Not (Im)Possible

Not (Im)Possible

June 20, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-49                         Mark 4:35-41             2 Corinthians 6:1-13

What do you do when you face the impossible?  Of course, that impossible thing could be all sorts of different situations from being outnumbered, to facing impending deadlines, to going back to school as an adult, to a difficult situation at work, to facing down a rival or a bully, or finding your way through a difficult financial situation, to being lost, alone, and afraid, and all sorts of other things.  And, naturally, since we’re talking about overcoming giants, we’re going to begin with the story that even secular writers talk about when they try to describe impossible situations, and that is, not surprisingly, the story of David and Goliath.  And because we’re starting with that familiar story, and because I don’t want to skip over too many important parts of it, today’s message is more Bible story than it is sermon, but I’m sure that I will manage to throw in a few good words along the way to tie thing together. 

But, because the story of David and Goliath is so long, we’re going to start somewhere in the middle.  We begin reading in 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-49:

17:1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. [about 9’ 9” – for reference, Shaquille O’Neill is 7’1”] He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels [125 lbs.]; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels [15 lbs.]. His shield bearer went ahead of him.

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. 14 David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.

16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.

17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah [about 36 lbs.] of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance[token] from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines, and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”

26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”

28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it, and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So, he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

David was young.  His father didn’t yet place a lot of trust in him.  He was too young to go to war when King Saul had called the nation to arms to fight against the Philistines.  David’s brothers thought he was a useless little twerp with an oversized ego.  And worse yet, the enemy that Israel faced was literally so gigantic that even the best trained warriors ran and hid themselves whenever he showed up.  Goliath was a man who, today, could literally set his drink on the roof of a tractor trailer, climb a flight of stairs in two or three steps, and who carried, and could throw, a spear that was like a pole with a bowling ball on the end.  He was not just huge, but also immensely strong, everyone was afraid to even think about fighting against him, and no one who ever had ever done so had lived to tell the tale.

Except, out of all the farmers, shepherds, field hands, servants, and ordinary men who had answered Saul’s call to arms, and out of all the professional warriors and charioteers that were regularly employed, and trained, by the king, including King Saul himself, the only person that was willing to fight was the twerpy little brother whose brothers tried to send home.  And the reason that David wasn’t afraid, was because, as we discussed last week, David’s perspective was different.  David didn’t look at Goliath and see how much smaller David was in comparison, David looked at the wider perspective and saw how much smaller Goliath looked than God.

And in the story of Mark 4:35-41, Jesus takes on an even more impossible giant.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

From the perspective of the Disciples, and almost any other “reasonable” person, the weather, and other natural forces, are the ultimate uncontrollable situation, the ultimate impossible opponent, or the ultimate Goliath.  Nature cannot be reasoned with, bullied, encouraged, persuaded, or controlled.  Nature will do what nature will do. 

But that wasn’t how Jesus saw it.

From Jesus’ perspective, nature was just one more part of creation that fell under God’s control.  Jesus scolded the wind as a parent rebukes a misbehaving child… and the wind stopped.

Often in our lives, we have been, and will be, faced with impossible situations.  We might be outnumbered, facing impending deadlines, going back to school, have struggles at work, be facing a rival or a bully, finding ourselves in a difficult financial situation, be lost, alone, and afraid, and all sorts of other things.  But whatever our Goliath may be, our perspective makes all the difference.  If all that we see is giant that rests his beer on the roof of a semi-trailer, or an uncontrollable storm that intends to leave us for dead, then we will hide from his threats or huddle in the bottom of the boat.  But if we remember that our God is bigger than any trouble in all of creation, all our problems, and all our “Goliaths” will seem far less frightening.  Jesus knew, and David trusted, that God was able to defeat their impossible Goliaths whether they were giants, or uncontrollable forces of nature.  Like them, the key to surviving, and even thriving, when we face the impossible, is to maintain the right perspective.  Instead of seeing that our giants are bigger than we are, we must remember that how small those giants really are in comparison to God.

Victory against the impossible is possible… with God.

We won’t win every time, but even when we don’t, we hold on to Jesus and remember that he said…

… “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/c_P203OfI5M

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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 Life Out of Focus

A Life Out of Focus

June 13, 2021*

(Trinity Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15                            Mark 3:20-35                         2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Are you acting like a hamster in a cage?

Quite a few years ago, I heard a story on the radio in which the storyteller which, if my memory is good (and that is often doubtful), was James Dobson from Focus on the Family.  But the story that he told was about a pet hamster that they had in the living room, in a cage, on the coffee table.  And for hours, that hamster, who was aware of his captivity, worked tirelessly to escape.  The hamster knew that the cage door that opened at feeding time held the possibility of his escape and continually pawed, poked, pried, and prodded at that cage door in hopes of finding a way to freedom. 

But the storyteller saw something that the hamster didn’t.  On the floor, beside the sofa, not far from the hamster cage, lay the family cat.  The eyes of that cat were locked on that hamster and never left.  If the hamster had been able to find a weakness in his cage or manage to squeeze through a gap in the door, his freedom would have been cut surprisingly and shockingly short.  That cage, which from the hamster’s perspective was a prison was, from a wider perspective, the only thing that stood between him and a quick death from the claws and teeth of the cat.

Just like that hamster, we often make errors in judgement because our focus is too narrow.  We are focused on ourselves, or on today, or even tomorrow, and the choices that we make based on that narrow focus, ultimately prove to be shortsighted, or even harmful, when we look back on them twenty years later.  I have known quite a few people who, when they approached retirement, have fervently wished that they had done a better job of saving and investing when they were thirty years younger. 

And it is exactly that sort of out-of-focus thinking, when viewed from a different perspective, that we often see in the spiritual stories of scripture.  The first of these we will read today comes from first Samuel chapters eight and eleven, when the people of Israel demanded that God give them a king, not because they needed one, but because everyone else had one.  (1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15)

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to leadus, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so, he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

11:14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

Samuel knew that having a king was a bad idea.  Samuel told the people that it was a bad idea and that doing so would be offensive to God.  But the story tells us that “the people refused to listen to Samuel,” They demanded a king, and God gave the Saul who had the same lack of vision that the people had.

But shortsightedness and lack of vision isn’t something that mystically ended as we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament, nor is it even something to which Jesus’ own family was immune.  IN Mark 3:20-35, we hear this story of Jesus casting out demons:

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

As I noted, there are two groups to be considered here, and each has their own expectations and their own agenda, and those expectations, as well as those agendas, constrain their vision and make them unable to gain a broader perspective.  The first of these groups is Jesus’ own family.  When they hear that Jesus is drawing such an enormous crowd, and that people are coming to see him cast out demons, their assumption is that he has gone completely around the bend, lost his mind, and gone insane.  From their perspective, Jesus was their son, or their brother, the oldest son of Joseph the builder, a guy that was supposed to be home, managing the family business, and taking care of his mother.  Despite the miracles that Mary saw at the time of Jesus’ birth, none of them can understand that Jesus might be more than just a tradesman who was supposed to be at home caring for his responsibilities to his family. 

The second group that we see are the teachers of the law, who are so fixated on following the rules, preserving, and controlling the status quo, and protecting the insiders by keeping the riffraff outside where they belonged, they are unable to comprehend that Jesus, a common, uneducated tradesman, and laborer from the rural sticks, could possibly be doing what people said that he was doing.  And, when they found that he was indeed casting out demons, simply because he was not one of them, a member of the established church leadership, and one of the insiders, they can only assume that God is not with him and so his power must come from the devil instead.

Just like the elders and leaders of Israel in the time of Samuel, and a lot like that hamster, the wants, wishes, desires, and biases of each group, cause them to be shortsighted, lose focus, and be unable to have enough perspective to see what was really happening.  Twenty-one centuries later, all we need to do is open a newspaper, turn on a television, or open a web browser to see that people, inside and outside of the church, are still suffering from that same lack of vision.  But in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul passes along some advice on how to keep our lives in focus. (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1)

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit offaith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Paul begins by laying out what our perspective should be, we believe in Jesus, that God raised Jesus from the dead, will one day raise each of us from the dead, and that same grace is extended to more people every day.  With that perspective, Paul says, even when we are suffering and wasting away, inwardly we are renewed, and our momentary troubles are forgotten because our hope for the future outweighs any of our earthly struggles.  Because we have this perspective, because we have this vision, we do not focus on our struggles, our pain, loss, grief, and suffering, but instead focus on our faith, our mission, and our eternal future. 

When we fail to do that, when we fail to maintain that perspective, we begin to live our life out of focus and we are distracted by our wants, wishes, desires, biases, irrelevant theological disputes, partisan politics, pain, passion, power, and all sorts of other things then we become just like that hamster.  We find ourselves struggling to open a gate that will only result in our being torn apart and eaten by a more powerful enemy than we ever imagined. 

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, let us keep our focus on our mission, our faith, and our eternal future. 

Because only then will we be able to live our lives in focus.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/6eMmREiy2fM

Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.

Squeezed Out

, toothpaste

Squeezed Out

June 06, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Samuel 3:1-20                     Mark 2:23-3:6                        2 Corinthians 4:5-12

What’s in your tube of toothpaste?

I have – at more than one church – taught a children’s message with a tube of toothpaste.  Well, to be fair, it used to be a tube of toothpaste.  But some time ago, I took most of the toothpaste out of it and carefully refilled it with chocolate frosting.  When I teach this lesson, I ask the children what they think is in the tube and, since it says “toothpaste” right on it, and it has a major brand name and familiar logo, the kids don’t hesitate to guess that it is filled with toothpaste.  But, when I open it, and squeeze the tube, they are surprised, and maybe a little revolted, when what come out looks is brown.  At that point, at least one child has announced to the congregation that it was full of poop and then, to prove that it wasn’t, or maybe just to see their reaction, I ate some. 

The point of this surprising visual aid is to remind everyone that our lives are like that tube of toothpaste.  What come out of the tube when it is squeezed and under pressure, is whatever we put in it in the first place.  If you fill the tube with toothpaste, that’s what come out when you squeeze it, but if you fill it with chocolate, you’ll get that instead.  Over the course of our lives, we will fill our hearts, our minds, and our souls… with many things.  And when we are squeezed by life, when we find ourselves under stress and pressure, what come out will be the things that we put in.  If we fill our hearts, minds, and souls with good things, generosity, goodness, faith, then good things will come out.  But if we fill ourselves with profanity, greed, selfishness, and those sorts of things, then that is what will come out of us when life inevitably puts the squeeze on us.  And that is exactly what we see in our scriptures for today in some expected, and some unexpected ways.  We begin with the story of God’s judgment of Eli, the priest who was training the prophet Samuel.  Eli was generally a good man, but his sons weren’t and, well, let’s read the story (1 Samuel 3:1-20).

3:1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night, Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am.  You called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So, he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am.  You called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am.  You called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So, Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

Eli tried to be a good man and a good priest, and he generally succeeded, except for when it came to his sons.  His two sons became priests who were without morals and who, although they wore the clothes, and had the job titles, didn’t follow God.  God had warned Eli that he would be judged if he did not correct his sons but even with and explicit warning, Eli did nothing.  The harsh condemnation from God that we read here was that Eli, and his family, would be judged forever “because of the sin that he knew about” and did nothing.  Eli was the senior priest.  He outranked his sons in status and seniority.  But even though Eli knew about the terrible things that his sons were doing, he did not rebuke them, or correct them, or reprimand them, or punish them, or remove them from office.  Despite knowing that his sons were abusing their power, blaspheming God, and hurting people, Eli… did nothing. 

This is a harsh reminder for us because Eli is not condemned for doing evil or for being a bad person.  Eli’s sin was in knowing that wrong was being done… and doing nothing.  Eli’s sin was not in what he did, but in failing to do anything to stop what he knew was wrong.  God’s condemnation of Eli is a stark reminder that we are our brother’s keeper, and that God will hold us accountable for our inaction when we fail to do anything when we know that evil is being done even if we aren’t the ones who are doing wrong.

And, although once again the bad guys in the story of Mark 2:23-3:6 are church leaders, we are told of an entirely different sort of condemnation.

23 One Sabbath, Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

3:1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

The pharisees were following Jesus and looking for things with which they could accuse him.  This is a lot like one of those police dramas on television where a dirty cop follows someone around just so that they can give them a ticket of accuse them of some other violation.  What happens is that while they are walking, Jesus and the disciples get hungry, snap the heads off some wheat, and eat it.  Ignoring for a moment that our twenty-first century dirty cop might accuse them of petty theft, the dirty pharisee cop accuses them of violating the law by harvesting on the sabbath.  But in response, Jesus reminds them that King David, whom everyone loves, committed a far worse act by eating the bread that had been left on the altar and consecrated to God.  The law was clear that only priests were allowed to eat such bread, but Jesus says that the sabbath was made to serve the followers of God and not to enslave them. 

Jesus saw this same prejudice as he was preparing to heal a man with a shriveled hand.  He knew that his nitpicking critics would accuse him of working on the sabbath if he healed the man’s hand, and so he asks them in advance if it is lawful do good, or to save a life, on the sabbath.  Jesus’ question corners them into silence because they couldn’t openly say that doing good, or saving a life, was against the law but because Jesus had outwitted them, again, and publicly embarrassed them, again, they began to plot to kill Jesus instead.

But what does any of that mean for us twenty-one centuries later?

And as is often the case, people in the church were asking the same question twenty centuries ago, and in his second letter to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:5-12), Paul offers this answer:

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Paul says that we are alive, but we are “given over to death.”  Or to think of it in another way, we are alive, but we must endure the life that we have, we must suffer, struggle, and go through trials and difficult times for the sake of Jesus so that Jesus might be revealed in us and through us.  That’s so important I’m going to say it again.  We go through difficult times and endure difficult experiences, SO THAT Jesus might be revealed in us.  We are squeezed so that the world can see what is inside of us.  We come under stress and pressure so that the people around us can see what we have inside

But what comes out of us when we are squeezed, depends entirely on the things with which we have allowed ourselves to be filled.  Even though he was a priest, Eli’s comfort was so important that he did nothing about the injustice, sin, and blasphemy being committed by his sons.  And God, and everyone else, saw it.  Even though they were the church leaders, when Jesus pushed back, the darkness, greed, and addiction to power that they harbored inside of them came to the surface and was revealed to the world.

Everyone knows that this life is rarely easy.  At some point, all of us will be squeezed, and what comes out will reveal to our neighbors, and to the world, what things we have fed to our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

It isn’t optional.

It will happen.

The only question is what you will choose to pour into your heart, your mind, and your soul.

Choose wisely.


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