Freedom

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Freedom

April 04, 2021*

(Easter)

By Pastor John Partridge

Mark 16:1-8                           Acts 10:34-43                         I Corinthians 15:1-11

We are three months early.

Three months from today, July 4th, is our nation’s birthday and a grand celebration of freedom and independence.

An in that sense, our celebration today, on April 4th, is three months early.  But our celebration today is the celebration of a freedom that is far grander, and far more amazing, that our independence from King George and the nation of England.

The freedom that we celebrate today has been the subject of our sermons for the last seven and a half weeks and even then, we’ve barely scratched the surface of why our remembrance of this day is the cause of so much joy, gladness, and celebration.  But make no mistake, like the celebration of July 4th for the citizens of the United States of America, the Easter celebration for the citizens of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ, is a celebration of freedom.  I’m going to briefly recap the last seven weeks and remind you of a few of the freedoms that we are celebrating in a little while, but first I want to read words of Mark 16:1-8 and add to our remembrance of the story of Easter that our youth began this morning in our sunrise service.

16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

As the two Marys and Salome walked to the tomb, they were worried about what Jesus body would smell like, they were worried that the stone was too large for the tree of them to move, worried that there might not be anyone to help them move it, and worried that the Roman soldiers, or whomever was guarding it, would refuse to help them, or even refuse to allow them to re-wrap Jesus’ body with the spices, incense, and aromatic tree sap that they had brought with them.  But upon their arrival, the two-thousand-pound stone had already been moved and they worried about why it had been moved.  But when they entered the tomb to look inside, instead of finding Jesus, they found a messenger from God whose first words were, “Don’t be afraid.”  But after he had given them their instructions and sent them on their way, they were still trembling, confused, and afraid.

But that initial reaction changed as they met Jesus face-to-face and realized that Jesus was alive.  As time passed, they began to understand the things that Jesus had taught them, including the things about death, burial, and resurrection that had always been confusing.  They began to understand that everything that they had seen, had happened exactly as Jesus had said that it would happen, and exactly as the ancient prophets had described hundreds of years earlier.  And, by the time that Peter stays in the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius in Caesarea, he has processed the lessons that he learned from Jesus in an even deeper way (Acts 10:34-43).

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Peter realized that Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament had begun something entirely new and changed the way that God’s people would engage the world around them and change the way their entire relationship with God.  The new covenant, this new contract with God, was a contract without favoritism, without nepotism, without racism, and without judgement except for the judgement of the one person who understood us best, and who was perfect, just, and infinitely wise.

And just a few decades later, Paul, having learned from the disciples, as well as through his own experience, and having had even more time to process what he had learned, seen, and heard, writes to the church in Corinth to help them to understand what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus meant to them, and still means to each one of us (I Corinthians 15:1-11).

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 reminds us that it was by this gospel, this story of life, death, and resurrection, through which we were saved… if we hold firmly to what we have learned.  Paul knows what his life was like before he met Jesus.  Paul knows that he is utterly undeserving of God’s rescue, let alone the honor of being counted among the disciples of Jesus Christ.  Paul remembers that he had been so anti-Jesus that he had become known as the hunter of Christ followers who had them arrested, tortured, and worse.  And because of who he was, and the life that he had once lived, Paul understands the depth of God’s mercy and grace.

Through the story of Easter, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul had found freedom.  And that freedom has flowed down through history to us.  It is a freedom that is far grander than anything that we celebrate on July fourth.  It is more than our freedom from King George and the nation of England.  It is more than the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

The message of the gospel is a message of many freedoms. 

Mary, Mary, and Salome learned that it is a message of freedom from fear.

Peter learned that it was a message of freedom from favoritism, nepotism, and racism.

Paul learned that it is a message of mercy, grace, and freedom from our past.

And as we’ve learned over the last seven and a half weeks, it is a message of freedom from corruption, rescue from the flood, freedom from the Law of Moses, freedom from the demands of other gods, a message of keeping God at the center of our lives, freedom from the misplaced priorities and wisdom of the world, freedom from our failures, freedom from our guilt, freedom from suffering, freedom from sin, and even freedom from death.

And that is why we repeat the story every year, and why Easter should be filled with joy.

The message of Easter was a story about freedom long before the events of the Revolutionary War and long before July fourth had any meaning to the citizens of North America.

We celebrate Easter because today is the day when God gave us the immeasurable gift of freedom.

Happy Easter everyone.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/JpemgjB6bIY

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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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.

Whiners Executed.

Whiners Executed

March 14, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Numbers 21:4-9                     John 3:14-21                          Ephesians 2:1-10

Throughout history, one of the things that human beings seem to be incredibly, repeatedly, and reliably, good at, is complaining.  It isn’t difficult at all to imagine that the soldiers who crowded into the Trojan Horse were complaining about the cramped spaces and the smell of the guys next to them.  We’ve read stories about how even as the troops sailed ever closer to the coast of France on D-day, they complained about the weather and their seasickness.  Any student of history can tell you that no matter what nation you examine, no matter what system of government was in place, the people of every nation have always found reasons to complain about their leadership, and the same is true of virtually every church, every corporation, every union, and every employer… even when we are self-employed.  In good circumstances and bad, in feast and in famine, in joy and sorrow, no matter where humanity finds itself, we always seem able to find something to complain about.

And the people whose lives are recorded in scripture were no different.  But from them, we learn that we should be careful about what we complain about.  In Numbers 21:4-9, we read the story of the people of Israel, recently freed from 400 years of slavery and bondage in Egypt and discover that the joy of receiving their freedom faded quickly from their memory.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

For four hundred years, the people of Israel had prayed that God would rescue them and bring them freedom.  But when God answers their prayers, it doesn’t take much time at all before they begin to complain about the conditions of their freedom.  Worse, they blame God, and Moses, for causing their suffering.  As a result of their whining, God sends poisonous snakes to slither among the people, and many of those who are bitten, die. 

The people cry out to Moses, repent of their sin, and in answer to his prayers for the people, God instructs Moses to construct bronze snake, and lift it up on a wooden pole.  And anyone who had been bitten, and had faith in God, could look at the snake and would be saved from death.

The people had sinned when they blamed God for causing their problems by answering their prayers and they suffered and died, because of their sin, when they were bitten by the snakes that came among them.  But God provided a way for the people to be saved if only they would have the faith to believe in the power of God and look up to the bronze figure as God had commanded.  And that imagery is recalled in John 3:14-21 as John compares God’s rescue of Israel in the time of Moses, to God’s rescue of the world through the crucifixion of Jesus.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

In the time of Moses, anyone who believed that God could save them from the venom of poisonous snakes could look up to the bronze figure of a snake and be saved.  And John says that now, anyone who believes that God can rescue them from sin and death can look up to Jesus on the cross and be saved.  In both cases, God provided a way for his people to be saved, if only they had the faith to believe.  Jesus did not come to earth to condemn us for our sin, but to save us from it.  All that is needed is for us to believe in Jesus and in the power of his death and resurrection to rescue us.  Anyone who believes in Jesus is not condemned but has been given the gift of life for all eternity.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way in Ephesians 2:1-10:

2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Just in case we were tempted to think that we had anything at all to do with out rescue, Paul disabuses of that notion by bluntly saying, “you were dead.”  Much like the people who had been bitten by snakes and already had a fatal dose of venom circulating through their bloodstream, we had already consumed a fatal dose of sin and were just waiting around to die.  Because we lived the way that the culture of the world lives, and lived only to gratify our desires, we were deserving of, and already condemned to, death.  But God chose to be merciful and demonstrate his great love for us through grace.  Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God opened a path for us to be rescued from death.  Paul emphasizes that our rescue is a work of God’s grace, kindness, and love and the only part that we play in our rescue is in looking up to Jesus and placing our faith in him.  Our rescue is God’s undeserved gift to us and not anything that we could ever earn through works of any kind.  And, because our rescue is a work of God, because we are a new creation through the work of Jesus Christ, our life’s purpose is to do good for the people, and for the world, around us.  God has rescued us so that we could do the work that he has planned, prepared, and intended for us to do.

Although human beings have always been extraordinarily good at complaining, and just as good at being selfish, committing sin, and offending God, we need not sit as people condemned and wait for our execution and death.  Instead, we have been rescued by God’s grace, kindness, and love, and have been given a new life, a life whose purpose is to do good and to do the work of the kingdom of God.

During this season of Lent, let us stop complaining and look up to the cross.  Remember God’s grace, mercy, kindness, and love, and recommit ourselves to doing good for the people, and for the world around us, so that everyone might hear the good news, be rescued, and receive God’s incredible gift… of life… and love.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/EmHE8dCyeEc

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.



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

Where is Your Center?

Where is Your Center?

March 07, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 20:1-17                      John 2:13-22                          1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Throughout our lives, there are many times when the center becomes important.

The most important actor is said to be center-stage.  Children that want to feel important are trying to be the center of attention.  When we ride a bicycle, design, or fly an airplane, the center of gravity is critical.  In rocketry the relationship between the center of gravity and the center of pressure determines whether you fly or crash.  If you are setting a project up on a lathe, you must carefully calculate where the center of the work-piece is or, wherever the chuck and the spindle are set will quickly become the center regardless of whether you intended it to be that way.  If you are trying to walk across a balance beam, or a tightrope, or even just a log across a creek, keeping your center of gravity over the beam, rope, or log is the key to crossing successfully.  In all these things, and in a great many others, it is the center that is important, and keeping the center in the right place is critical to arriving at your destination safely and achieving your goal.  With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that scripture says the same thing.  If we want to arrive at our destination safely, and achieve our goals, it is critical that we center our lives in the right place.

We begin this morning with what many people consider to be some of the simplest rules for life, the Nine or Ten Commandments (depending on how you count them) found in Exodus 20:1-17. 

20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Obviously, I could preach an entire series of sermons on these basic instructions, but this morning I want to focus on just two or three.  Depending on you how you count them, “You shall have no other gods before me.” and “You shall not make for yourself an image…” is either one, or two, commandments but either way, the instruction is clear.  Our relationship with God is important and God will not accept second place.  And that relationship is also why God sets aside one day each week for us to rest, to remember, and to spend time together when he commands us to, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

God insists, even requires, that we keep him, and our relationship with him, at the center our lives.

And one of the best-known illustrations of the seriousness with which God takes our obedience to that commandment is found in John 2:13-22, where Jesus arrives in God’s temple in Jerusalem, and finds the Court of the Gentiles, the place of prayer for non-Jews, filled will merchants, bankers, and livestock.

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the freedom of the Jewish people and to give thanks to God for his strength, wisdom, and guidance in leading Moses and the people of Israel out of their captivity in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  But in a place that had been deliberately set aside as a place for Gentiles to meet God, Jesus finds it filled with people who have put profit before prayer, wealth before worship, and greed before God.  In this place that was supposed to be the center of praise, prayer, and worship, Jesus finds the leaders of the church breaking commandments 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, and, if we include the events of Easter, we can add commandments 6 and 9 as well.

Jesus is so offended by this violation of God’s house that he drives out the animals, scatters the money across the courtyard, and flips over the tables of the vendors and bankers.  And, rather than dispute their wrongdoing or profess their innocence, the offenders ask Jesus what authority he has to rebuke them, and Jesus responds by offering his own death and resurrection as proof.  But, of course, not even his disciples understood his meaning until after the events of Easter had unfolded.  But, when they remembered what Jesus had done, and what he had said, “they believed the scriptures and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

The mistake of the vendors, the bankers, and the church leaders was that they allowed something other than God to become the center.  Certainly, in a temple that was dedicated to the worship of a Jewish God, the court of the Gentiles was used less frequently than any other.  It was entirely possible that, particularly during a Jewish feast or festival such as Passover, that few, if any Gentiles would be using the space set aside for them.  But God had deliberately created a place for them.  And when the church decided to use that space, they moved God aside and placed practicality, profit, convenience, and greed in the center of their lives and in the center of their worship in his place.

It is that idea of centered-ness that helps us to understand some of the other difficult things that we find in scripture as well as in our spiritual lives.  And this is the idea that allows us to understand what Paul is saying to the church in Corinth, and to us, in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 when he says:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

There have been times when I read this passage and puzzled a bit over what Paul meant by destroying the wisdom of the wise when much of scripture points toward, and sings the praises of, wisdom.  Similarly, it is difficult to say bad things about intelligence, or intelligent people, so if I didn’t also know some particularly foolish intelligent people that would also be difficult.  But Paul goes on to criticize the teachers of the law, philosophers, and preachers and it can be hard to make sense of what he’s getting at.  But, if we look at this passage through the lens of centered-ness, it comes into better focus.

The message of the cross is foolishness to the people who are perishing.  Or, put another way, the message of the cross doesn’t make sense to the people who have rejected Jesus.  But while that rejection can come in many forms, and while some of those forms can occasionally be surprising to us, at their core, all of them have the same root cause, the removal, or the absence of God at the center.  Those who seek wisdom without God in the center become foolish.  Those who study to become learned and intelligent but who do not keep God at the center will be frustrated.  The teachers of the law and scripture, who shift God away from the center and allow rules, or politics, or power, or anything else to take God’s place in the center has, ultimately, rejected God.

Without God at the center of our lives, our strength, our philosophy, our wisdom, our religiosity, all fail.

Not only are we commanded to keep God in the center, and not only is Jesus deadly serious about maintaining that centered-ness, but our very lives also depend upon it.

Allowing God to drift away from the center means that we have rejected him and allowed something other than God to take his place.  And rejecting God… is death.

If you are trying to walk across a balance beam, or a tightrope, or even just a log across a creek, keeping your center of gravity over the beam, rope, or log is the key to crossing successfully.  In all these things, and in a great many others, it is the center that is important, and keeping the center in the right place is critical to arriving at your destination safely and achieving your goal.  If we want to arrive at our destination safely, and achieve our goals, it is critical that we center our lives in the right place.

As we continue our journey through Lent, I urge you to think about where your heart is and to reflect upon the condition of your inner being as you answer the question of the first four commandments:

Where is your center?


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/g88ngwoGI64

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


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

Strength for the Main Thing

Strength for the Main Thing

February 07, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 40:21-31                      Mark 1:29-39                         1 Corinthians 9:16-23

In football, the “main thing” is moving the ball toward the goal line.  But there are plans in place to keep the players healthy and rested.  The team can’t move the ball if everyone is too tired to play.  The same is true in the Indianapolis 500 the Daytona 500, 24 hours at Le Mans, or any other automobile race.  There are plans in place for pit stops, fuel, water, Gatorade, tire changes, and in the case of Le Mans, even driver changes so that drivers can take a nap and be well (more) rested.  But imagine what would happen without rest?  If a football team played without rest, and the other team didn’t, it isn’t hard to imagine that the rested team would, at some point, gain a serious advantage over the team that didn’t.  An auto race without pit stops for fuel would end quickly and a Le Mans race without sleep is, literally, and accident waiting to happen.

But what about our “main thing”?

Last week, we said that “keeping the main thing, the main thing means sharing Jesus’ message about rescuing the lost and the salvation of the living.”  But what are our plans for moving the ball toward the goal line or finishing the race?  How do we keep the players on the field, or the cars on the track, so that no one gets too tired to play, or runs out of fuel for the journey? 

There are, at least, two answers.

In Isaiah 40:21-31, God’s prophet proclaims this news to God’s people, and it is advice that is often repeated at funerals and other times when we are feeling as if our feet are going out from underneath us or the wind has gone out of our sails.  Isaiah said:

21 Do you not know?  Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

[Note: “no one can fathom” has also been translated as “unsearchable” and can mean that God’s understanding is “beyond our imagination”]


29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

The first part of our answer, and the first part of our plan is that the source of our strength is not to be found within ourselves, but in God.  God is the one who created us, who gives us breath, and strength for each day of our lives.  God’s promise is to give us the strength that we need to do the work, and the mission, that he has given to us.  But that still doesn’t make us superheroes.  We still need food, and sleep, and rest.  And Jesus, being fully human, had those same needs.  And so, when we read the stories of the New Testament, like the one found in Mark 1:29-39, we see the plan that Jesus used to stay in the game, as he kept the main thing, the main thing.

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Jesus was working hard.  He was doing his work.  He was carrying out his mission and ministry.  But he was tired physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  And Jesus took steps to combat that fatigue.  First, he had a place where he could be himself, relax, and get a good night’s sleep.  But after he was physically rested, Jesus found a quiet place, alone, where he could pray and draw close to God.  Much like we read in Isaiah, this is how Jesus, in addition to getting a good night’s rest, received the physical, spiritual, and mental strength that he needed to make it through the day.  The recipe was to not only take care of his body, but to take care of his body, his mind, and his soul.  How often do we complain that we are tired, despite having had a good night’s rest, because we have forgotten to take the time to care for our minds and our souls?  If we want to keep the main thing, the main thing, and have the strength and stamina that we need to carry out our mission, we must remember to care for the whole person of our bodies, minds, and souls.

But while we are thinking about the strength that we need to do that “main thing,” let’s keep our focus on what we mean when we say, “the main thing.”  In 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Paul says:

16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

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

Paul says that he must do whatever God called him to do and do it to the absolute best of his ability even if that means that he surrenders his biblical right to get paid, or gives up his freedoms, or his belongings, his money, his personal comforts, or anything else.  Paul says that he was willing to do whatever needed to be done, so every effort could be made to save as many people as possible.  And, from Paul’s history, we know that meant that Paul worked as a tent maker while he was caring for a church rather than ask a struggling church for any kind of salary.  It meant that Paul was willing to leave behind his wealth and his privileged lifestyle, to travel the world, to be arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and eventually executed all so that he could keep the main thing, the main thing, pursue his mission with all the strength that he had, and all the strength that God had given him, and preach the gospel to as many people as he possibly could.

And of those things flow downhill to us.

As individuals, and as the church, we have inherited the mission of Jesus Christ just as Paul did.  Not all of us have been called into missionary service or to pastoral ministry, but all of us have been called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, to rescue the lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to speak for those who don’t have a voice in the halls of government, to stand up for the abused and the downtrodden, and all the other things that Jesus did, and commanded his followers to do.  It is an enormous task.  Doing all these things, and keeping the main thing, the main thing, is just as physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting today as it was for Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul.  For us to do what we have been commanded to do, to do it well, and to keep on doing it, we need to care for ourselves.  We need to take the time to rest, to get plenty of sleep, but also to regularly spend time in prayer, spend time studying scripture, and spend time drawing closer to God.

You wouldn’t send your football team onto the field without a plan to rotate players and give them rest.  You wouldn’t send a racing team onto the track without a plan to stop for fuel, tire changes, and Gatorade.  And you wouldn’t dream of asking a Le Mans racer to drive for 24 hours without rest.  But trying to do what God has asked us to do, without taking the time to care for our team is just as foolish.  We must all be diligent about eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, taking the time to study scripture, and spending time alone with God.  Without these things, the players grow tired, become exhausted, and our team falls apart.

Our team must play to win, and each of you are an integral, and vital, part of that team.

Like Paul, we must do everything that we can to share the Good News and to rescue the lost.

But we cannot rely upon our own strength alone.  We cannot do it without God’s strength.

Let us commit to taking care or ourselves, and caring for one another, in body, mind, and spirit.  Let us plan to eat right, sleep well, study scripture, and spend time alone in prayer with God.

The lives of our families, neighbors and friends are hanging in the balance.

Don’t let them down.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/lLWTO0y2-d8

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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.

Real Power Reversed

Real Power Reversed*

October 25, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Deuteronomy 34:1-12       1 Thessalonians 2:1-8    Matthew 22:34-46

Our current focus on the upcoming election has many of us thinking about power.  We think about who has power in our system, how that power is distributed, and whether the people in power use it well or poorly.  Often, during campaign speeches, press releases, debates or 30 second sound bites, modern candidates seek to corner their opponents, goad them into saying something stupid, or trick them into saying things that will alienate their supporters.  And it may not surprise you to discover that these tactics are not new.  In today’s scripture readings, we find the political leaders of Jesus’ day doing exactly those same things.  But God isn’t playing by the rules of human culture, society, and politics.  God has plans that upset the halls of power, unseat the powerful, and reveal that the rules of real power are completely reversed from our human expectations.  We begin in Deuteronomy 34:1-12, as God honors a promise made in past generations, makes a new promise to future generations, and the torch of power is passed from Moses to his successor, Joshua.

34:1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried himin Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak, nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spiritof wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So, the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

God had promised the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Moses sees that land from a distance as the descendants of Abraham are about to cross the Jordan River and take possession of it.  At the same time, God tells Moses that his descendants are included in that promise even though he himself will not be among the people to cross into that new land but will die and be buried in Moab.  But before his death, Moses laid hands on Joshua, blessed him, and passed on to him the blessing of God and the spirit of wisdom that God had given to him.  But, and this is important, despite the blessing of God, and the spirit of wisdom that Moses passed on to Joshua, no prophet in Israel was ever like Moses had been.  No one ever had the kind of power that Moses had, or was able to perform the mighty deeds that Moses had done.  Moses was believed to be the pinnacle of all God’s prophets.  No one who came after him, regardless of their great acts, was ever seen as reaching that status.  But Jesus turns that status quo on its head.

In Matthew 22:34-46, Jesus has a conversation in which the Pharisees attempt to goad him into saying something stupid and in that conversation, Jesus turns the tables and completely upsets the conventional wisdom of political power.

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

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

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
  “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees were rival political factions, much like our present-day Democrats and Republicans, with some significant religious differences thrown in as well.  Although they sometimes worked together, there was no love lost between them.  This passage begins with the Pharisees hearing how the Sadducees had been embarrassed by Jesus when they had tried to trick him and so, naturally, they decide to set a trap for Jesus as well in an attempt to succeed where the Sadducees had failed.  But much as he did with the Sadducees, Jesus deftly evades the trap the Pharisees had set, expertly answers their question, and then turns the tables by asking them a question that they can’t answer.

Remember the conventional wisdom that no prophet had ever done the things that Moses had done.  Then recall that Jesus had been performing miracles (or soon would) that even Moses had not done.  And then take note that the conventional wisdom about Moses had also been applied to King David, and from there into a general rule of thumb that no child was ever greater than his father.  So that, according to conventional wisdom, no ancestor would ever be as marvelous, or as devoted, powerful, godly, or as holy, of David.  And so, Jesus asks the Pharisees that if this is so, how is it that David refers to the coming Messiah, who must be his descendant, as “Lord.”  The Pharisees, of course, are caught in their own trap.  Jesus has revealed that the conventional wisdom about power is wrong and if the Pharisees agree, then they contradict their own teaching.  But if they disagree, then they contradict scripture.  And that is why the passage ends by saying that the Pharisees could not say a word.  They were trapped.  They were stuck.  And no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

The coming of Jesus was a disruption of the status quo, and overturned the conventional wisdom about power, authority, and many other things.  Jesus performed miracles that even Moses couldn’t perform, he pointed out that when the Messiah came, even the great King David would call him Lord and recognize him as greater than himself.  And with his death and resurrection, Jesus upset the conventional wisdom and understanding of death itself.  But as we look deeper into the teaching of Jesus, we begin to understand that the entire structure of real power was being upset, overturned, changed, and redefined. 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, we discover that the Apostle Paul modeled these changes as he, and his missionary team, lived and worked among the Greek church in Thessalonica.

2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young childrenamong you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

Paul begins by reminding the people that his visit to Thessalonica was productive and produced good results despite the abuse that they had suffered when they had previously visited Philippi which is about a hundred miles to the east.  Paul says that even though they had suffered in Philippi, and even though they faced strong opposition in Thessalonica, they persisted in preaching the gospel message.  Paul credits the success of their mission team to the authority that they had been given by God, that they always preached in a way that was humble, honest, straightforward, and honest.  They didn’t suck up to people or flatter them to make them feel important and they didn’t do anything to get rich at the expense of other people. 

Instead, rather than using the authority that they had been given by God and by the church, they used the authority of children, which is to say that they acted as if they had no authority at all.  Paul then compares the method of their ministry to the way that a mother cares for her infant children.  Obviously, the mother has all of the authority, and has much greater strength than her children, but it is her love for them that guides her to use her strength to guide her children and care for them gently, tenderly, and with compassion.

This style of leadership is patterned after the life of Jesus and is a complete reversal of how we normally see power and authority exercised in the culture of the world from before the time of Jesus until today.  For the followers of Jesus Christ, this is a representation of how real power should be used and speaks to us about how we should use our power, and how we should minister to the needs of others in our communities both as individuals and as the church.  Jesus doesn’t say that we can’t have power or authority, but that we should upend the conventional wisdom and use our power, authority, and influence with gentleness, tenderness, compassion, and love.

As we follow Jesus, our patience will be tested.  Our tolerance will be tested.  Our compassion, our will, our strength, courage, compassion, and every other part of our humanity and our mission will be tested.  But, just as Paul and Jesus were tested, we must pass those tests with grace and gentleness so that we are known to the people around us not as the church with an iron fist, but as a people with a loving heart.

I pray that we might be known as a people with a loving heart.

 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/VjzbCWP7gao

Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.

Why Are We Here?

Why Are We Here?

(Trinity Sunday)

June 07, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a       Matthew 28:16-20       2 Corinthians 13:11-13

  

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that we’ve probably asked ourselves, and others, these kinds of questions.  And at their core, all of these can be summed up by the question, “Why are we here?”  Why are we attending church?  Why are we following Jesus?  I mean, what’s the point of it all?

And thankfully, the answer is straightforward and not that difficult to find.

Let’s begin our discussion at the very beginning of the discussion, in the first chapter of Genesis, at the very beginning of God’s story (Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a).

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,

First, we note that “In the beginning… God.”  And then we see, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  And then, if we skip ahead to verse 26, we see, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”  All of these, even from the beginning, indicate that while God is one, God is God and Spirit.  While there is only one God, God is also something more than singular.  But we also see that the intent of our creation was for us to share the image of God.  That doesn’t mean that we were created to be godlike, or to be little gods, or to become like God.  But it does mean that we were intended to share the character of God, to be like him in his generosity, compassion, faithfulness, kindness, and love.  Humanity was created and called to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wind animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground” with the same nurture, love, care and benevolence that God has for us.  We weren’t called to subdue the earth by domination and destruction, but through gentle care and careful nurture.

And that understanding of our creation still applies as we read about the coming of the Messiah, as we watch and learn from the example of his ministry, as we witness his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, and as we read about his last moments with his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus offers his last words of instruction as a reminder of their, and our, mission on earth in his absence.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Particularly with today being Trinity Sunday, we are reminded, much as we were as we read from Genesis, that our God is one but, at the same time, is something more than singular.  We do not worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three gods, we worship one God, but acknowledge that, in ways that we cannot fully grasp or understand, God exists in the three persons of the Trinity.  And within the trinity, Jesus declares that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him as he watches over, rules, and sits in judgement of humanity, our planet, and the entire universe.  Our mission, as his followers, and his expectation of us, is that we are to go out into our communities, out into our states, our nations, and into the entire world in order to make disciples, baptize them, and pass on the wisdom, teaching, and commands that Jesus gave to us.

But why?

Why is this our mission?

What is the goal of such a mission?  What is our purpose?  What’s the point?  Why do we need to be the church to get the job done?  Why do we need to work together?  And, despite Paul’s habit of writing incredibly long sentences and intricate explanations, in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 he offers a remarkably short, succinct summary of why we do what we do when he says…

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

So, what’s the point?

Restoration is the point.  God’s purpose and goal for his mission on earth, and therefore ours, is to restore the relationship between God and his people.  To restore the relationship between God and us, the people who know him so that we can have the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have, and to restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and  become estranged from him.

So important is this goal, that all three persons of the trinity have a role in working toward it and that mission has been given to us as well.  And in these two bullet points we find the answers to all those questions we asked at the beginning of this message:

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

“Why are we here?” 

All of it.

Number one, we are here so that we can restore our relationship with God to the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have.

And number two, we are here so that we can learn how we can restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and become estranged from him.

Along the way, by gathering in community, we can encourage one another, support one another, and work together to that all of God’s children can live in peace.

And if the chaotic events of the last week tell us anything, it is this:

We have a lot of work to do.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/blhbTcrm2sw

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

A Difference Making Difference

A Difference Making Difference

May 31, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:19-22        Acts 2:1-21      1 Corinthians 12:4-13

 Whether we hear it from retiring Baby Boomers or job-changing Gen-Xers, Millennials, or GenY or GenZ workers looking for better, or more fulfilling work, one of the phrases that we often hear is “I want to make a difference.”  I have known Baby Boomers to walked away from six figure jobs to go back to their roots and do basic research, or to take jobs at non-profits so that they could focus on doing what they loved, or on making the world a better place rather than just trying to make as much money as they could.  Many of us either won’t have that opportunity, or we can’t afford to make those kinds of decisions, but many of us do find the time to volunteer in our free time in food pantries, to ring bells for the Salvation Army, or train lifeguards for the Red Cross, teach CPR, or volunteer for other charities so that we can help others and give back to our communities.

There is something in us that wants to be a part of something outside of ourselves, to give of ourselves for something other than our own pleasure or profit, and to make life better for someone else.  But sometimes we just aren’t sure how to do that or, we are trapped by the inertia of our lives, or by indecision, and we just get carried along with the flow of life and we get stuck. 

But we are meant to spend our lives stuck in a rut.

Remember that after Jesus’ resurrection, he came to his disciples and told them about a gift.  You might remember that we read the story of John 20:19-22 a few weeks ago:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Remember that in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for breath, wind, and spirit are the same word.  And so, Jesus breathed on them and told them about the holy breath, the holy wind, and the holy Spirit.  And then in Acts 1: 4-5, just before Jesus left the earth and ascended into heaven, he told them not to leave town until his gift would finally arrive.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

And so, the disciples, and the followers of Jesus, stayed in Jerusalem, praying, and worshipping, and sharing stories about what they had done, and what they had learned from Jesus.  And they kept doing that… until the Day of Pentecost.  And we read that story in Acts 2:1-21.

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Although we read this passage every year, we must resist the temptation to think that this is ordinary.  The gift of the Spirit of God was nothing short of transformational in every way.  Everyone changed.  Everyone was empowered.  Everyone was used by God, and everyone used their gifts for the Kingdom of God.  We can see that when they received the gift of the Spirit they immediately went out into the streets and began to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people who had come to Jerusalem, from across the known world, to celebrate the Jewish holiday.  But Peter’s transformation was the most exceptional of all.  Peter, the disciple who denied he knew Jesus three times, the follower who went home to Galilee after the crucifixion, the one who, with the other disciples, would only meet after the resurrection in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked.  Peter was a man who feared being arrested and crucified for following Jesus and he allowed his fear to drive him to deny Jesus, to run away, and to hide behind locked doors. 

But all that changed at Pentecost.

In recent weeks we have seen that after Jesus’ resurrection Peter had begun to change and was becoming increasingly bold and fearless.  And, with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, that transformation is complete.  With the other followers who were gathered in that room, Peter goes out into the streets of Jerusalem, addresses the entire crowd who had gathered around them, and he proclaims that this is the fulfillment of scripture, that the last days foretold by the prophets had arrived and that the Spirit of God had come and was now living in, and among, the people of God.

But impressive as that is, what difference does it make to us?

It certainly might be interesting and exciting to read about the transformation of Peter, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, but what does that have to do with us here in the twenty-first century?

And the answer, again, is everything.

In in letter to church in Corinth, more than two decades after Pentecost, Paul explains it this way:(1 Corinthians 12:4-13)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

 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 by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Remember that Paul is writing to a church in Greece, almost two thousand miles from Jerusalem, and more than twenty years after Pentecost.  But he still speaks about the gift of the Spirit of God being distributed to the followers of Jesus Christ and, he says, “it is the same Spirit” that distributes them.  The story of the disciples at Pentecost cannot be disconnected from our story, nor can we discount the story of Pentecost because it was far away and long ago.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, the Spirit that came to rest upon the disciples at Pentecost, is the same Spirit that comes to us today. 

In the church of the twenty-first century, the Spirit of God still brings gifts to the followers of Jesus and, while those gifts might not be the gifts of speaking in tongues (though they might), we are assured that the gifts of God, to each one of us, are given to us for the common good.  We are given gifts that are to be used for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God.  Those gifts might be any of the examples that Paul gave, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, as well as gifts of service and work.  Those broad categories allow for us to receive gifts that Paul could have never understood.  We might receive gifts of facility with computers or social media, gifts of healing through the use of modern medicine, gifts of auto repair, or any other kind of work or service to others.  But regardless of what gifts they might be, we can be certain that the Spirit of God is still in the business of giving these gifts to all the followers of Jesus Christ.

On the Day of Pentecost, these gifts were transformational.  Once they received the gifts of the Spirit, the followers of Jesus were transformed and changed.  The Spirit made a difference in their lives, and that difference allowed them to make a difference in the world around them.  Two thousand years later, we haven’t simply inherited the gifts that the disciples received, the Spirit of God has carefully selected gifts for each person, and gives those gifts to the followers of Jesus for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God. 

So, what difference does it make?

The Spirit of God is the difference that makes a difference.

The Spirit makes a difference in each one of us, so that we can make a difference in the world around us.

So many people are saying, “I want to make a difference.”  Some quit their jobs, or change jobs, or work on their time off, but many are confused or frustrated because they don’t know how.  The answer is simple.  God has given you gifts.  Take the time to discover the gifts that you have been given.  And then ask God to show you how you can use them for the common good.

You can make a difference.

God intends for you to make a difference.

God’s Spirit has already equipped you to make a difference.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

 

Let’s get busy.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/8_PAutzONiM

Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.

God is Pro-Choice

God is Pro-Choice

March 01, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7                      Matthew 4:1-11                     Romans 5:12-19

If you have ever been around children, you have probably witnessed a moment when they begged you to give them something, often some kind of food, that you knew they wouldn’t like.  But being told that they wouldn’t like it, or that they couldn’t have it, made them want it even more. 

We laugh a little when kids do it, but we see the same behavior in adults all the time.  The easiest example is to watch Let’s Make a Deal, originally hosted by Monty Hall and now by Wayne Brady.  How often have we seen contestants on that show give up a pretty decent prize for the chance to see what’s behind door number three?  Likewise, we often “window shop” for cars that we can’t afford, but which would also be impractical, uncomfortable, and totally unsuited to the way that we want to use them.  But we want them just because we know we can’t have them anyway.  Human beings have a terrible inclination to want the things that we can’t have.  And that’s exactly what’s behind the story of humanity’s original sin in the story of Adam and Eve where we read this: (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7)

2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so, they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

 

Adam and Eve were given everything in the garden and God met all their needs.  But Satan knew humanity’s weakness and played on it.  He knew that Adam and Eve would want the one thing that they weren’t allowed to have and all that he had to do was to make them think about not being allowed to have it.  God gave them freedom and allowed them to make their own choices…  and they chose poorly.  And in doing so, they established a pattern that humanity has struggled with ever since.  Even when we know what is right and just, we choose poorly.  And far too often, we simply choose poorly just because we want the things that we can’t have for no other reason than we know that we’re not supposed to have them.

 

And that was the pattern, it was normal, and it seemed as if that humans would always be trapped in that same rut.  Until we heard about the story of Jesus’ encounter with the same deceiver that tripped up Adam and Eve in Matthew 4:1-11.

 

4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 

In this story, Satan makes three offers, or three temptations, to Jesus and, from these, Jesus must make three choices.  The first two, are the same choice that were given to Adam and Eve.  Satan is tempting Jesus by saying something a lot like, “God didn’t really promise to take care of you, did he?”  or, “You don’t really have the kind of power you say that you have, do you?”  Jesus knows that he can do those things, but he knows that he should not, and he must choose to do what is right.  Instead, Jesus makes the right choices for the right reasons.  In the third case, Satan tempts Jesus with two more of humanity’s greatest weaknesses: Greed and Power.  “If you do this one thing for me, I will make your life easy.  I will give you all the money you want, all the women you want, and the power to rule the entire world.”  But again, Jesus chooses what is right, and what God wants, instead of satisfying his human desires.

 

God gives Jesus the freedom to choose.  Jesus was just as human as Adam was, and just as human as we are, and he could have chosen the easy path and satisfied his desires.  But Jesus demonstrates for all humanity, that it is possible for human beings to consistently make good choices. 

 

But why is that important?

 

It’s important because the choices that Jesus made for himself, are the choices that made it possible for us to be reconciled to God.  To be fair, we aren’t the first people to ask why our choices are important.  The church has been asking this question from the very beginning and that’s why the Apostle Paul explained the importance of Jesus’ choices in his letter to the church in Rome in Romans 5:12-19

 

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

 

Paul reminds us that it was the disobedience of Adam and Eve that birthed sin into our world, and from that time until the time of Moses, although no one sinned in the way that Adam did, sin still existed.  No one disobeyed a direct command of God, but people chose poorly, they acted in ways that violated their conscience, they violated other people, or acted selfishly and in doing so made themselves, their needs, and their desires an object of worship.  After the time of Moses, the people had a written law that told them what it was that God wanted, and still humanity failed.  Even knowing what God wanted, humans still made poor choices, still rebelled against God, wanted things that they couldn’t have, sinned against God, and were condemned.

 

But then came Jesus.

 

Jesus made good choices.  Not just in the desert when he was tempted by Satan, but all the time.  Jesus consistently made good choices every moment of every day so that his entire life was sinless and offered up to God and became the perfect sacrifice.  Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, sin flowed out into the entire world, but because of the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s grace overflows into all of humanity. 

 

God has always been, and will always be, pro-choice.  That has nothing to do with that other debate, it means that, from the beginning of time, God has never manipulated or controlled human beings in order to force them into one particular way of thinking or specific pattern of behavior.  God has always given human beings the freedom to choose for themselves regardless of the goodness or injustice of their decisions.  At the same time, we remember that one trespass of Adam, one act, one choice, resulted in the condemnation of all people, and one righteous act, one choice, of Jesus brought justification and life for all people.

 

God continues to be pro-choice.  Each of us have the freedom to choose whatever we want.

 

But remember that we often want things that we can’t have or want things that aren’t good for us.

 

We are free to choose, but we must remember that we are accountable for our choices.  One day we will all stand in judgement for the choices that we have made.

 

You are free to choose.

 

You can choose to follow Jesus, or you can choose to go your own way.

 

Choose wisely.

 

 

 

 

 


Did you enjoy reading this?

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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 God of Fools

The God of Fools

February 02, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Micah 6:1-8                            Matthew 5:1-12                                 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

 

 

Do you believe in Global Warming?

 

I’m not looking to start an argument, but this is a common sort of discussion going on in our culture that can help us to understand a biblical principle, as well as one of the more difficult teachings of the Apostle Paul. 

 

Let me explain.  If a person is unconvinced that Global Warming, or Global Climate Change, or at least Anthropogenic Global Warming (which is the belief that not only is the climate changing, but that human activity is primarily at fault) then that unconvinced person looks at all the hysteria and handwringing by those who are convinced, and he (or she) believes that they are all fools.  Conversely, those who have been convinced that these ideas are true, believes that anyone who remains unconvinced, or skeptical, is a “climate denier” or, in other words, a fool.

 

It is this modern blindness to the opinion of others that helps us to understand that same principle applied in the world of theology.  But, before we get to that, let’s begin by looking at a lawsuit brought by God, against the people of God who claim to be his worshippers and followers.  We find this language of lawsuits, witnesses, and courtrooms in Micah 6:1-8, where we hear these words:

 

6:1 Listen to what the Lord says:

“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.

“Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.

“My people, what have I done to you?
    How have I burdened you? Answer me.
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

 

Using legal language that would have been familiar to the people of the ancient world, God declares that he is taking them to court to lodge charges against them.  In that accusation, God presents examples and evidence of his faithfulness to his people and in doing so, suggests that he is charging them with unfaithfulness.  But, if God believes that his people are disobedient and unfaithful, even when they appear to be following the laws of Moses, bringing sacrifices, and worshipping in the Temple in Jerusalem, then what is it that God wants from them?  In fact, Micah, speaking for God, asks that question three times saying, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?” and then later asking, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?” and finally wondering, “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

 

But in the end, the answer is simple.  Micah says, God “has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

 

Although the people of Israel were going through the motions of worship, and although from outward appearances they seemed to keep the commands of God, they had forgotten the underlying principles of justice, mercy, and humility and those were the things that God really wanted from them, and what he had modelled for them, in the first place.

 

And, seven hundred or so years later, when Jesus stands up to preach a sermon that we now remember as the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, we hear that same message of justice, mercy, and humility.

 

5:1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

 

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Here, we run into the same problem that the people of the Old Testament had.  While the principle that we heard in Micah, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” sounds entirely reasonable, the application, as described by Jesus, is a lot more difficult.  If Jesus is to be believed, and since we are his followers and name ourselves after him, we certainly should, then we really need to wrestle with some of this teaching.

 

Blessed are those who mourn, sounds wonderful, but from there on, they get harder.  In the world in which Jesus lived, and in ours twenty centuries later, the meek don’t typically inherit anything.  The humble and the meek usually get run over by the bold selfish narcissists.  In the business world, the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness seem to get trampled by the people who hunger and thirst for money, pleasure, and power.   While our culture gives lip service to mercy, we can rarely find it in politics or commerce, and acts of mercy get handed off to institutions of charity and religion.  And, while peacemakers can occasionally get some good press, it is the warmongers who are more commonly found in the halls of government, wield all the influence, and make all the money.  And by golly, you would be hard pressed to find anyone at all who would welcome persecution, insults, or false accusations, let alone rejoice in them.

 

In the end, what Jesus is preaching, and what God wants from us, is to live a life that is entirely contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom.  And that, leads us to what Paul is trying to communicate as he writes to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, where he says:

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

 

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

 

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

 

26Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

 

In an age of enlightenment and widespread higher education, and in a world where people of faith are regularly accused of being “anti-science” or even “anti-education,” passages like this can be frustratingly difficult to understand.  What are we supposed to think when we hear phrases like “the message of the cross is foolishness” and “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”?  Are we supposed to understand that God really wants his followers to be foolish and stupid?

 

Of course not.

 

Remember that scripture has an entire genre that we refer to as the Wisdom books.  Five books of the Old Testament, including Psalms and Proverbs, and two books of the Apocrypha are all parts of the wisdom literature that was handed down to us by the people of Israel.  The writer of Psalms declares that wisdom was present with God at the creation of the universe, and Matthew declares that the wisdom of Jesus was greater than the wisdom of Solomon.  So clearly, God does not intend for his followers to be stupid.  Instead, in the passage that we just read, the point that Paul is trying to make can seen more clearly where he said, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  Let me repeat that.  “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  God is so smart, that even if God were to have a “senior moment” or “brain freeze,” or some other moment of stupidity, God’s version of stupid is still smarter than any human intelligence and God’s weakness is still stronger than any human strength.

 

But, with that in mind, if we understand that God is smart, and that God wants us to be smart, and we understand that God is wise, and wants us to be wise, then how are we to make sense of phrases like “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” and, “the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”?

 

We make sense of it all by remembering that what Jesus preached on the Mount of Beatitudes.  What God wants from us, is a wisdom that is often contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom.  If we live the way that God wants us to live, our lives will often be lived in ways that are contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom.  That doesn’t mean that education is bad, or that Christians are “anti-science,” or that God prefers uneducated rubes as his followers.

 

We begin to see God’s meaning as we walk through the Beatitudes.  It means that we set aside our inborn selfishness enough to care about the poor and to comfort those who mourn.  It means that we are called to remember mercy when the rest of the world is demanding blood and violence.  It means that we find value in, and expend our efforts toward, seeking purity and virtue instead of the pleasures and vices that the world believes to be normal.  It means that, wherever possible, whether we are on the playground, the battleground, or the corporate boardroom, we seek peace instead of conflict even when peace might come at some personal price to us in dollars, time, or popularity.  And it means that we understand that if we live the way that Jesus has called us to live, that we will often be unpopular, insulted, persecuted, have false rumors, gossip, and other accusations brought against us but we also remember that God’s prophets were always treated this way, and so was Jesus.

 

In the end, if we truly want to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, then we must accept that God’s wisdom is not the same as the wisdom of the world, that what God wants is not the same as what the world wants, and that what God considers to be good, is not always the same as what the world thinks is good.  If we want to live the way that God wants us to live, we must understand that the world will think of us as foolish and stupid.

 

I’m okay with that.

 

And I hope that you are okay with that.

 

If we are to be fools, may we at least be God’s fools.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

We Shatter Oppression

We Shatter Oppression

January 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 9:1-4                            Matthew 4:12-23                               1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 

 

Growing up, many of us watched classic Western’s on television or in the movies and many times there was a tense situation where the good guys were trapped and overwhelmed by the enemy, but just when hope was almost lost, some kind of reinforcements would arrive and rescue them.  So common was this that in the lexicon of American English, we have all come to know what it means when we hear phrases that refer to being rescued by the arrival of the cavalry even when the situation has nothing to do with the American west and when it occurs a hundred years after the military went around on horseback.

 

As we think about scriptures today, I want you to think about how those trapped people might have felt, not just in the American west, but in any number of situations when a very real protagonist appears over the horizon to rescue them.  Imagine how slaves in the American south felt when they were freed by Union soldiers, or how the inmates of German concentration camps felt when Allied soldiers arrived (75 years ago this week), or how today’s victims of human trafficking might feel when law enforcement recognizes who they are and frees them from their captors.

 

Remembering these situations, and thinking about the victims’ feelings, will help us to have a better mental and emotional understanding of what we read in today’s scripture passages such as Isaiah 9:1-4, where we hear these words:

 

9:1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.

 

Isaiah declares that when the messiah comes, he will end the distress of his people and bring honor to the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali that had once been dishonored.  The transformation would be not only noticeable, but dramatic.  The people who lived in darkness would see a great light, those living in a land of deep darkness would witness the dawn, and those living in captivity and slavery would see the instruments of their oppression torn away and shattered.  Even more than seeing the cavalry ride over the horizon, this is a scene of dramatic rescue as distress is ended, joy returned, and freedom restored. 

 

And it is that same dramatic imagery that is used to connect the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with Isaiah’s prophecy in Matthew 4:12-23 as Jesus begins to call his disciples to follow him.

 

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

 

The imagery of recalling the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, and Galilee, and the dramatic transformation of a people living in darkness who see a great light or those living in the shadow of death welcoming the dawn all connects Jesus to the prophecies of Isaiah.  In this way, we are told that Jesus is the messiah that God has promised through the prophets, and it is Jesus that is bringing joy, light, honor, and freedom.  But Matthew immediately shifts from what was, to what is, from the past of Isaiah, to the present Jesus, and he begins to tell the story of how Jesus called his disciples to follow him.

 

Jesus first calls Peter and Andrew, who we met last week just a few verses earlier in the story, followed by James and John.  All of them were fishing beside the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called them, and all of them walk away from their work, their trade, their families, and their livelihoods at a moment’s notice.  And as soon as they begin to follow, they find them themselves walking with Jesus while he teaches, and preaches, and heals the sick.  There are two more important points to be made here.  First, is that the traditional understanding of the role of a disciple was to not only to follow, but to learn to be like the rabbi that they followed, to pattern and model their lives on the life of the rabbi, and to take upon themselves the mission and purpose of the rabbi that they followed.  The second thing we notice is that by declaring his intention to send them out to “fish for people,” Jesus is making a promise to teach, and to train, his disciples to do what he is doing.  This isn’t an invitation to watch a show, this is an invitation to an education, and an invitation to become like Jesus, and in a sense, to become Jesus by taking upon themselves the mission of Jesus.

 

And, in a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds the church who it is that we follow, and why Jesus sends us out into the world.  In 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Paul says:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

As we begin taking that apart, particularly as our own denomination seems almost certainly headed for some form of division or fracture, it’s worth noting, in this case, what specific kind of division that Paul is talking about.  Paul says that there should be no division in the church, but then he explains that what the people of Corinth are fighting over are various cults of personality.  Some people are saying that they are followers of Paul or followers of Apollos, or followers of Peter.  But Paul stresses that none of them belong to the church of Peter, or Paul, or the church of anyone except the church of Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who was crucified, and it was in the name of Jesus that we have all been baptized. 

 

And, as a disciple of Jesus, Paul has been sent on one single mission, and that mission was to preach the gospel.  Paul freely admits that his preaching does sound like the professional orators and speakers that people sometimes heard in the public square.  Instead, Paul’s preaching often seems to lack wisdom and eloquence, but it is in Paul’s shortcomings that the power of Jesus Christ is revealed.  People are not drawn to his preaching, and lives are not transformed because Paul was such an incredibly fabulous public speaker (he admits that he wasn’t).  It was not Paul’s words that drew people in, and it was not Paul that changed their hearts, it was the power of Jesus Christ that had sent him and it was the power of Jesus Christ that was working through him.

 

When we put these ideas together, we remember Isaiah’s prophecy that the messiah would come to bring light into the darkness of our world, to return honor to the people of God, to bring freedom to the captives, and to shatter the instruments of oppression.  As Jesus came, it was revealed that he was that messiah, and that he intended to accomplish the mission Isaiah had written about.  But Jesus had no intention of fulfilling the prophecies of God as a performer puts on a show.  Jesus called his disciples not to be spectators, but to be learners who would model their lives after the life of Jesus and to take up his mission for themselves.

 

And Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ mission didn’t end with the first twelve disciples but has been passed on to the church and to every generation of disciples throughout history.  Despite our divisions between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, despite our divisions between Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Evangelical, Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, and any number of other denominations past, present, or future, we are united in following one Jesus and in carrying out his mission.  As his disciples, we now carry on Jesus’ mission to bring freedom to those who are captive to slavery, captive to sin, captive to hunger, to human trafficking, to drugs, to alcohol, to uncaring governments, corporate cruelty, bureaucracy, school bullies, and to any other kind of oppression that we might encounter.

 

We might not wear tights or capes or think of ourselves as heroes, but if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, then we accept that it is our job to carry out his mission.  We aren’t here to put on a show.  We are here to share the good news, to tell the story of Jesus Christ.  We are here to fight for freedom.  And we are here to shatter oppression wherever we find it. 

 

Every day, men, women, and children are praying that God would send a hero to rescue them from the giants that oppress them.  Those giants may not look like Roman soldiers, or slave ship captains, or Nazi prison guards but those giants are just as real as they have ever been, and their oppression is just as painful.

 

For them, we might just be heroes they’ve been praying for.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.