Are You “The One?”

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Are You the One?

December 11, 2022*

(3rd Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 35:1-10                         Matthew 11:2-11                    James 5:7-10

In the blockbuster 1999 movie, The Matrix, Keanu Reeves, as the character Neo, is awakened from a pod and discovers that his entire life had been lived inside of a computer simulation. Over the course of the movie, Neo, and the audience, discover that he is the person known in their modern legend as “The One.” Although computers have taken over the universe, the computer program that makes the simulated world possible requires, as part of its vast program, an anomaly, a glitch, that is both necessary to making the whole thing work, and problematic to the machines that want to subjugate humanity.  That glitch, that anomaly, is that one randomly selected person, known as the Prime Program, or The One, carries a special piece of program code that gives them superhuman abilities in the matrix.  These abilities give that person the power to bend the rules of the matrix simulation, allowing them to ignore physics, gravity, and any other laws of nature.

In scripture, we also find a world that is waiting for the arrival of “the One.” In this case, we are dealing with the real world and with a spiritual world, and not a fictional computer simulation.  But the movies have borrowed from this scriptural tradition and have created parallels that we see in both the theater and in the stories of the Old and New Testaments.  What we find is that God, through his prophets, promised that one day he would send a messiah, a rescuer, and a redeemer, who would come to save Israel from their enemies and save the entire world from destruction, sin, and death. 

But as the centuries passed, Israel asked the same question that the characters in the Matrix movie were asking.  Is the story real?  When will we see the One?  And whenever they met someone who impressed them, they might even ask themselves if he might be “The One.”  We begin this morning with Isaiah 35:1-10, as we hear God’s prophet tell of the things that the Messiah would do:

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come, he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

It was these words that were repeated, taught, and remembered, when people thought and dreamed about the coming of the messiah. And so, when John the Baptist sees that Jesus isn’t doing the things that he thought that he would do, he begins to wonder if Jesus is really “The One.”  And so, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus that very question, “Are you the One.”   Matthew 11:2-11 records Jesus’ reply.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

It was a fair question.  It’s always been a fair question. We have been reading the promises of God in the writings of the prophets for thousands of years.  Like many of Jesus’ own disciples, John thought that the Messiah should behave differently, and do things differently than Jesus was doing them. And Jesus’ reply was to echo Isaiah and say that the eyes of the blind were opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame are healed, the mute speak, the good news is proclaimed to the poor, and even the dead are raised.

But two thousand years later we are still asking the same question.  Was Jesus really “The One”?  If Jesus were really the Messiah, shouldn’t he have returned to do the rest of the things that Isaiah and the other prophets said that the Messiah would do?  It’s a fair question because two thousand years is a long time.  The people who had seen Jesus, even some of his disciples, were convinced that Jesus would return in their lifetimes.  And then they were sure that he would return before the Apostle John died.  And then they thought he would certainly return before the year 100, then the year 1000, then maybe it should be the year 2000.  But the calendar keeps turning and we keep asking the question, “Is he really “The One”?”  And that is exactly the question to which Jesus’ brother James was responding in James 5:7-11 when he said:

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

As in many other things, patience is the key.  Students of a foreign language do not learn to speak fluently overnight, nor do students learn to play a musical instrument well during their first lesson, or even during the first year. In Star Wars, Master Yoda repeatedly admonished Luke Skywalker to have patience, and that is something with which we all have struggled. Like all these things that I mentioned that make sense to us, James uses an agricultural illustration that made sense to his audience.  When we plant our gardens, or when a farmer plants an entire field, we cannot harvest until the appropriate time has come.  We wait for sunshine, warm nights, and the rains that water the earth because plants have needs that must be met just as we do, and they need time to grow to maturity. In the same way, James tells us that there will be an appropriate time, that Jesus will come, and that his coming is near. 

Rather than grumble and fight, we must be patient with one another, love, nurture, and support one another, and persevere through whatever this life throws at us. Rather than impatiently questioning whether Jesus is “The One,” we should remember the perseverance of Job and many others that we know from scripture, people who patiently endured and persevered through their trials and through their lives so that we could look back and see what God accomplished through them.

As we wait for the return of “The One” let us be patient in our waiting, patient with one another in our struggling, and remember the examples of scripture of those who struggled like us, but who endured so that God could demonstrate what could be accomplished with his help.


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

The Demands of Hope

The Demands of Hope

November 27, 2022*

(1st Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

In the last days

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

Many peoples will come and say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because he is.

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

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

But hope demands something from us.

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

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

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


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

Not Normal (Yet)

Not Normal (Yet)

Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”  And that kind of sums up where we are in our struggle to return to normal from this global pandemic.  Some things are returning to normal but, as it has been for the last fifteen months, “normal” remains a moving target.  Even so, things are getting better and as they do, our church is returning to more familiar routines.  But even as we move toward the familiar, our routines will be different than they used to be. 

What does that mean?

Well, let’s talk about a few of our routines and how they might be different.

  1. We’re moving back to indoor church.  Hooray!  But being indoors isn’t going to be exactly like it used to be (yet).  We are returning indoors, but we’re still concerned about the spread of COVID, so some things will remain different for a while.  Sunday school classes and church committees are returning to in-person meetings, but not all of them.  Not everyone feels comfortable meeting in groups and some committee meetings are sometimes more convenient online, so some of those groups will remain online.

We are going to worship indoors, but worship still isn’t going to be the same as it used to be.  We are going to take the offering differently, we will be space ourselves out more than we used to, we plan to wear masks when we sing, and some people will likely choose to wear masks all the time. 

  • The building isn’t how I remember it.  We’ve made some changes.  Some of them are pandemic related, and some aren’t.  Our trustees have not been hibernating for the last year.  I’ve mentioned before that there were new lights installed above the stairs by the handicap entrance and in the lounge, but most of you will soon be seeing those changes for the first time so it will look a little different.  The trustees have other projects in progress that haven’t happened yet, so you can expect more changes.  In part because of COVID and in-part because of security concerns, we just aren’t going to unlock as many doors as we used to.  Many of you won’t even notice, but we will put up signs and let you know what’s going on so that we can all get used to entering through the doors that are open.
  • Money.  Honestly, this one is entirely up to you.  To everyone’s credit, last year, our giving remained steady even though we stayed home and made the transition to online worship.  But 2021 has not been kind to us.  I’m not sure that there is any single reason that can explain it.  We got out of the habit of coming to church.  We got out of the habit of putting our offering in the plate.  We got worried about our personal finances and cut back.  It could be any of those, or all of those, or a hundred other things.  But our offerings changed.  Dramatically.  I won’t belabor the point here, because our members will soon be receiving a letter that will go into more details.  For now, let’s just say that our budget, our staff, and all sorts of things will be facing substantial changes if 2021 doesn’t start to look more like 2019.
  • Dress. I don’t really know.  But I suspect that over the last year, many of you have grown accustomed to attending church in your bunny slippers.  I’m sure you don’t want to show up half-dressed, but if a year of worshiping online makes you feel like you want to dress more comfortably, I’m pretty sure no one will mind.  I’m sure I’ll go back to wearing a suit at some point, but I admit that I rather liked being able to preach wearing denim pants and hiking boots.  The important thing is that we all get back in the habit of going to church and being together.
  • People.  While we were online, we’ve had a few new people begin to worship with us.  Even though they have been “in church” with us for months, they will be unfamiliar to most of you.  I hope that you will make them feel welcome.  If you are one of those folks that joined us online, I hope that will join us in-person even though almost all of us will be unfamiliar to you.  At the same time, I’m sure that there are a few folks who just got out of the habit of coming to church and won’t be returning.  I hope it isn’t many.  And I hope it isn’t you.  We are the church.  We are the body of Christ.  All of us.  Together.

I’m sure that’s not all.  I’m sure that there are changes I forgot to mention, and others that I haven’t learned about, or that haven’t happened yet.  But life is all about change.  As we return to in-person, indoor worship, things are going to seem more like normal.  But, at the same time, not… quite… normal.  Whenever you feel comfortable, I hope that you will return to worship in-person.  And, until you do, we are working hard to continue some sort of online worship.  Although that may face some changes too.

Whatever happens…

“It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” 


Blessings,

Pastor John


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