Where is Your Center?

Where is Your Center?

March 07, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

20:1 And God spoke all these words:

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

“You shall have no other gods before me.

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

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

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

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

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is your center?


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

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


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

Sign of Rescue and Belonging

Signs of Rescue and Belonging

Signs of Rescue and Belonging

February 21, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 9:8-17                       Mark 1:9-15                           1 Peter 3:18-22

Imagine that you are driving a fifty-three foot long, fully loaded, tractor trailer, weighing thirty-five thousand pounds empty, loaded with forty-five thousand pounds of cargo, for a total of eighty-thousand pounds.  Now imagine that, as you are driving over the mountains of West Virginia, constantly shifting through ten to eighteen gears as you ascend and descend the various mountain ridges along the turnpike, that some critical component of your braking systems fail, and as you steadily gain speed going down one of the biggest and steepest grades on the highway, you now have no ability to slow down. 

Quickly your speed passes the posted legal limit, and you move to the passing lane to avoid crushing a family in a minivan.  You try downshifting but your speed is already too great and still your speed increases.  First eighty, then ninety miles per hour, and now you are desperately flashing your lights, honking your horn, and shouting on your CB radio for other trucks to get out of your way as, despite attempting everything that you can think of, your speed continues to increase.  You do everything that you can to keep your mind on the task at hand and not to think about how this will inevitably end. 

Still your imagination easily pictures mangled cars and a long plummet down the side of forested mountain valley… and then you see it.  A sign along the far side of the road announcing that only a mile away, is a runaway truck ramp.  You see it in the distance and quickly shift your truck back into the right lane as you race towards it… and almost before you think about what will happen, you leave the highway, race up and impossibly steep slope and feel your truck sink into the loose sand as it tears away at the tires and undercarriage.  Small plants, bushes, briars, and grass fly as you plow up the hillside but… finally… your slow… and come to a stop.  Your truck is probably totaled, and it will almost certainly take several wreckers, and maybe a bulldozer and a crane to get your truck off the side of this mountain… but you are alive.

Your day might have ended very differently if it hadn’t been for that small sign at the side of the highway.  That small sign gave you the warning that you needed to be.  That small sign was the symbol of the rescue that waited silently at the side of the road.  It saved your life.

It was the sign of your rescue.

For the rest of your life, whenever you see that sign, or one like it, you will remember.  And you will give thanks, not just for the sign, but for your life that you live, and the rescue that it represents.

Sometimes signs are more than just symbols.

Keep that in mind as we read the conclusion of the story of Noah in Genesis 9:8-17 where it says…

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

As God prepared to destroy a corrupt civilization, he warned the righteous and offered a way in which they might be rescued from the coming flood.  Today, although we argue whether that flood was truly a global event, nearly every culture, on every continent, has tales about a flood that destroyed the world.  But just as God provided a way for Noah and his family to survive, he also promised that there would never be another flood with the same destructive power.  And you can be sure, that every time that Noah and his family saw the sign of God’s rainbow in the sky above them, it was more than just a symbol.  They remembered their rescue… and gave thanks.

But years passed… first decades, then centuries, then millennia, and people forgot.  They forgot the flood, they forgot the ark, they forgot the rescue, and they forgot the promise.  Eventually, a rainbow was just a rainbow.  And then, Jesus began his ministry by submitting to his baptism with John in the Jordan river.  We read that story in Mark 1:9-15.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being temptedby Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus didn’t need repentance or forgiveness, but he submits to baptism as a sign of his ministry, and as a sign of God’s rescue, to the people of Israel and to the world.  The baptism of Jesus is a sign to the world that God was keeping his promises and that, as he had done for Noah and for his family, God was making a way for us to be rescued from the judgement that was coming.  The Apostle Peter describes it this way in 1 Peter 3:18-22:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.

And so, the disciples themselves understood the connection between the sign of Noah’s rescue and the sign of our rescue with the arrival of the Good News of Jesus Christ and his baptism.  Just as Noah and his family passed safely through the waters of the flood, God promises to bring us safely through our life in this strange, difficult, and sometimes hostile world in which we live.  Just as the ark carried Noah through the flood to the dry land that eventually followed, the gospel message, and our rescue through our baptism into a new life as a part of God’s family is a sign and a symbol of God’s promise to carry us safely through to the other side through the power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As God prepared to bring judgment upon a corrupt civilization in the time of Noah, he warned the righteous and offered a way in which they might be rescued from the coming flood.  And now, as God prepares to bring final judgement upon all of humanity, he once again brings a warning to anyone who will listen and offers a way in which we might be rescued.  We remember that long ago, when Noah and his family looked into the sky and saw the sign of the rainbow above them, it was more than just a symbol.  They remembered their rescue… and gave thanks.  Like them, as we remember our baptism, while it is a sign and a symbol, it is also so much more than that because we see that sign, and we remember our rescue… and give thanks.

As humanity hurtles down the side of the mountain toward certain doom, there is in baptism, a sign at the side of the road pointing toward one last chance to see tomorrow.  It may not be the most impressive, amazing, or artistic sign, but it is a sign of rescue, a sign of belonging… and a sign of hope.

Let us remember our rescue and give thanks but let us also point as many others toward that sign as we possibly can so that they too can find Jesus, find rescue, find hope, and arrive, with us, on the shores of a new life on the other side.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/0nqL1PsPKp4

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.



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