Things Money Can’t Buy

Things Money Can’t Buy

October 10, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Job 23:1-9, 16-17                   Mark 10:17-31           Hebrews 4:12-16

There are several well-known phrases that we’ve probably all heard.

We’ve all heard that “money can’t buy happiness” and we’ve probably all heard the Beatles sing “Can’t Buy Me Love” in which Paul McCartney sings: “I don’t care too much for money, Money can’t buy me love.”

Let’s be honest, money is powerful and can do many things, but there are things that all the money and power in the world can’t change.  And that idea is an integral part of what today’s scriptures have to say.  We begin in Job 23:1-9, 16-17, as Job complains that as he is suffering with the loss of his family and his fortune, he cannot seem to find God.

23:1 Then Job answered:

“Today also my complaint is bitter;
    his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
    that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
    and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
    and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
    No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him,
    and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

“If I go forward, he is not there;
    or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
    I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.

16 God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me;
17 If only I could vanish in darkness,
    and thick darkness would cover my face!

If we listen, Job’s words hold some interesting contradictions.  Job insists that he wants to find God, to give voice to his arguments about his innocence and insist upon hearing God’s answers.  But, at the same time, he understands that while he expects that God would listen, he knows that God is not likely to engage in an argument and he hopes that God would acquit him of any guilt.  We also hear Job insist that he has been searching everywhere and wants to find God, but at the same time finds the idea of meeting God a terrifying prospect that makes him wish that he could be invisible and disappear into the darkness.  Job essentially says that he can’t find God but he’s afraid that he will.

Job knew that he was a faithful man who had once had money, power, and the blessings of God.  But he also knew that his money, power, and faith, amounted to nothing in comparison to an all-powerful creator God.  Job understood that no matter how much he demanded his day in court there was nothing that he could do to sway God’s opinion.

We often forget that.  We forget how powerless we really are and how powerful God is.  In our modern era of spaceflight and computers, a time when we have bent creation to our will by moving mountains and stopping the flow of rivers, we are persuaded to think too much of ourselves. We have lost Job’s fear of the power of God and have come to believe in a domesticated God that bends to our will.  To be fair, we aren’t the first to have done so.  In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus meets a man of wealth, and probably some power, who has become so accustomed to getting what he wants that he has become arrogant and blind to his own shortcomings.

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

It might be reasonable for you to wonder why I said that this man was blind to his own shortcomings.  And, in answer, I would point to how Jesus answered his question about eternal life.  Jesus begins to recite the ten commandments, from the middle.  He skips past the parts about honoring God, lists almost all the rest, and then deliberately skips one.  Remember that this is exactly the sort of thing that people memorized in the synagogue in preparation for adulthood, so we can be reasonably certain that everyone listening was silently reciting the ten commandments to themselves as Jesus recited them.  But rather than taking note of the commandment that Jesus skipped, the man arrogantly declares that he has kept all the commandments since he was a youth.  But the commandment that Jesus skipped is the one that the man stumbled over.  Do not covet.  Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife, and don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff.  And to make that point even sharper, Jesus tells the man that to find eternal life, to prove that he didn’t covet money, he would need to give away his wealth.

The disciples, I think, got Jesus’ point because they are terrified by his answer.  Jesus is teaching that it is easy for money to tempt us away from God.  Money has a way of making us want… more money.  The disciples knew that while it was easy to say that we didn’t steal or kill, everyone wants more money.  If Jesus is going to use that as a measuring stick to get into heaven, then no one can get in.  Peter protests by saying that even though he likes money, and may even covet the money of others, he has demonstrated his love for Jesus by leaving behind his family, friends, and his job to follow him.  And Jesus agrees.  This was the point he was trying to make.  But Peter had the humility to see and acknowledge that he fell short of God’s standard. 

The disciples realized that they could of great wealth and great power do not.  They are deceived by the illusion of control that is brought by wealth and power and they become arrogant and blind to their own shortcomings.  That is why Jesus says that many who are first will be last and the last will be first.  The people who have everything, and who get to be first in line for everything, will have deceived themselves into believing that they are right with God, but the people who have little, and who are often last in line, are aware of their faults and their need for God.

The writer of Hebrews describes God’s judgement this way in Hebrews 4:12-16:

12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Peter and the other disciples were terrified when they realized that the desire for money and power, something that almost all of us want at least a little of, was a sin that could keep us out of the kingdom of God.  God is the righteous judge. 

Because our faith is in Jesus Christ, and because he was tested and lived his entire life without sin, we rest in knowing that he is our high priest.  Jesus stands between us and God, and between us and judgement.  Because of Jesus, we approach the throne of God, not with fear and the terror of judgement, but with boldness and confidence in the grace of Jesus.  We know that through Jesus Christ we will find mercy and grace in the place of judgement.

Sir Paul was right.  Money can’t buy me love.

Money can’t buy happiness.

It can’t buy peace, cheat death, find God, calm fear, buy forgiveness humility, repentance, righteousness, or admission to heaven.  God will not be domesticated.  All the money and power in the world won’t do us any good on the day of judgement and many people will discover that they put their trust and faith in the wrong places. 

We will all render an accounting of our lives.  Not only for our actions but also for the intentions of our hearts.  Perfection is the standard of God and not one of us is perfect.  The only thing that will save us on the day of judgement, is the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.

Job searched for God but was terrified of what he would find when he met him.

But we look forward to meeting Jesus with humility and boldness… because in him, and in him only, do we find…

…hope.


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

A Date with the Gallows

A Date with the Gallows

September 26, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22               Mark 9:38-50                         James 5:13-20

Do you watch movies?

Have you seen Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean?

There is a literary device that has been used in many books and movies and was used to good effect in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  The literary device to which I refer is one in which one of the main characters has been sentenced to death by hanging and awaits their appointment with death and their date with the gallows.  In The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow stands in line and waits for his meeting with the executioner until Will, and then Elizabeth, intervene to save his life.

As we read such stories or watch such movies, we imagine what it would be like to be in such a position ourselves.  How would we feel if we were sentenced to death and were only waiting for our date with the gallows or our appointment with death?  And imagine how much worse it would be if everyone that we knew, everyone of our family, friends, and community, were similarly condemned?  How would we feel?  What would we do?  It seems impossible, but that is exactly the situation that Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai, and all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire, faced.  An enemy of the Jews, Haman, was a close aide to the king, and had deceptively persuaded the king to sign an edict that doomed every Jew in the Empire.  But Esther had a plan.  Even though the mere act of appearing in the king’s presence without an invitation could be punishable by death, even for the queen, Esther dares to do so anyway.  And when the king rescues her, invites her in, and allows her to speak, she invites him to dinner for further discussion and then in Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22, we hear this:

 7:1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

9:20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Once the truth was known, and the consequences of the king’s edict, and Haman’s treachery, were understood, the king found a way to turn the tables.  The Jews were saved, Haman was hung on the six story tall gallows that he had built, and the sorrow of the Jews was changed into joy, and their tears transformed into gladness.

But sometimes it is hard to tell one side, or one team, from another.  It’s a bit like trying to watch, or even to play, a football game in which all of the players, from both sides, are wearing the same uniform.  That is the situation in which the disciples find themselves in Mark 9:38-50.  They thought they knew which side they were on.  There was Jesus, and then there was the twelve, and then there were the handful of people that generally hung out with them.  But suddenly their entire understanding of “us” and “them” is disrupted.

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck, and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Jesus takes this moment to teach a two-part message.  First, “us” is not so easily defined as “Jesus and the twelve.”  Jesus says that even if someone wasn’t physically following Jesus but was doing “deeds of power” in Jesus’ name then they couldn’t say anything bad about Jesus and must have been connecting to the power of God through Jesus’ name.  For us, that means that we shouldn’t always be so certain that we know who is “us” and who is “them.”  

The second part of that instruction hits even closer to home for the disciples, and probably does for us as well.  Jesus says that not only are there people on our side that we didn’t know about, but we also need to be careful not to drive people out of the kingdom of God by doing, or saying, something foolish.  Our words, and our actions, can sometimes be the things that cause others to trip and fall, or to step off the cliff into unbelief.  And Jesus says that we must not be a stumbling block, we must not be the reason that someone else stops believing.  Worse still, Jesus’ description offers us a terrifying picture of what might happen to those who cause others to stumble.

Finally, Jesus reminds us that, like salt, we were created with a purpose.  And, just like salt that isn’t salty, we cease to be useful if we fail to do the things for which we were created.  Salt that isn’t salty was typically just thrown out and used to fill in potholes on the walking path outside your house.  We wouldn’t want God to have that kind of opinion about our usefulness.

Instead, we should strive to be about God’s business and to do the work that Jesus has left for us to do.  Jesus’ brother James has this to say in James 5:13-20:

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James reminds us that while we are trying to be useful, one of the things for which we were created is to connect with God through prayer.  Pray for the sick and the suffering, sing when things go well, and ask for forgiveness when we fall short.  If the prayers of Elijah could stop the rain for three years and then start it back up again, then we know that our prayers are sufficient to bring the wanderers and the prodigals home again and return the lost to a closer walk with Jesus.

Never forget that rescuing God’s the lost children is the purpose for which we were created.  Without Jesus, we are like those pirates and other characters in books and movies who were waiting for their date with the gallows, or like the Jews who waited for their destruction.  Without Jesus, death awaits us all.  But when we return the lost to Jesus, through prayer or through the actions of individuals or through the work of the church, we change sorrow into joy, and tears into gladness.

Let us not sit idly and watch as others wait for their date with the gallows.

Instead, may God find us busy doing the work of rescue and restoration.


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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.

Recipe for Greatness

What is it that makes people great?

Video of this message can be found here: https://youtu.be/ow1TdTlm8QM

Recipe for Greatness

September 19, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 31:10-31                 Mark 9:30-37                         James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

What does it take to be great?

We’ve heard of people like Alexander the Great, Peter the Great, Darius the Great (from the book of Daniel), Cyrus the Great (who captured Israel and carried them into the Babylonian captivity), there was Herod the Great in the time of Jesus, and Wikipedia says that there are 91 historical figures known as “the great” including kings, queens, military, religious, and mythological figures.  But obviously, even a list like that doesn’t include magicians that bill themselves that “the great” something-or-other, or a Muppet character like the ironically named, “The Great Gonzo.”  Nor do such lists include people that we would consider to be great in our more modern era, like General George Patton, President Eisenhower, Lee Iacocca, Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, or anyone else.  Referring to people as “the great,” in any form other than stage acts, seems to have fallen out of favor. 

But what is it that makes people great?

In scripture, King Lemuel’s mother had a few ideas, she taught them to her son, and he recorded them in Proverbs 31 (which, incidentally, is the only chapter that we know was essentially written by a woman).  We often hear Proverbs 31 referred to as the description of the “ideal woman” but today I want to avoid any sexism that might be lurking there, and as we read, I want you to consider what it is, that made King Lemuel, his mother, and the writers of Proverbs think that such a person was so great. (Proverbs 31:10-31)

(The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him)

10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.
22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

If you were keeping track, let’s compare what we saw in this ideal human being and see if anything there can inform us about what it is that makes us think of a person as “great.”  As I read, I saw that she does good, is trusting, works hard, is a provider, a negotiator, is perceptive, understanding, generous, kind, well-prepared, well-respected, wise, her kindness is repeated a second time, faithful, godly, and excellent.  And as I think about that list, the thing that I notice is that nearly all those things are things that were done for the benefit of others and not for herself alone.

Let’s hold on to that idea and move on to the story in Mark 9:30-37, when several of Jesus’ disciples argue among themselves about which of them is the greatest.

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Despite Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, that we heard last week, the disciples still don’t understand what Jesus was talking about when he said that he was going to die, be buried, and rise again.  And not only did they not understand, after Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” they’re all afraid to even ask Jesus what he meant when he said those things.  It is no accident that just as we are told that they lack understanding, we also see them arguing about who is the greatest and, in pairing these two ideas, Mark emphasizes that the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus had been trying to teach them all along about greatness and humility either.  Injecting himself into their argument, Jesus explains, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” and, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus not only emphasizes servanthood, but uses children, who had no rights, no property, and no voice as his example.  Children could offer them nothing in return.  Children had no political influence, and they were, perhaps, the epitome of people that might be described as “the least among us.”  And it is they that Jesus points to when he says that we welcome God when we care for, and about, them.  Jesus says that to be great, we must first be a servant of others, and that specifically means caring for those who have less than nothing.  Greatness is not about doing for “me” but about doing for others.

And just in case there is any doubt remaining in our minds, James piles on, repeats some of what we’ve already heard, and stirs in some additional clarity in James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a when he says:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? [that’s the same thing we heard in Proverbs, remember?] Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace forthose who make peace.

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so, you commit murder. And you covetsomething and cannot obtain it; so, you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

James says that we should demonstrate our faith through the good works that we do, wisely, for others and that the opposite of greatness is envy and selfishness.  Boasting out of ego and bending the truth to our own purposes are the hallmarks of earthly, unspiritual, and devilish wisdom because envy and selfishness bring disorder and wickedness along with them.  But real wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, flexible, merciful, and produces goodness without partiality or hypocrisy.  James continues by saying that conflicts between believers are caused by the selfish desires within us.  Our selfish desires turn into covetousness and cause us to fight with others to get what we want. 

All of that explains why God doesn’t answer our prayers.  God ignores our requests because we ask for ourselves and not for others.  God knows that the things for which we are asking will be spent on ourselves, on our comfort, and our pleasure and for that reason God says “no” and our prayers remain unanswered.  Instead of living selfishly, James says, we should surrender our lives, and our prayers, to God and draw near to him. 

The key to greatness is… selflessness.

The recipe for greatness flies in the face of the “me” generation, it runs contrary to the message of “get rich quick,” or “greed is good,” or “what’s in it for me” and stands in utter opposition to the message of the prosperity gospel and countless televangelists.   The real recipe for greatness isn’t about the accumulation of stuff, or amassing piles of money, power, or influence.  The recipe for greatness is about humility, compassion, persistence, producing good fruit, impartiality, peace, mercy, gentleness… and love.

When we put the needs of others ahead of our own, when we dedicate ourselves to using our power to serve others and not ourselves, and when we lift our prayers to heaven on behalf of others, then God will hear our prayers, and only then… will we discover greatness.


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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.

You Can’t Fix Stupid

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You Can’t Fix Stupid

September 12, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 1:20-33                   Mark 8:27-38             James 3:1-12

On August 4th, 1991, comic strip writer Jeff MacNelly, coined a phrase in his “Shoe” comic strip that has since passed into common usage across the nation and has been widely used in magazines, newspapers, movies, and at least one book title.  In that comic, newspaper editor “Shoe” calls downstairs to the press his press operator Eugene and says, “Yo, Eugene, how goes it down in the pressroom?”  and Eugene answers, “Horrid!  It’s your editorial page.  I can fix almost anything that runs on those presses… bit I can’t fix stupid.”

Some years later, in the movie “Forrest Gump,” the title character similarly says, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Given the frequency with which most of us do stupid things, it isn’t surprising that someone would say these kinds of things.  The surprising thing is that it took this long for someone to say it, particularly since a similar sentiment is expressed by God in Proverbs 1:20-33.  You’re probably surprised, but I’m serious.  In this passage we hear wisdom speak as if it were a real person, and it begins this way:

20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
    in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused,
    have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm,
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel,
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
    and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure
    and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Today we may say, “You can’t fix stupid” or “Stupid is as stupid does” but three thousand years ago God simply said, “How long will you love being stupid?”  God says that the skeptics delight too much in their skepticism and fools just hate knowledge but in doing so, all of them have ignored God’s advice and refused to hear God’s reprimands.  The result, God says, is that when the inevitable, but completely avoidable, disaster comes, and when they are up to their necks in alligators, in a full-fledged panic, and then call upon God to help them, God will not answer, and they will be utterly unable to find him.  God says that because they hated knowledge, and refused to listen to God’s advice, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their stupidity. 

Apparently, even God can’t fix stupid.  Or, more correctly, God simply won’t fix stupid.

In Proverbs, a personified Wisdom declares that the people who ignore God’s instruction, advice, counsel, and reproof are simple, stubborn, and stupid and God warns that if we ignore him in this way, he will leave us to suffer the consequences of our actions because the calamities and disasters that we experience will have been completely avoidable.  But even though we think we’re doing better than that at listening to God’s instructions, Jesus reprimands Peter for something that is a lot easier for us to fail at doing.  In Mark 8:27-38, we hear this:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

While Jesus is traveling to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, or the area we now know as the Golan Heights, he has a discussion with his disciples about who the people say that he is, and who the disciples think that he is.  But as Jesus describes his upcoming trial, death, and resurrection, Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for being such a fatalist and for thinking such negative thoughts.  But Jesus not only rebukes Peter in return, but he flat-out calls him “Satan” for losing his focus on the things of God and thinking too much about earthly politics and power.

Twenty-one centuries later, losing our focus on the divine, and thinking too much about politics, power, and other earthly problems remains an astoundingly easy thing to do.   And in that case, Jesus’ advice to us is to commit everything that we have, our time, our money, and even our lives to the cause and the mission of God, his kingdom, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

At the end of this passage, Jesus’ words echo those of Wisdom in Proverbs 1.  In Proverbs, Wisdom declares that God will leave those who ignored his teaching and correction to struggle without him through the disasters they could have avoided, and in Mark, Jesus declares that the people who abandon Jesus in this generation will be abandoned by God on the day of judgement.

But if the consistent message of God is that he will leave us in our time of trouble and abandon us on the day of judgement, then the message of scripture is hopeless and terrifying. 

But thank God, that’s not even a little bit true.

The message of scripture is quite the opposite.

In James 3:1-12, Jesus’ brother writes to the church and explains how we can make sure that these things never happen to us.  He says:

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine, figs? No more can saltwater yield fresh.

If I were to summarize James’ words as they apply to our message today, I would simply say that they mean…

Start small.

You don’t need to have a seminary degree.  You don’t need to read deep and difficult to understand treatises on theology, sociology, and morality.  You just need to start small.

Horses are huge, but they can be guided with a bridle and a bit that’s about the size of a pencil.  Ships are gigantic but they are guided by a rudder that is a tiny fraction of their size.  Fires can be incredibly destructive, but they get started by a tiny spark.  And if we want to get started doing the right thing, we need to start small and get control of our tongue.  And to do that, we need to take control of the choices that we make.

And that’s what all of this is about.  We all make choices.  We make hundreds, even thousands of choices every day.  We choose whether to brush our teeth, whether we will brush up and down, or from side to side.  We choose what clothes to wear, what shoes will be comfortable, what to eat for breakfast, how we want to make our coffee or tea, or other breakfast beverage, we make choices every waking moment of every day we walk the earth.  And among those choices are the words that come out of our mouths, and the things with which we will fill our hearts, our minds, and the very substance of our lives.  We get to choose whether we want to read the words of God.  We get to choose whether we listen to God’s instruction and advice.  And by making those choices, we will choose whether our spring is filled with salt water or fresh water, and whether the words that come out of our mouths are life giving.

In Proverbs, God says that he will pour out his thoughts, make his words known, call out to us, and stretch his hand out to catch us and to hold us.  But we still get to choose whether we will listen, hear, and obey.  We get to choose whether we will ignore God’s instruction and advice, but scripture is clear that making that choice… well…, is just stupid.

The message of scripture is clear about God’s incredible love and care for all his people, but we are free to ignore God.  We are free to ignore God’s instruction and advice, and we are free to live our lives without him.

But God’s reply is that if we stubbornly make those choices, God will allow us to be consumed by the consequences of those choices.

All that is required, is that we begin to make good choices.

Feel free to start small.

But be smart… and choose wisely.

Because there is a point after which…

…you can’t fix stupid.


*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.

Religion: Doers or Deception?

Religion: Doers or Deception?

August 29, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Song of Solomon 2:8-13              Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23             James 1:17-27

Have you ever been called a fake?

One of the worst accusations that our friends and acquaintances can level at us, is the accusation of being fake.  We don’t like fakes.  We don’t like fake friends, we don’t want to buy a fake Rolex watch, or a television that’s supposed to be a good name brand that turns out to be a fake.  The government has teams of people that regulate commerce by at least attempting to prevent the sale of fake products and it’s important.  Fake purses or fake watches fraudulently cost consumers money, but fake computer chips, or fake bolts, or fake gas valves, in critical applications can be deadly.  The government even has an entire department, the department of the Treasury, and the Secret Service, whose job it is to prevent people from printing fake money because enough fake currency could potentially destabilize our entire economy. 

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

Fake money can hurt the economy.  Fake products can hurt people.  And fake friends can do serious damage to our psychological and emotional well-being.

But there’s at least one more fake that we need to be concerned about, and that’s fake religion.

But before we get too far in that direction, let’s begin, not by looking at what is fake, but at what is real.  Let’s look at what real religion, real faith, looks like.  And to do that, let’s begin by reading from God’s love story contained in the Song of Solomon 2:8-13.

The voice of my beloved!
    Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
    looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away.

The story contained in the Song of Solomon isn’t just about the love that King Solomon had for his bride (or at least one of them) and she for him, but its inclusion in scripture at least hints that this love story might also be an allegory for God’s love for his people and, by extension, the church.  It describes a love that is tender, passionate, and filled with longing.  And, if we understand it this way, at the end of this passage we hear God calling his people to “come away” with him.  But even if, as some interpreters assert, that this is only about love, and not about our relationship with God, it still describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.  And although he never references the Song of Songs, that kind of pure relationship seems to be exactly what Jesus is getting at in his conversation with the Pharisees in Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not liveaccording to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The Pharisees and the scribes rigorously and religiously adhered to traditions that were not required by scripture, and they criticized Jesus’ disciples for not following them as well.  Their implication was that the disciples, and Jesus, were not sufficiently faithful to God because they failed to adhere to these man-made traditions.  And Jesus’ response was to criticize them for treating the traditions of human beings as if they were the doctrines and teachings of God, and at the same time, ignoring and disobeying the real commandments of God.  Jesus says that the intentions of our hearts matter, what we think about matters, that sex, theft, murder, greed, wickedness, loose living, envy, slander, pride, deception, and sometimes even just foolishness are evil things that come from the inside, and it is those things, the things that that come out of us, that defile us. 

Jesus says that it is the faith of the Pharisees that is lacking and not the faith of his disciples.  Because, while his disciples may have eaten lunch without washing their hands and dishes in exactly the right way, it is the Pharisees who are harboring these sorts of evil desires inside themselves.  For Jesus, real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

Jesus’ brother James echoes this same language, and this same understanding, as he describes what real faith looks like in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ in James 1:17-27 when he says…

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselvesin a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

In this passage, and in a whole lot of other ones, James makes the argument that faith is not an abstract concept, thought experiment, or something that is only internal and private.  Faith is not something that we do for show, it is not an act, but instead is life changing and transformative.  Faith isn’t something that we can practice in the privacy of our own homes without anyone noticing, but changes who we are, how we think, how we care for ourselves and one another, and is reflected outward in everything that we do.  Faith, James says, is revealed not when we become believers, but when we become doers of God’s word.

The Song of Solomon describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.

And since we know that faith is an expression of the loving relationship that we have with God, we understand when Jesus says that real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

And just like a real, tender, and passionate loving relationship, real faith changes us.  We’ve seen it all in the movies as well as in real life.  When two people are really in love with one another, it’s almost impossible to hide it.  Real love isn’t fake or deceptive.  Real love, and real faith, aren’t just words, but are pure, life changing, and transformative.  They change the way that we think, the way that we live, and the way that we act, and they are lived out in everything that we do.

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

We don’t like fake purses, fake watches, fake televisions, fake money, fake friends, or fake relationships.

And the same is true about faith.

Real faith isn’t just and act. 

Real faith isn’t evil.

Real faith can’t have anything to do with fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply grows out of a pure and loving relationship with God and with Jesus Christ.

Real faith produces generosity, truth, patience, righteousness, purity, openness, humility, mercy, compassion, and love that is unstained by the world.

If it’s real, faith isn’t something that we only have in our heads, or even in our hearts.  When its real, faith is transformative and is revealed, and demonstrated to the world in everything that we do.

Let us not only be hearers of God’s word.

Let us instead commit ourselves to being doers of the word so that the world can know that what we have…

…is real.


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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.

Live. If. Unless. Always.

Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/4fI64mGGvAY


ALWAYS read the fine print

Live.  If.  Unless.  Always.

August 15, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14                     John 6:51-58              Ephesians 5:15-20

You should always be sure to read the fine print.

You know what I mean.  Department stores do it all the time.  You get an ad in the mail that says there is 75 percent off “everything” but in the tiny print at the very bottom, it says that the sale doesn’t apply to clothing, toys, housewares, and just about everything else in the store.  I read one of those once and I was hard pressed to think of anything that wasn’t excluded in the fine print.

You see commercials on television selling amazing new drugs that say that they can cure all sorts of things, but in the fine print warn you about side effects that sound a lot worse than the thing you want a cure for.  Military recruiters promise that they’ll put you into a particular school, or job, but we all know that the fine print in your contract basically says, “we promise to give this to you… unless we can’t, and then we can do anything we please.”

So common is this experience with fine print, that we often have our own lawyers look over important contracts so that we can discover and understand what has been hidden in the fine print.  And so many of us have seen it, or been burned by it, that we all understand what it means when people describe the fine print by saying, “The devil is in the details.”

But if we read carefully, the strange thing is that sometimes God is in the details too.  Sometimes God makes us promises that come with some fine print, and it is important for us to read and understand exactly what God is, and is not, promising.  We begin this morning as David dies and is buried with his ancestors, and as his son Solomon takes his place on the throne of Israel.  And, at that moment, Solomon receives one of history’s greatest and well-known blessings.  But if we pay close attention, that blessing came with some fine print. (1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14)

2:10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

3:3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

This exchange between Solomon and God is well-known even among people with no religious background.  God tells Solomon to ask for whatever he wants, and rather than asking for money, power, or a long life, Solomon asks instead for a discerning heart so that he would be able to rule well.  God is so pleased with Solomon’s request, that he chooses to not only give him the thing for which he asked, but also all those things for which he did not ask.  God promises to give Solomon wisdom, but also wealth, honor, and a long life.

And right there is the fine print.

God promises to give Solomon wealth and power no matter what, but his promise of a long life comes with fine print.  God says that he will give Solomon a long life… IF he obeys God and keeps his decrees and commandments as well as his father David had.  Of course, we know that David wasn’t perfect, so God isn’t requiring Solomon to be perfect, but God has an exclusion clause.  If Solomon doesn’t keep his part of the deal, God can end his contract and find another king that will.

And if you are tempted to think that this is a unique case, we discover that Jesus does the same thing in John 6:51-58 when he says:

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 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.”

Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  And then, a little bit later he says, “the one who feeds on me will live, because of me” and, “whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  This is exclusionary, small print, language.  Jesus doesn’t say that because he came to earth, everyone will live forever.  Jesus doesn’t say that anyone who has communion once, or who comes to church once, or who comes to church for a while and then quits, or who choose to follow him for a while and then quits, all get to live forever.  Jesus says, “the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”  The implication of this language is that eating and drinking the flesh of the Son of Man is an ongoing, continuous action and not something that we do once and then coast.  This is almost exactly like God’s wording in his promise to Solomon when he said, “if you walk in obedience.”  These are a future tense that implies a continuous action and not something that is accomplished once and completed.

Paul emphasizes this in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he says in Ephesians 5:15-20:

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul says, don’t be foolish.  Don’t just get drunk to dull the pain and then allow yourself to get drawn into sin.  Instead, fill yourself, and your time, with spiritual things so that you will… always give thanks to God… for everything.  Paul echoes what we heard from the stories of Solomon and Jesus and emphasizes that following Jesus isn’t something that we do once, or for a little while, and then coast.  Following Jesus, being filled by the Spirit, caring for one another, worshiping together, and giving thanks to God are things that we are to do continuously or, as Paul said, “always.”

They say that the devil is in the details, but so is God.

From Solomon, we learned that we must not just be obedient, but that we must keep on being obedient and continuously keep God’s decrees and commands throughout our lives.

From Jesus, we learned that we must continue to share in the Lord’s supper, to continue to feed on the word of God and remain in love with Jesus.

And from Paul, we learned that we must always fill our time, and our souls, with spiritual things, and always give thanks to God.

Following Jesus has never been “one and done.”  We cannot claim Jesus once, or follow Jesus once, or go to church once, and say that we’re done.  Even the verb “to follow” is a continuous tense.  It is a thing that we begin to do, and never stop.

Because, when we read the fine print, we understand that what Jesus said was, if you do this… continuously, you will… truly…

…live.


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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.

Worthy

Worthy

August 01, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a                    John 6:24-35              Ephesians 4:1-16

What does it mean to be “worthy”?

We hear the word used a lot, but what does it mean?

The dictionary definition helps a little.  It says:

wor·thy (/ˈwərT͟Hē/)

adjective

“issues worthy of further consideration”

To repeat, “having, or showing, the qualities or abilities, that merit recognition in a specified way.”

In practice, we use this a lot.  We consider whether a scout, or a military person, or an employee is worthy of promotion to the next rank or to a new job.  We consider whether a political candidate, or Carnation Festival queen candidate is worthy of our vote. 

But why does any of that matter to us in church as the followers of Jesus Christ?

For the moment, just trust me that it does matter.  And hopefully, you will understand why before we finish.

We begin in 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a as we remember the story of how God sent the prophet Samuel to confront David for his sin in sleeping with Bathsheba and in murdering her husband Uriah.

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

12:1 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup, and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

The story begins by saying that what David had done “displeased the Lord.”  God was not happy.  God expected better from David.  God expected better for the leader of the nation of Israel, and David had fallen short of God’s expectations.  But one of the things that makes this story so compelling, is that when he was confronted by Samuel, and was asked to judge the rich man in the story, David angrily demands swift punishment for the rich man and condemns himself in the process.  When confronted with his own actions, David makes it clear that he has not only fallen short of God’s expectations, but he has fallen far short of his own expectations as well.  God deserved better.  Israel deserved better.  And, although it’s too late to do anything about it, clearly Uriah deserved better as well.

And then, in John 6:24-35, as crowds of people follow Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand, we discover that not everyone who followed Jesus did so for the right reasons.

24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Some of the people following Jesus are doing so because he has given them food to eat, and they want more.  But Jesus encourages them not to expend their work and energy for food that spoils, but instead to work for food that lasts for eternal life.  Jesus says that they can get this eternal food from the Son of Man, upon whom God has placed his seal of approval and considers to be worthy.

But the people demand that Jesus feed them like God gave their ancestors manna in the time of Moses.  In the end, Jesus simply says that God has already given them the true bread because he himself is “the bread of life.” 

Let’s step back a moment and consider what we know.  God chose David from among the entire nation of Israel.  David was said to be “a man after God’s own heart.”  We would be safe in thinking that God thought David was worthy of being Israel’s king.  But even so, David fell short of God’s expectations as well as his own.

Jesus was worthy of God’s seal of approval and his life, and his death, are evidence of that.

But what does that mean?  What does worthiness have to do with us?  And why does it matter?

We find the answer in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 4:1-16, where Paul says:

4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows, and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

I urge you to live a life that is worthy of the calling that you have received.

Let me say that again.

I urge you to live a life that is worthy of the calling that you have received.

David was called to be the king of Israel.  God had judged him to be worthy of being king, but David didn’t always live up to God’s expectations.  David fell short and didn’t always live a life that was worthy of the calling that he had received.  And so, Paul encourages his church, and us, to live a life that is worthy of the calling that we have received, to do our very best to live up to God’s expectations of us.

The next question is, what would that look like?  What would it look like if we lived lives of worthiness?  And Paul’s answer is that living up to God’s expectations means that we would lives that are completely humble, gentle, compassionate, and patient with one another, lives that make every effort to be united in Spirit through the bonds of peace.  And, more than just living lives of individual struggle, we are to work together to equip one another for works of service, to learn and to grow in knowledge and in faith so that we might all become mature followers who can each do their share of the work for the Kingdom of God.

We aren’t just called to claim Jesus as our savior… and then coast. 

We were called to expend ourselves, to work toward a common goal, to learn, to grow, and help others to learn and to grow, so that everyone might become mature disciples of Jesus and share the work of building the Kingdom of God.

God has called us just as he called David.  

And God has expectations of us just as he had expectations of David.

May we struggle, work, and make every effort to live lives that are worthy of God’s calling.


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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.

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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