Not Normal (Yet)

Not Normal (Yet)

Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”  And that kind of sums up where we are in our struggle to return to normal from this global pandemic.  Some things are returning to normal but, as it has been for the last fifteen months, “normal” remains a moving target.  Even so, things are getting better and as they do, our church is returning to more familiar routines.  But even as we move toward the familiar, our routines will be different than they used to be. 

What does that mean?

Well, let’s talk about a few of our routines and how they might be different.

  1. We’re moving back to indoor church.  Hooray!  But being indoors isn’t going to be exactly like it used to be (yet).  We are returning indoors, but we’re still concerned about the spread of COVID, so some things will remain different for a while.  Sunday school classes and church committees are returning to in-person meetings, but not all of them.  Not everyone feels comfortable meeting in groups and some committee meetings are sometimes more convenient online, so some of those groups will remain online.

We are going to worship indoors, but worship still isn’t going to be the same as it used to be.  We are going to take the offering differently, we will be space ourselves out more than we used to, we plan to wear masks when we sing, and some people will likely choose to wear masks all the time. 

  • The building isn’t how I remember it.  We’ve made some changes.  Some of them are pandemic related, and some aren’t.  Our trustees have not been hibernating for the last year.  I’ve mentioned before that there were new lights installed above the stairs by the handicap entrance and in the lounge, but most of you will soon be seeing those changes for the first time so it will look a little different.  The trustees have other projects in progress that haven’t happened yet, so you can expect more changes.  In part because of COVID and in-part because of security concerns, we just aren’t going to unlock as many doors as we used to.  Many of you won’t even notice, but we will put up signs and let you know what’s going on so that we can all get used to entering through the doors that are open.
  • Money.  Honestly, this one is entirely up to you.  To everyone’s credit, last year, our giving remained steady even though we stayed home and made the transition to online worship.  But 2021 has not been kind to us.  I’m not sure that there is any single reason that can explain it.  We got out of the habit of coming to church.  We got out of the habit of putting our offering in the plate.  We got worried about our personal finances and cut back.  It could be any of those, or all of those, or a hundred other things.  But our offerings changed.  Dramatically.  I won’t belabor the point here, because our members will soon be receiving a letter that will go into more details.  For now, let’s just say that our budget, our staff, and all sorts of things will be facing substantial changes if 2021 doesn’t start to look more like 2019.
  • Dress. I don’t really know.  But I suspect that over the last year, many of you have grown accustomed to attending church in your bunny slippers.  I’m sure you don’t want to show up half-dressed, but if a year of worshiping online makes you feel like you want to dress more comfortably, I’m pretty sure no one will mind.  I’m sure I’ll go back to wearing a suit at some point, but I admit that I rather liked being able to preach wearing denim pants and hiking boots.  The important thing is that we all get back in the habit of going to church and being together.
  • People.  While we were online, we’ve had a few new people begin to worship with us.  Even though they have been “in church” with us for months, they will be unfamiliar to most of you.  I hope that you will make them feel welcome.  If you are one of those folks that joined us online, I hope that will join us in-person even though almost all of us will be unfamiliar to you.  At the same time, I’m sure that there are a few folks who just got out of the habit of coming to church and won’t be returning.  I hope it isn’t many.  And I hope it isn’t you.  We are the church.  We are the body of Christ.  All of us.  Together.

I’m sure that’s not all.  I’m sure that there are changes I forgot to mention, and others that I haven’t learned about, or that haven’t happened yet.  But life is all about change.  As we return to in-person, indoor worship, things are going to seem more like normal.  But, at the same time, not… quite… normal.  Whenever you feel comfortable, I hope that you will return to worship in-person.  And, until you do, we are working hard to continue some sort of online worship.  Although that may face some changes too.

Whatever happens…

“It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” 


Blessings,

Pastor John


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


Real Freedom (and Pandemic Paul)

We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.” 

But that’s exactly what we’re doing.

It’s become a cliché to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”  But this week, I’ve been thinking church should be asking itself what Paul would do.  Of course, anyone who has spent any time in church or Vacation Bible School has heard about Paul the Apostle.  Paul was born in Tarsus which was a part of what is now the nation of Turkey.  But despite being born far from Rome, Paul was born to parents who were both Jews and Roman citizens. 

There were privileges that came with being a Roman citizen.  It was as if the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights only applied to citizens, and you carried those rights wherever you went, anywhere in the Roman world.  Non-citizens didn’t have the same rights and slaves certainly did not have them.  Romans could not be beaten or treated harshly, and while they could be arrested, they couldn’t be tried in any court outside of Rome but had to be returned to Rome, or to a Roman court, for trial.  In modern language, citizens were privileged.

But Paul didn’t always use that privilege.  Paul found that sometimes his privilege, his rights, his citizenship, and even his freedom, was a disadvantage when sharing the message of Jesus with the people around him.  In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul said:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Even though Paul was not a slave, he sometimes gave up the rights that he had so that he could be heard by the slaves and share the message of Jesus with them.  Even though Paul knew that following Jesus released him from some of the dietary restrictions and rules of the Jewish faith, he would follow those customs when he was with the Jews so that they would be able to hear his words when he shared the gospel.  But when Paul was living among the Greeks and other people who were not Jewish, he would follow their customs for the same reason. 

Wherever Paul went, he did whatever he could to allow people to hear his message.  And that often meant giving up something important.  Paul found that his rights, his privileges, and even his freedom, got in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.  Slaves wouldn’t hear a message that was preached by someone who used their citizenship and their freedom to act better than them.  Jews wouldn’t listen to someone who was an outsider and violated their religious laws.  And people everywhere feel more comfortable around a person who respects their customs.

But what does that mean to us?  What would Paul do if he lived among us today?

As we near what we hope is the end of this pandemic crisis in the United States, we are hearing a lot about rights and privileges.  We have a right to move about freely.  We are free to choose whether we will wear a mask.  And those persons who are vaccinated are being granted special rights and additional freedoms. 

But is exercising those freedoms the right thing to do?

I’ve seen churches advertising that they are “Open and Mask-less.”  Vendors are selling signs saying that vaccinated persons are welcome in their church.  And I’ve seen churches that say things like, “All are welcome.  Unvaccinated persons must wear masks.”  I understand that these are the rights that are given to us under the United States Constitution, and the privileges of having access to the Covid-19 vaccine.  But will exercising these rights prevent us from sharing the message of the gospel?

It was once common for churches to ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves.  That custom made me so uncomfortable that I vowed never to return to any church that made me do it.  And so, I worry that requiring unvaccinated persons to wear masks will make them feel unwelcome.  We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.”  But that’s exactly what these signs are saying.  Anything that draws a line between “us” and “them” is exactly what Paul spent his life trying to avoid.

If Paul were writing today, I wonder if his words wouldn’t be, “Though I am vaccinated, and am free to do as I wish, I have made myself to be unvaccinated, to win as many as possible.  To the unvaccinated, I have become unvaccinated to win the unvaccinated.  With the mask wearers, I have worn masks, to win those that wear masks.”  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

We have rights.  But what if using them turns people away?  In the twenty-first century, like Paul, we must be careful that our rights, privileges, and freedoms do not get in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Blessings,

Pastor John


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


Edit

Toxic Negativity

Toxic Negativity

We are being poisoned every day. 

And what’s worse, is that many of us are poisoning ourselves. 

I don’t mean that we’re sitting around drinking arsenic or antifreeze, and I’m not even thinking about more ordinary poisons like cigarettes or alcohol.  But in many ways, the poison that we are consuming is just as real, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse.

The poison that I’m talking about is the negativity that surrounds us and seems to beat us down at every turn.  The newspaper and the evening news are filled with bad news, the radio station playing in our cars and office spaces, breaks in every ten or twenty minutes to share still more horror, mayhem, fear, and death.  I’m sure that some of you think that I am exaggerating. But am I?  Even a little bit of poison, the tiniest bit of arsenic or cyanide, taken in small doses, accumulates over time and will eventually kill us or cause irreparable harm.  And I’m convinced that living under a constant bombardment of negativity can do the same thing.

I’m sure that no one’s death certificate is going to say that their cause of death was “negativity,” but I’m equally certain that that this everyday toxic stew contributes to deaths that are listed as heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, depression, suicide, and other health issues that wear our health down over time.

But what can we do about it?

We don’t control the news and we have no control over the pandemic, so what control do we have? 

And the answer is, more than you think.

I once had a coworker that radiated negativity in the way that Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen is surrounded by a cloud of dirt.  Any, and every, conversation with her became a conversation about how terrible life was.  A fender-bender became a sermon about how the world hated her.  There was never any recognition that she, and her son, were alive and unhurt.  It was all about the expense, the inconvenience, the trauma, and on, and on, and on.  No matter what it was about, after a conversation with her, I would inevitably walk away depressed as if I had somehow contracted her contagion.  She was a nice enough person, but her constant focus on the negative caused people to stay away from her.

My experience with that coworker has always reminded me that we have choices.  We ewget to choose our attitude toward the things that happen to us.  We get to choose our focus.  We get to choose what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we talk about, and with whom we associate. 

We make our own stew.

The church in Philippi was concerned about Paul, about his health, and about the various imprisonments and other difficulties that he had faced.  And Paul writes back to encourage them, and to remind them not to dwell on the bad news that they had heard.  He said,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:8-15)

Paul had been repeatedly arrested, imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, flogged, and driven out of town.  He had every reason to complain.  And yet, he wrote to ask his friends not to do that but instead to be content in whatever circumstances they found themselves.  Rather than focus on our trouble, our pain, or any of the bad news that surrounds us, Paul encourages us to focus on the good things in our lives, things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and anything that is excellent or praiseworthy.

I’m not suggesting that we should be ignorant of what’s going on in the world around us. It’s important to be informed and know what’s going on, but don’t allow yourself to simmer endlessly in a toxic stew of negativity.

We get to choose our attitude toward the things that happen to us.  We get to choose our focus.  We get to choose what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we talk about, and with whom we associate. 

Let’s do our best to look for the silver lining, to look for the places where God is at work, look for the blessing, look for the good in every bad situation, and focus on the things that good, pure, noble, and praiseworthy.  Let’s spend more time with people who encourage us, spend more time encouraging others, and less time dwelling on the negativity that wears at our souls.

We make our own stew.

Let’s make it a good one.

Blessings,

Pastor John


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


2020: How Did We Do?

2020: How Did We Do?

At the end of every January, we file our church’s End of Year reports.  And even though only a few months have passed since we filled out our Charge Conference reports, it is useful to look at some of the numbers and see how we did over the last twelve months.  I think that it may be particularly useful to look at how we did during such a strange and difficult year when many of those months we were grappling with the restrictions and changing demands of a global pandemic.

Among the first things that the report form asks are questions about church membership, and there we continue to see a significant decline due to the deaths of our members.  In 2019 we removed ten members from our membership rolls for this reason and in 2020 that number climbed to eighteen.  We mourn the passing of these members and we will, of course, remember them on All Saints Day.  But these losses challenge us as a church because even though many of them had not been able to actively attend worship, we feel the losses not only in the loss of our friendships, but also as we count attendance and in giving.

In this unusual year of largely virtual worship, we wonder about church attendance and understanding that number this year is a lot like trying to catch a greased pig.  On our Charge Conference paperwork, we reported our average attendance from January to March up to the point that we stopped meeting in person, and we will use that same number on one line of our End of Year reporting as well.  That attendance number (75) will look almost the same as the number that we reported last year (80), but only represents three winter months and, of course, doesn’t include any information about the last nine months of the year so, for most of us, that feels inadequate. 

We have kept track of our online presence and activity through various social media statistics, but because there are many ways that those number could be reported. Without going into too much confusing detail, every week I watch several numbers. 

Our online worship services on YouTube produce daily updates on viewers and traffic and, since it quickly became obvious that not everyone watches at 10:15 am on Sunday, I record our “official” traffic numbers seven days after each video goes live online.  That means that, unlike church worship where we simply count the number of people in the sanctuary, we don’t have a real count of our attendance for each week until the following Sunday.  With that in mind, when we first transitioned to online worship, Easter Sunday had an “attendance” of about 117, Palm Sunday had 123, and Christmas Eve also had 123. 

And while those number may sound a little low, compared to what we might have expected in person, in the online world, an attendance of 123 represents 123 different computers, not 123 people.  And, since we know that most of our congregation doesn’t join our online service to worship alone, we know that the number of people is much larger.  Among the churches in our United Methodist connection, churches are assuming that the number of computers should be multiplied by anywhere from 1.3 to 2.0 (or more) to arrive at what honestly is a guess at the actual number of people who are participating.  That means that if 123 unique computers connected to our Christmas Eve service, then somewhere between 159 to 246 (or more) were worshiping with us.  Our average, over 40 weeks of online worship, is about 78 “clicks” or “views” and 54 uniquely identified computers.  And, if you assume that more than one person is typically at every computer, that’s not out of line with what we might have expected in person.  The number on online worshipers that we reported on our End of Year report form was 81.

It is also worth noting that, over the course of the year, 7 more people have started following our church Facebook page (for a total 227), we have gained an additional 56 subscribers to our online sermon postings (for a total 393), and 57 people now subscribe to the YouTube channel where our worship services are posted (45 more than last year).   But all those numbers come with assumptions and guesses.  We know that all our members have not been able to join us digitally, we know that the numbers get confused when we have parking lot services as well as an online service, we know that some people are joining us online who live outside our community, and we have no idea how many people will feel comfortable enough to return to in-person worship, even when it’s safe to do so.  What we do know, is that since moving to an online format, the number of people who have been participating in worship since March has remained consistent. 

Not unexpectedly, we fell a little behind where we were financially in 2019.  Giving was off a little, there was no “loose” offering to count with a digital offering plate, we had no income from “Burgers in the Park,” and the economic uncertainty of these unusual times influenced giving.  But the changes that we made also led us to spend less, while also increasing our giving to missions.  While some churches are desperately struggling, the people of Christ Church have been incredibly faithful and with only a small infusion from our endowment, we have been able to remain current on all our bills, pay all our apportionments, complete several capital improvement projects in our building, and support all our missions at the same, or at an increased level.  I am incredibly proud to be a part of Christ Church and I want to thank all of you for your continued faithfulness.

I realize that is a lot of data, and while there is much murkiness and uncertainty due to both the numbers and to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, overall, I believe that our church will not only survive this crisis but thrive.  I hope that you are as proud to be a part of this church as I am, and that you will continue to tell your friends about the work that we are doing.  Tell them what great people attend here, how good it feels to be a part of this family, and invite them to join us online today, and in-person later this year.  I am certain that God has great things in store.

Blessings,

Pastor John


Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


Peace in the Present Promise

Peace in the Present Promise*

December 06, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 40:1-11                                    2 Peter 3:8-15a                      Mark 1:1-8

How can a pandemic possibly be a good thing?

Certainly, current events will give us much to complain about and mourn over for years to come, but we also get glimpses of the occasional silver lining in our ongoing battle with the coronavirus.  Certainly, among these are an array of new medical technologies that have been brought to bear as our doctors and scientists seek new medications and new life-saving treatments, as well as new technology that has allowed us to develop multiple vaccines in just 18 months when the previous speed record for such an accomplishment was five year long rush program with the Ebola virus that was only recently approved.  But another important silver lining may be the attention that our forced lockdown and resulting isolation and seclusion has brought to those among us who suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, and a variety of other mental illnesses.  While isolation is difficult for all of us, it is harder for extroverts, and disastrous for many people who suffer even in ordinary circumstances.  And while today’s message isn’t going to solve these difficult mental health issues, perhaps by shining a light, and continuing to raise our awareness of these problems, we can begin to make a difference in the lives of the suffering. 

But for the rest of us, as we struggle with our isolation and lack of human contact, many of us, the midst of a pandemic, and the resulting upheaval of everything familiar, which is, of course, piled on top of our normal level of change and upheaval, are wrestling with how can we possibly find… peace.  Our minds are constantly pulled in a hundred directions at once, we worry about our employment, we worry about our families, we worry about our health, about our church and other institutions and business that we care about, and in the midst of our whirling, dizzying, wrestling match with fear, worry, depression and despair, we hear the prophet Isaiah calling to us as we prepare for the arrival of the Messiah.  In Isaiah 40:1-11 we hear these words, spoken to Israel as their nation, their religion, and everything they knew, faced destruction at the hands of the Assyrian empire.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem

and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Even as the disaster they are expecting approaches, God promises to bring comfort after Israel’s hard service was completed and her sin paid for on the day God would send the messiah to rescue them.  God declares that people are like grass because we fade, fail, and fall away.  Our failure comes because our faithfulness fails and not because God has failed.  We know that God never fails, and that God endures forever.  And that is why in this dark hour, Israel could find hope in God’s promise to send a messiah that would make the world right again.  Like us, Israel looked forward to the day that God would return their world to normal.  Best of all, was knowing that God wasn’t doing to do fix things with floods, fires, earthquakes, or destruction, but like a shepherd gathering his flock and carrying his lambs close to his heart.

And, because we get to read their story, we know that after their time of suffering in Babylon, the people of Israel, at least the few that had remained faithful, returned home to rebuild their nation just as God had promised.  And much later, in Mark 1:1-8, we hear the story of the coming of God’s promised messiah. As Mark writes:

1:1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you withwater, but he will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit.”

Echoing Isaiah’s message, John the Baptist preaches a message of baptism, repentance, and a return to faithfulness.  And this time, the people are ready, and Israel answers John’s call.  Mark says that the entire city of Jerusalem, and the whole Judean countryside went out to hear John, confess their sins, and be baptized by a man who spoke like, and dressed like, the ancient prophets.  Of course, we understand that Mark is exaggerating.  We know that the entire city of Jerusalem and the entire countryside of Judea did not go out to hear John preach and to be baptized, but the numbers must have been so large, that it seemed as if everyone was going.  And we can certainly understand that so many people went to hear John that almost everyone must have known someone who had done so.  But even though the people came, and even though John looked, dressed, and acted like a prophet, John’s message is that the people must be prepared for imminent arrival of messiah that God had promised.

God’s redeemer had arrived, and in the middle of an enemy occupation, and their struggles with Rome, the people were reminded of God’s words that they had heard from the prophet Isaiah, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed.”

But then what?  Two thousand years have passed between them and us, between then and now.  What can those two-thousand-year-old words have to tell us during a modern pandemic?  But that isn’t a new question.  The church has been asking that question from the beginning and Peter wrote to his church friends and explained it this way (2 Peter 3:8-15a):

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

Peter wants the church to remember that God hasn’t forgotten us.  What seems like a frightfully long time to us, is not a long time to God.  Rather than hurrying, God is being patient and giving people time for a second chance.  We are reminded that Christ’s return, and his judgement, are still unpredictable and may come at any time, like a thief in the night.  As such, we must be prepared for his arrival by living godly lives, to watch, and look forward to his coming.  On that day, everything physical will be destroyed but we are more than physical.  What is physical will be destroyed, but what is spiritual will remain.  It is for this reason that we must do everything that we can to be as blameless and perfect as we possibly can.  On that day we will see a new heaven and a new earth, where everything will be right once again.  Finally, the world will return to normal, and we will live in peace with one another the way that God intended.  And it is for this reason that we look forward with hope.

God’s promise, given through the prophet Isaiah, to the people of Israel came eight hundred years before the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem.  And, since then, we have waited another two thousand years.  But God’s promises remain.  The people of Israel held on to God’s promises as they endured the loss of their homeland, the loss of their freedom, and the loss of God’s temple and their freedom to worship.  But God kept his promise and many people returned to Israel and rebuilt it.  As we endure a pandemic and wrestle with our feelings of separation, fear, depression, worry, and despair, we too hold on to the promises of God.  As we celebrate Advent, we are especially reminded of God’s promise of redemption and rescue and we look forward to celebrating his arrival both at Christmas and upon his return someday in the future.  God’s promises are not just something that we read about in the distant past, but an ever present, immovable rock upon which we build our lives, safe from the storms that swirl around us.  God’ promises are not a thing of the past, but an anchor for our present lives in which we find hope…

…and peace.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/NHijitBg6cY

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 


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

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

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

Finding Meaning in Disaster

Finding Meaning in Disaster

August 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 45:1-15         Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                     Matthew 15:21-28

Can any good come from the chaos and loss of life caused by the Coronavirus?  Yes.

But, how does a disaster that destroys lives, end up saving lives?

Before we think about today, let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the HMS Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912, 1500 lives were lost and newspapers around the world carried stories about it under gigantic, bold print headlines that filled most of the space above the fold of the paper.  It was a terrible tragedy and one of the greatest maritime disasters in all of history.  But as bad as it was, that disaster has saved the lives of a great number of people in the hundred years since it happened. 

So, how does a disaster save lives?

In the case of the Titanic, the news was so big, and so bold, that many things changed quickly and many more over a longer period.  First, while radio was only an experiment at the time of the Titanic sinking, and only a few ships were equipped with them.  And, while the USS Californian, which was the closest ship to the Titanic at only 20 miles away, had one of the new wireless transmitters, they only had one radio operator who had gone off-duty and to bed before the Titanic sank. 

Because of the sinking of the Titanic, radio use was regulated so that all ships would have radios and that they would have trained operators around the clock.  Further, the radio act of 1912 required that any ships receiving, or observing, a distress call, immediate attempt to render aid.  The Titanic sinking also led to requirements that life jackets be available for every passenger, that every passenger receive training in what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency, that crews be trained in the use of emergency lifeboats, and that each ship should carry enough lifeboats to carry every passenger and crew.  And those were just the things that happened quickly.  Over the long-term, the designs ships everywhere were changed to make them safer, particularly considering the things that failed to save the Titanic.

And with the story of the Titanic in our minds, rewind history even farther to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament that we find in Genesis 45:1-15.  Although the entire story of Joseph is an incredible tale, and although I am enormously frustrated that our lectionary has skipped from the beginning of the story that we read last week to the very end of the story this week, there is still much to be learned.  To catch us up, after Joseph was sold to Midianite merchants by his brothers, he was taken to Egypt, sold as a slave, falsely accused, imprisoned by that false accusation, and then rose a position second only to the Pharaoh of Egypt when God allowed him to interpret the nightmares that had been sent by God to plague the sleep of the Pharaoh for nights on end.  That dream told of a coming famine that would devastate the land, and Joseph’s interpretation, and his administration, allowed Egypt to store enough food to survive.  And then, during the famine, Joseph own brothers, the same ones who had sold him into slavery, travelled to Egypt to beg for food.  But when they stood in front of the administrator to beg for food, they unknowingly stood in front of their brother Joseph who had been so changed by the passage of time and the culture of Egypt, that none of them recognized him.  And then, after torturing them enough to make them bring his brother Benjamin on a second visit, Joseph reveals himself to them.

45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So, there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks, and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Considering our present situation, I want to point out that despite the betrayal of his brothers and many years of slavery, abuse, and imprisonment, Joseph doesn’t hold a grudge.  His brothers are understandably terrified that, because Joseph is now the second most powerful person in Egypt, that he will take his revenge upon them.  But he doesn’t.  But despite the terrible things that happened to him, Joseph learned from his experiences.  Second, Joseph’s closeness with God was the one thing that made it possible for him to see what the Egyptians could not.  It was Joseph’s relationship with God that allowed him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and that, in turn, led to Joseph’s appointment as the overseer of all Egypt, their food production, storage, preparations for, and management of the nation to navigate through seven years of prosperity and seven years of famine.

In an entirely different story found in Matthew 15:21-28, we see a similar vision of the world as Jesus meets a Canaanite woman with a terrible problem.

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So, his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes, it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This story is unusual because while we often think of Jesus, as we saw in the feeding of the five thousand (or fifteen thousand),  as being always being ready and willing to help people, in this story, Jesus tries really hard, three times, to make this woman go away.  At first, Jesus completely ignores her, but the disciples urge him to send her away because she is being a nuisance.  And so, with their encouragement, Jesus tells the woman that he was sent to care for the Jews who had been lost to God and that taking care of foreigners was not his job.  But even that did not dissuade her, and so Jesus tells her, quite clearly, that she is not his priority because it wouldn’t be right to take something away from God’s people and throw it to the dogs. 

But this is where the woman demonstrates that she sees the world differently than most other people.  Rather than thinking of God, and God’s power, as a finite and limited resource, the Canaanite woman sees God as infinite and that the healing for which she asks is of no more value to God than the crumbs that fall from a rich man’s table.  And it is this understanding, and this faith in God, that leads Jesus to heal give the Canaanite woman what she wanted, and he heals her daughter, from a distance, without ever meeting her.

Both Joseph and the Canaanite woman were blessed by God because they saw the world through a lens of faith in the power of God.  It was the Canaanite woman’s vision and faith that allowed her to see God’s power, and see Jesus, in a different way and that vision, and that faith, was rewarded.  It was Joseph’s vision and faith that allowed him to see what the Egyptians and all their wise men could not.  And it was that vision and faith elevated him to one of the most powerful positions in the ancient world, allowed him to guide Egypt, one of the world’s greatest super powers, through a time of great crisis and, at the same time, rescue family, and God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob, and lay the groundwork for the protection of the future nation of Israel until it had grown enough, eight hundred years later, to survive on its own.

Watching her daughter suffer from an incurable demon possession year in, and year out, must have been incredibly difficult for the Canaanite woman.  Obviously, being betrayed by his own brothers, and enduring years of imprisonment and slavery had to be agonizing.  But it was their vision and faith in God, through those difficult circumstances, that allowed them to receive the blessings of God and overcome those circumstances.

And that brings us to our present, twenty-first century crisis during this global Coronavirus pandemic.  As we are enduring these difficult circumstances, these stories from scripture call us to examine ourselves.  We should be asking ourselves, at least these two questions: 1) Do we have the kind of vision and faith in God that Joseph and the Canaanite woman had?  And, 2) What is God what is God showing us in our present circumstances, what is God calling us to see in the world around us, that the world is missing?  How should we see the world, our community, our neighbors, our friends, and the people around us, that we can only see through the lens of faith in the power of God?

Let us pray that we will see the vision that God is revealing before it is too late.

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here:https://youtu.be/vJmCWUfz4TQ

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 


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

Endurance

If any of you have participated in sports, or even something as simple as casual walking, one thing that we all learn is that endurance cannot be purchased at the store.  We can buy good shoes, and sports equipment of all kinds, but the ability to play through an entire game, whether it is a walk in the park, or full contact football, or tennis, golf, soccer, or anything else, can only come from hard work.  If we say that there is a price for endurance, then that price can only be paid in sweat.  I have friends who, after major surgery, could barely walk across the room without stopping for rest.  But they persisted.  First it was a walk across the room, then to the end of the driveway, and then walking down the street one telephone pole at a time, until finally they were walking several miles every evening.  The same growth in endurance is seen in other sports in much the same way.  As strange as it sounds, just as we learn patience by being patient, we learn endurance, we train our bodies to endure, by repeatedly enduring. And, as difficult as it is for us to live through a global pandemic, we are learning to endure, and we learn endurance by enduring.  Granted, compared to the bread lines of the Great Depression, or ration cards and blackout drills of World War Two, the difficulties and hardships that we face may not be as great as those faced by other generations, but like it or not, great or small, these are ours. But as we stay at home, practice social distancing, and are separated from one another and from loved ones by doing so, as many of us suffer from unemployment caused by the shutdown, or by other byproducts of the pandemic, it is worthwhile for us to remember that the writers of scripture were no strangers to suffering and endurance.  In 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, Paul writes: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you, patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. Let me pull a few bullet points from Paul’s words that apply to our current situation:
  • We worship the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort
  • God comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from God.
  • We are distressed for the comfort of others. In this situation, we are fighting against our desire to be together so that we might not, unwittingly, pass this virus to others, family, and friends that we care about, and bring harm to them.
  • Paul says that they were distressed, and experienced trouble, beyond their ability to endure, but at the limits of their endurance, they learned that they could rely upon God rather than relying upon themselves.
It is the calling of the strong to protect the weak, and today we struggle against the pandemic by denying our desires to protect the weak and the vulnerable among us.  But our struggle is not without cost.  The cost of our endurance is being paid in sweat, in tears, and in great frustration. Proverbs 18:14 says, “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Please don’t allow your spirit to be crushed.  Pray that God might give you strength and endurance beyond your own.  Pray that we might learn to rely upon God rather than upon ourselves.  Encourage one another wherever, and whenever, possible.  Call, write, email, text, video chat, Zoom, or whatever it takes to stay connected and to encourage those around you who are struggling.  And please, please, don’t feel as if you must stoically struggle alone.  If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Call me, call a friend, let someone know that you are struggling so that we can do whatever we can to help. And finally, because we are still the church, and our mission to do the work of Jesus Christ doesn’t stop for a pandemic, also remember Paul’s words from 2 Thessalonians 3:12-14. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Hang in there.  Endure as long as you can.  Lean on God when your endurance ends.  Help one another.  Help the people around you. And never tire of doing good.   Blessings, Pastor John    
Did you enjoy reading this? Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog. Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages. Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.
 

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.

 

 

 


Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

What We’re Doing about COVID-19

Many of you don’t follow me, or my church on Facebook and, although you probably don’t worship with us either, I thought I’d pass along a message I sent out that describes what we’re doing as a local church about the Corona virus/COVID-19.  There are, so far, only four official cases in Ohio, but statistically, that means that there are, at least, hundreds of people infected.  And, since many of our members belong to vulnerable populations, we need to take steps to keep everyone safe.  In any case, I thought that by posting our list here, some of you who attend churches, synagogues, or other houses of worship, Rotary Clubs, etc. might find something useful. 

Stay safe everyone.


Christ United Methodist Church *will* be having church on Sunday. But, while we refuse to give in to panic, we do want to be prudent and act with caution. Toward that end, we are making a few minor changes to keep everyone safe.

We hope that everyone will wash their hands before they come, and after they get home, but hand sanitizer is available in the lounge. Please use it.

We will not be shaking hands, but feel free to bump elbow, bow, curtsy, wave, or share the Vulcan sign for “live long and prosper.”

We have removed all of the registration pads from the pews so we won’t be passing them hand-to-hand.

Similarly, during Sunday’s offering, we won’t be passing the offering plate. Instead, our ushers will bring the plate to you (as much as possible). In the weeks ahead, we may just have the collection plates at the door at the end of the service.

We ordinarily spread out across the sanctuary, but we ask that everyone consider doing this even more than usual. We have plenty of room, so we ask that worshipers keep some space in between one another.

And finally, although this is always good advice, we feel it is important to emphasize this, if you feel ill, or have sniffles, or a cough, or are sneezing, please stay home. Many of our members belong to vulnerable populations and we must all do our best to keep everyone safe and healthy.

If you belong to a vulnerable population, or if someone in your home is vulnerable, and you feel that you need to stay home, we completely understand. My wife, Patti, is immune suppressed and we are taking particular care to keep her safe.

These are difficult times. No one needs to panic, but we do need to be prudent. Please do what you need to do to stay safe and healthy and care for one another as best we can. We *will* get through this.

 


Also note that since I’ve posted this, I’ve seen recommendations  against fist bumps, elbow bumps, or any kind of physical contact at all.

Further, although we have already put video of our services online on YouTube (see the link below), we are taking a good look at how we can do it better, livestream, etc.  Hopefully, we will begin implementing some of those options in the next few weeks even if we don’t have to cancel church in the months ahead.

Again, stay safe out there everyone, and take care of one another.  Check on your neighbors and your friends who are elderly, on chemo, are immune suppressed, or who belong to other vulnerable groups.

 

Blessings,
Pastor John

 

 

 


Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.