Built to Last: Prepared for Struggle

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Built to Last: Prepared for Struggle

August 22, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43               John 6:56-69              Ephesians 6:10-20

How old, is old? 

When we think of antiques, or national monuments, or other things built by human hands, how long do we expect things to last?

We live in an era when we’re surprised if anything lasts for more than ten or twenty years, and we’re impressed by old farmhouses and barns (and churches) that have lasted for more than a century.  But as I was thinking about a few other well-known monuments around the world, I started looking up some dates and I put them in sort of a chronological order.  The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889 for the 1889 Paris World’s Fair was supposed to be temporary and dismantled afterwards.  Most of the Great Wall of China was built between 1300-1600 AD, though parts are much older.  Heidelberg Castle was built in 1214, Windsor Castle in 1000, British Parliament has existed, in various forms, since 1295, and England as a nation from 959.  Hadrian’s Wall was constructed across northern England during the Roman era as protection from the Picts, and about the same time, the world saw the construction of Masada, the Colosseum in Rome, and so many other Roman artifacts.  The

Western Wall, also known as the “Wailing Wall,” in Jerusalem also dates to the time of Jesus and some of the foundations found on the Temple mount can be dated to David and Solomon in 1000 BC.  The Great Pyramid of Giza is over a thousand years older and was built around 2500 BC, and Stonehenge is older still because we calculate that it was constructed over time between 3000 and 2000 BC.

But do you know what they all have in common? 

They weren’t easy.

You don’t just slap together a few boards and some sheet metal and expect it to last for a hundred, or even for a thousand years.  When you intend for things to last, the construction of those things takes thought, planning, preparation, hard work, and sweat.

And you know what else those things have in common?

They all stand witness to the world that endurance isn’t easy.  Every one of those monuments from the youngest to the oldest has witnessed the struggle and upheaval of human society, and have endured countless thunderstorms, lightning bolts, fires, floods, earthquakes, sandstorms, crawling vines, insects, and everything else that mother nature could throw at them.  They stand as witnesses that life is hard and not everyone, or everything, is prepared to endure for the long haul.

And it was the long haul that David and Solomon were thinking about when they planned and built the first Temple in Jerusalem.  But what they were building was more than just a building.  We rejoin the story in

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43.

8:1 Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.

10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

God promised David that there would never fail to be a successor on the throne of Israel if his descendants would continue to walk faithfully with God.  God was building the foundations of a building, but also the foundations of a nation, and a faith that was intended to reach every tribe, every nation, and every people on the face of the earth.  And in the Gospels, we find God fulfilling his promises to David, and revealing his greatest outreach to the people of the world… but it wasn’t always easy, and not everyone was willing to put in the effort that it required.  In John 6:56-69, Jesus says…

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Just as God had promised, Jesus was the descendant of David who would walk faithfully with God, and would sit on the throne of David, of Israel, and of God forever.  But not everyone could bring themselves to believe.  Following Jesus was going to be hard.  Following Jesus was not going to make anyone rich, or powerful, or popular.  And when they saw that, many of Jesus’ followers bailed.  They quit rather than committing themselves to the hard work of really following and shaping their lives after Jesus.  But there were a few who saw who Jesus was, and they knew that there was no other way.

But even for those who stood by Jesus, their lives didn’t magically become easy and without pain or trouble.  All but one of the disciples of Jesus, all but John, would be executed or murdered while they were doing the work of Jesus and sharing the message of the Gospel.  And even though John died of old age, he too had been tortured, imprisoned, and died in exile on the island of Patmos.  Paul’s life wasn’t any easier.  Although he wasn’t one of the original twelve, Paul dedicated his life to following Jesus and to sharing the stories of the Gospel message, and he was also, repeatedly, tortured, chased out of town, imprisoned, and ultimately was also executed for his faith.  But during one of his times of imprisonment, Paul this advice to the church and to anyone who would answer the call to follow Jesus in Ephesians 6:10-20:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

I want to pull out a few key phrases that I think are important to the context of what we’ve been talking about this morning.  First, “Be strong” but not just trying to be strong by relying upon our own strength, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”  Second, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” tells us that it is not the people around us with whom we fight, but we fight against principalities (governments), against powers (kings and other government officials), and against unjust systems that are subverted by evil.  Third, that we must arm ourselves with all the protection that God offers so that we can stand firm, stand our ground, and live without retreating from the enemy.  Fourth, never stop praying.  And finally, note that Paul says that he is “an ambassador in chains.”  He is writing to the church from prison, and he begins by reminding them that even though they may not be in prison at that moment, that life, for all of us, is going to be a struggle.  When we read scripture, we remember that we shouldn’t be surprised when life is hard, we should be surprised when life isn’t hard.  Some of Jesus’ own followers quit because, while they loved the good news, they didn’t want to hear the bad news.  They didn’t want to do the hard work that comes with following Jesus but that has been God’s message all along.  The Kingdom of God has its foundations deep in the Old Testament.  God is building his kingdom, and he is building our lives, to last forever. 

But endurance is never easy.

If we are going to follow, we must be willing to do the planning, preparation, hard work, and sweat. We will need to rely upon God’s strength working through us.  We will need to fight against governments, against officials, and against systems that are corrupted and subverted by evil.  We must arm ourselves with all the protections that God offers so that we can stand without retreat.  We must never forget to pray for one another and for all of God’s people. 

And we must always be…

…prepared for struggle.


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

The Power Within

The Power Within

July 25, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 11:1-15                   John 6:1-21                Ephesians 3:14-21

What is it that gives us power?

In comic books we know that Superman was born on a planet with a red sun and has superpowers when living near a yellow sun like ours.  Green Lantern has powers given to him by his ring of power, The Flash gained his powers through an accident of chemistry, Shazam has powers because of special magic, the X-Men have powers because of a quirk in their genetics, and of course biblically, Sampson, Elijah, Elisha, and other heroes of the faith all received their power as a gift from God.

But what about us?

Even if we don’t have super-powers, what powers do we have?  Or maybe the question that many of you are asking is, “Do I have any power at all?”

First, you shouldn’t doubt yourself.  But second, yes, you certainly do have power.  But a little background will help our understanding.  We begin in 2 Samuel 11:1-15, where we read the story of King David’s sin and fall from God’s grace.  But, although all of us are probably familiar with David, with his closeness to God, his power, and with his great military exploits, as we read this story together, I want you to pay attention to someone else.  As we read, I want you to pay attention to Uriah, an otherwise completely ordinary husband, immigrant, citizen, and soldier of Israel.

11:1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So, Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So, he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So, Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

To summarize, David has slept with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.  And, when she tells him that she is pregnant and he realizes that their infidelity will be revealed to the world, David sets out to cover it all up.  After months of being at war, David sends Uriah home to spend the night in the comfort of his own bed and the closeness of his wife.  David assumes that any man would want to lie with his wife, and having done so, any resulting child would be assumed to be Uriah’s.  But Uriah doesn’t act according to David’s expectations.  For Uriah, to sleep with his wife, in his own comfortable bed, while all his friends and fellow soldiers are sleeping in tents on the battlefield, would be a betrayal of trust.  For Uriah, honor, integrity, and brotherly love are more important than his own comfort and sexual satisfaction.  Uriah chooses to do what is right, rather than what is best for himself in the moment and, as David continues his attempts to cover up his sin, that choice ultimately costs Uriah his life.  But it is Uriah’s honor that ultimately reveals David’s conspiracy, corruption, and sin. 

Next, we turn to the well-known story of Jesus and the feeding of the five thousand.  But again, instead of focusing on Jesus, as we often do, I want us to listen, and focus, on the contribution of Andrew in this passage from John 6:1-21.

6:1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wagesto buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing, and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles,they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Philip was a pragmatist.  There are five thousand men, and probably at least an equal number of women and children that have gathered to hear Jesus speak.  There are no nearby villages where they can stop to eat, and in any case, the cost of feeding so many is far beyond what their ministry finances could ever handle.  When Jesus asks where they should buy bread, Philip’s response is that buying enough bread was simply impossible.

But Andrew’s response was different.

Rather than explain why feeding everyone would be impossible, which everyone already knew, Andrew comes to Jesus with what he had.  I am sure that Andrew realized that what he had was inconsequential in comparison to what was needed.  It was obvious that five small barley loaves and two small fish were not enough to feed Jesus and the disciples, let alone ten thousand guests.  But Andrew ignores the impossible, ignores the obvious, and, in faith, offers Jesus what he has anyway.  And it is Andrew’s faith that sets up one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles.

These are both great examples.  But still, what do they have to do with any of us?

What they have to do with us, is that by turning our attention away from David and from Jesus, we have instead directed our attention to the often overlooked, ordinary, everyday, regular people that made these stories possible.  It’s easy to read these stories and say that we are not like David or Jesus, but we are almost exactly like Uriah and Andrew.  And as Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he explains how, and why, this is important (Ephesians 3:14-21).

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every familyin heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Paul connects two ideas that we often try to separate.  Paul says that he prays that because the church is rooted and established in love, that they may have power.  We often think of love and power as separate and distinctly different, even opposite ideas but Paul knows differently.   And the stories that we read today back him up.  Being “Rooted and established in love” gives us access to power. 

Knowing that we are loved, leads us to stability, confidence, courage, integrity, and honor.  And these all work together to give us the ability to make not only good choices, but choices that are good.  Let me explain.  “Choices that are good” are choices that we make to do what is right and loving even when doing what is right might not be what is best for us personally.  Uriah chose to do what was right and loving even when doing so came at a cost to him personally.  Andrew chose to have faith, risks being ridiculed for his simplicity, and offer Jesus what little he had, even when it seemed obvious that what he had wasn’t enough.

These things, combined with the Spirit of God that lives in us, and who works through us, and who empowers us, is what Paul describes as “his power that is at work within us.”  Because of our love and support for one another, within the family and community of the church of Jesus Christ, we empower one another and are therefore free to make good choices, to do what is right, just, honorable, and act in ways that honor God.  And that, in turn, frees God to act through us.

And so, let’s return to our original question, “What is it that gives us power?” 

We don’t come from the planet Krypton like Superman or have a power ring like the Green Lantern.  We don’t benefit from lab accidents like the Flash or have mystic powers given to us like Shazam.  But what we have is real.  What we have, is the power of God at work within us and the power of God at work through us.  And the key to unleashing that power on the world, is found in our faith in Jesus Christ and…

…our love for one another… and our love for the people around us.


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

When Weakness is Power

When Weakness is Power

July 04, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              Mark 6:1-13               2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Everybody loves kittens.  Okay, I know some people are allergic, but the internet is crazy about cats and kittens, and before the internet, you could be certain that stories about tiger cubs, lion cubs, stray cats, kittens, and other cute furry animals would be popular on shows like National Geographic and Wild Kingdom.  So, imagine with me that you are watching a nature show on television.  In this scene, we watch as a playful pair of lion cubs wrestle with one another, in the middle of large plain of grass.  Suddenly, the two cubs are confronted by a pack of jackals.  The cubs stand to their full height and make tiny meowing roars, but the jackals continue to close the gap between them.  Then, as the kittens growl and roar, the jackals suddenly stop, retreat, and then quickly run away.  The camera then widens its field of view to show us that while the jackals had been closing on the kittens, their parents, full-grown adult lions, had crested the hill behind them.

Everyone watching wondered who, or what, had made the jackals run away because it was obvious that the kittens were no threat.  The kittens were too weak, too small, and too powerless to be a threat to an entire pack of jackals.  And it is precisely because of their weakness that we all knew that someone, or something, else had been behind the fear that we saw in the pack of jackals. 

Many of us have seen similar stories on television but I want you to keep them in mind as we read today’s scriptures that tell us more about weakness, power, faith, and grace.  This morning we rejoin David as he is proclaimed king over Judah, and all of Israel, in 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10.

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

After the death of King Saul, the people look to David.  They have seen him.  They recognize that for years, it was David that led Israel to victory against her enemies on the battlefield.  They recognize that God had anointed him as Israel’s shepherd and king.  And, for the first time, all twelve tribes, representing the nations of Judah and Israel, unite as one nation under a single king.  And, we are told, that David, and the nation of Israel, grew in power and influence, not because David was intelligent, or wise, or strategically brilliant, but because God was with him.

Whenever Samuel, or anyone else, tells the story of the great King David, the credit for David’s greatness is always given to God.  David is known as a man after God’s own heart, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and a person of great faith.  And that is how we are told that a humble shepherd grew to become the greatest king in the history of the nation of Israel.

But we can find another, even more startling example of this same principle, in Mark 6:1-13 where we hear the story of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

This story takes a couple of surprising turns.  First, Jesus, the man who fed crowds of thousands, healed lepers, the lame, the blind, and even raised the dead, is said not to be able to perform any great miracles in his hometown, because the people there had little faith.  Jesus had faith, the disciples had faith, but the people who needed healing could only see Jesus as a tradesman and the son of people they knew.

The second surprising thing is that Jesus then sends his disciples out to do the same thing that he has been doing.  Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding villages to preach a message of repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons armed with nothing but a walking stick, and without food, money, or even a change of clothes.  And, if you’re wondering why this is amazing, think about who these disciples were.  We are often tempted to say that Jesus could perform miracles, and do all the things that he did, because he was the Messiah, the Son of God who was born of a virgin to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  But the disciples were uniformly and universally normal.  They were born in the usual way to the usual sorts of parents and were normal folks who make their living as fisherman, tax collectors, farmers, and other regular jobs.  Until they met Jesus, there was absolutely nothing amazing about them.  But now, they go out into the countryside, and perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did without Bibles, reference books, college educations, money, or even food.  The only things that the disciples had, was faith… and God.

And, just in case you haven’t connected the dots of these two stories and extended that line down to us here in the twenty-first century, let’s read 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, where Paul draws that line for us.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul said that when he prayed to be healed, God said “no” because grace is enough.  And grace is enough because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  We’ve been hinting at that for the last fifteen minutes so let me say that again.  God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, Paul says it in the first person, “I delight in my weaknesses” because “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Paul says that he can happily brag about his weaknesses so that the power of Jesus Christ can rest on him.

What does that mean?

It means that we are kittens.

Whenever we are full of ourselves, and we think we have it all together, and we think that we can do it all ourselves, we are like those kittens growling in their little kitten voices at a pack of jackals.  But when we know that we are kittens, when we are willing to have faith in the big God that stands behind us, then the entire world will see that it wasn’t us that did the amazing and miraculous work.

The prophets and writers of the Old Testament made every effort to be clear that David was a great king because of his faith in God and because of the power of God that worked through him.  We can make excuses that Jesus was able to perform miracles and do all sorts of amazing things because he was the Son of God.  But then we are faced with his inability to do miracles around people that had no faith, and we are additionally confronted with the ordinary disciples who went out into the countryside with nothing more than a walking stick and were able to perform the same sorts of miracles that Jesus did.

Like David, Paul understood that the power to change the world isn’t power that we ordinary humans have.  The power to do miracles, save souls, change hearts, preach the gospel, and change the world is entirely in the hands of God.  Kittens don’t scare jackals but grown lions do.  You and I don’t scare demons, or have the power to heal the sick, clothe the naked, and seek and to save the lost, but God does.  When kittens scare jackals, everyone knows that a lion stands behind them.  And Paul knew that the same is true for us.  We are strongest when we embrace our weakness and allow God, and his power, to work through us instead of trying to do things all on our own.

On the surface, it seems to be contradictory.

Weakness is power.

When kittens roar, the world sees the lion behind them.

When we, in our weakness, let go of ourselves and allow God to change the world through us, the world will see the lion behind us.

Let us admit, and embrace our frailty, ignorance, and weakness, and have the faith to let God work through us.

Let go… and let God.

I pray that through our faith, the world will see the lion behind us.


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

Wealth, Power, and Equality

Power, Wealth, and Equality

June 27, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27               Mark 5:21-43             2 Corinthians 8:7-15

I have two words for us to consider today. 

Wealth… and Power.

Those two words bring with them a whole host of emotions, ideas, thoughts, and baggage of all sorts.  There are elements of our culture and our politics that divisively try to convince us that we should hate people who are rich, which others try to convince us to hate the poor.  We are told that the problems of the poor are caused because the poor are lazy.  But any of us who know poor people, or who have been poor people, certainly know different.  Most poor people work hard. 

We are told that the rich are lazy and make all their money on the backs of the poor.  But the truth is quite different.  Only 21 percent of millionaires received an inheritance of any kind, only 3 percent of millionaires inherited a million dollars, and 84 percent of millionaires inherited less than $100,000.  Some time ago, I heard that the number one vehicle driven by millionaires wasn’t some fancy sports car but was instead the Ford F-150 pickup truck.  What does that mean?  It means that almost every millionaire that you might ever meet, worked for a living, made their money for themselves, and probably still works, and sweats, for a living. 

But that really isn’t my point.  My point is that hating the poor, or envying the rich, isn’t what Jesus has called us to do.  Wealth isn’t a sin, and poverty isn’t a curse.  Likewise, political power, or the lack of it, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The part where we get in trouble, is when we begin to use our wealth and power in the wrong ways.  Scripture is filled with stories about money and power, and this morning we’re going to read two or three examples and look at some of God’s instruction on how we are supposed to use what we have for the good of everyone, and for the good of God’s kingdom.

We begin this morning in 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, where we hear of the end of King Saul’s life, David’s grief, and learn a thing or two about integrity, honor, and being a godly example.

1:1 After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 18 and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

19 “A gazelle[an ancient symbol for a dignitary or important person] lies slain on your heights, Israel.
    How the mighty have fallen!

20 “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

21 “Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there, the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.

22 “From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
    the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.
23 Saul and Jonathan— in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

24 “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
    who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

27 “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”

David grieves for the loss of Saul and his son Jonathan and not just because Jonathan was David’s best friend.  David writes a song, or story of lament and ordered that it be taught to the entire nation.  David declares Saul and Jonathan to the national heroes and pours out honor on their memories, despite the years that Saul had pursued and hunted David.  Saul had often sent the entire army out into the wilderness so that he could find David and kill him. 

But even when David was alone in a dark cave with Saul and had the opportunity to kill him, David refused and gave Saul honor instead.  Even though David had already been anointed as king by God’s prophet, David refused to bring dishonor upon himself, or upon Saul and his family, by taking God’s judgement into his own hands.  And in this story, we see that even though Saul was dead, and even though David would soon be given Saul’s throne and become the king of Judah and a united nation of Israel, David still chooses the path of honor, integrity, and godliness.

And today’s passage in Mark 5:21-43 gives us several more examples in the actions of Jesus and the people in search of miracles. 

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came, and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother, and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this and told them to give her something to eat.

There are several people here that are worth mentioning.  The first that we encounter is the woman who suffered from a bleeding disorder.  Whatever it was had caused her great suffering for more than a decade.  She had gone from one doctor to another, one witch doctor to another, each one tried their own medical experiment, and each one was happy to take more of her money, until she was poor but still suffering.  In desperation, she sets out to find Jesus, thinking perhaps that Jesus was such a great healer, such a great man of God, that if she could just touch him, she would be healed.  And that is exactly what happened.  She reaches through the crush of the crowd to touch Jesus’ shirt.  Some translations say it was only the “hem” of his garment and some have said that the Greek word that is used here is more accurately translated into English not as “hem” but as “fringe,” the dangly threads that would hand from a Jewish man’s clothing.  And she is healed.

The woman touches the barest edge of Jesus’ clothing… and is healed.

But Jesus feels it.  Jesus feels the power of God flow through him and into… somebody.  And once Jesus meets the woman, he declares that it was her great faith that has healed her, and he releases her to go in peace and freedom from her suffering.

But while Jesus was stopped, the child he had been asked to heal had died.  But when Jesus is told that she is dead, he goes there anyway.  But it is important to consider the girl’s father.  We are told that he was a synagogue leader.  From our reading, we know that the synagogue leaders were typically skeptical of Jesus’ power, but Jairus has nowhere else to turn.  His daughter is at death’s door, and he is willing to sacrifice his reputation, his position, and his power to save her.  Similarly, Jesus had every reason to say no to one more religious leader after so many of them had tried to trap him, humiliate him, and worse.  But Jesus honors the man, follows him home, and brings his daughter back from the dead.

But why?

Why did Jesus act this way?  And why does it matter?

And in answer, we turn to Paul’s letter of 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 where he explains this way:

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Paul says that Jesus became poor for us, that through Jesus’ poverty, we have become rich.  Jesus was powerful, but through grace, chose to share that power with the people around him, and with us.  Jesus shared his power to bring healing to the woman who suffered even though she was poor, and Jesus shared his power to bring life to Jairus’ daughter even though he had every right to be suspicious of Jairus’ intensions.  Jesus had power, and by his actions, showed us that the proper use of power is to share it to help the people around us.

Paul said that if we excel, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in earnestness, in passion, or in love, then we must also excel in giving.  Whatever God has chosen to bless us with, we are called to share that wealth with others just as Jesus did.  Our assignment, therefore, is to carry on the work of Jesus, to continue the mission that he began, to seek and to save the lost children of God’s kingdom.  Whomever has much is to share with those who have little.  Sometimes we may be on the giving end, and sometimes we may be on the receiving end.  The goal, Paul says, is equality such that no one has too much, and no one has too little.


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You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/puOgtxjA8SA


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

The Promise of Power

The Promise of Power

May 16, 2021*

(Ascension Day)

 By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 24:44-53                        Acts 1:1-11                             Ephesians 1:15-23

Whether it’s Jesus or Adolf Hitler, Harry Truman or Fidel Castro, Donald Trump or Joe Biden, there is a common theme that revolves around many of their followers and closest associates.  And that theme is often the promise, explicitly stated or dubiously implied, that those followers and associates will be given some sort of power and authority because of their association with the person they are following.  While many of those followers may be there because of their idealism, there are always some that are there because of the promise of power.

Of course, we know that Jesus was nothing like any earthly leader, but even so, scripture tells us that many of Jesus’ followers were expecting him to pursue earthly power and for them to benefit from it in some way.  Or at least they did so untihol Jesus told them otherwise, but even then, they didn’t really understand what he was trying to tell them.  It is at least in part, for that reason that they were so despondent after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Any dreams they had of gaining earthly, political power died with Jesus on the cross. 

But just because their dreams of political power died, doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t have power to give them.  There’s no question that Jesus wielded incredible power, it just that the disciples had to understand that power, and the purpose of that power, in an entirely different way than they had before.  Luke tells us that Jesus began to prepare the disciples for a transfer of power after his resurrection, and shortly before his return to heaven.  First, we read this story in Luke 24:44-53 where Jesus gives his disciples some last-minute instructions:

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

The next to the last thing that Jesus did before he left this earth and returned to heaven, was to promise his disciples that he was “going to send you what my Father has promised.”  And so, they stayed in town, they stayed together, and they continued to worship daily in the temple.  Clearly, Jesus was reminding them of a promise of God that they had discussed before and it must have been a discussion that they all remembered.  But since we didn’t live with them for the three years of Jesus’ ministry, we aren’t quite as clear about which promise Jesus was referring.  But the good news for us, is that Luke knew that.  Luke knew that when he was describing these events to people who were less intimately familiar with the disciples that more details would be needed.  And that is exactly what he does when he writes to his friend Theophilus and describes these same events in Acts 1:1-11 where he says:

1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days, you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

And in this retelling, we can see details about that earlier conversation.  It is here that we see Jesus tell his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift that God had promised and Jesus says that if they wait, as he instructed, in a few days God would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and, when that spirit came, they would receive power so that, as witnesses, they could carry the message of what they had seen to their city, their state, their nation, and to the ends of the earth.

But still, what does that mean.  What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit?  And what does it mean to receive power when that happens?  And what does any of that have to do with us twenty centuries later?  And again, Paul provides some of those answers as he writes to the church in Ephesus where he says (Ephesians 1:15-23):

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spiritof wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

According to Paul, the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives grants us wisdom, revelation, the ability to know God better, to know hope, and to have the power and mighty strength that God used in raising Jesus from the dead.  The promise of power that we have as the followers of Jesus Christ is nothing like the power of politics, earthly kingdoms, and military might.  It is far greater than any of those but pointed in an entirely different direction.  Earthly power is the power to control and to enslave, but the power promised to us by Jesus is the power to rescue and free the lost and the enslaved.  Moments before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told the disciples that the purpose of God’s power, given to us by his Spirit, was to give us the tools that we need to carry his message of freedom, rescue, hope, and love to our city, our state, our nation, and to the ends of the earth.

This is the real promise of power.

Not control, but freedom.  Not earthly wealth, but spiritual wealth.  Not for personal benefit, but to give hope to the world.

It was this power that allowed the message of a small, largely uneducated group of followers, in a tiny country that was occupied by a hostile superpower, to grow and spread all over the known world.  That power wasn’t limited to a handful of disciples but is given to every follower who puts their faith and trust in Jesus.  And it is that same power which is given to us today.

The mission of the church has not changed.

The only question, is if we will use the power that we have been given.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/2OgDGwhgWv0

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

No Love Without Risk

No Love Without Risk

April 25, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 10:11-18                                    Acts 4:5-12                             1 John 3:16-24

Would you risk your life to save your kids?

It’s a question that every parent understands and it’s one that Jonathan Honey, a father of three from Carbon County, Pennsylvania answered last week as he died trying to save his family from a house fire.  One child jumped from a second-floor window and was caught, barely, by a neighbor that jumped to meet him in the air, Kierstyn, the mother jumped out of a window cradling and protecting their baby, and Jonathan rushed into the house, found the third child, and put them in a closet before being overcome by carbon monoxide.  Kierstyn and the children are all in the hospital with broken bones or burns, but Jonathan lost his life trying to save his family.

It’s tragic, but nearly every parent has imagined what they would do in a similar situation, and nearly every one of us know that we would, without hesitation, risk our lives to save the life of one our children.  It difficult as it is to think about, we accept this reality, and we understand that there is no mystery to it.  We would risk our lives for our spouses or for our children… because we love them.  Our lives change when we have children.  We do everything differently.  We grocery shop differently, we drive differently, we dress differently, we spend our money and our time differently, we do without things that we like, that we want, and that we are accustomed to having so that our children can have the things that they need.  And we do all these things, we turn our adult lives upside down, because we love them.

And it is that understanding of parental love, and risk, that Jesus uses to describe God’s radical and sacrificial love for us in John 10:11-18 when he says:

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

After thousands of years of Jewish and Christian influence, in the twenty-first century, we miss the radical nature of what Jesus was saying.  The gods of the world, in the cultures that surrounded Israel were selfish, arrogant, violent, and uncaring.  The gods of the Philistines had routinely demanded that parents sacrifice their children for the fertility of their fields and good harvests, the gods of Greece and Rome considered humans to be inferior, unimportant, and without consequence except for use as pawns as they battled against one another.  It was common in many of the world’s religions to consider human worshippers to be resources to be spent rather than treasure to be valued.  But in that culture, and within that understanding of the relationship between gods and humans, Jesus proclaims a radical idea that he, and Israel’s God, love us in the sacrificial and selfless way that parents love their children.  Jesus says that he, like a true shepherd, is willing to lay down his life to protect his sheep.

And in Acts 4:5-12, Peter also preaches that because our God is a god of compassion and love, his disciples and followers are willing to risk their own security to care for those in need.  Luke writes this story:

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Peter and John are legally detained by the authorities and forcibly brought in front of the high priest, his powerful family, and the rulers, elders, and teachers of Jerusalem.  All the movers and shakers and powerful people were there.  And the question that they ask is, who gave you the power, or permission, to heal a man who was born lame?  Peter knows that these men have the power to convict them, punish them, or imprison them if they don’t like their answers.  This is a speech that is filled with risk.  And yet, Peter does not mince words and without hesitation, proclaims that they have been dragged into court in retribution for an act of compassion.  Peter goes on to preach and proclaim the name and the power of Jesus Christ and states, unequivocally, that there is no other name than Jesus, there is no other man, and no other god, on the face of the earth that can rescue humanity before God.

Peter and John knew that healing the lame man carried risk.  They knew that telling the truth in front of the power brokers of Israel risked their health and their freedom.  But Jesus taught and demonstrated that love and compassion were always worth the risk.

And in his letter to the churches and believers in Asia, John explains this idea of love and risk in more detail in 1 John 3:16-24 saying:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John boils it down to the simplest of terms.  Jesus demonstrated to us what love is supposed to look like and Jesus gave up his life for us.  That example means that that we should be prepared to give up our lives, for the people around us.  We must be prepared to risk everything for others.  We can’t hold too tightly to any of our material possessions or even to our own lives.  If fellow believers are in need, we cannot just heartlessly keep what is ours and allow them to do without.  Instead, we must be prepared to risk, to give up some of our possession, some of our creature comforts, some of our rights, or whatever else it might take to meet their needs because Jesus has taught us, and shown us, that this is what true love looks like.  Loving with our words and making grand and eloquent speeches is not enough if we don’t risk the things that we have and demonstrate our love through our actions.

Love, real love, true love, isn’t an idea and it isn’t just a feeling.

True love is an action.

And because actions have consequences, we can’t play it safe.

            There is no love… without risk.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/nvhcnF-CUd4

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

The Power of Hope

Promises, Lawlessness, and the Power of Hope

April 18, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 24:36-48                                    Acts 3:11-19                           1 John 3:1-7

There is a photograph that circulates occasionally on internet forums and viewers are typically encouraged to look at it for five or ten seconds before reading the text that follows.  The photo is of a street scene with passing cars, and, in the foreground, several attractive young ladies dressed in somewhat… revealing attire.  But, after looking at the picture and reading the text that follows, you are asked if you noticed that one of the cars was being driven… by a dog.  Of course, no one usually notices that particular detail and is compelled to look back at the photograph.  Sure enough, right in the center of the picture, the car driving down the street has a dog in the driver’s seat.

But, as unusual as that is, why does almost no one, male or female, notice that the first time?

And the answer if focus.  Our attention is naturally drawn to people and not to machines, particularly cars and other things that we see all the time.  We weren’t looking for a dog driving a car, so we didn’t see one.

It’s the same thing that creates some absolutely hilarious complaints on the comment cards returned to our national parks.  People complain that they weren’t allowed to touch the lava at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, they complain that there was nothing to see but rocks at Arches National Park (which incidentally has some of the most spectacular 65-million-year-old geological features that you well ever see), they complain that watching water boil at home would be more impressive that seeing the geysers at Yellowstone, that the Grand Canyon is just a big hole in the ground, that Sand Dunes National Park is just a “big pile of sand,” that Yosemite’s snow fed waterfalls stop by mid-summer because the Park Service must be turning them off, that some of the roads were closed by snow at Glacier National Park, and many, many, more complaints about bears, rattlesnakes, mosquitos, and other things that most of us would expect from our visits to these spectacular places.

But the reason that these people were disappointed was… focus.

If you expect a national park to have the same amenities as the Ritz Carlton, you are certain to be disappointed.

And it is that idea of focus that brings us to today’s first scripture.  At first, as we read Luke 24:36b-48, it seems to be the same as the passage that we read last week.  And it is similar.  But before we finish reading, we notice that the focus of our reading is different than before.  And that shift in focus becomes even clearer as we read our other scripture selections for today.

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

As we read Luke’s retelling of the resurrection story, the beginning sounds the same as what we read in John’s account last week, but while the point, the focus, of John’s story was the skepticism and doubt of the disciples and the future generations who would hear their story, Luke doesn’t even mention it.  Instead, Luke focuses on how Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s prophecy and how God was keeping his promises to his people.  Jesus asks for, and eats, food in their presence to prove that he is not a ghost or a spirit, but is indeed, a living, physical, flesh and blood human being.  And, while Luke also repeats Jesus offer to touch the nail holes in his hands and feet, this too is offered up as proof of his humanity and not to dispel doubt.  But in the end, the point that Jesus makes in Luke’s gospel story is that everything that God’s prophets had ever written about the coming Messiah, in all of scripture, had been fulfilled through Jesus, and they were witnesses of all that had happened.

What’s more, Luke’s story includes an emphasis, a focus, on reminding the disciples that a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached, in the name of Jesus, in every nation of the world and would begin in Jerusalem.  And while that part hadn’t happened yet, Jesus still declares that the disciples were his witnesses.  And so, we see that while Luke is obviously telling the same story that we heard from John, the focus of Luke’s story is different and so we see a different message in it.

And even though John’s focus was different, we see from his actions, and those of Peter, in Acts 3:12-19, that they certainly understood Jesus’ message of repentance because of the words that they spoke to the gathered crowd after they healed the blind man at the gates of Jerusalem.

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

Peter and John proclaim to the gathered crow that they understood that the people acted the way that they did, and made the choices that they made, because they were ignorant of the truth.  But, now that they knew the truth, they must repent of their sins, and turn to God for forgiveness.

And even though the focus of John’s gospel story was on the shock, skepticism, and doubt of the disciples, he also understood that the message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness was inseparable from it because in 1 John 3:1-7 he writes these words:

3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

John understands that the most important message of the resurrection story is the message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness but also that having heard that message changes us and how we choose to live our lives.  Once we know, and believe, the story of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that one day we will become as he is, and it is that hope that directs our lives in new directions.  It is that hope that guides our paths away from lawlessness and toward purity and righteousness.

It is that hope that drives us to share our message with the world and with the people around us so that they will no longer be ignorant of the truth, repent, and find forgiveness and hope.

The first step in making the world a better place is for us to become better people.  And the first step we must take to become better people is to repent of our sins, draw close to God, and become, every day, more like Jesus.

That is message that we must share, and that is the message that has, does, and will continue to change the world.

Because while some people will try to describe the message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness as a message of condemnation, in truth it is a message of hope that the world desperately needs to hear.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/0t6-WsacQ0s

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

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

Real Power Reversed

Real Power Reversed*

October 25, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The son of David,” they replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Incredible Power of Small

It seems impossible, but there is incredible power in small things.

As we go about our business, as we watch the news, and as we experience life, most of us have accepted the reality that those things that are big will be the winners.  Billionaires will win out over millionaires, a 300-pound football linebacker is a good bet in a barfight, the state will win over a township in a legal dispute, and so on.  Face it, when David faces Goliath, Goliath usually wins.

But increasingly, I am being reminded of the enormous power of the small.

We know this almost unconsciously, but we are prone to ignore it in our conscious decision making.  Here’s what I mean:  Elephants and whales are huge, but there aren’t huge piles of dead elephants or whales anywhere.  Why? Because as soon as the large animals die, the small animals get to work.  Lions, sharks and other predators take their turn, then buzzards, fish, and smaller creatures, and then, beetles and tiny fishes, and finally bacteria and other microscopic creatures set to work.  And in this system, the web of life, each time the creatures get smaller, they grow greater in numbers.  And while a handful of lions may feast on the carcass of a dead elephant, the number of bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic creatures number in the millions and tens of millions.  We take them all for granted, but without them our planet would be overrun with dead things.

Change is like that too.

Sometimes change seems impossible.  The task is simply too hard, or too big, or too expensive, and so change is left untried.

But small is powerful.

When great ships set sail from one continent to another, the most important person on the ship is the navigator.  Over and over, history demonstrates that a tiny error in navigation, an error of one degree, or even a fraction of a degree, multiplied by a voyage of a hundred or a thousand miles, and the ship arrives far from its intended destination.  In our era, as scientists consider how to protect our planet from potentially devastating, city-sized asteroids that may come our way in the future, the answer isn’t enormous rockets with powerful nuclear weapons, but early detection.  If we can discover the danger early enough, small rockets, with tiny nudges, can redirect planet killing asteroids by a fraction, even hundredths, or thousandths of a degree and, over the course of millions of miles, the asteroid never even comes close to us.

As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, we often think of what we can do to make the next year better than the last.  But change is intimidating.  Our problems seem to be too big, too powerful, too expensive, or too difficult.

But remember the incredible power of the small.

Losing weight can seem impossible, but what about a pound a week?  Even a half a pound per week means a loss of twenty-five pounds by this time next year.  Drastic changes aren’t needed.  A half a pound per week can be done, gradually, by eating just a little bit less and walking a little more each day and even then, you might have to work up to it a little at a time.  Making big changes is hard, but don’t be afraid to make a little change today, and then a little more next month.

Saving for retirement sounds impossible.  But don’t let the size of the goal scare you from starting small.  Maybe you can’t afford to save hundreds of dollars a month.  But can you, occasionally, give up your morning coffee?  Or pack a lunch instead of going out to eat?  Giving up a stop for a ($2.00) coffee, twenty days each month and banking that, produces almost $50,000 over thirty years at 7 percent interest.  Packing your lunch two days each week and saving another $20 pushes that number to almost $150,000.  That still won’t get you to a comfortable retirement, but one small change can motivate you to make another, and then another, and so on.

Growing our church and adding a hundred new members sounds impossible.  But, like we saw in the previous examples, it’s our focus on the big things that often prevents us from seeing the power of the small things.  No, we can’t plan a single event, or offer any kind of training that will allow us to instantly add a hundred people on Sunday morning.  But, could you find the time to invite one person to have coffee with you this month?  Could you join a new club, or commit to making one new friend in the next year?  How hard would it be to do something nice for a neighbor or someone you know?  Could you make some hot soup for a neighbor when they’re sick?  There are thousands of ways that we can invest ourselves in the lives of the people around us.

But those small acts, done consistently, are incredibly powerful.

If each member of our church reaches just one person this year, we will touch the lives of more than a hundred people in deep and meaningful ways.  And if only ten percent of those people choose to join our church, we will add ten new families.

Most likely, none of us will run for a national political office, or write a best-seller, or have millions of followers on social media.  But just the same, we have the power to transform our church… even change the world.

We have at our disposal the incredible power of the small.

Join me.

Make this year, a year of slow and steady progress.

We can change the world.

One cup of coffee at a time.

 

_____________

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 


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Turning Power Upside-Down

Turning Power Upside-Down

July 07, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 5:1-14                       Luke 10:1-11, 16-20              Galatians 6:1-16

 

Have you ever seen a pyramid?  Most of us haven’t seen one in real life, but almost everyone has probably seen pictures of one.

What I’m thinking about is just the general shape of a pyramid.  Do you have that image in your mind?  That shape, the shape of a pyramid, is often used to describe the way that human beings generally run things whether it’s clubs, or unions, corporations, or governments.  There’s a big base that is filled with ordinary people, laborers and worker bees, and above them are the foremen, then managers, then supervisors, then directors, then vice-presidents, presidents, and at the top is the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO.  In governments there are similar structures and at the top is the mayor, or governor, president, or prime minister.  We see this same style of organization in many of our churches, with lay people, pastors, district superintendents, bishops, and in some denominations, archbishops and popes.

But as common as this structure is, we are making a mistake when we assume that this is the way that God runs things.  While I have seen several business gurus preach that it’s important to “flatten” the pyramid and operate with a simpler, less management intensive, hierarchy, God’s system of administration and government has a way of turning the entire pyramid upside-down.  In 2 Kings 5:1-14, we hear the story of the great military commander Naaman, a powerful man who was second only to the king of Aram, but one who contracted a repulsive and incurable disease.

5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So, Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So, he turned and went off in a rage.13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

It didn’t matter how powerful Naaman was, if word got out that he had leprosy, he was ruined.  People were afraid of lepers.  Leprosy was ultimately fatal, no one knew how it was contracted, and there was no cure.  Lepers lived their lives by begging and were prohibited from being around healthy people.  Certainly, no one would want to be under his command so his ability to lead would be destroyed.  His power was of no use to him against this enemy.  But hope come to him in the strangest way.  Hope comes not from power, or authority, not from the king, but from a slave girl who knows that the prophet of Israel’s God could cure him.  And so, based on the advice of a slave, this powerful man travels to Israel for a cure and then to the door of Elisha’s house.  But here, Naaman’s ego is offended because Elisha doesn’t even come outside to see him and Naaman is told that he should go to the Jordan River, wash seven times, and be cleansed.  And again, his ego is offended because his home country has plenty of rivers, so why should he wash in Israel’s river? 

But he is rescued a second time, by one of his servants who reminds him that he would have gladly undertaken a great quest, or an impossible task, if Elisha had demanded it, so why not swallow his pride and ego and do something simple? 

He does. 

And he is healed.

In God’s calculation, Naaman’s power and authority are useless, it doesn’t matter that he sits near the pinnacle of the pyramid of power.  Instead, his humility and willingness to listen to his servants, and to hear the command of God, however simple, are the things that bring about his healing.

Similarly, even when God gives power to his followers, we are cautioned in how we use it.  In Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples plus seventy-two others, and sends them out to teach and to minister to the people.  And, when they return, they marvel at the power that God has given them, but Jesus refocuses their understanding in an entirely different way.

10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus sends out seventy-two of his followers as missionaries to the communities along the route that he would soon visit.  And when they return, they are thrilled to report that the sick were healed, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and even the demons obey their commands.  But Jesus cautions them all to remember humility.  They aren’t great because they have power.  Jesus tells them that he watched as Satan, the most powerful of God’s angels, was cast out of heaven.  The cause for rejoicing, Jesus says, is not that they have power, but that God has rescued them from sin and death.

Humility is one of the hallmarks of living a Christian life throughout scripture.  We saw in in the story of Elisha and Naaman, we saw it in the story of Jesus and the seventy-two, and we see it as a central message of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 6:1-16) where we hear these words:

6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  8Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Paul’s tone in this passage speaks to us in the twenty-first century as piercingly and compellingly as it did in the first century.  If someone is caught in sin, don’t gloat, and don’t parade them through the streets or through the media to bathe them in shame, but instead restore them… gently.  Instead of watching the people around you so that you can pounce on them the moment that they screw up, keep an eye on yourself so that you won’t be tempted and become the person that screwed up.  Instead of piling guilt and shame on people who make mistakes, or instead of watching the people around you struggle with doubt, struggle with divorce, struggle with poverty, struggle with single parenthood, struggle with being a widow, struggle with losing a parent or for caring for an elderly parent, instead of watching each other struggle, carry each other’s burdens.  Help the people around you who are struggling, share their burden, so that all of us can walk this journey a little easier.  Don’t you dare think that you are all that important, especially when you are not.  Test yourself.  Take a hard look at your actions and see if you are acting the way that Jesus acted, or if you are just acting like a selfish jerk.

Paul says that it’s okay to be proud of yourself, but don’t compare yourself to others.  It’s okay to be proud of what you have accomplished or what you have overcome, but it’s not okay to say that you are better or worse than someone else because of it.  And if you are lucky enough to have been able to study scripture, and to have good teachers to teach you about the word of God and the message of Jesus Christ, then don’t be afraid to show your appreciation to the people who taught you, and, in my understanding, don’t be afraid to share what you have learned with others.  Those who have been taught today become the teachers of tomorrow.

I’m not sure what all was going on in that church in Galatia, but Paul is really fired up.  He continues by reminding everyone that we harvest the same things that we plant.  If we plant the things of the flesh, then we will harvest destruction, but if we plant the things of the Spirit, we will harvest eternal life.  Don’t get tired of doing good.  Don’t give up.  Whenever you can, do good to all the people around you, especially to those who surround you in your community of faith because, hopefully, those are the same people that are walking with you and sharing your burdens.

Both in the first century and in the twenty-first centuries, the church was, and is, dealing with people who are using the things of the flesh, things like money, power, sex, drugs, pleasure, and influence to impress one another.  Knowing that, Paul points out that there are people who are trying to use those same tools to impress people and persuade them to come around to their way of thinking, and the only reason that they are doing so, is so that they can avoid being persecuted or discriminated against for being Christian.  While these influential people were far from perfect themselves, they wanted to persuade others to follow them so that they could brag about how many they persuaded.  To them, the followers of Jesus Christ were only being used as poker chips to keep score. 

Instead, Paul insists that the only thing that we, as Christians, ought to brag about is the cross of Jesus.  None of the things that the world uses to brag about, and impress people are worth anything today, nor will they be worth anything on the day of judgement.  The only thing that is worth anything, is the work that Jesus is doing in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the day, the spiritual world doesn’t look anything at all like a pyramid.  Power and influence aren’t important.  Money, and pleasure aren’t worth bragging about.  They pyramid isn’t just turned upside down by Jesus Christ, it’s completely flattened.  There’s Jesus… and then there’s us.  And we aren’t under him, because at the moment we put our faith in him, we were adopted by God as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

The only thing we have to impress people… is Jesus.

The only thing we have to brag about… is Jesus.

The goal isn’t to become rich, and powerful, to climb to the top of the pyramid, and live a life that is full of pleasure and influence.

The goal is to discover humility.  The goal is to live, and to love,…

            …like Jesus.

 

 

 


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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.