Second Chance. Last Chance.

Second Chance, Last Chance

May 01, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 21:1-19                         Acts 9:1-20                               Revelation 5:11-14

If you’ve ever followed the results of a sports tournament, and even if it was a chess tournament, you will remember that there are different structures for those competitions.   In some, like the NFL championship, once the post-season starts, losing one game removes you from the competition entirely.  But in others, like some team sports in the Olympics, losing just moves you to a second bracket and, although winning the gold medal is out of the question, winning that second bracket could still mean that your team could win bronze and appear on the medal podium.

A few years ago, after I had preached another message about second chances, my friend John Cassidy gave me what he had labelled as the “second chance flyswatter.”  It lives up to its name because John melted a big hole in the middle of it.

Sometimes there are second chances.

As the followers of Jesus, we often say that we worship the God of second chances, and that we are a people of second chances.  None of us here are perfect and all of us are here because, through his grace, and through the suffering of his son, Jesus Christ, God has given all of us a second, third, or fourth chance.  And often, we’ve been given a lot more chances than that.

But how many chances do we get?  Is there a point when our luck, and God’s grace, will run out?

Before we answer that, let’s go back to the story of Easter and remember the events of John 21:1-19 where it says…

21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So, they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

In this reading, we witness Jesus as he appears, for the third time, to the disciples.  Even though they had seen Jesus after his resurrection, and even though the disciples were still spending time together, Peter isn’t sure what he’s going to do with his life and decides that he’s going back to work, back to his boat, and bring in some money to pay the bills.  But Jesus has other plans.  Even though Peter denied Jesus three times, heard the rooster crow, and felt like an utter failure, Jesus still intends to use him.  On a beach in Galilee, Jesus meets the disciples, performs a miracle, forgives Peter, invites him back into ministry, and launches him, and the other disciples out into the world… again.  Just because Jesus died and rose again, and just because Jesus is no longer physically walking with then twenty-four each day, doesn’t mean that their ministry is over.  It’s a second chance.  And it’s a huge second chance for Peter, who felt like a failure, had given up hope, and was ready to go back to his old life and disappear. 

Jesus still has work for them to do.

But the story is bigger than that.  In Acts 9:1-20, we hear the story of Saul, an enforcer for the Pharisees who was hunting down Christians for what he, and the chief priests of Israel, saw as believing, and preaching, false doctrines.

9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So, they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

Saul wasn’t Peter.  Saul didn’t deny Jesus and feel like a failure.  Saul was the enemy of Jesus and everything that he stood for.  Saul held the coats of the men who stoned Jesus’ follower Stephen to death.  Saul believed that any and all teachings about Jesus were false doctrines and he was hunting down, arresting, and dragging the Jewish followers of Jesus back to Jerusalem for trial.  He wasn’t just a paper tiger, he was a real, and serious, threat and even the leaders of the new Jesus movement were afraid of him. 

But God doesn’t just stop Saul.  God doesn’t just protect his followers from Saul.  God gives Saul a second chance.  Jesus reveals himself, shows him the truth, changes Saul’s heart, and transforms him into one of the most potent preachers, teachers, and influencers of all time.

But is there an end to God’s patience?  

Will there be an end to the opportunity for second chances?

We find the answers to those questions in Revelation 5:11-14 and also discover what it means for each one of us.

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

As I read these words, the critical bit that stood out for me was “13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lambbe praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!””

Every human being that has ever lived, plus every rabbit, worm, eagle, mountain lion, and every other animal that lives above, on, or under the earth, bows down, worships Jesus, gives praise to him, and recognizes that he will rule forever.  And the elders of the church, and what might just be the four most powerful creatures in all of creation, bow down and say, “Amen” which means, literally, “I agree.”

This is the end.  This is where the first creation ends, and judgement begins.  This is the point at which there are no more second chances.  Up until this moment there might have been a chance for a second chance.  But afterwards, there will be only judgement.

Three times, Peter denied that he even knew Jesus.  But Jesus gave him a second chance.

Paul had declared himself an enemy of Jesus and had dedicated his life to stamping out Jesus’ teaching as well as the followers of Jesus.  But Jesus gave him a second chance.

There is nothing that you have done, will do, or could do, that would make you ineligible for a second (or a three hundred and forty second) chance in this lifetime.  But once this lifetime ends, that door closes.  Every one of us has a limited time to choose Jesus.  And, like Peter, those of us who have chosen Jesus have work to do.  Like Peter, and like Paul, once we have accepted Jesus, we become a part of his ministry to reach the lost and to save the world.

One day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  But our mission is do the best that we can, to share the good news so that as many of our friends, family, and the people around us are on the right side of God’s judgement.  The Good News of Jesus Christ can’t be kept a secret.

We have work to do.


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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.

Unmasked!

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Unmasked!

February 27, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 34:29-35             Luke 9:28-36                       2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2

Have you ever felt self-conscious?  Have you worried that you don’t look quite right, or suddenly notice that everyone seems to be looking at you?  Maybe you have food stuck in your teeth, or your fly is unzipped, or your skin broke out and have a big zit or something.  It happens to everyone.  There even a powerful photograph of President Carter, Menachem Begin, and Anwar Sadat moments before they went in front of the cameras to sign the Camp David Accords.  In that moment, all three of these men, presidents of powerful nations, simultaneously and self-consciously stop to straighten their neckties before stepping out into the glare of the public eye.  And, I wonder if what we see in Exodus 34:29-35, was caused, at least in part, by Moses being self-conscious about everyone looking at him.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so, Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

After Moses met with God, he was outwardly, and visibly, changed.  Our scripture says that his face was radiant, and from the description, that doesn’t seem to mean that he was happy in the way that we say, “the bride was radiant.”  We are, apparently, to understand that Moses’ face was… glowing… with a light of its own and that light, not surprisingly, was at least disconcerting, if not frightening, to the people around him.  The world didn’t seem any different to Moses, but Moses’ appearance was different, and it was noticeable, even shocking, to everyone who saw him.  And so, either to calm the fears of everyone else, or to calm his own feelings of self-consciousness, Moses began to wear a mask in public after each of his meetings with God.  There was something about being in the presence of God, that changes human beings.  And we see something similar in Luke 9:28-36.

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John, and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses, and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

The disciples had become accustomed to traveling with Jesus and it was probably not uncommon for them to wake up early and be walking before the sun had risen.  But whatever the case on this day, whether morning or evening, the disciples that were walking with Jesus were half asleep.  But as Jesus prayed, the appearance of his face changed… and even his clothes changed so that they became as bright as a flash of lightning.  And then Moses and Elijah appeared, and they shone in “glorious splendor” perhaps, in a way, that was similar to the way that Moses’ face had shone when he met God.  And so now, obviously, Peter, James, and John were absolutely, completely, 100 percent awake and were, in a sense, in shock.  As soon as Moses and Elijah began to leave, Peter just begins to babble nonsense about building houses, worship centers, or something.  And then, as if this hadn’t been enough, suddenly a cloud appears, envelops them, and the voice of God announces that the disciples should listen to Jesus because he is his son.  And then, just as suddenly as it began, it was over, and they found themselves standing, on the mountainside, alone.

What I find interesting, is that even though Peter had been babbling about building shelters, and although Peter was often prone to shoot off his mouth, and to say things without thinking, after this incredible experience, none of these three disciples say… anything.  They don’t tell their families, they don’t tell the other disciples, they don’t tell anybody… anything.  And again, I think this has a lot to do with the disciples feeling self-conscious.  What they had just experienced was powerful, incredible, and probably more than a little… unbelievable.  Even for people who had witnessed Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead, who would believe what they had just seen?  Who would believe that they had seen the glory of God radiating from the face of Jesus?  Who would believe that they had been surrounded by the holy cloud of God that they had read about in the scriptures, or that they had met Moses and Elijah?  Who would believe that they had heard God’s own voice proclaiming that Jesus was his son?  Would anyone believe them?  Would they think they were crazy?  Would the Pharisees and other church leaders declare that they were heretics and throw them out of the Temple?

And regardless of their self-consciousness or fear, the disciples could not un-see what they had seen.  Like Moses, they had spent time in the presence of God, and they had been changed.

But what does that mean for us?  What do we take away from these stories of Moses, Jesus, the disciples, and the transfiguration?  In 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2, Paul explained it to his church this way:

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Obviously, Paul’s understanding of why Moses wore a veil is not he same as mine and, I think, not the same as the reason given in Exodus.  Exodus simply says that people were afraid to look at Moses because he glowed or radiated but Paul interprets that to mean that Moses wore a mask so that people couldn’t see that the radiance of God in him faded over time.  Those are not at all the same things and, I think, Paul’s interpretation is unfair, and a little unkind, to Moses.  But I also think that Paul says this to make a point.  Paul makes the point of saying that accepting Christ is like tearing away the veil, or unmasking God so that we can see his glory more clearly.  Christians, Paul says, are the “unveiled faces” that can see God more clearly and something happens to us because of it.

As I said before, human beings that have spent time in the presence of God, are changed by the experience.  Moses glowed.  He was both outwardly and inwardly different because he met God.  Peter and James and John, and all the other disciples, were changed because of the time that they spent in the presence of both God and his son, Jesus.  Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his entire life was turned upside down, and he was never the same afterwards.  Paul says that because we have met Jesus, and because we have been unmasked, and have seen the glory of God, our lives have also been changed.  We don’t give up, we are encouraged, we no longer deceive other people or distort the word of God.  Instead, we tell the truth as plainly as we can, and we tell the truth all the time, so that everyone will know that we can be trusted.

But there’s one more thing worth mentioning, I think.  Paul believed that when Moses met God face to face, the glory of God that radiated from Moses’ face faded over time.  And while I’m not sure that’s how I would interpret it, there is some sense to it.  Human beings are not God.  We do not, and we cannot, contain God’s glory.  Being in the presence of God changes us, but the effect in us fades if we aren’t deliberate in doing things that bring us back into God’s presence.  That’s why setting times of regular Bible study, prayer, and church attendance are so vital.  Nearly every Sunday, we pray that God would be at work changing us into the people that he created us to be.  But for that to happen, we need to do two things.  First, we need to give God permission to change us, and be willing to change.  And second, we must, regularly and deliberately, invite God into our lives, and set aside time for us to spend time in God’s presence.

But we warned: Just as Moses, Peter, James, John, Paul, and the disciples discovered, being in God’s presence changes people. 

And maybe that’s why so many people seem to be afraid to do it.


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

Christian Extra-Terrestrials?

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Christian Extra-Terrestrials?

February 20, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Luke 6:27-38

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

Many of you are old enough to have watched the Steven Spielberg movie, E.T. the Extraterrestrial and, even if you haven’t watched it, you probably at least know something about it.  There’s also a good chance that E.T. is what you thought of when you saw today’s sermon title, “Christian Extraterrestrials.”  But despite Elon Musk’s goal of establishing a colony on Mars, interplanetary Christians is not what I have in mind… at least for today.  What I have in mind, however, is just a little bit different linguistically.  I thought about using Superhuman, or Supernatural, but those words bring up mental images of Superman from the planet Krypton, or a couple of brothers on television who fight ghosts, demons, and other non-human creatures, so neither of those words really work either.  But the definition of the prefix “extra” means “beyond” and so while “extra-terrestrial” can mean a person, or a creature, that is from beyond our planet, it might also mean someone from this planet whose abilities lie beyond the those of normal, or expected, people. 

And besides, it made you curious.

In any case, “beyond terrestrial” is a legitimate translation of the language that is used in our scriptures today.  But, before we get to that, let’s begin with the story of Joseph.  Nearing the end of Joseph’s epic in Genesis, we join his story at the point where, having once been sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph is now, after Pharaoh, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt if not the second most powerful man on the planet.  But at this moment, Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, the same men who years earlier had beaten him, thrown him in an empty cistern, and sold him into slavery.  And, understandably, when his brothers realize who he is, they are terrified.  We rejoin that story in Genesis 45:3-11,15:

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

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

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

15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Joseph’s brothers were terrified that, because he was now the most powerful man in Egypt, and not the pesky younger brother, they expected that he would take his revenge on them for what they had done.  And, honestly, no one would be surprised if that had happened.  Joseph had every right to be angry and it would have been fair for him to sell his brothers into slavery as they had done to him.  But Joseph’s relationship with God gave him a different perspective.  Rather than seeing this as an opportunity for revenge, Joseph sees that God has been intervening in human affairs, influencing events, and moving him into position so that he could rescue the entire nation of Egypt, and his family, the people that would one day become the nation of Israel.  Joseph behaves in a way that is unexpected because his relationship with God has given him a vision of the world that is beyond human.

And we can see that same vision as Jesus teaches his disciples in Luke 6:27-38, as he says:

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus says that being ‘just as good’ as the evil people around you isn’t good enough.  And being just as good as average and ordinary people isn’t good enough either.  The standard for his followers is to do good even when no other reasonable person would do good, to be unreasonably good, or… beyond humanly good.  Jesus wants his followers to love the people around them more than other reasonable people would love, to love in a way that is beyond humanly loving or, beyond earthly love. 

And the examples that Jesus gives are so far beyond our understanding of normal, that they are understandably difficult.  Jesus says that we should loan money, not just to people that we trust, and not just people that we believe can pay us back, but to loan money to people we don’t even like, people we regard as our enemies, and that includes people that we might be confident have no means, and possibly no intention, of ever paying us back.  Jesus says that we should loan them the money with no expectation that we should get it back.  In other words, just give money away to people that you hate, and who probably hate you back.  Loving in ways that are beyond human, or beyond terrestrial, is exactly the point that Jesus is making.  Our calling isn’t to love the people around us like ordinary, average, or even exceptional people love, our calling is to love the people around us the way that God loves.  God is loving, kind, and merciful to the ungrateful and the wicked who neither like him nor even know him.

It’s worth noting here that “Do not judge” is currently one of the most commonly misquoted and misinterpreted verses of scripture.  It most certainly does not mean that we should… never… judge.  Matthew includes this same quote from Jesus, but records Jesus’ statement as saying, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1) To make this clear, some translations record this as “Do not judge unfairly” rather than simply do not judge.  There are many times when Jesus asks, even commands us to judge between good and evil, honor and dishonor, to be discerning in all that we do, and other things.  What Jesus clearly means is that we will be judged in the same way that we judge others.  Don’t rush to judgement.  Don’t judge without evidence. Or, as the translators have said, don’t judge unfairly.  Likewise, we can expect to receive the generosity of God with the same, or better, generosity that we show others.  Give and it will be given to you in an even more abundant and generous measure.

But why?  Why is the standard for love, mercy, and compassion so much higher for Christians than it is for everyone else?  Why does God demand that our behavior be beyond human, whether we call that super-human or extra-terrestrial?  We find the answer to “why” in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth where he says (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50)

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam [aka Jesus], a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man [Adam], so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man [Jesus], so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall webear the image of the heavenly man.

And although Paul takes a while to get to his point, the answer really is simple.  The reason that the followers of Jesus Christ are commanded, and empowered, to behave in ways that are beyond human, and the reason that it isn’t okay to just be the same as other people, is because earth and heaven are not the same.  Adam and Jesus are not the same.  When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we become image bearers of God.  Our calling is no longer to look like everyone else and reflect the image of the world in which we live, but rather to reflect the image of a merciful, just, compassionate, and loving God and to reflect an entirely different reality.

As the image bearers of God, we must love more than humanly possible, be impossibly forgiving, extraordinarily generous, inhumanly merciful, and in every other way that we can, be an accurate reflection the goodness and holiness of God.

God has called us, commanded us, and empowered us to behave in ways that are super-human, and beyond earthly.

In other words, we are called to be nothing less than Extra-Terrestrial Christians.


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

Whom Do You Trust?

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Video of this worship service can be found here: https://youtu.be/t5u9MdvdDYg

Whom Do You Trust?

February 13, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Luke6:17-26

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Do you remember the television game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

On that show, you earned money by answering multiple choice questions that increased in difficulty as you advanced.  And, as the questions got harder, players had the opportunity to use three “lifelines.”  They could ask the audience, they could reduce the number of possible answers from four to two, or they could phone a friend.  Today, I want to think about that last one.  Imagine that one question might stand between you and a million dollars.  And that’s what every contestant had to think about when they had the opportunity play the game.  Choose one person, and a million dollars hangs on their ability to answer one random question.  And in that moment of decision, those contestants had to ask themselves, “Whom do I trust?”

In a variety of ways, we answer that question all the time.  Whom do we trust to educate, or to babysit, or provide medical care, for our children?  Whom do we trust with the money that we save for our retirement?  Whom do we trust to run our government, church, or social club?  Whom do we trust with our friendship, or our medical care, or a host of other things?  The stakes of our decisions are high because our lives can, literally, hang in the balance.  That’s exactly what we find in our scriptures for today.  We begin with the words of God found in Jeremiah 17:5-10.  Lives hang in the balance, but whom do you trust? 

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

This is incredibly relevant to us in the twenty-first century.  God doesn’t say that we are cursed for trusting any one person, but we can be cursed by God for putting the fundamental trust of our lives in any human, in any person, other than God.  We must not put our trust in politicians, or in human governments, or in television, radio, or internet personalities.  Humans fail.  Humans disappoint.  Humans can be selfish and turn away from God.  If we want our lives to be blessed by God, then we must trust our lives to God and put our confidence entirely in God.

At the end of the day, God says, our reward is based on merit.  Our reward isn’t based on what we thought, but on our deeds.  In other words, our reward is based upon what we do.  And please note, that this statement about rewards is not written in the past tense.  This is not a judgement by God after our lives are over, but rewards that God gives while we are alive.

In Luke 6:17-26, Jesus delivers a message that is known as the Sermon on the Plain, and in that message, Jesus also has something to say about trust.

17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Untold thousands of sermons have, undoubtedly been written about Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain but let’s think about its meaning in light of today’s focus on trust.  Jesus says that the poor, the hungry, and the weeping are all blessed by God and most everyone will admit that this always sounds a bit odd.  But as we think about trust, doesn’t it make sense that the poor are blessed, because they trust God for their daily living.  The hungry trust God for their daily food.  Those who weep lean on God for strength and we all cling to God when the people around us hate us, exclude us, insult us, and reject us.  Likewise, the richer we are, the more comfortable we get, when our bellies are full, and when we are laughing and surrounded by friends, it is easy for us to put our trust somewhere other than God. 

The emphasis of Jesus’ message is that we needn’t worry when things aren’t going well.  None of us want to be poor, or hungry, filled with sorrow, or hated by the people around us, but our primary concern should never be for our comfort or our popularity.  Our primary concern should always be about our relationship with, and our trust in God.

And in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Paul shares a message for his church that remains strikingly relevant in a twenty first century world that doubts the resurrection just as much as it did two thousand years ago.  Paul says…

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Then, like now, there were people, even preachers, that said Jesus had never been raised from the dead.  They may have said that Jesus never really died, or that the resurrection never happened, and Paul could find folks with either of those opinions, just as you can now.  But Paul makes it clear that if there is no resurrection, then all of Christianity falls apart.  Anyone, and certainly any preacher or teacher, that says that the resurrection didn’t happen is a false witness.  If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we have no hope of resurrection, no hope of eternal life, and everything that we have believed, and our life’s work, has been a waste.  Were that true, Paul says, our trust would have been completely misplaced, and we would be the most pitiable people in the world.

But Jesus did rise from the dead.

And that, Paul says, is the foundation of our faith, our church, our mission, who we are, and everything that we do.  It is in Jesus Christ that we have placed our faith, and in whom we have put our whole trust.

Twenty centuries ago, the temptation was for people to put their faith and confidence in the Caesar, or the emperor, national governments, powerful armies, wealthy patrons, money, or false gods.  And, although the names of the politicians, nations, and false gods may have changed, the things that tempt people away from God haven’t really changed that much.  We’re still tempted to trust politicians, parties, national governments, powerful armies, employers, wealth, popularity, and other gods instead of the one true God, the creator of everything.  Poverty, hunger, sorrow, and persecution, are not now, nor have they ever been something that anyone wants for their life, but they all have a way of clarifying our trust.  The lesson isn’t that it’s good to be poor, but that the most important thing is to put our whole trust in God and to keep God in the center of all that we do, and all that we are.

We still wonder whom we can trust, but ultimately the answer is a lot more important than a game show and is worth a lot more than a million dollars.  Times changed and the people of the Old and New Testaments would feel lost in the world of the twenty-first century, but wisdom doesn’t change.  The wisdom of scripture is just a true today as it was two thousand, or even three thousand years ago.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

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

From Ruin to Rescue

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From Ruin to Rescue

February 06, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 6:1-13

Luke 5:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

There is a story that is common to special Sundays with the Gideon’s, or to inspirational speakers who are recovered alcoholics, or drug addicts, or former gang members.  It’s the same attraction that we have to the stories of people like Chuck Colson.  Colson was convicted of breaking into the Watergate building and was a key participant in that Nixon-era scandal, but he encountered the message of the risen Jesus in prison and founded Prison Fellowship ministry to reach others who find themselves on the wrong side of iron bars.  We are inspired by stories of people who got lost or reached rock bottom, but ultimately found a way to rebuild their lives.

As we read the stories of scripture, we find many stories like that and, in fact, the whole point of God’s message is a story of redemption, rescue, and restoration.  But before a story of rescue can be told, we often need to hear a story of ruin.  Before we hear how a person rose from the ashes like a phoenix, there is often a story of how they crashed and burned.  And, for that, we begin with the story of Israel contained in Isaiah 6:1-13 where we hear this:

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
    and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
    and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
    it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
    leave stumps when they are cut down,
    so the holy seed will be the stump* in the land.”

Isaiah has a vision of God in all his glory, sitting on the throne of heaven and Isaiah cries out that he is ruined or, we perhaps understand his intentions better by translating that as “I am a dead man walking.”    It was a common belief that any imperfect and sinful mortal who saw a perfect and holy God face to face would immediately die.  But an angel, a seraph, takes a hot coal from the altar, touches it to Isaiah’s lips and says that his guilt has been taken away and atonement has been made for his sin.  And so, when God asks who he might send into the world as his ambassador, Isaiah raises his hand and volunteers. 

.

But the message that God has for the people of Israel is terrifying.  God’s message is that the people just aren’t getting it.  They don’t see, they don’t understand, they’re sick, and they don’t want to get better, and God’s judgement is that for their disobedience, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their unbelief.  And, when Isaiah asks how long this punishment will endure, God replies that Israel will be left to their own devices until their houses, fields, people, and everything else are utterly ruined and the trees are left as stumps. 

Stumps.

The word “stumps” is worth noting because a few chapters later, Isaiah refers to the messiah as a shoot that comes up from the “stump of Jesse.” (Isaiah 11:1) God’s punishment is to turn Israel over to the natural consequences of their disobedient actions and refuse to rescue them.  But, in the same passage, God hints at the hope of future rescue.

And then, after we have heard about what happens to a disobedient people, and what happens to them when they refuse to hear the words of God, in Luke 5:1-11, we are given a vision of what happens when God’s people do listen and are obedient to his words as Jesus begins his ministry and encounters fishermen by the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.

Jesus had barely started his ministry but even so, Simon, who would later be called Peter, was willing to let Jesus borrow his boat as a place to preach to the people gathered on the shores of Galilee.  After Jesus was done preaching, he asked Simon, a professional fisherman who had been fishing the shores of this lake for his entire life, to go out into deep water and to throw out the nets that he and his partners had just spent hours cleaning.  Worse still, the fisherman had not only just cleaned the nets, they had spent the entire night fishing with them and caught nothing but weeds, grass, sticks, and rocks.  They had been awake all night.  They had been throwing heavy, wet, nets into the sea and hauling them back out, hand over hand, time after time, hour after hour, all night.  And then, after they had spent their morning cleaning and repairing those same nets, they were ready to go home, see their families, eat, get some sleep, and get ready to do it again.  They were tired, sore, hungry, and probably more than a little grouchy.

But despite their hunger, irritation, fatigue, professional experience, and every other reason that they had to say no, and tell Jesus to get stuffed, Simon tells Jesus, “…because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

“Because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

And because Simon and his friends are willing to be obedient, even when they don’t even really know Jesus, and even though everything says that they should just go home and get some sleep, their lives are completely transformed.  This is the opposite of what we saw a moment ago in Isaiah 6.  There, the people of God knew the words of God but selfishly chose to go their own way and to do their own thing.  Here, even though they haven’t yet recognized Jesus as the Messiah, these fishermen are willing to be obedient, even in the face of their own hunger, fatigue, and irritation.  And it is that willingness to be obedient that transforms their lives.

And that brings us to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where we find Paul warning the church in Corinth that they seem to be drifting toward selfishness and away from obedience.  Paul says:

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul says that the people of the church need to remember where they started, to remember the gospel message that they had originally found so compelling that they had left behind their former gods, and former religions, and chosen to follow Jesus instead.  It was that message, Paul says, that saved them and abandoning that message would make everything that they had done, and everything that they had endured, completely pointless.  He then recites four points that are still contained on many of our creeds today, that Christ died, was buried, raised on the third day, and appeared to Peter and the twelve. 

But Paul also says that although he had once persecuted the church, he was shown grace by God, had been transformed, and was now a missionary to the Gentiles for the cause of Jesus Christ.  Like Peter, Paul’s entire life was transformed by his obedience to God, and he urges the people of the church in Corinth to remember that this was the power of the gospel in which they had put their faith.

We face a choice between ruin and redemption, between ruin and rescue, and the thing that transforms one to the other is our obedience to God and our willingness to do the things that Jesus asks us to do.  Clinging to selfishness will inevitably lead to our destruction, but like Peter, the fishermen, and like Paul, our obedience to Jesus Christ can completely transform our lives into something new, powerful, unexpected, and completely amazing.

But, having been rescued, God asks us to rescue others.  God is still asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

Are you ready to be obedient?  Are you ready to fish for people?

What will be your answer? 


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

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

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

Missing the Point

You can find the livestream of this service here: https://youtu.be/NPJQzZy3N9U

Missing the Point Podcast

Some thoughts on how the followers of Jesus should have conversations about politics and other difficult (and divisive) subjects can be found in this special video short of today’s benediction:

https://youtu.be/K-5cLL-5p-s

Missing the Point

January 30, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Luke 4:21-30

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

To find an example for this morning’s message, I opened my search engine and entered, “People who missed the point” and I was not disappointed.  I was instantly directed to an article on Buzzfeed with a title that almost exactly matched my search, and while some of the illustrations are too visual to explain here there were still plenty of examples to make you smile… and groan a little.  There was the photo a handicap “accessible” bathroom that was at the top of two stairs, a person using the blade of a Swiss army knife to open a wine bottle while the corkscrew was plainly in view a fraction of an inch from their thumb, a photo of a CNN “Breaking News” bulletin that the Titanic had sunk 102 years ago, a “connect the dots” coloring book in which the printed dots were already connected, a company named “Just Wireless” that was selling computer cable wires, a restaurant that offered a veggie burger with bacon, and Crest mouthwash that advertised 24-hour protection with instructions to use twice per day.

Sometimes people seem to completely miss the point… and sometimes it’s funny when they do.  We probably all do it from time to time.  But sometimes missing the point isn’t funny at all, and sometimes the results of missing the point can be downright tragic.  We begin in Jeremiah 1:4-10 where we hear God cautioning a very young Jeremiah, possibly only 12 years old, that he should not miss the point.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knewyou,
    before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

God tells Jeremiah that he has known everything about him, about his life, about his purpose, and about his calling to mission and ministry since before he was even conceived by his parents.  But Jeremiah is certain that God has made a mistake, misses the point, and argues with God because he is certain that God cannot use a twelve-year-old to bring a message to the leaders, priests, royalty, and the king of Israel.  But, again, Jeremiah misses the point and God says something that amounts to, “What part of I set you apart,” or “I appointed you” did you not understand?  God says that the point is not that Jeremiah is young and will, almost certainly, be disrespected by the elders of Israel because of his age, the point is that God, the creator of the universe, is sending him, is going with him, and promises to rescue him from whatever happens.  And to make that point even clearer, God touches Jeremiah and says that he has put the words of God into his mouth and gives him the authority to uproot, tear down, destroy, overthrow, build, or to plant entire nations and kingdoms. 

Boom. 

That’s the point.

And, as we rejoin the story of Jesus that we began last week (The Power of Systems Integration), we discover that the people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth missed the point quite spectacularly in Luke 4:21-30 after Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll and announced the fulfillment of scripture.

21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosyin the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Jesus announces that the people in the synagogue are witnesses as he begins the fulfillment of some of the messianic prophecies found in the writings of Isaiah, and the response of the people is “Who does this guy think he is?  We know him. We’ve known him his entire life.  We grew up with his parents. Obviously, the Jesus we know cannot be the Messiah.”  Jesus replies by pointing out that their attitude was expected.  Prophets throughout history were commonly misunderstood and completely disrespected in their hometowns for the same reasons that the people of Nazareth misunderstood Jesus.  And it was for that reason that Elijah performed a miracle for an outcast, outsider, and foreigner and why Elisha healed the leprosy of the commander of an enemy army rather than any of the people of Israel.

Jeremiah and the people of Nazareth made the same mistake.  They assumed that the focus was on them when God repeatedly tells us that the work of the kingdom is not about us.  It’s about God.  And when Jesus reminded them that they weren’t the center of attention, that Israel’s greatest prophets revealed God’s power to outsiders, and that he simply isn’t going to perform miracles on command, they got so angry that they transformed into a mob that tried to kill him.  And that’s when the miracle happens.  The synagogue mob tries to throw Jesus off a cliff… and he walks right through the crowd and goes on his way.  There seems to be only two possibilities.  Either Jesus simply faces down the mob and they suddenly have a change of heart, or some other miracle happened such that they were stunned, or Jesus became invisible, or something.  But from what we know about mobs, and how intense they are when they become violent, it seems obvious that God miraculously intervened at this moment so that Jesus just walks away and goes on about his business.

The people in the synagogue in Nazareth completely missed the point.

But how often are we guilty of the same thing?

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Paul writes to the church and cautions them not to miss the point saying:

13:1 If I speak in the tonguesof men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul says that the whole point of ministry in the kingdom of God, is to be loving while we’re doing it.  The point is that everything eventually ends.  Prophecies end, languages end, voices end, childhood ends, people end, knowledge ends, everything eventually ends.  The only exceptions to the rule, the only things that last forever, are faith, hope, and love.  And love is the greatest of the three.

Too often we, even in the church, miss the point.  Too often, like Jeremiah, we think that ministry is about us. That we can’t witness, that we can’t minister to others, that we can’t participate in God’s mission and ministry because of some limitation that we think we have.  We’re too young, we’re too old, we’re too shy, we’re not good with words, we’re not popular enough, or rich enough, or good looking enough, or some other excuse with which we’ve convinced ourselves.  But God’s reply to us is the same as it was to Jeremiah.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about the God who created the universe.  And if, and when, God sends us, he goes with us and give us the power to do the thing that he sent us to do.

Too often miss the point like the people in the synagogue of Nazareth.  We think that God will perform miracles for us on command.  We pray for something that we want and get angry, and even we lose faith, when God doesn’t do what we think God ought to do.

And too often we miss the point like the people of Corinth.  We want to do ministry the way that we want to do it.  We want things to be the way that we want them.  We want the rules to be the way we want them.  We want to say whatever we want to say in whatever way we feel like saying it.  We want to do whatever we want to do.  We do things our way and convince ourselves that we’re doing the work of God.  And we do all these things without any regard to how it makes other people feel.  But Paul reminds us that we’ve forgotten the point if we forget to be loving.  We can’t tell the world about a loving God while we’re hurting them.  Mission and ministry are great.  God calls all of us to kingdom work.  All of us are called to be a part of God’s mission and ministry.  But we miss the point if the people around us can’t see that our ministry is filled with faith, hope, and love.

Yes, we need to tell the people of the world about Jesus.

But they can’t, and they won’t, hear about his love if they can’t feel our love first.


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

The Power of Systems Integration

Podcast

Click here to watch the video: https://youtu.be/e5Zm5-wfXSM


The Power of Systems Integration

January 23, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Nehemiah 8:1-10

Luke 4:14-21

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Have you ever heard of systems integration?

As an engineer, it’s a term that is familiar to me, but even if you aren’t familiar with the term, you have seen its power in several ways.

Armies in combat once used flags, trumpets, drums, or sent runners with messages to coordinate their movements.  Then came carrier pigeons, then wired telephones, then radio, and each advance made a nation’s military stronger because its parts could work together.  Today, technology is making it possible for military units to not only communicate, but to literally see what other units, aircraft, drones, and even individuals are seeing.  The radar of a forward observer can appear on the map of an aircraft carrier or an airborne command center so that other planes can be sent in support or rerouted to avoid detection.

Similarly, although our railroads have been using computers for decades, I read an article this week that explained that some of those railroads are now going a step further.  Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, and CSX have agreed to integrate some of the information on their computer systems so that shipments traveling across the country can be tracked by customers, in real time, so they will know where their shipment is, and when they will be expected to pick it up.  The hope, and the expectation, is that this integration will make the transitions between railroads faster and more efficient, reduce congestion at port facilities, and improve customer satisfaction.

And of course, we all understand that internet has changed the world.  Despite wasting time looking at cat pictures and posting photos of food, the internet has put a wealth of information at our fingertips, changed the world, and changed our lives, forever.  And all that happened because someone invented a way to connect computers in libraries, research centers, laboratories, and living rooms together in a global network.  That, my friends, is systems integration.

But what does any of that have to do with our faith, our church, or with our local congregation?  To answer that, let’s begin with the story found in Nehemiah 8:1-10, where the people gather to hear the Law of Moses read to them, after it had been lost and forgotten for several generations.

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clearand giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

After 70 years of exile in Babylon, Ezra and those who had remained faithful to God returned to Israel and, while cleaning and rebuilding, Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered the book of the law buried in the rubble of the Temple.  Although people like Ezra were experts in the law and had studied the law as much as possible while in Babylon, no one had heard the law read in this way since Israel had been taken into captivity.  People were weeping with joy, and perhaps with conviction, when they finally heard God’s commands and understood, in a new way, their covenant relationship with God and their connectedness to God and to one another.  Much like the evolution from waving flags and sending runners to telephones and radio, this was a great leap forward from remembered oral traditions to hearing God’s words read aloud from a scroll.

That tradition of reading the scriptures aloud, and explaining their meaning, not only continued, but became a tradition.  Copies of the law were made and became the prized possession of every synagogue where people would gather regularly to hear, learn, and understand.  And Jesus steps into that tradition in Luke 4:14-21 when he returns to Galilee and reads from the book of Isaiah on the Sabbath.

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus proclaims that he is, in the presence of the synagogue congregation, fulfilling some of the scriptures that foretold of the coming messiah.  This is a sort of spiritual systems integration.  Jesus says that people are being assembled, or integrated, into a larger whole.  Pieces that were lost are being regathered, outcasts are being brought in, the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed, and all those who had been lost are being found and returned to the family of God.  This regathering is important because of how God intends to execute the mission of his kingdom.  We understand these things better as we read Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized byone Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Did you follow that?  Paul is saying is that although each of us have different personalities, capabilities, education, experience, skills, and gifts, we all belong to a larger, interconnected, whole.  What’s more, from what we already know about systems integration, the assembling, or integrating, of people in this way creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Norfolk Southern has had computers for decades and the same is true for Union Pacific and CSX, but by integrating just a little bit of data from each of their systems they create a system that makes each of them better, and more capable, than they were.  Likewise, while flying a drone over a battlefield or sending infantry scouts behind enemy lines can produce useful data, having real-time access to that data instead of waiting for hours, or days, makes each drone, soldier, marine, tank, artillery piece, ship, aircraft, and every other resources even more useful, more flexible, more valuable, more powerful and multiplies the abilities and potential of every one of them. 

Paul is describing… spiritual systems integration.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, each of us is different.  We have different strengths, different weaknesses, different skills, experiences, gifts and abilities, and we are each capable of doing something to serve God, fulfill his mission, and do the work of his kingdom.  But we are not called to do it alone.  We are called to become a part of a larger whole so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  We are called to do the work of God… together… because we can accomplish far more together than we could ever imagine doing separately.  That’s why we join a church instead of trying to be “Lone Ranger” Christians.  That’s why our church is stronger when we work together as a district, annual conference, and as a denomination.  And that’s why brothers and sisters in Christ of different denominations, from different nations, and with different languages all work together to accomplish the mission and vision of Jesus Christ.  We don’t always do that well, but we are stronger, better, faster, and more capable when we do.

God doesn’t want you to be a Lone Ranger Christian.  Find a church where you can plug in and take your place as a part of larger whole.  Every single person is useful, and every person is needed.

That’s the power of systems integration.


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

Bone Grafts in Far, Far Away

Video of this worship service can be found here: https://youtu.be/YOV2uT1u5u4

Bone Grafts in Far, Far Away

January 02, 2022*             

By Pastor John Partridge

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

Merry Christmas.

Of course, you’re thinking that Christmas was more than a week ago, but that’s only because our tradition, that was handed down to us through the Protestant and Catholic churches, celebrates the birth of Jesus as the appropriate time for celebration.  But today, the first Sunday of the new year or, more specifically January 6th, is Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the Magi, or the Wise Men.  In the Orthodox tradition, Epiphany is the day that is celebrated as Christmas.  And, if we’re honest about our theology, there’s a good case to be made in favor of the Orthodox tradition as, perhaps, a better choice.  At the very least, Epiphany is a day that is worthy of both remembrance and celebration.  But before I dig too deeply into theology, let’s begin with the story.  It is a story, like many of our stories, that began in the Old Testament with the words of the prophet Isaiah where we hear these words in Isaiah 60:1-6:

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
    they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
    your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
    all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
    and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah tells of the Messiah that will one day come to rescue Israel, just as he does in other passages that we have read over the season of Advent.  But in today’s reading he speaks of how other nations will be drawn to the light of Israel’s messiah.  Not only will the coming messiah be a king for the nation of Israel, but Isaiah says that he would also be worshiped by other kings and other nations.  Gifts of gold and incense would be given to him from nations in southern Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula, Israel’s southern neighbors, and Saudi Arabia and they would bring so many camels, that thousands of them would cover the hillsides of Israel.

And those stories were remembered as an entourage of magi from far, far away entered Jerusalem along with what was most likely a significantly sized, well-armed, military security and logistics force that would have been sent along to protect, and care for, these important government officials.  The magi were, after all, at least ambassadorial level officials, if not what we would think of as presidential advisors or even cabinet level officials.  They would certainly not have traveled through wilderness and potentially hostile countries without adequate protection.  This is, in my opinion, why we hear Matthew say that King Herod, and all of Jerusalem, was frightened.  Reading from Matthew 2:1-12, we hear this:

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people, Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

It’s a story that has become familiar to us after years of repetition, but we still have questions.  Did the magi come from the East, or did they see a star in the East, which would mean that they came from the West?  Were these emissaries from far, far away ambassadors from nearby Egypt to the West or were they, as is often supposed, the philosophical and scholastic descendants of Daniel from the Persian Empire and this from the area of modern-day Iran or Iraq to the East?  Honestly, I don’t know and, as far as I know, there isn’t a definitive answer anywhere in scripture.  But what we do know, is that these scholars came bearing gifts from a land far away and became the first Gentiles, the first non-Jews, to worship the newborn Jesus and that is the most important part of the story and begins to tell us why today’s celebration is a big deal.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul explains it this way (Ephesians 3:1-12):

3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.  Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him 13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

Paul says that by God’s grace, he was called to reveal a mystery of prophecy, scripture, and the workings of God among his people on earth.  Although it had been hinted at in moments of history, like the one that we saw with the coming of the magi, many, if not most, of God’s people missed what God was doing.  But with the coming of Jesus, and the calling of Paul who had once hunted and persecuted Jesus’ followers, the mystery was finally being revealed and explained to everyone, and that mystery is that the Gentiles, people who are not now, and have never been, Jewish, were not only being invited into God’s family, but were being adopted as family members, becoming not only sons and daughters of God, but heirs of his gifts and of his kingdom. 

Now, anyone in the world, whether they were Jewish or not, or came from a Jewish family or not, could hear the good news of Jesus Christ and become a part of his family, kingdom, mission, ministry, and join him in his eternal home.  The revelation that Paul received, and was called to proclaim, was that this was God’s plan all along.  This is the message that God was revealing to the world with the coming of the magi.  At that moment, God threw open the doors of heaven and invited the Gentiles, invited us, into his family.

And that’s why today, Epiphany, is a big deal worth celebrating.  Certainly, the birth of Jesus was big deal because the Messiah that had been promised to the Jews had finally come to rescue them.  At the moment of his birth, Jesus was a Jewish messiah for the Jewish people.  But with the coming of the magi, God reveals that Jesus was not just a Jewish messiah for a Jewish people but was instead the savior and rescuer of the entire world.  The coming of the magi is the moment when… we… were invited in.

Although Paul says that this was God’s plan all along, it was at that moment, at least symbolically, when we were adopted by God and grafted into the family of Abraham so that we, the people from far, far away, could become, in the words of Samuel, God’s own flesh and bone.

And that is definitely something worth celebrating.

So…

…Merry Christmas everyone.


Did you enjoy reading this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

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

Out of Darkness

The video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/TF7bDRrEhMY.

Out of Darkness

(Christmas Eve)

December 24, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 9:2-7             Titus 2:11-14              Luke 2:1-20

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Luke 2:1-20

2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  All went to their own towns to be registered.  Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  20 The shepherds returned, glorifying, and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Out of Darkness

(Christmas Eve)

December 24, 2021

By Pastor John Partridge

Eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah told of a messiah that would bring light to a people who walked in darkness, a savior that would bring light, joy, freedom, and the end of violence, a child that would bring endless peace, justice, and righteousness that would last forever.  After hearing Isaiah’s words, generation after generation watched for the coming of the Messiah.  The promise of God’s rescuer and redeemer was ever-present in the minds of the people of Israel, and even more precious, during times of hardship and suffering.  And so, after a civil war that divided the country, and the arrival of an occupying Roman army, as well as a burden of taxation and mistreatment at the hands of the Romans and their (often corrupt) tax collectors, the people were starved for good news and dreamed of the day when the Messiah would rescue them and change the world.

And then, as we heard in the story of Luke, on a dark hillside, probably in the springtime (because that’s when shepherds and their flocks would have been in the mountains), darkness is overcome by the light and the glory of God.  It isn’t difficult to imagine that in a world where candles and oil lamps were the state of the art, the lighting of an entire hillside was a terrifying experience.  But the message that they shepherds heard was, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  The light had come.  Darkness was being overthrown.  The Messiah had arrived. 

And when the angels had left them, even without instructions, the shepherds knew exactly what to do. 

The people had been hoping and praying for this to happen for eight hundred years.  Especially now, with the Roman occupation, the people needed to hear, they needed to know, because this was indeed “good news of great joy for all the people.”  The shepherds knew that they couldn’t keep this news to themselves.  They needed to go, immediately, with haste.  They hurried so that they could see this miracle for themselves and so that they could share the good news with everyone that they could find.

But what does it mean for us two thousand years later?  Of course, it is still “good news of great joy.”  It is still news that gives us hope for a future, and an eternity, filled with light, joy, freedom, and peace.  But what else?  As Paul writes to Titus in Crete, he describes the arrival of Jesus this way (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Paul says that the arrival of Jesus brings salvation and rescue to all people, but that Jesus also came to train us to turn our backs on sin, immorality, vice and worldly passions and instead live lives that are filled with self-control, righteousness, and godliness.  The Messiah, Paul says, sacrificed himself so that we could be rescued from sin and made into a nation of people who are purified and eager to do good.

Every year, we meet at this time to remember.  We spend weeks celebrating the season of Advent, singing Christmas carols, watching Christmas specials on television, listening to Christmas music, decorating our homes, and whole neighborhoods, having Christmas parties at work, at home, at school, and at all sorts of clubs to which we belong.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  This is, of course, good news of great joy for all the people.  There is every reason to remember and celebrate.  But let’s not forget God’s purpose.  Let’s not forget the reason that Jesus came was not just to rescue us from sin, but to train us to turn our backs on sin, immorality, and the worldly passions that our culture passes off as normal.  Instead, Jesus calls us to live lives that are filled with self-control, righteousness, and godliness.  Jesus sacrificed himself so that we, the church, could be transformed into a nation of people who are eager to do good.

Let us never forget that the angel said that this was “good news of great joy for all the people.”  Not just the Israeli people, not just the Jewish people, not just the Christian people, but for all the people.  And so, our mission, the mission of the church and of every person in it, is to remember the shepherds; to go out from this place praising God, sharing this good news with everyone that we can find, and doing everything that we can to become a people who are eager to do good.

Merry Christmas everyone.


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

The Miracle of Contradictions

(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/aOLC9MA9-GA)

The Miracle of Contradictions

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

December 19, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

What are your favorite Christmas gifts?

We often see television commercials that try to convince us that fifty-thousand-dollar pickup trucks are an appropriate gift with which to surprise your spouse, apparently without consulting them on such a huge expenditure.  Yikes.

But advertisers also try to convince us that bigger is better and that Christmas is a time to overextend our spending and buy diamonds, or giant flat screen televisions, or other things that almost certainly don’t fit in out budgets.  But is it the big things that we remember?  What gifts do you have in your homes, or in your memories, that you treasure the most?  I still have a Mickey Mouse watch that I wore when I was in elementary school, and I have a paperweight that my grandfather brought home from a trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.  And I remember a Christmas when my brother Dean gave me a little plastic railroad crossing gate for the model railroad that my father and I were building in the basement.  Dean didn’t know anything about our project, but he knew that I liked trains.  It wasn’t an expensive gift.  And it came out of the package broken.  Dean was visibly disappointed that he had given me something broken.  But you know what?  I glued it back together and it found a place in our layout.  But more than that, I knew that he cared.  I’m pretty sure that crossing gate got thrown out or lost several decades ago, but I think about that gift, and the thought and love behind it often when I see crossing gates on model railroads anywhere. 

It sounds like a contradiction, but often the most meaningful and the most memorable gifts aren’t the biggest or most expensive but were in fact the smallest and most inexpensive.

And we see those same kinds of contradictions at work in the story of Christmas as God upsets the status quo and sends the king of the universe to be born in stable and sleep in a feeding trough.  And the entire story of Christmas and the coming of the messiah is steeped in, and filled with, those contradictions from the earliest prophecies of his coming.  And, as we look for, and investigate, these contradictions, we find that these contradictions are some of the greatest miracles of all.  We begin this morning with God’s prophecy of the coming messiah found in Micah 5:2-5a where it says:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth;and he shall be the one of peace.

Micah declares that the smallest of Israel’s clans will produce the greatest king that Israel would ever have and continues by saying that God was bringing something new into the world that was already ancient.  Micah says that someone new is coming to rule in Israel who already existed in the dark recesses of their ancient past.  And so, Judah would be both small and great, the messiah would be both new and ancient, and would have great strength but would bring peace instead of bloodshed.  And then with the coming of Jesus, the contradictions continue as we read Luke 1:39-45 where he says:

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Elizabeth declares that Mary, despite being poor, is the most blessed woman on the planet.  Also, Elizabeth recognized Mary’s child, who was unborn, as her Lord and king.  And if those contradictions weren’t enough, Elizabeth’s child, John, despite being blind and still inside of his mother’s womb, sees clearly, and has the perception to recognize the arrival of Jesus and Mary.

And the contradictions continue in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews as he summarizes the coming of Jesus this way in Hebrews 10:5-10:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
  (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Jesus said that sacrifices and offerings were not desired by God even though history, tradition, scripture, and the law of Moses required them.  And then Paul says that the coming of Jesus not only abolishes God’s system of worship for his people, but also establishes a new system of worship for his people.

That’s a lot of contradiction in just a small sampling of scripture from the Christmas story.  But why would I say that this is a miracle?  What is this miracle of contradictions?

Simply put, the miracle of contradictions is that the story of Christmas isn’t just one big miracle about the birth of the messiah.  It isn’t just a story about the birth of a king, or even the birth of God’s son.  It’s a bigger and deeper story that involves ordinary people, with ordinary lives, and a story in which God, repeatedly, does the unexpected, in new, different, and surprising ways.

Judah is small, but great.

The Messiah is new, but ancient.

Would be strong enough to rule the ends of the earth but would bring peace instead of bloodshed.

Mary is poor but blessed beyond measure.

Jesus is unborn, but king.

John is blind but sees.

The sacrifices of God are required but undesired.

The messiah’s arrival abolishes but establishes.

The story of Christmas is filled with the miracle of contradictions, and it is that miracle that makes the story unexpected, fills the story with mystery and wonder, draws us in, and welcomes us, not only as spectators, but participants in the story.  The story of the coming of the messiah is filled, not with kings and princes, and rich and powerful people of influence, but ordinary people like us.  The story of Christmas is a story of poor people, farmers, laborers, sheep herders, scholars, infants, old people, the forgotten, the outcasts, and the unwanted.  In God’s most powerful and meaningful story, the pivotal actors are all people like us.  Ordinary.

God did not choose to use kings and princes.  Instead, he used ordinary people of faith.  God chose to trust the people who trusted him to begin his most miraculous work of all and to share the story of that miracle with the world.

And that’s still the way that God works.

That’s a part of the mystery and wonder of the story.

God still calls ordinary people; people like you and me.  God still calls farmers, laborers, sheep herders, children, the elderly, the forgotten, the outcasts, the unwanted, and the unexpected.  The greatest movements in history, the greatest agents of change in the world, are usually not presidents and prime ministers, bad boys, and billionaires, or even millionaires, movie stars and the monied elites.  The people who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the orphans and the widows, bandage the wounded, and do the work of Jesus in the world are, most often, unsung, unheralded, unnoticed, ordinary people of faith because God trusts the people who trust him.

It’s mysterious and it’s wonderful.

The miracle of contradictions is that the God who spoke the universe into existence, wants me, and wants you, to do his work, to represent him, to be his ambassadors, to share his story with the world, and to be Jesus to the people around us.

We see it in the Christmas story, but God has been working like that all along.

It is one of life’s greatest contradictions. 

But these are the contradictions that welcome us into the story.

Not just as spectators… but as participants.

And may just be the most meaningful Christmas gift of all.


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

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