The Demands of Hope

The Demands of Hope

November 27, 2022*

(1st Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 2:1-5                Matthew 24:36-44                 Romans 13:11-14

When we read from the books of the prophets, we often mislead ourselves into believing that God’s prophets were important, or powerful, and even well liked during their lifetimes, but often, the experience of God’s prophets was just the opposite.  Often the words that they carried were messages of God’s displeasure, news of punishment, impending disaster, doom, and death.  And as a result, the prophets of God were often disliked, unwelcome, beaten, imprisoned, or banned entirely from the temple or from the king’s palace.  In 1 Kings 18:16-18, Ahab the king of Israel went to meet Elijah on Mount Carmel and “when he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?””

But sometimes the messages of the prophets held good news.  Sometimes their messages contained guidance, blessings, and hope.  And as we begin this season of Advent, those are the messages that we find as we read from Isaiah 2:1-5 that says:

2:1 This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord.

The message of Isaiah is a message of hope.  God says that there will be a day when God’s people are not afraid to hear his words, a day when they will seek him out, listen to his voice, learn from him, and accept his judgements.  And in that day, wars will end, soldiers will come home, and the world will at, last, know peace.

But God’s promise from Isaiah comes to us from almost three thousand years ago.  Since then, we have seen the coming of Jesus Christ, but our modern world is still far too familiar with suffering, pain, disease, disaster, and death.  God’s people, from that time until now, have asked the same question, “When?”  When will Jesus return?  When will we see the end of famine, disease, violence, pestilence, and war?  When, O Lord, will we see the peace that you have promised?

And the answer to those questions is the same today as it has been from the time that Jesus’ own disciples asked the same question in Matthew 24:36-44.  And Jesus said:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

The simple answer to the question of ‘when’ is “We don’t know.”  But what we do know is that the arrival of Jesus in at the second coming will look much as it did at the time of his birth in Bethlehem.  Even though his coming was repeatedly foretold by God’s prophets through the ages, and even though the people of Israel were intimately familiar with those scriptures, and even clung to the promise of those words, no one was ready.  Almost no one was watching for his arrival and, although there were some, few people recognized the birth of Jesus for what it was. 

And the warning of Jesus is that when he returns, things are likely to be similar.  No one will know when he will arrive but because his arrival will be so unexpected, like a thief in the night, we must live expectantly.  We must keep watch and live as if he might return any time at all, even today. But in Romans 13:11-14, Paul explains that living expectantly demands more of us than just keeping watch saying…

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

As his followers, hope demands that we do more than just wait and watch for the return of Jesus Christ.  The time has already come for us to get busy with our preparations for his return because the world is already two thousand years closer to his return than it was in the time of Paul.  But how do we prepare?  What is it that we should be doing?  And Paul’s words still ring true with us today.  Setting aside the deeds of darkness means we should not just stop doing evil, but also stop encouraging and supporting the people that do. 

That means that we should stop doing evil but should also stop doing things that are morally and ethically questionable, or that otherwise can be found in the grey areas of ethics and morality.  Stop watching television shows, going to plays, and paying to see movies, which glamorize immorality regardless of how popular and funny they might be.  Stop rationalizing your behavior by saying that it’s just a little harmless entertainment.  Stop supporting politicians that do a few good things, but live as if morality isn’t important.  

Instead, live lives that are good, decent, ethical, and moral.  Be known withing your profession as someone who won’t cut corners, or behave immorally or unethically, even if doing so costs you something.  Don’t go places and do things just because they feel good, do things, and go places that are good.  Rather than just waiting and hoping for Jesus to do it, we should work to end famine, disease, violence, pestilence, and war.  As you make your everyday choices of how to live your life, where to spend your money, and how to spend your time, consider whether you would invite Jesus to go to those places, and do those things with you.  If you would feel uncomfortable going to that place, or watching that movie, doing that thing, or making that decision with Jesus standing next to you, then don’t do it.  Clothe yourself with Jesus Christ and live as if he was walking beside you in everything that you do.

Because he is.

God’s message of the promised messiah, given through his prophet Isaiah, is a message of hope. 

Knowing that Jesus could return at any moment, fills us with hope.

But hope demands something from us.

If we have this hope, if we believe that these words are true, then we must live lives of expectation.

And doing that will change the way that we work, the way that we play, the way that we spend our time, and the way that we spend our money.

If our hope is real, then we must live our lives as if it is.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Which Shepherd Are You?

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Which Shepherd Are You?

November 20, 2022*

(Christ the King Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 23:1-6                     Luke 23:33-43            Colossians 1:11-20

I saw a cartoon the other day about pyramids.  The joke was simply that instead of thinking that aliens were needed to explain why cultures around the globe chose to build pyramid shaped structures, maybe it was just because everyone figured out that this shape allowed them to make an enormous building that didn’t fall over.  It wasn’t aliens.  It was physics.

In any case, while we don’t build as many pyramids as once did, we do use pyramids to describe a lot of things.  “Pyramid schemes” are bad because, as investment vehicles, only the people at the top ever make any money. But most businesses, non-profits, not-for-profits, military units, charities, churches, scout troops, and almost everyone else, use some kind of pyramid shaped organizational structure.  There is one, or at least a very small number of people at the very top, then more people that report to them, then an even larger number of people that report to them, and so on.  Sometimes those pyramids are quite large and sometimes they are flatter.  The Catholic Church has the Pope at the top, then cardinals, then archbishops, bishops, and then priests (I think), and our church is a little shorter without a pope, we have bishops, district superintendents, and pastors.  But that’s not exactly right, but we’ll come back to it before we’re finished.

Years ago, when I first read The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, I encountered a word that I had never seen used before.  While its component parts were all familiar, the assembly was new to me.  The word that I met, and have grown to appreciate over the years, is… “under-shepherd.”  The idea is familiar to any of us with experience with pyramids and organizational charts.  There’s a shepherd, and then there are subordinate shepherds that work for the shepherd who are therefore under-shepherds.  The concept is simple enough, but it is a useful, and meaningful, way of thinking about our relationship with Jesus.  This is, I think, particularly true as we read God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 23:1-6 when he says:

23:1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for Davida righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

Obviously, in the time of Jeremiah, Jesus had not yet come, but even so, even as far back as the book of Genesis, God was often referred to as the shepherd of his people.  But more to the point, the rulers of the nation and the leaders of the church were called to be, and were known as, the shepherds of God’s people.  And some of those under-shepherds were not behaving… shepherd-ly.  The leaders of God’s people were scattering and destroying God’s sheep and God was taking it quite personally.  Because of their actions, God declares a curse and a punishment upon them for the evil that they had done.  God says that he himself will regather a remnant of his flock and will find new shepherds who will do what shepherds are called to do.  They will care for the people under their authority, they will have a spine, and will stand up against the enemies and the dangers that face them, and they will protect their flock so that none of them are afraid or go missing.  In fact, it is at this point that God declares that he will raise up the good shepherd, a righteous branch from the root of David’s family tree, who will do what is right, who will reunite the nations of Judah and Israel, and who will be called, The Lord, our righteous Savior.

And although it may not seem like it at first, that is the image that we have of Jesus in his last moments on the cross.  Although he is dying, the good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.  In Luke 23:33-43, we hear these words:

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there, hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Even in his last moments, with one of the last breaths that he had left in his body, Jesus was rescuing the lost and, with his dying breath, he gave his life so that he could rescue God’s sheep.  Jesus is the good shepherd, the righteous branch of David’s line that God promised to his people.  He is the king of kings, the ruler of the nations, and the rescuer of all humanity.  But, as I often ask, what difference does it make?  How does any of that teach me what I need to know to get through my day today?  How does that offer me guidance on how I live my life?  And we find the answer to some of those questions in Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae in these words from Colossians 1:11-20.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,  10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified youto share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Paul’s prayer for the church was that they would be filled with a knowledge and an understanding of God’s will for their lives, mission, and ministry so that they could live lives that were worthy of God and would please God in every way.  Paul prayed that the church would be strengthened with God’s power, have great endurance and patience, and give thanks to God for qualifying the church to share in the inheritance of eternity in heaven.  But Paul also prayed that the church would bear fruit through every good work, and daily grow in their knowledge of God.  I want to repeat that part for emphasis.  Paul prayed that the church would bear fruit through every good work and grow in their knowledge of God. 

And then, Paul repeats the resumé of Jesus and reminds everyone that Jesus is the Messiah, the good shepherd who rose from the dead, and sits on the throne of God as he seeks to rescue all people, reconcile all who are lost with God, and make peace throughout all creation.

All of that, from Jeremiah, to Luke, Jesus, and Paul, serves to remind us that our role, our mission, our place in the pyramid organizational chart, as the followers of Jesus Christ and as the members of his church, is to be under-shepherds.  It is our work, not to scatter and destroy God’s sheep, but to gather them and protect them with our lives, to grow his flock, to rescue the lost sheep, to risk everything that we have to recover the ones that have wandered, to bear fruit, to grow God’s flock, to do good works, to grow in the knowledge of God, to be filled with great endurance and patience, and to give joyful thanks to God.

As the good shepherd has rescued us, let us, as under-shepherds, spend our lives rescuing others, growing, and caring for his flock, so that we might live lives that are worthy of God and please him in every way.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

To Heaven, Through Hell

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To Heaven, Through Hell

November 13, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 65:17-25                      Luke 21:5-19              2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Anyone with more than a few laps around the sun is well aware that sometimes life is not a bed of roses, or a bowl of cherries, or however you want to say it, life is not always all that great.  Sometimes it flat-out sucks pond water.  Life is filled with pain, sickness, hurt feelings, tragedy, betrayal, abandonment, loss, suffering, and death.  But it isn’t always bad.  As bad as life can be, and the bad stuff can sometimes last far longer than we’d like, we also know that life can also be filled with joy, healing, excitement, victory, hope, encouragement, friendship, and love.

This understanding is the source of two great quotes that help us to keep our pain in perspective.

Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

When we struggle with death and loss, and when whenever good things end, it helps to remember that the reason that we are mourning, is because of the good things that happened.  But when we are faced with pain in our future, or when we are enduring it in our present, we should remember that Winston Churchill famously said…

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

And it is those perspectives that I would like you to keep in mind this morning as we consider where we are going, what we will pass through on the way there, and how should live our lives in the present so that we can keep moving toward our final destination.  We begin this morning reading from Isaiah 65:17-25, as God paints a picture of what life will be like in the world that is to come.

17 “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,  or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

God will create a new heaven and a new earth that is fundamentally different from the one in which we live, and we will live there for so long, and our healing will be so complete and enduring, that we will hardly remember the pain and the suffering that we once endured.  Life will no longer be a struggle but will be filled with joy instead of weeping.  Old age will be normal and there will never be the sorrow of mourning the loss of a child.  No longer will people and nations be uprooted by famine, warfare, natural disasters, pestilence, unemployment, taxation, or anything else but God’s people will live, work, grow, plant, and endure in one place, in one home, with their families.  Even the animal kingdom will be changed so that we will have no fear of them, they of us, or them for one another.  God’s promise is that there is a better future for all those who love him.

But that isn’t at all the picture that Jesus draws for his disciples.  The future that Jesus describes reminds us that what God showed to Isaiah is the distant “not yet.”  In between our now, and the “not yet” is more of the ugliness that we have seen throughout history, and worse.  As Jesus and his disciples are walking through Jerusalem, the disciples marvel at the beautiful stonework of the temple and its surroundings.  But Jesus uses those stones as a warning of what is to come.  We hear these words in Luke 21:5-19.

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

Jesus says that his followers will be hated by their families, friends, neighbors, and the entire world simply because of their love for him.  But in the end, we will endure because who and what we are in Jesus Christ endures even beyond death.  The only way that we can lose is to give up.  Stand firm.  Keep moving forward.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

But what does that mean for us today?  How does that inform us, or teach us, about how we might survive, one day at a time, through the weirdness that is life in the twenty-first century?  And that is one of the things that Paul addresses in his letter to the church in Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teachingyou received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

Clearly, this isn’t a prescriptive text that tells us everything about how to live as a church in times of disruption and chaos, but Paul says that one of the things that we need to be to be doing, as we have heard in other passages in recent weeks, is to keep busy, and to stay on task.  And one of the ways that we do that is to stay away from people who are bad examples.  The first among these bad examples are people who aren’t doing anything.  But worse than that are the people who aren’t doing anything and are using their free time to disrupt the people who are doing something.  Also, a part of Paul’s description of these disruptors is that they are people who claim to believe, and count themselves among the believers of the church, but do not live as if they believe because they don’t do the things that the scriptures teach.

Paul says that, because he and his ministry team intentionally wanted to be a good example, they did not accept a salary, or gifts, or meals, or anything else while they were in Thessalonica.  They didn’t do so because pastors, missionaries, and work teams aren’t entitled to being paid or even being treated well, but because they wanted to be a model for the people to follow.

It is worth noting at this point, that the phrase Paul uses here, has been borrowed, grossly misinterpreted, and misused by a recent political campaign.  Apparently, there has been someone, during the most recent election, that was claiming that the phrase, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” implies that welfare or giving to the poor runs against biblical principles.  But that is, frankly, spiritual malpractice.  Paul’s statement, and this example, in this case, is for internal church use and is ministry specific.  When the church was busy working, and fed its workers afterward, it didn’t make sense to feed people who didn’t do any work.  Paul wasn’t saying that the church shouldn’t feed the poor, that would be contrary to the words of Jesus.  What he was saying was, don’t show up to eat lunch at the Habitat for Humanity work project if you aren’t doing any work.  In that specific case, the food was intended to feed the workers.  And so that sentence should not, and cannot, be misconstrued to try to say that Jesus doesn’t want us to feed the poor.

Let’s summarize.  What we heard today is that we are on our way to someplace better.  God is at work, even now, preparing a place for us to live forever and in that place all the broken things of this world will be fixed.  There will be no more mourning, or crying or pain, parents will no longer have to bury their children, no longer will people and nations be uprooted by famine, warfare, natural disasters, or pestilence, and will all live, work, grow, plant, and endure in one place, in one home, with our families forever.

But between here and there, will be pain, and suffering, and death, and all the other terrible things that we have come to expect from our broken world.  Not only will those things continue but, at times, they’ll be a lot worse.  In the meantime, whether things are better for us or worse, the message is to stay on task, to keep doing the work that God has given us to do.  And while we’re doing that, we should stay away from busybodies who keep other people from doing their work.  Stay away from people who are idle and disruptive because they’re just going to waste your time and keep you from doing the work that God has given you to do.

The message for today is just to stay busy.  God has given us work to do as individuals, and as a church.  We can expect to go through difficult stuff.  We can expect that the horrors of this broken world will not get better and will often get worse.  But through it all, we need to keep moving forward, keep doing the work of Jesus Christ, and keep on calling the world to hear the message of the gospel so that they too can receive healing, rescue, and restoration.

Never tire of doing good.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Rumors, Disappointments, and Trickery

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Rumors, Disappointments, and Trickery

November 06, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Haggai 1:15b-2:9                   Luke 20:27-38                        2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

As I read this week’s scriptures, I was repeatedly struck by how much each one reminded me of an election year and all the ads with which we are bombarded on television, radio, newspapers, internet ads, and junk overflowing our mailboxes.  It doesn’t take a genius to spot half-truths, twisted truths, innuendo, exaggerations, and outright lies by almost everyone running for every party.  Everyone says that they are in favor of “family values” but no one seems to think that integrity is a family value.  No one is ever as good, or as righteous, as they are portrayed in their campaign commercials, and the opposition is never as wrong, greedy, power hungry, or evil, as the candidates want us to believe. 

But life is like that.  Life is not black and white.  None of the candidates are as pure as the driven snow or as evil as the devil incarnate.  None of them are going to bring about socialism, or fascism, or bring about the end of democracy as we know it.  Every candidate, like every one of us, is their own unique mixture of good and evil.  There is some truth in every campaign commercial.  But I doubt that you will find a commercial that is 100 percent truthful and that’s what makes choosing whom to support so difficult.

It has always been like this.  In the very first presidential election, Jefferson’s campaign accused John Adams of being, um, equipped with the reproductive parts of both genders, and Adams’ campaign threatened that Thomas Jefferson would openly promote prostitution, incest, and adultery.  But if you’re like me, you find the whole exercise in election year democracy to be disappointing.  I expected, and I expect, better.  I genuinely desire truth in advertising.  I’d really like to see a debate with real-time fact checking, and Family Feud style buzzers with a big red “X” … or something.  Because the truth gets so intermingled with the spin and the deception that it becomes almost impossible to tell the difference.  I mean, just once, can we have a candidate that tells us what they’re for, without spending half their time telling us what the “other guy” is for?

That’s enough ranting for today, but let’s listen for those same messages, eerily repeated from thousands of years ago, in our scriptures today.  We begin with Haggai 1:15b-2:9, which records for us the thoughts and the feelings of the people of Israel as they have returned from Babylon after seventy years of captivity.  They should have been filled with joy, right?  But one of the first, and principal emotions that the prophet Haggai records for us is… disappointment.

In the second year of King Darius, 2:1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea, and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The people of Israel finally get permission to go home, they leave Babylon, they travel 1600 to 1700 miles, on foot, and arrive in Jerusalem to find it, as it was left, in ruins and now overgrown with vegetation.  It was something of a letdown for all of them even if they expected it.  They had heard the news.  Letters from Jeremiah and others had gone back and forth.  Their minds knew that it had happened, but that didn’t change the reality of the impact that it had when they saw it in person.  And the disappointment was worse for those who had seen, visited, and had lived in, Jerusalem, and knew her magnificence and beauty, before she was destroyed.

 But God’s word to his people is to be strong “for I am with you.” “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.” And God promises that although the foundations of the new temple didn’t look like much, and although it was politics and the threats of their neighbors that had halted construction so that not a single stone had been moved in two years, what was coming was going to be even better than before.  God owns all the gold, all the silver, and everything else in, on, or under the earth.  And God’s promise was that the glory of this new temple would be even greater than the old one, not just because of its architecture, but because God’s presence would make it a place of peace.  And it was that temple, which was later renovated, redesigned, and expanded by Herod the Great, that still stood in the day of Jesus almost six hundred years later.  And as we see in Luke 20:27-38, they were still playing political games.

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

The Sadducees, although not technically a political party, was one of the primary factions vying for power, control, and influence in Israel in the time of Jesus.  Knowing that Jesus had things to say about the resurrection and the life to come after death and judgement, and as a group, completely disbelieving in the possibility of resurrection, they come to Jesus with a trick question.  The question is a total set-up.  The plan for this entire encounter is for the equivalent of today’s debate soundbite that makes the other guy look stupid.  They believe that they have designed an impossible question that sounds reasonable on the surface but cannot be answered without looking foolish or making the Sadducees appear to have superior reasoning.

But it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work because Jesus isn’t guessing.  Jesus isn’t theorizing about what the theological implications might be, or whether there is, or isn’t an afterlife, or whether there is, or isn’t a resurrection, or judgement, or whether God’s house is a real place.  Jesus isn’t guessing.  He’s been there.  He’s seen it.  He knows how it works and he knows the rules.  And so, when the Sadducees come to him with a question that they have carefully crafted and spun to push their own narrative, Jesus stops them cold by simply saying that they’ve completely misunderstood the rules.  Marriage was created for us, for humans, to reveal to us a glimpse of what God’s love for us will be like in the next life.  But in the next life, when God’s love has been revealed to us in full, there will be no need for marriage.

Some time later, the church in Thessalonica is being unsettled with internal strife between its members because of theological and politically motivated internal rumors that were designed to divide the church.  Yikes.  But, although our situations are distinctly different, this does sound a little familiar to us in the Methodist Church about now.  In any case, into this internal struggle, Paul writes his second letter to the church and includes these words in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17.

2:1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessnessis revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things?

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruitsto be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachingswe passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

There were words spoken, letters written, rumors circulated, and even prophetic speeches, which were fake news.  There were stories that were attributed to Paul, Silas, Timothy, or others on their mission team that claimed that the second coming of Jesus Christ had already happened.  Some person, or persons, unknown were, for their own purposes, attempting to deceive the church most likely to gain an audience, or a congregation, or even a group of churches, that they could somehow use for their own benefit.

And Paul answers these rumors by saying yes, there is a day coming when a rebellion against God will happen on earth, and yes, there is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return in judgement over all of humanity, but today is not that day. 

Today, we can expect life to be filled with disappointments when our fellow human beings, and we ourselves, fail to live up to our expectations.  Today, human beings will continue to vie for political power, authority, and influence and continue to use trick questions and twist our words to embarrass us.  Today, there will be rumors, letter writing campaigns, and even prophetic type speeches, and other sorts of fake news designed to divide us and distract us from our mission.  And, as sad as that is, we must remember, and cling to, the good news that we heard in each of these stories.

God’s word to his people today is the same as it has always been.  Be strong “for I am with you.” “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”  Remember that our God is the God of the living and the dead, that our lives do not end when our hearts stop beating on this earth, but that we have an eternity for which we must, even now, be using our time to prepare.  Remember, that God chose you.  Remember that God called you to this mission, through the gospel message, so that you might share in the glory of Jesus Christ.  Stand firm and hold fast to the teaching that has been passed on to you in your home, in your Sunday school classes, Bible studies, in church, or in what you have read and studied in the scriptures.  Do not be deceived.  Test everything.  Test the rumors against what you know to be true, but also do not be afraid to test your own biases against those scriptures as well, for too many well-meaning people have been suckered into believing a lie because that lie just happened to align with a bias that they already held.

God’s word to his people today is the same as it has always been.  Be strong “for I am with you.”


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

Straight on till Morning

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Straight on till Morning

(All Saints Sunday)

October 23, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4                     Luke 19:1-10             2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

I’m sure all of us have seen it, but in the Walt Disney version of Peter Pan, Peter famously makes up directions as he explains to Wendy how one finds their way to Neverland.  And in so doing he says that the way they must go is to take the “Second star to the right, and straight on ‘till morning.”  Of course, the original book by J. M. Barrie did not include the word “star” and so folks have argued whether Mr. Disney intended to say that Neverland was in outer space somewhere, or simply wanted to refer to the old seafaring tradition of navigating by the stars.

We see similar conversations about navigation in all sorts of movies and television shows with such dialog as, “Come right three degrees, and full speed ahead.”  Navigation is all about checking to see where you are and making course corrections as necessary until you arrive at your destination.  And that describes much of the teaching that we will find in today’s scriptures.  As we read these passages of scripture, let us consider where we are, what direction we are going, and how we might make the journey to our destination.  We begin this morning in another book that we seem to rarely visit.  We begin with the words of the prophet Habakkuk in Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.

1:1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.

2:1 I will stand at my watch
    and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
    and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
    and make it plain on tablets
    so that a heraldmay run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
    it speaks of the end
    and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
    it will certainly come
    and will not delay.

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
    his desires are not upright—
    but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.

Habakkuk cries out that God is silent and is not answering his prayers or the prayers of his people.  There is violence, injustice, wrongdoing, destruction, strife and conflict, the law of their nation is paralyzed and doesn’t do anything and only codifies, institutionalizes, and perpetuates the injustice so that the wicked always win and persecute the righteous.  But, even in the face of injustice and all these other things, Habakkuk decides to stand at his watch, to do what is right, and continue to do his duty regardless of the wrongdoing and injustice that surrounds him.

And God replies that this is the right choice.  Habakkuk is told that God’s word is coming.  It may wait longer than expected but it is coming.  But until then, God’s command is to continue, to hold fast, persist, endure, persevere, and to live by faithfulness.  How often do we find ourselves in the middle of difficulty, suffering, or pain, worry, discomfort, confusion, uncertainty, or other unpleasantness and wonder why God isn’t answering our prayers?  How often do we witness injustice and a failure of our government, our church, our employers, our schools, or the people around us to do anything about it?  And God’s answer is that Habakkuk has made the right choice.  Hold fast, persist, endure, persevere, do your duty to God, and live by faithfulness until God’s answer finally comes.

But what about the people who have wandered from their faith?  What about the people who have become so married to the problem, so far down the rabbit hole, that they themselves have become a part of the problem?  And for that answer, we turn to the familiar story found in Luke 19:1-10 where we hear these words:

19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short, he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus was wealthy and some, or even most, of his money had come from his employment as a tax collector for the empire of Rome.  Tax collectors were given a license, a franchise, to collect taxes.  They had certain… deliverables, targets, or quotas that they were expected to return to the Roman treasury but aside from that, they were permitted, and expected, to collect what they needed to pay for their salaries, the salaries of their employees, which may have included bodyguards, if necessary, plus all expenses.  Some tax collectors were more honest than others and some were notoriously corrupt and enriched themselves by collecting far more than necessary. 

Zacchaeus was well-known in that place.  Everyone knew who he was and what he did for a living and as we saw in this story, he was automatically condemned by his job description and his association with the Roman government, and considered to be a sinner, an outcast, and a traitor to his country because of what he did.  But after Jesus invites himself, and all his friends, to his house for dinner, Zacchaeus proclaims that he will give half of all that he owns as well as four times the amount of anything that he did dishonestly. 

What we hear in this proclamation by Zacchaeus, I think, is him standing in front of Jesus and swearing that he had done his best to do his work as honestly as possible, and to oversee his employees so that they did their work honestly as well.  If Zacchaeus had been in the business of being deliberately dishonest, as some tax collectors were, then doing what he said that he would do, would not only bankrupt him but would wipe him out financially.  Zacchaeus stands before Jesus and desperately wants to do what is right and in doing so, Jesus sees his heart and proclaims that “Today salvation has come to this house” because… the mission of Jesus Christ was, and is, to seek and to save the lost.

Most of us learned the story of Zacchaeus before we were in grade school. and we’ve always used it as a story of rejoicing as one of God’s lost children returns to the kingdom. But if we look a little deeper, if we look at Zacchaeus as someone who was not being deliberately dishonest, as I think his proclamation to Jesus would indicate, then the story isn’t just about the lost being saved.  It’s about Jesus rescuing someone whose heart was in the right place, a person who always loved God, and who always desired to remain faithful, but was lost because the church, and its people, threw him out.  Zacchaeus was lost because people didn’t like his employer, or his employment.  Zacchaeus was lost because no one believed that it was even possible for tax collectors to be honest.  Zacchaeus was lost because his politics didn’t align with his church.

But Zacchaeus was saved because he remained faithful despite the criticism and ostracism that he experienced from his friends, countrymen, and his church.  Zacchaeus endured, persevered, and remained faithful, Jesus saw that Zacchaeus’ heart was in the right place, and he opened a door to let the outsider come back inside.

And those were exactly the things for which Paul praised the church in Thessalonica as he wrote them a letter in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 and said:

1:1 Paul, Silas,and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

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

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul thanks God for the church in Thessalonica because the faith of its people is growing and because the love that they all have for one another is increasing.  Paul boasts to his other churches about the perseverance, faith, and endurance that the Thessalonians have shown in the face of trials and persecution.  And so, Paul, Silas, and Timothy pray for the church, and for the people, of Thessalonica regularly and constantly, praying that God might answer every prayer for goodness, and bless every action that was motivated by faith, so that the name of Jesus would be glorified.

But the three passages that we read today are all quite different from one another.  What is it that connects them?  What is it that we can take away from our time together today?  Let’s review and see what we find.  First, we learned from Habakkuk, that God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way that we would like him to nor as fast as we think God should.  Life doesn’t always go the way that we want.  Our government doesn’t always do the right thing.  Our legal system and our church do not always find justice the way that they should.  But we are called to do our duty, to remain faithful, to do what is right, to persist, persevere, and to endure because God is coming.  Although we may not live to see it on this earth, there is a day coming that God will bring justice.

Second, we learned from the story of Zacchaeus that sometimes even the church gets lost.  Sometimes people and institutions get so caught up in politics, culture wars, the pursuit of wealth and power, and other things, that they forget the things that are really important and chase out people who are genuinely faithful and who are doing the best they can.  But as the followers of Jesus Christ, our mission is to do what Jesus did.  Our calling is to remain faithful even if our church loses its focus and gets lost.  Our mission is to find the people whose hearts are in the right place, find the people who lost heart, and find the people who couldn’t find their way to God because the church was such a poor example, and then open the door so that they can find their way back to God.

And third, although this echoes the first two, is that the focus of our ministry, the focus of our lives on this earth, is to be guided by our faith in Jesus Christ so that our faith and love for one another grow, and that our actions are led by our desire for goodness, and our deeds prompted by our faith so that the name of Jesus Christ is glorified by what we do, by who we are, by how we love, and by the grace that we show others.

No matter how difficult life gets, no matter how lost our culture, our government, and even our church may be, as the followers of Jesus, our mission is to remain faithful, to seek out the lost, to invite them in, and to have the grace to hold open the door even to people that other people threw out.  Our goal is to be like Jesus, to love others like Jesus, and to lead others toward Jesus, until it’s our turn to join the saints in that final journey.  And, although our destination isn’t Neverland, we might imagine that the last directions we hear as we leave might be to take the…

“Second star to the right, and straight on ‘till morning.” 


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

Coming Soon!

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Or click here to skip straight to the sermon: https://youtu.be/05dgjGhOKY4

Children’s message: How is Jesus like a steam locomotive? https://youtu.be/iHXcL3eD4O0

This week’s challenge: What does it mean to “be prepared in season and out of season”? https://youtu.be/wL-8uCk8TAw


Coming Soon!

October 23, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 31:27-34                 Luke 18:1-8                2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

For those of us who grew up going to real movie theaters, as well as possibly the Netflix generation in a different format, we remember the movie posters and the movie trailers that would run, interspersed with commercials for popcorn, candy, and soft drinks, for fifteen minutes before the movie started.  And the banner under which all these appeared was, “Coming Soon.”  “Coming Soon” was meant to inform us that something amazing, spectacular, and wonderful was about to happen and build our anticipation and desire to see it when it came to town.  This was, I think, especially true for the golden age movie serials as well as the Star Wars type movies that were patterned after them.  Coming soon, is a phrase that is designed to get our attention, to take our focus, of only for a moment, away from our present troubles and busyness, and look forward to the future and the appearance of something new.

And, although we won’t find the words “Coming Soon” anywhere in scripture, the idea that it represents is a common theme of the prophets, Jesus, and the gospel writers alike.  We heard the words in the scriptures that Susan used last week, and I’m going to use some of those same scriptures this morning but will look at them from a different direction.  The first words that we heard last week from the prophet Jeremiah, and will hear again this week, compare almost exactly to the modern usage of “Coming Soon.”  In Jeremiah 31:27-34, we hear…

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord… doesn’t that sound a lot like “Coming soon?”

27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband tothem,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

God announces through Jeremiah that something new is coming.  The days are coming, when God will once again plant his people, kingdoms, and nations and watch over them as they rebuild.  In those days, as we heard last week, everyone will be held responsible for their own sin because… in those days, in the days that are coming soon, God will make a new covenant with his people that will be different from the covenant that he made with them when he led them out of slavery in Egypt.  This will be a new covenant, a new contract, a new promise that God will write upon the minds and hearts of his people.  It will be a new day, a new era, and a new relationship between God and his people.  And that day is… coming soon. 

No matter how you translate it, whether you say, “the days are coming,” or “coming soon,” or “I will…” God presses his people to look forward, to look past their present suffering, to put their trust in God, and look toward the future.  And in the parable that we heard last week, and again this week, this is very much what Jesus is doing as well as we hear these words in Luke 18:1-8:

18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you; he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

God promises to bring justice to his people who cry out to him, but Jesus encourages us not to stop, to continue praying, to continue to cry out to God for justice, because prayer is the expression of our faith.  Prayer is a mechanism by which we shift our focus, look past our present condition, and look forward, because fundamentally, prayer is an expression of our faith in God and our hope for the future.

But… as we hold on to our faith, and as we look toward the future, how do we live, love, and care for the people around us… today?  These are exactly the kind of questions that Paul answers in his second letter to his protégé Timothy as we hear these words in 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

What should we do today?  We should continue to do the things that we’ve been taught to do, to teach the things that we’ve been convinced of by the Spirit of Jesus Christ and continue in our faith.  We should continue to study scripture, and use it to teach, rebuke, correct, and train others in righteousness so that the people of God might be fully equipped for every good work.

Paul’s charge, or assignment, to Timothy carries forward to each of us two thousand years later.  Preach the word, be prepared, at all times, to tell the gospel story and the message of salvation and rescue.  Correct, rebuke, and encourage, and offer instruction, but do these things with great care and patience so that the message that we bring is the message of scripture and not just a modern interpretation that resonates with our culture and makes us feel good.  Keep your head, stay calm… no matter what, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and be in ministry, at all times, to all the people around you.

Paul’s instruction to Timothy, much like the words of Jeremiah and the parable of Jesus, remind us that the day is coming, and coming soon, when we will all stand in judgement.  Our mission is not to get bogged down in the troubles of today, but to look forward past our present troubled and divisive times, to look past our present condition, and live, love, teach, preach, correct, rebuke, and encourage so that we can bring as many of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and classmates into the gates of heaven as we possibly can.

No one can know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, but just as God’s people were called in the time of Jeremiah, and just as they were in the time of Jesus and Paul, we are called to look forward, to look past our present struggles, to put our trust in God, and look toward the future.  Because even if we don’t know when he’s coming, we know that he is… coming soon.


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

Sources of Suffering

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Sources of Suffering

October 02, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Lamentations 1:1-6               Luke 17:5-10             2 Timothy 1:1-14

On January 1, 1970, George V. Higgins, while he was still employed as Assistant US Attorney, but who would eventually be described as the grand master of crime fiction, published his first crime novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”  In that story, gun runner Jackie Brown famously said, “This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”  That quote has often been misattributed to John Wayne, but there is no record of John Wayne, nor any of his movie characters, ever saying such a thing.  In any case, many of us have found this to be true.  “This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”  Few, if any of us, have managed to always make good decisions, and while we have learned valuable lessons from them, those bad decisions often made our lives much more difficult and painful than they needed to be.  But, at the same time, sometimes life is hard because we made good decisions.  Changing careers, working as a student pastor, with a student pastor’s salary, going to school full-time, while raising three children was hard, despite being a good choice.  And many of you could describe similar choices and similar struggles.

But despite our experiences, and our past struggles, many people ask the question, “Why is there suffering?” Or “Why am I suffering?”  And while I don’t have the definitive answer that applies to all people for all time, this morning we’re going to read several stories which illustrate several kinds of sadness, sorrow, and suffering and maybe, along the way, we will find some of the answers to our questions about suffering. We begin this morning, in a place where we don’t often go, to the book of Lamentations.  A lamentation is defined as a “passionate expression of grief or sorrow” and so this book of scripture is the place where we find the mournful prayers of the people of Israel who have lost the war with the Babylonian army, been ripped from their homes, watched as their city and their temple were destroyed, enslaved, and dragged into Babylon to make a new life in captivity.  Not surprisingly, tears were shed, and God’s people asked why this had happened to them.  “Why are we here?”  “When will we go home?”  Will we ever go home?”  “Why did God allow this to happen?”  And “Why has God allowed us to suffer?”  We begin in Lamentations 1:1-6, where we hear these words:

1:1 How deserted lies the city,once so full of people!
How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

4 The roads to Zion mourn,for no one comes to her appointed festivals.
All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan,
her young women grieve, and she is in bitter anguish.

5 Her foes have become her masters;her enemies are at ease.
The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.
Her children have gone into exile, captive before the foe.

6 All the splendor has departed from Daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer that find no pasture;
in weakness they have fled before the pursuer.

Not everyone was taken into captivity because farmers and laborers were needed tend the land, harvest crops, and send taxes and tribute to the nation of Babylon.  It was not in Babylon’s best interests to take everyone, and so, much like the takeover of the communists in China, they took, or killed, the king, the royalty, the leaders of the military, the government, the church, and anyone else who might lead and rally people together in rebellion.  To borrow an expression from our nation’s experience in Vietnam, what Babylon wanted was a pacified Israel that would obey the orders of Babylon’s king and pay their taxes.

The people who were left behind may have been almost as miserable as those who have been taken into captivity.  Every day they remembered.  They remembered what their cities had once been, they remembered how beautiful their temple had been, how busy the roads had been, how peaceful it was to go to the synagogue and hear the words of God read from the Torah scroll.  But now that was all gone.  The roads mourn in their emptiness, the city gates are broken and desolate.  The people are gone.  Their friends and allies abandoned them in their time of need.

But there is recognition of why this had happened to them.  Jeremiah might not have been popular when he came to Jerusalem to proclaim the words, warnings, and condemnation of God, but the people remembered what he, and other prophets had said.  They knew that their grief and their suffering had come about because they loved their sin and had turned their backs on God.  And now life was harder, infinitely more difficult, and filled with weeping, sadness, mourning, suffering, and pain because of the bad choices that they had made.

But we often twist the question and, rather than ask “why are we suffering?” we ask, “why isn’t God blessing us?” and essentially ask why God is shortchanging us for doing good or assume that we aren’t getting what we want, or aren’t getting the expected result of God’s blessing, because we don’t have enough faith.  That’s the question that the disciples are asking Jesus in Luke 17:5-10 when Jesus is telling them about the consequences of sin and the need for his followers to forgive others.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Jesus says that you don’t need a lot of faith because even a little bit of faith is a powerful thing.  The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough faith, the problem is that we expect God to bless us every time we do what we’re supposed to do.  We don’t expect our employer, or our boss, to thank us every time that we show up for work in the morning.  Rather than expecting God to pour out blessings on us for every little thing, our expectations should be, at minimum, that we will do the things that God has commanded us to do.

Let me say that again.

Our expectations should be, at minimum, that we will do the things that God has commanded us to do just as our employer expects that we will show up for work on time and do the job that we’ve been hired to do.  Doing the minimum doesn’t give us the right to expect bonuses and an abundance of praise and thanksgiving.  We shouldn’t expect God to bless us because we did half of what was expected. Doing the minimum is the least of what God expects from us.  Jesus said that servants are expected to do what servants do and at the end of the day simply acknowledge that “we have only done our duty.”

I’m sure that’s not the most encouraging thing that I’ve ever preached, nor is it the most encouraging thing that you’ve ever heard in church. 

But it gets worse.

In his second letter to his friend Timothy, the Apostle Paul explains that while God will empower us, and give us the tools, and the strength that we need to do what he has called us to do, even making the right choices, and doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, may still result in suffering.  In 2 Timothy 1:1-14, we hear Paul say this:

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my dear son:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald, an apostle, and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Paul breaks down the ideas of faith and works for Timothy by saying at he knows Timothy has faith. Because he has faith, he knows that he has received the gift of the Spirit of God.  Because the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline, then Timothy should not be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to tell the people around him about Jesus Christ or about Paul’s     imprisonment.  Instead of being embarrassed, Paul says that Timothy should join with him in suffering for the sake of the gospel message, which is, in Paul’s view, suffering by the power of God.  Paul says that God did not call us because we deserved it, or because we had great qualifications, or because we had any qualifications at all, God called us because we fit into his plan, for his own purposes, and God called us because he chose to pour out his grace into our lives.

In the end, we are like Paul.  We have been called to be the heralds, proclaimers, apostles, town criers, and the announcers of the gospel message and the good news of Jesus Christ.  But suffering has always been and, until the day of judgement, always will be a part of the human experience.  Sometimes life is hard, and we suffer because we’re stupid and we made poor choices.  Sometimes we suffer because we get so selfish and self-focused that we put God in second, or third, place.  And sometimes we suffer for all the right reasons.  We made the right choices, did the right things, the right way, for the right reasons, and suffered anyway.  The odds are good that most of us here have endured through some hard times and in this life, the odds are good that we’re not done.  Suffering is just a part of the human experience.  But, if we’re going to suffer, let it be because we’ve made the right choices, done the right things, the right way, and for the right reasons.  Let it be so, that when we suffer, we suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ and for his kingdom.  Let us busy ourselves answering his call, and doing his work, so that when the day comes, we cannot be accused of only doing half of what we were called to do but can instead proclaim that ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”


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

Do You Need a “Do Over”?

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Do You Need a “Do Over”?

September 04, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 18:1-11                   Luke 14:25-33                        Philemon 1-21

Have you ever had a chance to have a “do over”?

In the 1991 movie “City Slickers” starring Billy Crystal (as Mitch), four friends decide to get away from the city, and get away from their problems for a few weeks by going out west and joining a cattle drive.  One of the four friends, Phil, has a crisis because he had been caught cheating on his wife and was, to his mind, about to lose everything that he valued and one evening Phil breaks down in tears by the campfire.  Mitch pats Phil’s back and attempts to comfort him saying:

“Hey Phil, come on Philly… It’s OK man, it’s not that bad…”

To which Phil replies, “My life is over! I’m almost 40 years old, and I’m at the end of my life!”

Mitch tries to get Phil’s attention saying, “Phil, hey.” And when Phil looks up, he continues with this:

“You remember when we were kids, and we were playing ball, and we hit the ball over the fence out of bounds, and we yelled, DO OVER? Your life is a do over. You’ve got a clean slate.”

Phil’s life was a do-over.  At 40 years old he was going to start over again and build a new life.  I’m certain that resonates with some of the people in this room, and certainly most of us have family or friends that have lived through divorce, or separation, the death of a spouse, the loss of parents, unemployment, and other situations that led to similar restarts, or do-overs in their lives.  But while naming this sort of situation as a “do-over” might be new, the idea of starting over due to a crisis certainly isn’t.  In Jeremiah 18:1-11 we hear these words:

18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’

At the command of God, Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and watches as he spins clay on his wheel and begins to form a pot.  But some imperfection marred that pot.  Sometimes a tiny pebble remains undiscovered in the clay and, as it spins on the potter’s wheel, the pebble rises to the surface, catches on the potter’s hands, and carves a groove in the clay, or worse.  But when that happened, the potter simply declares that the pot is a do-over, crushes it back into a shapeless lump, starts over, and begins to form something new.

And God says that this is what he intends to do with the nation of Israel.  Things are not going well.  God has warned them to repent of their evil and they have not, and so God is going to declare a do-over, he is going to allow disaster to befall them, to crush them back into a lump, start over, and build something new with the lives of each person and with Israel as a nation.  God intends to reshape his people into something new, something good, faithful, righteous, and beautiful.

Most often, do-overs are avoidable.  God had warned the nation of Israel more than once about the evil that they were doing and had commanded them to repent.  If they had listened to the warning of God and his prophets, if they had followed the commands of God that were contained in his scriptures, then the do-over, and all the pain that went with it, could have been avoided.  And that’s exactly the point of the illustrations that Jesus uses in the story of Luke 14:25-33 where we hear this story:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

The reason that Jesus’ illustrations in this story stand out for us today is because of how these stories stand out in contrast to what we just read in Jeremiah.  When we hear Jesus say that someone would consider the cost of building a tower before they started construction, we all think, “Well of course they would.”  And when he describes a king as considering the strength of his army in comparison to the strength of the army that opposes him, we think, “That seems natural and reasonable.”  But although the stakes were astronomically higher, what we saw in Jeremiah was that no one took the time to consider the cost before wandering away from God.  The stakes of their decision were a complete do-over, a total disaster, a complete destruction and restart of their nation, but no one was interested in considering the cost, or in hearing God’s warnings, before it came time to pay the price of their decision.

And Jesus is warning his listeners, and us, of the same thing.  There is a cost of following Jesus.  We might lose relationships with family members, or friends, or coworkers if we choose to follow Jesus.  But, at the same time, there is a cost to not following Jesus just as there was in the time of Jeremiah.

If we want to see an example or two of what it might cost to follow Jesus, we can find them in the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a man by the name of Philemon 1-21.  In that letter, Paul writes to Philemon, a man that he knew who had come to faith through the ministry of Paul and his associates and had grown in faith by attending worship in Paul’s house church.  And, as he writes, Paul very publicly, asks Philemon to do something surprising.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

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

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

As you may have surmised, Onesimus was a slave that belonged to Philemon but, for whatever reasons, was not a good and obedient slave and eventually ran away.  While Onesimus was on the run, he encountered Paul and began to voluntarily work with, rather than serve, Paul and his team.  We don’t know whether Paul and Onesimus knew one another from the same time that Paul knew Philemon, but we know that Onesimus’ character changed because of the time that he spent working alongside Paul, studying the scriptures, and ministering to others.  In time, Onesimus was convicted by God to return to his master regardless of the consequences and so Paul writes to Philemon and asks him to do the right thing.

For Onesimus, honoring God and honoring the law of Rome, meant returning to his master and risking that Philemon would treat him fairly.  The risk that he took in doing so was that his master would be angry and could treat him harshly, beat him, or even kill him.

For Philemon, honoring God and honoring his mentor and pastor, Paul, meant losing money and risking the condemnation of his peers and his community for freeing his misbehaving, law breaking slave.  The Roman world ran on a culture of law, honor, and patronage.  Philemon would, understandably, lose the money that he had invested in purchasing Onesimus, but in addition to that, while freeing a slave was certainly legal, and not at all uncommon, his peers may not have appreciated the example and precedent that Philemon would be setting, and their displeasure, as well as the potential displeasure of Philemon’s patrons, might cost him a great deal of business.

Both Onesimus and Philemon had a chance at a do-over.  They both had a chance to start their relationship with one another over again.  But starting over carried risks and rewards for both men.  The risks we already mentioned, but the rewards were that their new relationship, outside of slavery, would be more amicable, less hostile, more productive, more profitable, and, most importantly, closer to the will of God.

There is a cost to following Jesus.  But there is also a cost to not following Jesus.

Is it time for a do-over in your life that will bring you closer to God?

There will undoubtedly be costs that must be considered.

But as we saw in the story of Israel that we read in Jeremiah, the danger of not starting over is that sometimes God will do it for you.


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

What Grows in Your Garden?

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What Grows in Your Garden?

August 14, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 5:1-7                Luke 12:49-56                        Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2

Do any of you do any gardening?

If you attend here at Christ Church, you may know that we have a community garden on the other side of our parking lot.  Each Spring, with the help and support of our church trustees, we prepare our garden plots for planting and divide our various plots among those who are interested in using that space.  Sometimes, we are blessed to receive donated plants that we similarly divide amongst our gardeners. 

But if you’ve spent any time farming, growing vegetables, or flowers, you know that everything doesn’t always go according to plan.  Sometimes the free plants that we receive mature into something quite different than the label that arrived with them.  And buying your seed from trusted vendors does not always assure immunity from suffering from the same problem.  A year or two ago, Patti and I purchased seeds for spaghetti squash and while it was obvious that what grew was from that family of viny plants, those vines produced several different squash-like plants that mostly were not spaghetti squash.

Our gardeners also know that the row closest to the parking lot uses the same space used by the driveway of the house that once stood there.  That space is full of rocks and bricks, is almost impossible to rototill or dig, or plant and so we’ve covered it up with plastic and mulch rather than struggle to grow plants in soil that only wants to grow grass and weeds.

But our struggles in our community garden are not unique to us.  These kinds of problems have been shared from the time that human beings first began to cultivate crops.  And it is our familiarity with these sorts of problems that helps us to understand the illustration that God uses in his words to the nation of Israel in Isaiah 5:1-7.

5:1 I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
    judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
    than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
    why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
    what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
    and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
    and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
    neither pruned nor cultivated,
    and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
    not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
    is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
    for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

The owner of the vineyard cleared the land, planted the best grape varieties available, cleared out all the stones, built walls to keep the vines from being trampled, added a watchtower so that a guard could oversee the entire area and, in anticipation of the crop that would one day come, he even carved a winepress out of stone to use at harvest time.  The owner of the vineyard worked hard in anticipation of a positive future result.  But regardless of his intent, his effort, his care, and his investment, the soil of his vineyard only produced terrible tasting grapes or grapes that were rotten, or moldy, or otherwise unusable.

And so, much like we covered the soil of our old driveway with plastic and mulch, God says that he is giving up on his vineyard.  He is going to tear down the walls, the watchtower, and the hedges and abandon the land and let it go wild and be used for local wildlife or not at all.  But the frightening part of the story is in hearing that the garden in Isaiah’s story is Israel and Judah.  God planted his people with care, effort, and investment but instead of growing a crop of justice and righteousness, harvested only violence, bloodshed, and distress and God says that he isn’t going to continue wasting his resources on bad fruit and poor soil.

But eight hundred years, and a lot of history later, God plants Jesus in that garden to shake things up and put things right.  And in Luke 12:49-56, Jesus says this:

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

God plants Jesus as the Prince of Peace, but Jesus knows that his arrival will cause dissention and division, quarrels, separation, and violence.  People will not agree on who he is, or why he came, or how we ought to worship him.  But his coming, and the division that it causes, is a necessary part of repairing the damage to God’s vineyard so that it can grow a crop of justice and righteousness as he intended. 

Jesus continues by reminding the people that while they know how to read the signs of the weather, they know that a wind from the desert will bring warm air, and that a wind from the Mediterranean Sea will bring rain, they still pretend that they haven’t seen Jesus’ miracles or heard his teaching.  Jesus said things that no one else had said, and did things that no one else had done, and still people pretended that they couldn’t see the signs that God was showing to them. 

But what does all that mean to us?

What does God’s vineyard and Jesus’ lecture about reading the signs mean to this church, and this people, in this present time?

In Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, Paul explains it this way:

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Paul reminds his churches that God has done all sorts of incredible miracles because of the faith of his people.  And not only were there extraordinary miracles, but there were also miracles that happened as a partnership between God and his faithful followers who fought enemies, decided court cases, were thrown into fires, fed to the lions, and all sorts of other things.  But there were others who were not rescued but were tortured to death, were beaten, flogged, ridiculed, imprisoned, and put to death in all sorts of terrible and ugly ways.  God’s people were sometimes poor and homeless despite their faithfulness. 

And regardless of whether God rescued them, or performed miracles for them, or if they were allowed to suffer, none of them, in this life, received the blessings that God had promised because what God has promised is a life that is better than anything imaginable on this earth.  One day all of us who have been followers of Jesus Christ and who have been faithful to God will, together with God, be a part of something better.  Every day, we are surrounded by those people of faith who came before us and they are watching us and cheering us onward so that we might throw off the sin that trips us up, remain faithful, and run this race with perseverance with our eyes locked only on Jesus.

In Luke’s story, we heard Jesus explain to us that not everyone is going to agree, or even like it, that we have chosen to follow him.  Following Jesus is a choice that will cause people to disagree and sever their relationships with us.  Following Jesus isn’t going to always bring peace and prosperity, but will sometimes make us unpopular, be tormented and ridiculed, get arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and worse.  But through it all, whatever life brings us, we must remain faithful and steadfast, with our eyes only on Jesus, and run our race with perseverance.

Because, at the end of the day, God is still planting a crop of justice and righteousness among his people and the question that God asks us is the same question he was asking the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah.

What’s growing in your garden?


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

Two Big “Ifs” of Christianity

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Two Big “Ifs” of Christianity

August 07, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20                    Luke 12:32-40            Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

If you have ever programmed computers, you know that on the first day of your first programming class, you learn about the IF-THEN statement.  It is just what it sounds like.  The IF-THEN statement asks the computer to check some value and if that value is what you want, then you instruct it to do some other thing.  For example, IF the turnstile rotates one time, THEN add one to the memory location tracking the number of customers.

But outside of computer programming, we deal with if-then situations all the time.  If I want to earn interest on my savings, then I need to take our money out of my mattress and put it in the bank or invest it somewhere.  If we want to have a less difficult visit to the dentist, then we should brush our teeth every morning and do the things that our dentist asks us to do.  If we don’t want to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, then we need to stop and buy fuel when the needle moves to toward empty.

We understand if-then decision making because we make those sorts of decisions every day.  But sometimes those “ifs” can be big and dangerous.  If we smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, then we run an exceedingly high risk of cancer and other health problems.  If we drive our automobile over one hundred miles per hour, then the odds of dying in the event of an accident are almost 100 percent.

We can find if-then choices throughout our laws and in every contract ever written.  They say, if you do this for us, then we will do that for you.  Or, if you do this to us, then we will do this to you.  And, not surprisingly, this is also the kind of language that God uses to explain our choices to us and, in Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, we find two really big “ifs” in God’s words to Israel, and despite the passage of time and the coming of Jesus, they remain important advice and instruction to which we should listen. 

1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah, son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

By describing Israel’s leaders and people as Sodom and Gomorrah, God accuses them of all sorts of sin and injustice.  And because of their actions, God says that he doesn’t care about their sacrifices, gifts, offerings, religious holidays, festivals, celebrations, meetings, gatherings, or even their prayers. 

What God really wants is for his people to stop doing evil, to defend the oppressed, to speak for the legally voiceless such as widows and orphans who, without a male family member, couldn’t even speak for themselves in court.

After that, God presents the two big “ifs” to his people.  “If you are willing and obedient,” then “you will eat the good things of the land.”  “But, if you resist and rebel,” then “you will be devoured by the sword.”  If you follow God, and do what God commands, then he will give you all sorts of blessings.  But, if you choose to ignore God, and do things your own way, then God will withdraw his protections and his blessings and let you face the world, and all the evil in it… alone.

The temptation for the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah, as well as the time of Jesus, is a temptation that still afflicts us in the twenty-first century, and that is to deceive ourselves into thinking that God isn’t watching, or that the return of Jesus Christ won’t happen any time soon.  Sure, we understand that Jesus is coming back, and we say that we believe that he is coming back, but do we really act like we expect that to happen any time soon?

That is exactly the point that Jesus is making in Luke 12:32-40 and as he makes his point, Jesus offers a warning to the people gathered in front of him that is just as relevant to us today.  Jesus said…

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks, they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus cautions us that we cannot act as if we are going to live forever.  When we say that we trust God, we must act as if we trust God, and that includes how we treat our wallets and our giving to the poor.  God’s call isn’t for us to give what is leftover or, only what we feel that we can spare, but to give to the poor as if we trust God to care for us like we say that we do.

That hits kind of close to home, doesn’t it?

Jesus continues by saying that we cannot act as if the master isn’t coming back until tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or sometime after we die.  We must take God at his word and behave as if we expect Jesus to return at any moment.  We must act as we would if we genuinely intended for Jesus to find us busy with the work of his kingdom upon his return.

Paul revisits this same idea in Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 by reminding his listeners about people who had great faith such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, and using those examples to illustrate how faith might look if applied to our lives if we choose to be obedient.

11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed, and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

God promised Abraham an inheritance that only his descendants would see, and yet he persisted and remained faithful.  And through that, and other examples, Paul reminds us that our promise is for a future that we may never see in this lifetime.  We look forward to something better, we look forward to a better future, but it is a future in a kingdom that is not of this world.  We may never see health, or wealth, or prosperity in this world, we will face trials, temptations, loss, betrayal, and all sorts of struggle in this life but through these examples, Paul reminds us not to give up hope.

Instead, we, like Abraham, must remain faithful as we hope for a future that we might only see in brief glimpses or shadows in this life.  We must act as if we trust God.  We must give to the poor, share with others, and seek justice as if we believed what we say that we believe.  We must keep watch for the return of our master, Jesus, and conduct our affairs as we would if he might return this very afternoon and we wanted him to find us busy caring for his kingdom and his kingdom business.

Because, in the end, we still face those two big “ifs” that we heard in the words of Isaiah.

If you are willing and obedient,” then “you will eat the good things of the land.”

But, if you choose to ignore God, and do things your own way, then God will withdraw and let you face the world, and all the evil in it… alone.

Where will Jesus find you when he returns?

Choose wisely.


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