madelon would be anxious, and worry, and ask her friends for special prayer.  And it was just as obvious that Madelon never stopped missing Roger because he never hesitated to tell her friends how life without him would never be the same.

But with that, we’ve circled back to “faithful.”  In the last couple of months, Madelon longed to be home with her Jesus.  However, before she left, she made out a short, and somewhat unusual, bucket list.  Rather than list a bunch of things that she wanted to do, Madelon made out a list of foods that she wanted to eat before she met Jesus face to face.  I don’t have the whole list, but there were angel wings, taco salad, chili, cherry pie, coleslaw from Whitehouse, a bear claw, and an apricot and cheese Danish.

Madelon had a strong faith.  In the midst of fighting cancer for the last year, she worked through it, and she always knew that God was in control.  She longed to go home to be with Jesus, and to see Roger again, as well as other old friends.  In the last couple of weeks, Madelon would comment to Susie, “I’m so tired, I’m so tired.”  There was one day, after Susie had moved into the house to care for her, that Susie looked in on Madelon to check on her and to see how she was sleeping or to watch her breathe, and as she did, Madelon rolled over, looked at Susie, and said, “I’m not dead yet?”  To which Susie answered, “No, Mom, you’re not dead yet.”  This was, again, another indication of Madelon’s faith and her desire to go home to glory.

It was Madelon’s prayer, and it remains the prayer of her family, that all of us could have the same kind of confidence in our eternal destination that Madelon did.  Knowing Jesus, and accepting his invitation to follow him, and to be adopted into his family, can result in exactly that kind of confidence that we will also meet Jesus face to face and share stores of weird outfits, of cheap jewelry, of family, of faith, and of love.  If you don’t have that kind of confidence, and you’d like to find out how to have it, Madelon wouldn’t want you to leave here today without asking Steve, or Susie, or one of us pastors about how you can have it too.

Madelon Andrews lived a life that was full.  She was helpful, faithful, courageous, dependable, committed, and full of love for her family, and for everyone around her.  Madelon’s entire life was a life that was, in every way…

…full.

And in her fullness, Madelon Andrews has poured out love, hope, grace, determination, courage, faithfulness, love and many other things into all of us, and into the lives of all the people around her.

May we, through her example, do half as well.

 

To Those I Love and Those Who Love Me

A poem found among Madelon’s personal notes to her family

When I am gone, release me, let me go.

I have so many things to see and do,

You mustn’t tie yourself to me with tears.

Be thankful for our beautiful years.

I gave you my love,

You can only guess,

How much you gave to me in happiness.

I thank you for the love you each have shown,

But now it’s time I traveled on alone.

So, grieve awhile if grieve you must,

Then let your grief be comforted by trust.

It’s only for a time that we must part,

So bless the memories within your heart.

I won’t be far away, for life goes on,

So if you need me, call and I will come.

Though you can’t see me or touch me, I’ll be near,

And if you listen with your heart, you’ll hear,

All my love around you soft and clear.

And then, when you must come this way alone,

I’ll greet you with a smile and say,

“Welcome Home!”

(author unknown – possibly Ardis Marletta)

 

 

 

Obituary for Madelon J. Andrews

 

Madelon J. Andrews, 87, of New Franklin passed away on May 10, 2019. She worked as a nurse for over ten years at Edwin Shaw. She was a member of Park United Methodist Church and volunteered at Good Neighbors Food Pantry and in the kindergarten class at Lawndale Elementary School, where she was known as Grandma Madelon.

Madelon was preceded by her husband of 53 years, Roger Andrews. She is survived by her children, Douglas (Tami) Andrews, Greg (Tammy) Andrews and Susan (Stephen) Partridge; grandchildren, Stacey, Matthew, TJ, Cameron, Madelon and Patrick.

A Celebration Of Life service will be held at Park United Methodist Church, 2308 24th St. S.W. on Monday at 7 p.m. officiated by Rev. John Partridge. The family will receive friends an hour before from 6 to 7. Donations, if desired may be made to Good Neighbors Food Pantry.

 

(Published in Akron Beacon Journal May 12 to May 13, 2019)