Freedom and Focus

Freedom and Focus

June 26, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14                Luke 9:57-62                          Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Have you seen the demonstrations of the capabilities of some of the new cameras?  I’m talking about the new phones with three lenses and a few other high-end cameras.  One of the neat tricks that they can do is known as “variable focus.” In days past, you could turn the lens to change the focus, but whatever you focused on, once you took the picture, that was what you had to live with. 

But variable focus cameras not only take the picture that you saw, but several more, from different angles, and the technology allows you to change the focus of the picture after you’ve already saved it in memory.  For example, you take a picture of some friends at a wedding, and after you get home you notice another person, in the background, doing something interesting.  A few years ago, you would just have to wonder who that was, or what it was that they were doing.  But with this technology you can open yesterday’s picture, zoom in, and refocus on the person in the background.

It’s a lot like real life.  We can choose what we want to focus upon.  Our eyes do that naturally, but we do that with the way that we live our lives as well.  I used to work as an engineer, but the focus of my life changed.  Or consider Alfred Nobel.  Mr. Nobel was a brilliant scientist who spoke six languages, earned his first patent at the age of twenty-four and eventually held 355 patents for a wide variety of discoveries.  But his best know patent was for a safe method of using nitroglycerine as an explosive, in other words… dynamite.  That patent made him a wealthy man, but when a newspaper erroneously wrote his obituary before his death, they referred to him as a “war profiteer” and he didn’t like it.  Mr. Nobel didn’t want his legacy to be one of destruction, and so he created, and gave his entire fortune to, the Nobel institution, so that annual prizes would be given to those persons who “conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” Alfred Nobel changed the focus of his life, and it made a difference to the world.

With that in mind, let’s read today’s scriptures and, as we do, let’s look for where we can see the focus of the people in them.  We begin with 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and the story of how Elijah ends his time on earth and passes the mantle of his ministry onward to his apprentice Elisha.

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.

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.

Everyone knew that today was the day that God would take Elijah from the earth.  Elijah knew, Elisha knew and, in the verses of scripture that we skipped, hundreds of Israel’s prophets along the path of their journey also knew and asked Elisha to be sure that he knew (He did).  But along the way, several times, Elijah tells his apprentice to stay behind and Elisha, however obedient he might normally have been, flatly refuses to be anywhere except where Elijah is. 

Elisha is completely focused on loyalty, respect, and honor.

As a result, Elijah asks what he can do for Elisha before God takes him away, and Elisha asks that he be twice as spiritual, twice as godly, twice as powerful, twice as devoted, and twice as close to, and twice as focused on God as Elijah had been.  Elijah knows that this is not a gift that he can give and so he tells his friend that if God allows him to see him as he is taken from the earth, then he will know that God has given him this gift.  And he does.  As proof that God has given him this gift, on his way home Elisha repeats the miracle that Elijah had just performed when he slaps the Jordan River with Elijah’s coat, the water parts like the Red Sea in front of Moses, and he walks to the other side on dry land.

We see the same focus on priorities and… well… focus, in Luke 9:57-62, as the time came for Jesus to be taken up from the earth.

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.”

This passage draws a distinction between the different sorts of people who followed Jesus.  We usually talk about Jesus’ disciples, but in this passage, we also meet people that we would, in modern language, refer to as Jesus’ groupies.  They were enamored of Jesus and what Jesus was doing but Jesus makes it clear that they are only attracted to the idea of what he is doing and not to the reality of what he was doing.  To the first case, Jesus simply reminds the man that Jesus and all who follow him, are homeless.  There is no healthcare plan, there is no home base of ministry, there is no wealth, and there isn’t even a definitive destination for their journey together.  And in the next three cases, Jesus’ responses all ask that these groupies reconsider what their priorities really are.  To be a disciple, rather than a groupie, requires a complete and dedicated focus.  A farmer that looks back, or becomes distracted, while plowing a field will not be able to plow straight lines but will instead plow a field with wandering furrows.

But why is that important?  Why do wandering furrows matter?  Why does focus matter?

Those questions are answered by Paul as he writes to the church in Galatia to explain how the followers of Jesus Christ should use the freedom that Jesus paid for with his life (Galatians 5:1, 13-25).

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 whateveryou 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; 20idolatry 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, 23gentleness 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. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Paul reminds the church that Jesus has purchased our freedom and the reason that he spent his life to do that was… freedom.  Paul cleverly repeats those words, saying that we were set free for freedom, in order to remind us that if we do not stand firm in what we believe, then we will give up what we have gained, give away our freedom, and return to our slavery voluntarily.   Yes, we are free.  But Paul’s reminder is that using our freedom to serve ourselves, to pursue a life of pleasure, or to be argumentative, angry, and destructive with one another, takes us back to the slavery that we once escaped.  Rather than practicing immorality, impurity, worshipping idols of stone, fame, money, or work, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfishness, division, envy, drunkenness, and free sex, the followers of Jesus Christ are called to live lives of service to the people around us, to love our neighbors, and be loving, joyful, kind, agents of peace, goodness, and faithfulness, and to be calm, faithful to God, and to one another.

How we use our freedom, is what distinguishes Jesus’ disciples from groupies.

How we use our freedom reveals our priorities and our focus.

If we focus on the wrong things, we throw away the freedom for which Jesus paid so dearly and return, voluntarily, to a life of slavery to sin and death.

Our freedom has been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus.  But the only way that we will be able to keep it is to stand firm and keep our focus on the mission in front of us.  If we lose our focus, our paths will wander and take us places that we never want to go.

Can you hear Jesus asking?

Are you disciples or are you groupies?


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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.

Hearing God Over the Noise

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Hearing God Over the Noise

June 19, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 19:1-15a        Luke 8:26-39              Galatians 3:23-29

Have you ever been so busy, or so stressed out, or afraid, or depressed, or angry, or grief stricken, or otherwise distracted, that you just didn’t see how God fit anymore?  Or, because of one or more of those things, you somehow lost track of God?  You couldn’t hear God anymore, you couldn’t feel the closeness with God that you once felt, you didn’t feel the sense of direction from God or the sense of purpose that you once felt?  Sometimes those things happen because of what is happening to us, and sometimes it’s because we’ve filled our lives with so much busyness that there’s no more room for God to fit into our lives anywhere. 

But losing track of God because of the stress of everyday living is not something new and unique to the twenty-first century.  Our modern, high speed, jet-age, cell phone carrying, computer using, busyness might look different and even alien to the people of the ancient world, but the grief, stress, and busyness of our lives are not that different from the people of the Old and New Testaments.  This morning we begin reading from 1 Kings 19:1-15 where we encounter a story that most of us have heard many times.  It is a story about how the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, was victorious, had hundreds of those idolatrous priests put to death, and then fled in fear as Ahab and Jezebel, the king and queen of Israel, threatened to kill him.  You can find more of the story in your bulletins, but in the interest of time, I’ll just say that Elijah ran for his life, was fed by God as he hid in the desert, and finally has this encounter with God:

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.

Elijah had just won an enormous victory over the prophets of Baal.  God had visibly revealed himself to everyone present, and through them, to the people of Israel by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice offered by Elijah.  But the threats from the throne of the queen erased Elijah’s confidence and Elijah’s fear made it impossible to remember the power of God.  Elijah could no longer hear God over the noise of his fear.

And so, once he was in the desert, God called him and told him to go and wait for him on the mountain.  And a great wind came, and although it tore at the rocks and made a lot of noise, God wasn’t in it.  And then there was an earthquake, and although it was incredibly powerful, made even more noise, and shook the earth, God wasn’t in it.  And after that there was a fire which roared, stole the oxygen from the air, and filled Elijah’s world with heat and light, but God wasn’t in it.  And then, finally, came a soft whisper, and when he heard it, Elijah covered his face, went out of the cave, and met God.

This story reminds us that God isn’t always in the noise.  Our stress, our fear, our busyness, and other things that fill our lives may make a lot of heat, light, noise, and even shake the earth with their power, but none of those things are God.

We see something similar in Luke 8:26-39 when Jesus casts out a legion of demons.  Jesus meets a man who lived in the tombs of the cemetery.  Many demons possessed this man, as many as a thousand.  And Jesus heals him.  The demons beg Jesus not to send them to hell, and Jesus allows them to leave the man and enter a herd of pigs instead… and the pigs immediately run full-speed right off a cliff.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So, he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So, the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

The point that I want to make is that this group of people lived with a man in their community that was terrifyingly demon possessed.  He had superhuman strength that, more than once broke the chains that bound him, overpowered the guards that stood watch over him, and escaped into places where he could be alone.  Everyone knew who he was and what he could do, and they were terrified of him.  But when they witness him sitting, clothed, cured, holding a normal conversation with Jesus, and in his right mind, they ask Jesus to leave because they afraid of the power that he has.  The people of the region of the Gerasenes stood before the messenger of God and the savior of the world, but they couldn’t hear God’s voice over the noise of their stress and fear.

Twenty-one centuries later, we aren’t so different.  Our stress, fear, busyness, and other things fill our lives, make a lot of heat, light, noise, and even shake the earth with their power.  And while none of those things are God, they often make so much noise in our lives that we fail to hear God whispering to our soul.

But what do we do about it?

I think Paul’s thoughts in Galatians 3:23-29 are applicable here.  He said:

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Before Jesus Christ, before faith, God’s people were watched over by the law just as a guardian watches over a minor child.  But now that we have faith, we no longer need such a strict adherence to the law to govern our behavior.  Instead of rigid rules to follow, we instead remind ourselves of our baptism and wear the clothing of Jesus Christ.  We are no longer divided into classes, groups, divisions, of race, nationality, denomination, language, or political party.  In Christ, we are united.  We are grafted into the people of God and have the same legal status as the genetic children of Abraham.  We are the people of God.  We are God’s children.  We are the heirs of God and the co-heirs of Jesus Christ.

I suspect that really rich people don’t worry when their car breaks down or when they discover that their wallet is empty.  When those things happen, they overcome their stress when they remember who they are.  They’re rich.  Being in a broken-down car, or having an empty wallet is a temporary condition, it doesn’t define them, and it isn’t who they are.  That same advice applies to us as the children of God.

When the storms and the wind scream in our ears, the fire roars, the earth shakes, or any natural and unnatural stress overcomes us, and it will, take a moment to remember who you are.  Take a break.  Maybe, like Elijah, escape for a while to a quiet place.  Get your head on straight, take a deep breath, and remember that you are a child of God, that you are the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, that you are loved by the creator of the universe, and that you have, even now, an eternal future that awaits you no matter what happens today or tomorrow.

Life is full of stress and noise.  There are stock market crashes, pandemics, politics, insurrections, wars, famines, fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, housing bubbles, violence, death, and all sorts of other things happening all the time.  But don’t let any of those things prevent you from hearing God’s whispering to your soul. 

Take break, pause, listen, reflect, breathe… and remember who you are.


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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.

Past Pain, Present Gifts

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Past Pain, Present Gifts

(formerly – Violence, Division, and Unexpected Gifts)

May 29, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 17:20-26            Acts 16:16-34             Revelation 22:12-17, 20-21

Mary Todd Lincoln was crazy.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln, was a sufferer of an undiagnosed mental illness and was extraordinarily difficult to live with.  By making a long-distance examination from historically documented accounts, historians of today guess that Mary Todd Lincoln may well have suffered from bipolar disorder and, in an era far removed from a diagnosis, let alone a treatment of any kind, her disorder often made life in her household unpleasant. 

Other husbands of that era might have, and sometimes did, have their wives and family members with such a disorder committed to an insane asylum.  Many of them clearly were not insane by our modern standards but were simply so difficult to live with that they were removed to the care of someone else.  Abraham Lincoln didn’t do that.  He loved his wife Mary, he cared for her, and he found it within himself to withstand her rages, outbursts, depression, and other manifestations of her disorder. 

Our nation benefited from his suffering.  Historians speculate that the mental fortitude of Abraham Lincoln, forged and strengthened through years of caring for Mary, and enduring the suffering that went with it, made him singularly qualified to stand against the stress, arguments, negotiations, and other mental and emotional difficulties that were thrust upon him during the American Civil War.  Anyone who had not lived through what he had already endured, might not have been able to cope with the demands of the presidency in that era. 

In an odd sort of way, his suffering was a gift.

But what does any of that have to do with us?  Well, before we get to that part, let’s begin at the beginning and remember when Jesus explains what the purpose of life will be for his disciples and all who would choose to follow him.  We hear that story in John 17:20-26 as Jesus prays…

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made youknown to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

In this short prayer, there are a few things that I want to highlight.  First, Jesus asks that our relationship with God be the same as his, that just as God is in Jesus, we might also be in them.  More specifically, Jesus says that he passed the glory of God that had inhabited him, on to his followers so that we might be one, in the same way that Jesus and God are one.  And because of the glory of God that dwells within us, and because of our unity of purpose and togetherness, that the world would know that God loves us. 

Second, Jesus asks that his followers would be able to come to where he is, and to see his glory.  And third, that Jesus’ purpose in revealing God to us, was so that we might be filled with the love of God.  And we can see that this last one, combined with Jesus’ command to go into all the world and preach the good news, tells us that God’s goal is not to rule the world, but to fill the world with his love.

But how do we do that?  How do we reveal God’s glory and God’s love to the world around us?  Certainly, there are more ways to do that than we can count, but one particularly dramatic way is found in one of Paul’s missionary journeys recorded in Acts 16:16-34 where we hear this:

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment, the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

I cannot even begin to count how many sermons can be, and have been, written about this passage.  But for today, I want to look at two specific things.  First, that this earthquake was extraordinarily specific.  It was strong enough to wake everyone up and to shake the foundations of the prison, but where earthquakes ordinarily collapse buildings and jam doors shut, this one unlocks and opens doors, opens padlocks, loosens chains, and releases feet bound in iron stocks.  That is particularly specific and not at all the way that earthquakes and other natural disasters usually work, and this is how we see God in the story.

Second, when the jailer discovers that this has happened, he draws his sword to kill himself rather than be tortured to death, which was what usually happened to anyone who allowed a Roman prisoner to escape.  But Paul hears the sword come out of its sheath, knows what the jailer intends to do and calls to him that everyone is still there.  Once again, this must be an act of God.  Even if Paul and Silas convinced the other prisoners not to escape, the chances of no one leaving are so slim that this is also evidence of God’s hand because they were all there.

And the jailer comes to faith in God because he saw, with his own eyes the hand of God at work in the world on behalf of Paul and Silas.  He witnessed that the doors were unlocked, the chains loosened, and the iron shackles unbound, and he witnessed the power that kept a jail full of prisoners from escaping when the doors stood wide open.  And he experienced the simple act of human kindness that Paul showed to him.  All that Paul had to do to escape was to leave.  All that Paul had to do to get revenge for the beating that was inflicted upon him was to remain silent.  But Paul did not remain silent.  He did not try to escape or to pursue revenge.  Instead, Paul showed kindness to the jailer.

And he, and his entire household, were saved.

And we connect the dots by remembering the words of Jesus that we find in John’s Revelation contained in chapter 22:12-17, 20-21.  Jesus said:

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give youthis testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes, take the free gift of the water of life.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

The important idea here are that there will be a judgement but that anyone can come into the kingdom of God.  Everyone is invited and sharing the gift of eternal life is a gift that each of us can give to all the people that we care about. 

God’s goal is to share the message of the gospel throughout the entire world so that the world is filled with God’s love.  Paul brought that jailer and his family into the kingdom of God simply through an act of kindness when anyone would have understood his desire for revenge.  And sometimes, suffering and pain are the doorway through which we must pass in order to receive an unexpected gift.

Abraham Lincoln’s struggles made him strong enough to bless a nation.

Paul and Silas’ suffering allowed them to rescue the jailer and his entire family.

What can you do this week, to point others toward the kingdom of God?

How might the pain of your past bless others in the present, or in the future?

How many of the people around you might you give the gift of God’s love?

And how many of those people are separated from eternal life by one… simple… act of kindness?


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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.

An Unexpected, Unconventional, Unorthodox God

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An Unexpected, Unconventional, Unorthodox God

May 22, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:23-29              Acts 16:9-15          Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

Have you ever thought about the gods of the ancient world? 

I remember taking mythology in high school and although many of my classmates didn’t like it, and seemed to think that it was weird, I found it to be interesting, and I enjoyed it.  But, although those ancient Greek and Roman gods, as well as the gods of Israel’s neighbors, are not something we think about often, they can add to our understanding of the God of Israel that we find in the Old and New Testaments.   The reason that the gods of the ancient world add to our understanding, is because when we spend all our time studying and discussing the God of Israel, we are deceived into thinking that Israel’s God was normal.  So, let’s be clear, Israel’s God is not normal.

The gods and goddesses of the ancient world, like Zeus, Poseidon, Demeter, Mars, and the rest, often behaved badly, cheated, had affairs and illegitimate children, acted on whims and were often moody, and unpredictable.  These gods ruled by intimidation and fear and demanded sacrifices and gifts simply to appease them.  Failing to appease them could mean that they would be angry and refuse to help.  The same was true for Baal, the god of the Philistines, as well as other gods of that region such as Chemosh, Dagon, and the fertility goddess Ashtoreth.  These gods demanded sacrifices, sometimes blood or human sacrifices, to ensure safety or a good harvest.

But Israel’s God was different.  From the beginning, particularly as we watch the story of the family of Abraham, the God of Israel begins his relationship with his people from a position of love and compassion.  God cares about his people and their children and does good things for them long before they do anything for him in return.  We see this difference illustrated in the gospel of John 14:23-29 as he shares these words of Jesus:

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus says that if we love him, we will obey his teaching.  Jesus doesn’t say that if we fear him, we will obey, or if we want a successful harvest, or if we want safe travel, or if we want to appease an angry god, then we should do these things.  Jesus says that our obedience should grow, not out of fear or intimidation, but out of love.  And, when Jesus explains that he is leaving, he promises to send the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and remind us of everything that Jesus said to us.  The Spirit of God is sent, and does its work, before we even have the opportunity to do anything in return.  Moreover, Jesus says that the gift that he leaves with his followers, is not a gift of victory, wealth, abundance, or safety, but instead is the gift of peace and the absence of fear. 

In the world of history, and among the gods of the world, our God is unconventional.  In fact, our God is so unorthodox, that even those who have dedicated their lives to following and to studying, are still surprised by the way God chooses to do things.  In Acts 16:9-15, the Apostle Paul, and those who traveled with him, were surprised because, once again, God chose to turn their preconceived notions of orthodoxy on their heads.  Luke records this story:

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony, and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

There are several things in this story that are surprising and/or unexpected.  In Paul’s vision, he is called to Macedonia by a man and so he almost certainly expects to find one there when he arrives, but no one introduces themselves, and unlike the stories we’ve heard in recent weeks of both Paul’s Damascus road experience and Peter’s call to preach to the Gentiles, no one in Macedonia introduces themselves, and God does not direct them to anyone specifically.  Failing that, Paul and his team wait until the Sabbath and visit the river because traditionally, persons of the Jewish faith would meet at the river, likely because it was peaceful, but also because it was “living water” and provided a means of purification before worship. 

But when they walk along the river, with every expectation that they would find worshiping Jews, they, again, find no men.  They do, however, find some women, and one of them, Lydia, is either Jewish, or was otherwise sympathetic to, and a follower of, Israel’s God.  Lydia also is a business owner, a person of some wealth, and the head of her household.  She listens to Paul’s message, comes to faith in Jesus Christ, asks to be baptized, leads here entire household to faith and baptism, invites Paul and his team to stay in her home, and becomes the leader of the new church movement in Macedonia. 

None of this was what Paul or the other Jewish men expected, none of it was traditional, none of it followed the pattern of orthodox Jewish thinking, but it illustrates that our God often works in ways that are unexpected and unconventional.  And that pattern continues throughout scripture and even to the end of time described by John in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where he says:

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Once again, this is a passage that we’ve read so many times that we no longer notice that there is anything unusual in it.  Through sheer repetition, the extraordinary is reduced to boring and yawn-inducing normality.  So, let’s back up and consider why John’s description is so unorthodox and unconventional.  John’s vision begins normally enough as he is carried to a great high mountain to see the Holy City of God.  That was normal.  The Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the Parthenon in Greece, and many other Jewish and pagan temples and places of worship are found on mountaintops because if the gods lived somewhere “up there” in the sky, then, logically, human beings were closer to the gods when they were on the top of a mountain, right?

But this mountain was not stationary but was coming down out of heaven.  Other than superhero movies and other works of fiction, mountains don’t come down out of the sky.  Even stranger, is that the Holy City doesn’t have a temple.  In John’s world, and in ours, every major city had a temple of some sort, and one would assume that a holy city would have one.  But no.  No temples, no synagogues, no cathedrals, no churches, zip, nothing, nada.  And the reason, is because that God himself, and the Lamb, his Son Jesus Christ, are the temple.  Why go to church to worship Jesus when you can meet Jesus face-to-face? 

And if that wasn’t enough, there is a river that flows out of the throne of God, trees that provide food to eat all year-round, gates that never close because there is no fear of an enemy attack, a tree that offers healing to people and nations, a day that never sees nighttime or darkness, and everything about it represents a place of goodness, righteousness, and purity that is without fear, and where life, the city itself, and everything in it, is designed, and expected, to last forever.

In every generation from Adam, to Abraham, to David, to Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and to us today, our God is different.  Human beings have always tried and have always failed to put God in a box.  Our God doesn’t demand obedience, as a payment in exchange for services.  Our God loves us, first, last, and always.  Our God asks us to follow him, asks us to love him, and asks us to serve him, not because we fear him, but because we’ve grown to love him, trust him, and be grateful to him for the love that God has already shown to us even before we knew him, and even when we were completely unlovable.

Our God isn’t like other gods.

Our God isn’t like the box that we try to squeeze him into.

Our God is unexpected, unconventional, unorthodox, and loves us first, last, and always.

And, when we have felt his love for us, only then can we hear him asking if we might love him in return.

And so, the question that I ask you today is this, do you love God?  Do you love God enough to follow him, and to trust him?  Do you love God enough to obey his instructions and commands?

And, if so, will you love the people around you, people you don’t know, people who are different from you, people who think differently than you, people who you might not even like very much, people in other communities, other states, and other countries?  Will you love them so much that they can feel God’s love for them?

Because only then, will they be able to hear his voice.


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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.

The Fire of Change

The fire of change (a picture of fire)
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The Fire of Change

May 15, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Acts 11:1-18

Last week I shared a little about what is happening in our United Methodist denomination and what may or may not happen in the future.  We are still at a place where much can change, and the situation could be quite different after the next General Conference in 2024.  In the end, we still have no idea how that might affect us here at Christ Church but regardless of what happens, we can anticipate that whatever happens, there will, eventually, be some significant, and dramatic changes. 

And it was last week’s conversation that struck me as I read this week’s scripture from Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles contained in Acts 11:1-18 where he says this:

11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance, I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

As I read this, I noticed something that we often skip past, and when I thought about it, that one thing reframed how I thought about the entire passage.  The thing that we often fail to notice is in the very beginning when it says who had heard about what Peter was doing.  It says that “the apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles” had received the word of God.  When they heard these stories, they summoned Peter and criticized him for preaching to uncircumcised men or, in other words, Gentiles or, you know, those people.  That doesn’t seem too surprising, but remembering that among the people having this conversation with Peter were the apostles, the eleven disciples of Jesus, and the other believers who were among those men and women who personally knew Jesus, their presence then becomes important to understanding Peter’s explanation of what he did, what he saw, and what happened.

And then we get to verse fifteen, Peter says that as he was speaking to the Gentiles that had gathered in Caesarea and “the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.”  And this is where it’s important to remember who was there.  It was the disciples and the early followers of Jesus that were listening.  When Peter says that the Spirit of God came upon the Gentiles just as it had come upon them, we remember that on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came with a “sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”  And so, when Peter tells them that this is exactly the way that it happened to the Gentiles, this is what they all remember and I’m certain that’s why this passage concludes by saying, “When they heard this, they had no further objections.”

I’m certain, that the day, and the events, of Pentecost were something that none of them could ever forget.  And hearing that the same thing had happened to the Gentiles immediately eliminated any other objections that they might have had as faithful, orthodox, and practicing Jews.  It was obvious that the world was changing in ways that none of them had ever expected, or even imagined.  But the message was also clear, that God was at work and that God could be found within those changes.

Today we are facing profound challenges and a world that is changing in ways that we never expected or imagined.  The Covid-19 pandemic has changed, and continues to change, the world around us.  The war in Ukraine has sent ripples of change around the world that has impacted fuel prices, supply chains, caused shortages in diapers, baby formula, fresh vegetables, sound system components, paper, floor wax, and all sorts of other things.  And as we continue to watch the unfolding drama within our own denomination, regardless of where the future may carry us, the one thing of which we can be certain, is that we will see profound change.

But as we face these changes, and as we leave the old “normal” behind us forever, there remains one thing of which we can always be certain.

God is at work in the world and God can always be found within the changes.

Rather than worrying and living in fear, let us instead look for God, look to see what God is doing in the world, and seek to understand what work that God has for us to do as we move forward into a new normal.


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

A Master of Magnetism

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A Master of Magnetism

May 08, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 10:22-30                                    Acts 9:36-43                           Revelation 7:9-17

If you have ever watched any of the movies from the Marvel universe, you are familiar with Magneto, Master of Magnetism, the principal villain of the X-men movies.  Magneto is one of the most powerful mutants in the world and can move, bend, or otherwise manipulate anything made of a magnetic metal and leads an army of other mutants who seek to overthrow the governments of the world that are ruled by normal, non-mutant, humans.  But, when we think about his position and his abilities, we realize that Magneto has two kinds of power.  First, and most obvious, is his ability to control magnetism, but the second is in his ability to persuade, cajole, manipulate, threaten, and otherwise control the army that fights with, and for, him.  The first is an ability of physics, but the second is an ability of persuasion that we would typically call a magnetic personality.

In scripture, we certainly won’t find any mutants that can manipulate the laws of physics, but we do find some critically important examples of human and spiritual magnetism.  We begin this morning by reading from the Gospel of John 10:22-30 where Jesus explains the spiritual magnetism that belongs, uniquely to him.

22 Then came the Festival of Dedicationat Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Jesus had made any number of statements, that we find throughout the Gospels, in which he made his claim as the promised Messiah, but the leaders of Israel always found ways to deny that it was true, deny that Jesus said what he said, or tried to explain away the things that Jesus had done.  But here Jesus simply says that this actions, done in the name of God, are testimony to who he is, and those that follow him, and who have become his sheep, listen to what he says.  Anyone who is a genuine follower of Jesus, listens to his teaching and in exchange, those followers will have eternal life.  The magnetism of Jesus is drawing the entire world to him but not everyone will choose to listen.

But in the story of Acts, Luke tells us how the magnetism of Jesus breaks out into the world even after Jesus returns to heaven.  And one example of that breakout is seen in Acts 9:36-43 as Peter performs a miracle.

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so, when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived, he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and, seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Joppa wasn’t much of a harbor, but it was vitally important because, until Herod and his engineers build an incredible artificial harbor at Caesarea, Joppa was the only seaport in all of Israel.  And it was because of that seaport, that much of the world met Israel in that place and it was for that reason that this city was important as the message of the gospel began to spread outward from Jerusalem, Judea, and to all the world.  It is also worth noting that the word “disciple” (used to describe Tabitha) is the only appearance, in the entirety of the New Testament, that we ever see the Greek language, feminine form of that word.  The implication is not certain, but this singular appearance of that descriptive word might imply additional importance to this woman. 

Tabitha, or Dorcas, was always doing good, always helping the poor, and from the gathering of people who came to mourn her, seems also to have always been doing things to help the widows of Joppa.  As we remember and honor mothers on Mother’s Day, we might easily think of Tabitha as a mother to mothers or as a mother to all women.  But, hearing that Peter was nearby, two men were sent to urge him to come and join this mournful gathering.  We don’t know if they dared hope that Peter could perform a miracle, or if they only hoped that he might bring comfort to their community, or to lead in the time of mourning, or to preside over Tabitha’s burial.  But whatever their hopes might have been, Peter came, prayed, told the dead woman to get up, and she did.  Peter did what only Jesus, and one or two of Israel’s greatest prophets, had ever done. 

Peter had raised the dead.

Not surprisingly, news of this travelled.

People talked.  It became known that the power of Jesus Christ did not die with him on the cross but lived on in the lives of his followers.  And because of Peter’s actions, and because of the power of God that had worked through him, the church grew.  The church grew because of what they had seen in the actions of the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The message of Jesus, heard through the actions of his followers, was magnetic.

And all these things, and all of scripture, leads to the events found in John’s Revelation (Revelation 7:9-17) where he saw this:

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

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

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

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

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

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

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

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

In all of that, for me, today, three phrases are worth noting.  First, that the people gathered around the throne of God were not uniformly Jewish, or even Mediterranean.  The people who will be a part of that multitude were from everywhere.  There were people from every country, every ethnic group, who spoke every language ever spoken on the face of the earth.  And all of them, from the first to the last, from the least to the greatest, worshipped and gave praise to God.

The second phrase that stands out is the acknowledgement that the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was at the center of God’s throne and that Jesus would be the shepherd of everyone who had gathered there.

And third, that this group of people, having come out of the great tribulation, who suffered and died during that tribulation, would not only follow Jesus, but that he would lead them to “streams of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This picture of the end of days reminds us that what Jesus said was true.  That his sheep know his voice, they follow him, even through tribulation and death, but even in death none will perish, not one person will be stolen from the hand of God, and every one of them will receive eternal life.

Jesus is the Master of Magnetism.

But what about you?

Will you be a Master of Magnetism?

The message of Peter, and the resurrection of Tabitha, teaches us that the power of Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but lives on in the lives of his followers.

The church grew because of what the people around them had seen in the actions of the followers of Jesus Christ. 

Let me say that again.

The church grew because of what the people around them had seen in the actions of the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The message of Jesus, heard through the actions of his followers, was magnetic.

And so, the question of the day is this:

What will you do, what actions will you take, so that the people around you can hear the message of Jesus Christ through you?


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

Is Covid Over?

Is COVID Over?

Our Easter Sunday worship service this year had a better attendance than in 2019.  This year’s official count was one hundred and three years ago it was ninety-three, and attendance at our Easter Vigil service was three more than the last time that we were able to have one.  Does that mean that our worries about Covid -19 are over, and our church is “back to normal”?

Well, no. 

At the very least, it’s too soon to tell.

Yes, we do seem to be past the worst of it.  And yes, many of our members and friends do seem to be finding their way back to in-person worship.  But I’m not ready to say that we’re completely out of the woods and our concerns about Covid-19 are behind us. 

While the war in Ukraine has pushed Covid out of the daily headlines, the pandemic, and the virus that caused it, is still causing trouble around the world.  Most recently, China has been dealing with multiple outbreaks in several places, locking down entire cities, shutting down businesses, closing ports, and creating more disruption to the supply chain which, in turn, causes problems for people, and businesses, around the world.  And China isn’t the only country that has had problems.  Several European countries have had surges in their case counts, health officials in the United States have seen spikes in several areas and are still warning that we might see additional problems in some places.  So, it may be too soon to throw away our supply of masks, although we can all hope that we won’t need them.

The good, even extraordinary, news is that things are getting back to some sort of normal.  Many, though not all, of our members and friends are returning, in-person, on Sunday mornings.  And, more importantly, although attendance hasn’t quite returned to where it was, it is getting better.  Moreover, using Easter attendance as a benchmark suggests that we’re doing pretty well.  Some churches have suffered significant declines during the pandemic that look as if they may be permanent, but indications are that we seem to have weathered the storm… so far. 

At this point, we have returned to doing most of the things that we were doing before.  Our committees are all meeting, we’re holding most of our activities, and we’re almost back to “normal.”  And the good news is that the necessities of the pandemic taught us some things, such as Zoom, that we continue to use to allow increased participation and save some of us from extra trips into Alliance.  But we aren’t yet where we want to be. 

“Almost” isn’t good enough.

While our Easter attendance is certainly encouraging, and our weekly attendance is getting better, we aren’t yet back to where we were.  And, honestly, where we were still isn’t where we want to be.  Some of our members still don’t feel safe going out in public, and that’s okay.  After worrying for more than two weeks while Patti was in the hospital last fall, I completely understand why being in a large group, like in church, might concern some folks.  And, knowing that the virus is still spiking in some places suggests that it could happen here, again, too.

So, what should we do?

First, have hope.  With the arrival of effective vaccines, things are much better, and, over the course of the last two years, our doctors and hospitals have become much at treating this illness, survival and recovery rates have increased, and promising new Covid-specific antiviral medicines seem close to approval.

Second, stay safe.  We understand that all of us are different.  Each person, and each situation, is different.  So, do what you need to do to stay safe, and to feel safe.  We will continue to offer online options for those of you who are unable to get here in person and we will welcome you back when you are ready.

Third, don’t stop being who you are.  Christ Church is an amazing and awesome place that is filled with amazing and awesome people.  We are known in our community for our outreach and love for our neighbors and that is an incredible reputation so don’t stop doing the things that we’ve always done.

And fourth, don’t stop inviting people to Christ Church.  What we have here is great, but people won’t, and can’t, know how wonderful it is unless someone like you points it out to them.  Every time it comes up in conversation, and sometime when it doesn’t, invite your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, hairdressers, barbers, classmates, and anyone else you encounter to visit us.  Carry invitation cards with you in your wallets and purses.  Don’t keep our church a secret.  Go out of your way to sing the praises of Christ Church everywhere you go.  And, since we now have such a strong online presence, and our livestream compares very favorably to other churches, inviting those people to check us out online is a good option.

Because our goal isn’t to get back to “normal.” 

Our goal is not to survive.

Our goal is to be better than ever.

And to grow the Kingdom of God.

Blessings,


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Remembering the Darkness

Remembering the Darkness

April 15, 2022*

(Good Friday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12               John 18:1 – 19:42                   Hebrews 10:16-25

The service of Good Friday is different than most. It isn’t a service that includes preaching in the traditional sense. Instead, it is a time of remembering the ancient promises of God and the stories of the darkness that preceded the joy of Easter. It is in remembering the darkness where we find the real joy of Easter’s dawn and the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection.


Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

52:13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53:1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.By oppressionand judgment, he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people, he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makeshis life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of lifeand be satisfied
by his knowledgemy righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Hebrews 10:16-25

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

John 18:1 – 19:42

18:1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So, the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So, this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken, 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.


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

Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

A photograph of palm branches
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Ponies, Palms, and Murder Plots

(Palm Sunday)

April 10, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 19:28-40

Today we begin the final week of our preparations for Easter.  We remember the time that, as the church, we refer to as “Holy Week.”  This is that time of remembrance that begins with the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we remember today as Palm Sunday but continues with Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest, illegal trial, crucifixion, death, burial, and his resurrection on Easter morning.  I hope that you will join us, not just for the bookends of Palm Sunday and Easter, but for the entire journey through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Saturday, and then, after we have walked through that season of frustration, anger, despair, and darkness, to arrive together and celebrate the joy of Easter morning.

But this morning, we remember the story of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover as recorded in Luke 19:28-40.

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead, went, and found it just as he had told them.  33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.  36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

For such a short passage, there is a lot going on.  First, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village ahead of them.  He knew that they would find a colt that had been tied out, he knew that it was such a green colt that it had never been ridden, and although this last one is hardly surprising, Jesus also knew that the owner of the colt would want to know why they were taking it.  Just as Jesus had seen Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him to follow Jesus in John 1:48, Jesus knew what the disciples would find when they went into the village.  But what is even more surprising, and to my skeptical and sometimes a little cynical mind, even more miraculous, was that the owner of the colt allowed the disciples to borrow it.  Think about that for a minute.  We take it for granted because it was Jesus, because we are reading the Bible, and because we’ve heard the story dozens of times. 

But seriously?  The disciples meet a random stranger, whose horse or donkey has only recently had a baby.  That baby hasn’t been ridden, it wasn’t old enough to take to the trainer, or to start working at its training, two total strangers off the street start untying it, and the only explanation they offer is that their boss needs it.  Seriously?  If you owned a new car, that the dealer just delivered to your house on a flatbed trailer, and you hadn’t even had time to drive it yet, how likely are you to loan it to a total stranger?  Think about that.  If your dog had puppies and they had barely started eating solid food, what the chances that you’d let a stranger “borrow” one?  This wasn’t just a baby, horses and donkeys were valuable and they typically only have one baby every 12 to 18 months.  So, as I think about this story, and think about what we all know about human nature, I think that although there might be more to the story than Luke chose to tell us, I also think that this might just be one of the greatest miracles in the Easter story next to the resurrection itself.

In any case, the owner allows the disciples to borrow the colt, they bring it to Jesus, throw their outer garments over it’s back, and Jesus rides it.  And that, if you know anything about horses, may also be a significant miracle.  Ask your friends who know horses, what’s likely to happen if you just jump on the back of a horse that’s never been ridden.  The odds are good that, outside of that rider being Jesus, that such a story isn’t going to end well.

And as Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives toward the gates of the city of Jerusalem, the crowd that was with Jesus began to praise God, in loud voices, for all the miracles that they had seen.  They pulled palm branches from the trees and laid them in the road in front of Jesus, and if Palm branches weren’t handy, they laid down their own shirts so that even the animal upon which Jesus rode would, symbolically, not get its feet dirty.  And more than that, they began to shout an historic welcome found in scripture, notably in Psalm 118, that the people of Israel had used as kings entered the city of Jerusalem.  They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” and they said, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 

And the Pharisees who saw what they were doing, and who heard what they were shouting were displeased.  They recognized that the disciples were offering Jesus a king’s welcome.  They understood that these symbols were used, and were reserved for, the recognition of kings.  And they knew that not far away, inside of the city, sharing a wall with the temple itself, was the Fortress Antonia and a detachment of Roman soldiers.  They knew that those soldiers were there to keep the peace, they knew that the only king that could ever be accepted was Caesar, and they knew that blood had been spilled the last time someone claimed to be the king of Israel.  The arrival of Jesus, and his disciples’ cries proclaiming him to be king, was threatening to upset the status quo.  And the people who had the most to lose from a change in the status quo were the Pharisees.

They insist that Jesus tell his disciples to stop before too many people hear, or at least before the wrong people, the powerful people, the people with swords, could hear them.  But Jesus stares them down and declares that if the disciples keep quiet, the stones along the sides of the road would cry out instead.

And so, the actions of the disciples, and Jesus’ refusal to stop them, combined with all the previous interactions that Jesus had with the Pharisees, had reached a climax.  The Pharisees could no longer look the other way, there was no longer any doubt, they absolutely knew that Jesus was going to upset the status quo.  If Jesus lived, more people were going to follow him.  And if those people were going to label Jesus as a king, it was going to stir up the worst kind of trouble.  The deal that the Pharisees and the other leaders of Israel had made with Rome was that they could remain in power if they helped Rome to rule over Israel and if they helped them to keep the peace.  If the disciples proclaimed that Jesus was a king, then this contract would be broken, and the Romans would blame the Pharisees.  It was their necks, their jobs, their careers, their lives, that were on the line.  It was no longer an intellectual argument.  In this moment, the Pharisees had to choose between themselves, and Jesus.  And they knew what had to happen.

Jesus.  Must.   Die.


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

Religious Extravagance

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Religious Extravagance

April 03, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 43:16-21                      John 12:1-8                Philippians 3:4b-14

What do you think of when I say the word… extravagant?

We buy things that we need, but how nice those things are often depends upon how much money we have available to spend on things that don’t matter.  We might need a watch, but we could buy a cheap one at the dollar store that will keep time, or we can buy a decent Timex that will last longer.  But when we have a little more disposable income, we might consider buying an Apple watch or a Garmin sport watch that not only keeps time but counts our steps, calories, tracks our heartrate, and a bunch of other things.  And there are some people who have enough money that they can wear a year’s salary, or even the value of a house, on their wrist with wildly expensive watches made of gold and platinum.  But do you know what those expensive watches say at three o’clock in the afternoon?  They say that it’s three o’clock.  The difference between a Timex and a Rolex isn’t that the time is different, or that expensive watches somehow give their wearers twenty-five hours in a day instead of the usual twenty-four, the difference is in their level of extravagance.

We could say that a house with four bedrooms is better than a house with one bedroom if you have a larger family.  But at some point, as homes grow larger and pass three thousand square feet, four thousand, five thousand square feet, and even larger, at some point we’ve crossed a line from utilitarian and into extravagance.

And so, if I were to ask you what comes to mind when I say the words “religious extravagance,” I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you began to think about the mansions that we’ve seen on television that belong to a variety televangelists and other religious leaders who have capitalized, in one way or another, on their position, power, or notoriety.  But is religious extravagance about 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets? 

As we consider that question, let’s begin by remembering what God said through his prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:16-21.

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

As I read that passage, I divided it into four sections that each said something different.  The first, asks God’s people to remember what God is capable of doing and all the amazing, awesome, powerful, and even impossible things that God has done.  The second, simply says that while we should remember what God has done, we should not live in the past or get stuck there.  The third, says that as we keep the first two things in mind, the big news is that God is doing something new.  Now, God is doing the impossible.  He is making a road through the impassable wilderness and bringing free flowing water to the desert.  The fourth thing explains why God does everything that God does.  The reason that God does extravagant miracles, achieves the impossible, blesses his people, feeds them, and cares for them, is not just so that they will give thanks, but so that they will tell the world about his greatness.

But in John 12:1-8 we see an entirely different sort of extravagance as the time of Jesus’s crucifixion draws near.

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor.  Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pintof pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied.  “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

For perspective, let’s consider the value of what Mary did for Jesus.  It’s one thing to say that she anointed Jesus with perfume that cost a year’s wages, but it’s another thing entirely to put that into language that is personally meaningful to our wallets.  Thinking about a year’s wages in a vague sort of way sounds like it might be a lot, but we feel a punch in the gut when we put that into numbers that we understand.  And a number that most of us can understand is the median income.  The “median” is the annual income at which half of all wage earners made more, and half made less.  And in the United States, the median income in 2021 was $79,900.  So, when we say that Mary poured $80,000 on the ground, we feel that it a different way than saying that it was worth about a year’s wages.  John uses this as an opportunity to criticize Judas for being a thief, but it’s hard not to think, as Judas suggested, about how much food, clothing, rental assistance, bus passes, or other things that we could buy for the poor with $80,000.  Mary’s gift was not just costly, it was extravagant.  But Jesus understands and explains to everyone present that there was a limited time that anyone could give such a gift, and while God’s intent was that this gift should have been for Jesus’ burial, Mary chose to give her gift to Jesus while he was still alive rather than after he was dead.

And in Philippians 3:4b-14, the Apostle Paul frames the discussion about extravagance differently.  Rather than reminding everyone about the extravagant gifts that God has given to us, or about the extravagant gift that Mary gave to Jesus, Paul explains how his life changed because of his reaction and response to God’s extravagance.  Paul says:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul begins by reminding his readers that for all the worldly reasons that people can have confidence, trust, and even arrogance, Paul has all of them… in abundance.  Paul had money, possessions, accomplishments, power, authority and more.  He was born into the right kind of prestigious family, he mixed with the right kinds of prestigious people, he followed all of the church’s rules in a very public way in the sect of the Pharisees, and even among the Pharisees, he was outstanding in his passion, zeal, and herculean efforts as a defender of the faith and a warrior for the church as he persecuted those who followed Jesus, and he did all these things so well that no one could find fault with his theology or practice.  Paul was beyond a rising star in the leadership of the church and was on track to be among those in the very highest levels of the Jewish church and the leadership of Israel.

But Paul after he met Jesus, he threw it all away.

Because he chose to follow Jesus, Paul lost his position in Jewish leadership, was cast out of the Pharisees, excommunicated, banned from the Temple, and we suspect that he may have even been disowned by his family.  Paul says that he has now given up anything that he once considered to be valuable because the value of knowing Jesus was worth more than anything that he had before.  In fact, what Paul received when he put his faith in Jesus was so extravagantly valuable that in comparison, everything that he had before was worth no more than garbage to him.

The value of what Paul received from God through faith in Jesus Christ is so valuable, that even after he has given up everything that he had, Paul still looks forward to the future and presses onward so that he can become whatever God called him to be, and to do whatever God called him to do.  Paul freely admits that Gods work in him, and through him, is not yet finished, but he continues to do the work of Jesus Christ, and to press on so that he can earn the reward that God has prepared for him.

Isaiah said that our mission it to show the world how amazing, wonderful, and awesome God is, and not spend our time and money showing people how awesome we are.  The goal is to get the people around us to give thanks to God and give praise to him, not to give thanks and give praise to us.  Mary shows her gratitude to Jesus by giving him the most extravagant gift that she can imagine.  It is a gift that is her life savings and represents her pension and her rainy-day fund all wrapped up in one package.  Paul says that God’s gift to us, the gift of his own son, Jesus Christ, is such an extravagant gift, that nothing that we have, and nothing that we can do, can ever begin to show God how grateful we are.  Instead, Paul’s response was to give up all that he had and spend his entire life giving of himself to do the work of God’s kingdom.

My friends, religious extravagance isn’t about churches that seat tens of thousands, or 25,000 square foot mansions, Rolls Royce automobiles, and private jets.  Those sorts of things point people in exactly the opposite direction that God wants us pointing.  Religious extravagance is demonstrating to the world that what God has given to us in Jesus Christ is so valuable that we will give, or do, anything to show God our gratitude and to do the work of the kingdom of God so that, as God said through Isaiah, the world would proclaim God’s praise.

When the followers of Jesus Christ are extravagant, every part of that extravagance should point to God so that the world sees the wonders of our amazing God… and not us.


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