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.


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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.

Named by Destiny

Named by Destiny

December 27, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 61:10-62:3                               Galatians 4:4-7                      Luke 2:22-40

There are certain events in history that become defining moments of whole nations, or even entire eras of history.  Some completely unknown, ancient person dared to experiment with the chemistry of molten metal in an attempt to make brass harder.   And, without ever realizing it, their success ushered in a new era of technology and warfare that we still refer to as the Bronze Age.   The coronation of Queen Victoria effectively named a hundred years of history, style, and culture that is still referred to as the Victorian Era.  In 230 BC, Ying Zheng unleashed the final campaigns of the Warring States period, conquered the remaining states nearby in the fall of 221 BC and unified what became known as the empire of Qin, or more commonly in English, China as it has been known for the last two thousand years. 

At 5:30 am, on July 16, 1945, 210 miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico, on the barren plains of the Alamogordo Bombing Range, the United States Department of Defense triggered the explosion of a single device that released 18.6 kilotons of explosive power and marked the beginning, of what has been known ever since, as the Atomic Age.  There are many such moments that define history and many smaller moments that define each one of us.  We also find these moments in scripture.  These are moments that define generations of people, and ages of time.  In Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3, the prophet of God looks forward to a day that will become a turning point, and a defining moment, for the nation of Israel, for the entire world, and for all of us thousands of years later.  Isaiah said:

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
    her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
    and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Isaiah sees a day in his future when God changes the destiny of Israel.  God will dress the people in new clothing like a bride and groom are prepared for their wedding, and the entire nation of Israel will be lifted up, glorified in the eyes of the world, and vindicated after all her years of suffering and ridicule at the hands of nations like the Philistines, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, and others.  Isaiah sees a moment when all the nations of the world will bow down to Israel’s’ king and Israel will be so transformed that even its name will be changed to reflect its new destiny.

And then, in Luke 2:22-40, we see a moment that, however small it may first appear, is a defining moment for two senior citizen clergy persons, for one poor family from an unpopular village, and that moment became a light, a beacon, that is seen still today as a transformative moment in history for millions of believers.

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismissyour servant in peace.  30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

God had promised Simeon that he would live to see the birth of God’s promised messiah.  For reasons that he may not have understood, he was drawn to the temple to serve with his tribe even though he could have been excused for his age.  And, at the moment that he saw Mary and Joseph, and took their baby into his arms, he knew that God had kept his promise and marveled at what God was about to do, and how this tiny infant was going to change the world.

And it didn’t only happen once.  Anna was a prophet and had lived in the temple since she had been widowed many decades earlier.  And she too, for reasons unknown to her, was drawn to the place where Simeon was with Mary, Joseph, and their baby.  And upon her arrival, she knew exactly who Jesus was, and who he would become.  This was a turning point in history.  Anna knew that from that moment on, Israel, and the world, was going to change.  God was beginning the process of redefining history just as Isaiah had seen and had prophesied. 

But two thousand years later, those moments still matter.  It wasn’t just the naming of a new age, or the birth of a new nation, or the discovery of a new powerful technology.  It was something much more than that.  Something far grander than that.  Something more pivotal to the lives of everyday people like us and in Galatians 4:4-7 The apostle Paul writes to explain it to his church this way:

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Paul says that the impact of the messiah Jesus on history is much more than the fulfillment of prophecy or keeping God’s promise to two elderly clergy persons.  The impact of Jesus’ arrival means the offer of transformation to ordinary people like us.  It means an invitation to be dressed as though we are on our way to our own wedding, renamed, adopted as children by the creator of the universe, and loved so intimately that we call our creator “Abba” or in English, “Papa” or “Daddy.”  We were transformed in that moment two thousand years ago.  Because of that moment, we are no longer slaves but children of God and heirs to the kingdom of the creator of everything.

It is because of that moment that we are who we are.

It is because of that moment that we are invited to become the people of God’s imagination and vision.

It is because of that moment that God is at work transforming us into something greater than we can ever ask or imagine.

It is because of that moment that we can call ourselves, Christ-ians.

And now it’s up to us to live, and to love, as if that destiny matters.


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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.

Finding Meaning in Disaster

Finding Meaning in Disaster

August 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 45:1-15         Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                     Matthew 15:21-28

Can any good come from the chaos and loss of life caused by the Coronavirus?  Yes.

But, how does a disaster that destroys lives, end up saving lives?

Before we think about today, let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the HMS Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912, 1500 lives were lost and newspapers around the world carried stories about it under gigantic, bold print headlines that filled most of the space above the fold of the paper.  It was a terrible tragedy and one of the greatest maritime disasters in all of history.  But as bad as it was, that disaster has saved the lives of a great number of people in the hundred years since it happened. 

So, how does a disaster save lives?

In the case of the Titanic, the news was so big, and so bold, that many things changed quickly and many more over a longer period.  First, while radio was only an experiment at the time of the Titanic sinking, and only a few ships were equipped with them.  And, while the USS Californian, which was the closest ship to the Titanic at only 20 miles away, had one of the new wireless transmitters, they only had one radio operator who had gone off-duty and to bed before the Titanic sank. 

Because of the sinking of the Titanic, radio use was regulated so that all ships would have radios and that they would have trained operators around the clock.  Further, the radio act of 1912 required that any ships receiving, or observing, a distress call, immediate attempt to render aid.  The Titanic sinking also led to requirements that life jackets be available for every passenger, that every passenger receive training in what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency, that crews be trained in the use of emergency lifeboats, and that each ship should carry enough lifeboats to carry every passenger and crew.  And those were just the things that happened quickly.  Over the long-term, the designs ships everywhere were changed to make them safer, particularly considering the things that failed to save the Titanic.

And with the story of the Titanic in our minds, rewind history even farther to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament that we find in Genesis 45:1-15.  Although the entire story of Joseph is an incredible tale, and although I am enormously frustrated that our lectionary has skipped from the beginning of the story that we read last week to the very end of the story this week, there is still much to be learned.  To catch us up, after Joseph was sold to Midianite merchants by his brothers, he was taken to Egypt, sold as a slave, falsely accused, imprisoned by that false accusation, and then rose a position second only to the Pharaoh of Egypt when God allowed him to interpret the nightmares that had been sent by God to plague the sleep of the Pharaoh for nights on end.  That dream told of a coming famine that would devastate the land, and Joseph’s interpretation, and his administration, allowed Egypt to store enough food to survive.  And then, during the famine, Joseph own brothers, the same ones who had sold him into slavery, travelled to Egypt to beg for food.  But when they stood in front of the administrator to beg for food, they unknowingly stood in front of their brother Joseph who had been so changed by the passage of time and the culture of Egypt, that none of them recognized him.  And then, after torturing them enough to make them bring his brother Benjamin on a second visit, Joseph reveals himself to them.

45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So, there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks, and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Considering our present situation, I want to point out that despite the betrayal of his brothers and many years of slavery, abuse, and imprisonment, Joseph doesn’t hold a grudge.  His brothers are understandably terrified that, because Joseph is now the second most powerful person in Egypt, that he will take his revenge upon them.  But he doesn’t.  But despite the terrible things that happened to him, Joseph learned from his experiences.  Second, Joseph’s closeness with God was the one thing that made it possible for him to see what the Egyptians could not.  It was Joseph’s relationship with God that allowed him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and that, in turn, led to Joseph’s appointment as the overseer of all Egypt, their food production, storage, preparations for, and management of the nation to navigate through seven years of prosperity and seven years of famine.

In an entirely different story found in Matthew 15:21-28, we see a similar vision of the world as Jesus meets a Canaanite woman with a terrible problem.

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So, his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes, it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This story is unusual because while we often think of Jesus, as we saw in the feeding of the five thousand (or fifteen thousand),  as being always being ready and willing to help people, in this story, Jesus tries really hard, three times, to make this woman go away.  At first, Jesus completely ignores her, but the disciples urge him to send her away because she is being a nuisance.  And so, with their encouragement, Jesus tells the woman that he was sent to care for the Jews who had been lost to God and that taking care of foreigners was not his job.  But even that did not dissuade her, and so Jesus tells her, quite clearly, that she is not his priority because it wouldn’t be right to take something away from God’s people and throw it to the dogs. 

But this is where the woman demonstrates that she sees the world differently than most other people.  Rather than thinking of God, and God’s power, as a finite and limited resource, the Canaanite woman sees God as infinite and that the healing for which she asks is of no more value to God than the crumbs that fall from a rich man’s table.  And it is this understanding, and this faith in God, that leads Jesus to heal give the Canaanite woman what she wanted, and he heals her daughter, from a distance, without ever meeting her.

Both Joseph and the Canaanite woman were blessed by God because they saw the world through a lens of faith in the power of God.  It was the Canaanite woman’s vision and faith that allowed her to see God’s power, and see Jesus, in a different way and that vision, and that faith, was rewarded.  It was Joseph’s vision and faith that allowed him to see what the Egyptians and all their wise men could not.  And it was that vision and faith elevated him to one of the most powerful positions in the ancient world, allowed him to guide Egypt, one of the world’s greatest super powers, through a time of great crisis and, at the same time, rescue family, and God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob, and lay the groundwork for the protection of the future nation of Israel until it had grown enough, eight hundred years later, to survive on its own.

Watching her daughter suffer from an incurable demon possession year in, and year out, must have been incredibly difficult for the Canaanite woman.  Obviously, being betrayed by his own brothers, and enduring years of imprisonment and slavery had to be agonizing.  But it was their vision and faith in God, through those difficult circumstances, that allowed them to receive the blessings of God and overcome those circumstances.

And that brings us to our present, twenty-first century crisis during this global Coronavirus pandemic.  As we are enduring these difficult circumstances, these stories from scripture call us to examine ourselves.  We should be asking ourselves, at least these two questions: 1) Do we have the kind of vision and faith in God that Joseph and the Canaanite woman had?  And, 2) What is God what is God showing us in our present circumstances, what is God calling us to see in the world around us, that the world is missing?  How should we see the world, our community, our neighbors, our friends, and the people around us, that we can only see through the lens of faith in the power of God?

Let us pray that we will see the vision that God is revealing before it is too late.

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here:https://youtu.be/vJmCWUfz4TQ

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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.

Near-Sighted Death

Near-Sighted Death

August 04, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23        Colossians 3:1-11         Luke 12:13-21

 

broken-glassesHow many of you wear glasses or contact lenses?

Of those, are you near-sighted?  Or far-sighted?  If you forget which-is-which, just remember that if you can read without glasses, you are near-sighted and if you can drive a car without glasses, you are far-sighted.

Those of us who wear glasses are constantly aware that driving without our glasses would be dangerous to ourselves and others.  Even the Bureau of Motor Vehicles thinks so and they put a restriction on our driver’s license that declares it to be a legal offense to drive without our glasses.

But although we know that near-sightedness can be dangerous, that isn’t the kind of near-sightedness that we need to talk about.  Although it might be described as near-sightedness, the vision problem that we are warned about in scripture is an entirely different, and far more widespread, problem than the one that can be corrected with eyeglasses.

We begin this morning with a reading from the book of Ecclesiastes, a book that was likely written by the wise King Solomon, but as we read it, we quickly discover that Solomon must have been in a very dark emotional place while he was writing. (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23)

1:2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

1:12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

2:17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

Up until the end of our reading, Solomon is focused entirely on what the world can give him.  The word the he often repeats is, “meaningless” and, in Hebrew, this can be understood to mean something that is empty, futile, or transient.  Solomon knows that everything that he, and his father, have worked so hard to accomplish will one day be left to someone else who may, or may not, care about him, his goals, his values, or his legacy.  But this is what you see when your vision sees no further than your own mortality.  This is a deadly kind of near-sightedness.  But in the verses and chapters beyond these, Solomon begins to understand that finding meaning in this life depends entirely on understanding that there is something, and someone, that is greater than ourselves.  Finding meaning depends on understanding that there is more to life than just sixty or eighty years of this mortal life. 

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus encounters a man who is struggling with the same problem and provides a prescription for the deadly near-sightedness of our fleshly humanity.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Someone in the crowd asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute between him and his brother.  This wouldn’t necessarily be out of line because it’s conceivable that rabbis might occasionally do such things.  But Jesus isn’t interested because he has far more important issues to address than whether, or not, one brother is dividing his father’s estate “fairly.”  The person in the crowd is basically saying that he isn’t getting enough of the money for which his father had worked and toiled.  Worrying about how large your inheritance is, or how much stuff you have, or how much money you have in the bank, is the kind of greedy, near-sighted thinking that Jesus cautions us to guard against.

In Jesus’ parable, a rich man keeps building bigger barns in which to store stuff so that he can continue to accumulate more rather than sharing what he has with the poor or donating even a portion of it to the church, or to any other cause.  Jesus echoes Solomon by saying, once you are dead, “then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  Does your wealth bring you meaning if you’re dead?  Life is meaningless for whomever stores things up for themselves. 

A life of meaning only comes when we share our riches with God and with others.

But besides sharing our stuff with God, how do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, live lives of meaning every day?  In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul explains it this way:

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is more than just sharing our stuff or sharing our money, it’s a lifestyle that is far-sighted instead of near-sighted.  Instead of focusing on our 60 or 80 years of mortal life, focus instead on a life lived for eternity.  Realize that our entire lives on earth are just an instant compared to the forever that comes next.  Realize that people who are different from us, people from the other side of the tracks, from different social and economic circumstances than ours, people who like different music, people that live on the other side of the planet from us, who speak different languages, and who have a different color skin, may well be our next door neighbors, co-workers, mentors, and friends when we move into our new homes in heaven.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is beginning your eternity now, by putting to death those things that are near-sighted and focused on your own personal satisfaction, and pleasure such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Paul says that greed isn’t just bad, but greed is, in fact, idolatry because greed puts money and self in the place of God.  Get rid of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies so that you can become more like the person that God created you to be, and the person that you will one day become.

Setting your sights only on your life on earth is a near-sighted recipe for destruction, meaninglessness, and death.  Instead, we must set our sights on God, on eternity, and a life in heaven that will be lived alongside people of every tribe, every nation, and every language.  To live a life of meaning, we must be a people who are far-sighted.  Because, by seeing the distant and eternal future, we can put today’s problems, fears, social tension, injustice, needs, wants, desires, and everyday ordinary decisions of every kind in their proper perspective.

May we all live deeply meaningful lives that are rich toward God in every way.

 

 

 


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

Heroes

SpacewalkThere was one moment. It wasn’t scripted, it wasn’t planned, and it wasn’t a part of the program or on anyone’s agenda. But for those of us who were paying attention… it was powerful. Many of you know that I just got back from a weekend technical conference with the National Association of Rocketry that was held at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  As an engineer, and as a geek, I had a great time learning all kinds of detailed, specific, stuff about rockets that would bore the snot out of a lot of other people. In any case, because this year is the 60 anniversary of NASA and the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, this year’s conference not only included tours of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, we invited engineers, technicians and astronauts from the space program to come and talk to us.  And, after our evening banquet at the close of the conference, a panel of NASA astronauts shared memories and stories about their lives and their careers. Sadly, due to my hearing loss, and a big room filled with echoes, I only heard 10 or 20 percent of what was said.  But I didn’t miss one of the most powerful moments… …because there weren’t any words. You see, three of the astronauts on the panel were pilots or technical specialists that had made one, or several, flights aboard the Space Shuttle, but one gentleman, Colonel Al Crews, was from another generation.  He was one of the guys who was training during the Apollo era, and who was an X-20 Dyna-Soar pilot (a space plane 20 years before the dynasoarshuttle) before that program was cancelled.  He was then transferred to work on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory project, which was planned to be a space station based on the Gemini launch vehicle (thirty years before the ISS).  But that program was also cancelled before it flew.  But even though Al Crews never flew, his hard work and dedication (and that of many people like him) made it possible to build the space shuttle, and an orbiting space station, and many other things that we take for granted. But after all the jokes, and shared memories, and stories were over, something happened. On the stage, were four men who, to many of us, as engineers, as rocketry hobbyists, as Americans, and as human beings, were heroes.  We all watched the Space Shuttle launches on television, and we wished that we were them.  We cheered their successes and we wept over their failures.  But when the evening’s program was over, something powerful happened. And a lot of people probably didn’t even notice. As the program ended, and everyone in the audience applauded, the astronauts nodded and accepted our thanks.  Eventually, they stood up to leave the stage, and as they did so, every one of those heroes made sure that they found their way over to Al Crews and shook his hand. Saturn VThey knew that they would not have lived the lives they had, or done the things that they had done, without men like Al Crews.  Just as we looked up to them, it was obvious that they all looked up to him. And so, at the end of the day, if you were watching, there was a powerful message. Even heroes, have heroes. Al Crews never walked on the moon, he never even made it to orbit, but his dedication, his reliable, predictable, daily effort, sustained over an entire career, made it possible for another generation of heroes to inspire others. We may not walk on the moon, but each of us can be a hero to somebody. What are you doing to inspire others?  What actions are you taking?  What reliable, predictable, daily effort are you making, to make it possible for others to go places you can only dream about? Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Whose giant will you be?      

 

 

 

 


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Pastor’s Report – Charge Conference 2018

Every fall, our church has a “Charge conference” in which we present our slate of officers for the next year and next year’s proposed budget, we also vote on staff salaries, and turn in paperwork that is intended to satisfy our District Superintendent, Bishop, Annual Conference, the IRS, and other end of year housekeeping.  As a part of that, I am asked to submit a “pastor’s report” outlining our activities for the year and my expectations for next year.  It’s a lot like the “What I did last summer” reports that we wrote in the fall as school children.  In any event, I wanted to share that report with you, so what follows is the report that I turned in at Charge conference last month.


 

Pastor’s Report

Charge Conference 2018

Having arrived at Christ UMC only three months ago, I really don’t have a lot to reflect upon.  But I can, at least, share my observations.  Christ Church is a busy church with almost constant activity.  We are deeply involved in the community at many levels, from our association with Habitat for Humanity, Men’s Challenge, and the Alliance of Churches, which have office space on our first floor, to our participation in local food pantries and “flight pack” food programs for school children, to the professional involvement of our members in the Chamber of Commerce, the Lion’s Club, and other organizations.  Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts meet here, are strongly supported and our own youth group, though small, has the deep and enthusiastic support of every member regardless of age.  Not only does Christ Church host the weekly community dinner (which is averaging well over 100 people, and often 150), our church isn’t content to simply feed people, it is active in teaching life skills, such as cooking, so that many of those same people can become more independent and self-sufficient.

We have also found, that the people of Christ Church are not just supportive of local outreach efforts but are incredibly supportive of missions nationally and internationally.  Two members of our church volunteered for our planned mission to Kentucky when we had only just arrived here, and they had hardly done more than met me.  There were several others who expressed a sincere interest in going with us but who had scheduling conflicts that prevented it.  I have no doubt that we will be successful in returning to Kentucky with another team at least once next year, and we are exploring the possibility of doing so cooperatively with the chaplain at the University of Mount Union.  What’s more, since we arrived in Alliance and at Christ UMC so close to our planned mission trip to Liberia with the East Ohio Conference’s Farmer to Farmer mission, Patti and I understood that our ability to do fundraising would be limited.  But what we found, was a church family who had already sent their lay leader to Sierra Leone, who was so incredibly supportive of our trip that they repeatedly asked us to do informational presentations, and who raised more support for our trip than we imagined possible even if we had done more extensive fundraising.

As if these things weren’t enough, despite everything that Christ Church and its people are doing, their passion, compassion, and enthusiasm are regularly causing them to ask, “What more can we do?”  As such, this year Christ Church is taking over the Thanksgiving meal that had formerly been spearheaded by the United Church of Christ.  Since last year’s project distributed approximately 1,500 meals, this is an enormous undertaking, but the evidence is that Christ Church, and our Alliance community, are rising to the challenge.

So, even though I have only been at Christ Church for a few months, several things seem clear.  First, although the people of Christ Church sometimes seem a little weary, their enthusiasm, faith, compassion, and heart for Jesus fill them with an enthusiasm that other churches might envy.  Second, as we see with people, and with churches everywhere, although there is a fondness for doing things that “we have always done,” the people of Christ Church are unafraid, open, and even eager, to try new things.  Third, it is apparent from conversations in our community, that Christ Church is viewed by the people in and around Alliance in a very positive way.

Taken together, these things, and others, tell me that God isn’t done with Christ Church yet.  There is much to be done, and the people of Christ Church are interested, and ready, to discover what God is calling us to do next.  I am sure that, working together, we can find a way for Christ Church to be healthy, vital, and vibrant as we make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of Alliance, Ohio… and the world.

Transitions

change aheadChange.

As much as we sometimes say otherwise, most of us struggle with change.

And we know that in just a few weeks, we all have to figure out how to deal with some big changes.  My family is already packing boxes and donating other things as we prepare to move into a new house and prepare to attend a new church, find a new mechanic, a new grocery store, a new favorite gas station, and on and on it goes.  Thankfully, at least this time we don’t need to worry quite so much about changing school districts.

Here at Trinity, your changes will be somewhat less, but I know that there are a few of you who really struggle with far smaller changes.  More than one person has confided in me that they are uncertain about having a female pastor.  I understand that Trinity Church has never had a female pastor and that many of you haven’t either.  But I was in your shoes once and as folks have shared their concerns with me, that is the story that I’ve been telling them.  Since I’ve heard about those kinds of concerns more than once, I thought that I should share that story with all of you.

Back in the mid to late 1990’s Patti and I were still attending the church in South Akron where we met and where we were married.  This was the church where my father had been the pastor in the early 1980’s and that’s how I had begun my membership there.  After several more male pastors had succeeded by father, the bishop and the cabinet announced that our next pastor would be female.  There were many concerns expressed throughout the church.  It was nearly a shockwave of concern.  Some of the leading families in the church were known to be very conservative and at least one of the patriarchs of those families was rumored to be openly racist.  People thought at a woman simply would not be welcome as a leader of the church and many feared that her appointment would divide the church and that whole families would quit together.

But they were willing to give the new pastor a chance.

And, as far as I know, not one person left the church.  Because you see, although Pastor Linda was a woman (obviously), she was found to be more conservative in many things, than several of the male pastors that had been at our church.  She didn’t come to our church with an axe to grind or anything and more than that, she did something else.

She loved us.

Linda just loved on the entire congregation and many (okay, all) of the old curmudgeons that we worried wouldn’t like her, fell in love with Linda too.  In the end, Pastor Linda stayed at that church longer than any other pastor in the history of the church.

There were changes that we had to adapt to though.  Some because we had a female pastor, others because every pastor has their own unique personality, and still others because Pastor Linda’s husband, Pastor Mike, was appointed to a church across town.  Where we had grown accustomed to the pastor’s family attending our church, Linda’s didn’t.  Pastor Mike rarely ever came to our church.  I think I saw him two or three times in five or six years other than when we visited them in their home.  When Mike and Linda’s kids were in town, they most often attended Mike’s church, if at all.  It wasn’t what I expected.  It was different.

But different isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different.

For many of the same reasons, you will find that things here at Trinity will be different.  Tina is going to be good at different things than I am, she might not be good at some of the things that I was, she’s going to like, and dislike, different things, she might run meetings differently, and I’m sure that there are a lot of other ways in which the two of us are different.  Only one of those things is our gender.  And after our experience with Pastor Linda, as well as seminary classmates, and other colleagues, I no longer even consider that to be an issue at all.

Different isn’t bad.  It’s just different.

In the last six years, our family has fallen in love with Trinity Church and many of the people in it.  You can be sure that I will be praying for all of you in the days ahead.

I hope that you will do what our church in Akron did.

Just give Tina a chance to be your pastor.

My bet is that you will fall in love with her too.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 

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‘Go’ for Launch

‘Go’ for Launch

March 25, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Mark 11:1-11                         Zechariah 9:9-10

 

How many of you have ever watched the launch of a Saturn V rocket from the Apollo program, or a Space Shuttle, an Atlas, a SpaceX Falcon 9 or any other rocket? The entire countdown can take days, and that doesn’t include all of the construction and preparation that happened before the rocket ever made it to the launch pad.  But near the end, just before the final countdown, the Launch Director takes a poll of all the stations that are monitoring the launch.  And as you listen, you can hear him name every single position, and before the launch can proceed, each of them must answer that they are ‘Go’ for launch.  If even one of them fails to answer in the affirmative, then the launch cannot proceed.  Everything must be ready.  Every detail must be exactly as it should be.

 

We understand that.  Once, during the Space Shuttle program, one station operator reported that they were not “Go” for launch and the Launch Director chose to proceed anyway.  That station operator was reporting that the temperatures at the launch pad were below the required operating temperatures of the spacecraft.  And when the launch director followed the instructions of his superiors and ignored the “No Go” from that station operator, he doomed the entire crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

 

Rockets are powerful and dangerous.  Millions, even billions of dollars of investment and years, sometimes decades of work are on the line.  If even one thing goes wrong, everything the teams have worked for could be ruined.  There is no room for error.

 

But that is exactly what we witness as we read the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in

Mark 11:1-11.  God has been preparing humanity for this moment for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of years.  Lives, governments, nations, and even empires had been pulled, prodded, guided, lifted up, brought down, created, and destroyed, to bring everything into readiness for what we now call Holy Week.  And in this passage of scripture, we can see Jesus checking off the last boxes of the launch poll.

 

11:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!” [Hosanna means “save us”]

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

 

Jesus sends two disciples ahead to acquire a donkey with which to ride upon during his entrance into the holy city of Jerusalem and tells them that if anyone asks why they are taking it, to simply tell them that “the Lord needs it” and will return it shortly.  That phrase, “The Lord needs it” can also be translated as “The master has need of it” but in either case we are left with only two options.  Either Jesus had somehow, made arrangements in advance for that donkey to be there and the disciples simply needed to arrive and confirm that they were picking it up for him, or Jesus knew that the donkey was there, and that this answer would satisfy those witnesses, all while he was still miles away from that place.  But whichever possibility you think is true, it enables Jesus to arrive in the city in the same manner that the kings of Israel had done throughout history and also allows him to check off another item on that pre-launch checklist.  We know that many of the things that Jesus did were a fulfillment of the prophecies contained in the Old Testament, and this is no exception.  I think that you will find that this passage from Zechariah 9:9-10 will sound remarkably similar to the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem

 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

 

The people along the road knew who Jesus was.  They had heard of the things that he had done.  They had witnessed his miracles.  They had listened to him preach.  But they were expecting a military and a political leader.  They were looking for a government that would save them instead of a God who loved them.  Today they praised him, but within the week, as they realized that Jesus had no intention of taking over the government, they would turn on him, betray him, and hand him over to the chief priests and the Roman army.

 

As Jesus enters into the city of Jerusalem, and as he, and his disciples, draw closer to the climax of the story next week at Easter, Jesus will continually fulfill the promises of God and the prophecies of the Old Testament.

 

The impossible becomes possible.

 

What was seen in visions and dreams becomes reality.

 

What was foretold as the future becomes the present.

 

God’s promise is kept.

 

Israel’s hope becomes truth.

 

The hope of future generations unfolds like a flower opening in the spring.

 

The launch poll has been completed.  All is in readiness.  All systems are “Go.”

 

There is no room for error.

 

The rescue of all humanity is beginning in 10… 9… 8…7…

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Whose “Side” Are You On?

Two SidesI read an article that included a statement that struck me as wrong, but which, the more I thought about it,  bothered me even more.  The article was yet another story about the current clash of political ideas and in the story, one group (the name of the group is unimportant) claimed that they would win because, “God is on our side.”  It would be easy to point out how some of the group’s actions have been hurtful in ways that clearly do not reflect anything like godliness, but the more I thought about it, this is true of every single political and religious group on the planet.

We can never claim that God is on our side.

Why?

Because God doesn’t take sides.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

God is the creator, ruler, and final judge of all that is.  There is nothing we can do to persuade God to join our cause regardless of its goodness.  God does not stand with or against Republicans or Democrats. God does not join forces with churches, or synagogues, or mosques.  God does not play favorites with social movements.

God is so much bigger than humanity, or anything that humanity perceives, that God’s very existence defines good and evil.  When we stand with God we join the forces of good and when our positions oppose God’s will we have, by definition, become agents of evil.

There are only two sides.

As followers of God and followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to abandon the idea that God will take our “side” or join our cause, and realize instead that we must join God’s side.  The positions of the Republican party sometimes align with God’s will and sometimes their positions stand against God’s will.  The same is true of the Democrat party, and the Libertarian party, and the Socialist party. The same is true of the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church, and the Catholic Church, a well as the Mormons, those of the Jewish faith, Muslims, and even ISIS.  The same is true of those advocating for, and against, LBGT rights, environmentalists, and every other group that encourage us to join their cause by claiming that God is on their side.

He isn’t.

God isn’t a “joiner.”  God doesn’t join our “sides.”

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

Our affiliation with a political party, or a social movement, or even a particular denomination or religion does not define us as godly.  We are only godly, we are only good, when we do the will of God.  Political parties, and social movements, and even churches and religions are only on God’s side when they do the will of God.  If we truly want to be on God’s side, we can stand with those groups when they are godly.

But we must stand against them when they are not.

Long ago, as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, they had to make a choice.  They had to choose whether they were going to follow God or the gods of Egypt that they had left behind.  Joshua pressed them for an answer saying, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

In our modern world far removed from the children of Israel, and in a time when our political, social, and religious worlds are so polarized, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider what Joshua might ask us today.  Would his words to us sound like this?

Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of the political parties, or the gods of the social movements, or the gods disguised as religion.  But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

There are only two sides.

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

Whose side are you on?

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Can You See?

“Can You See?”

March 26, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

1 Samuel 16:1-13                   John 9:1-41                            Ephesians 5:8-14

 

What is it that you are good at?

Each of us is good at something.

With the possible exception of the very young, most people have invested enough time and effort into one or more subjects to have become reasonably good at them, and knowledgeable about them.  It might not be rocket science, but just about everyone knows a lot about something.  It might be engineering, or law, or medicine, but it might also be homeschooling, or auto repair, antique tractors, hair, jewelry, video games, coin collecting, home repair, or negotiating the convoluted steps of government grant writing.  Whatever it is that you are good at, we all recognize that there is a difference between knowing a little, knowing a lot, and being an expert.  We all know a little about filing our taxes, but if we’re smart, we know when it’s time to get our questions answered by an expert.  Many of us can do basic home repairs, but we still keep the phone number of a good plumber handy.

With that in mind, think about those times when, you, as a person who knows a little, or even a lot, about one particular subject, have had a conversation with someone who was truly an expert.  Wow.  Sometimes these experts give speeches, and we go to large arenas and concert halls just to hear them talk about the things we are interested in.  I follow Buzz Aldrin on Twitter and I read the blog written by Ben Witherington III.  Why? Because Buzz Aldrin has forgotten more about space, astronauts, and astrophysics than I can ever hope to know, and Ben Witherington has forgotten more about the New Testament scholarship and proper Greek translation than I am likely to ever learn.  When experts look at a problem, they see things that non-experts might not ever notice.  The efforts of people like me and other fans or novices are not likely to impress the experts.  What will impress the experts are not the things that might impress the rest of us and as a result, we sometimes notice that experts will make surprising choices because they can see and anticipate things that we cannot.

Not surprisingly, we see the same thing in scripture and we also see that when compared to God, even the experts are put to shame.

We begin this morning in 1 Samuel 16:1-13, where we hear the story of when God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David as the king of Israel in place of King Saul.

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.”10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

 

Throughout this story, everyone thinks and reacts only within the limits of what they know and of course, this is only natural.  We can only use the tools that we have.  We can’t use knowledge that we don’t have.  And so what we see is town elders who are afraid of God’s prophet because in the past they have witnessed him only as the bearer of bad news.  We have Jesse, the father of many sons, and the resident expert on what his children are capable of doing, who fails to call the youngest because someone has to watch the sheep, and who would imagine that the youngest would be of any value for anything that the prophet of God would want?  And finally, we have Samuel, the prophet of God, who is indisputably the expert on God, but who is utterly wrong about what God is looking for in a new king.

 

The town elders were wrong about why Samuel had come because they thought of him only as a messenger of doom.  Jesse was wrong because he assumed that David was too small and too young to be of any value.  And Samuel was wrong because he was only capable of looking at the superficial realities of how men appeared on the outside.  They were wrong because none of their expertise and knowledge came close to the expertise and knowledge of God.  Because God knows everything that is know-able, his expertise rises to levels that exceed even our imagination.  And because God’s expertise and knowledge so far exceeds our own, God sees differently than humans do.  What impresses God is not what impresses human beings, and God’s choices are often not what we would expect.

 

 

And that brings us to this week’s gospel lesson from John 9:1-41.  This is, as we noted last week, another story that is longer than usual, because it is one of the great stories of scripture.  It is the story of Jesus healing a man that had been born blind and it is a story that deserves to be read as a whole and not broken up and studied in pieces.


9:1 
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

 

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

 

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

 

The Pharisees, despite being experts in the Jewish scriptures and writings, were baffled by the healing of the blind man.  Their understanding led them to believe, just as the disciples had, that the man’s blindness, because blindness was bad, must have been a punishment from God.  And, at the same time, they had never seen, nor heard, of anyone being healed after being born blind.

 

But God’s understanding goes far beyond that of the religious experts, and Jesus explains that this blindness had not been caused by the sin of the man, nor of his parents, but that sometimes God allows bad things to happen “so that the works of God might be displayed.”  What Jesus is saying is hard for us to grasp.  But in this passage he tells us that sometimes God allows bad things to happen because, somehow, in ways that we cannot understand or comprehend, these things pave the way for something better to happen later.  Somehow, accidents, and even evil, are allowed by God because they fit into, and are a part of, the larger tapestry of God’s plan for the universe.  Now I’m not going to even try to tell you that this is much comfort when children die or when the innocent suffer.  It is impossible for us to even imagine what good could possibly be accomplished by such things.  But somehow, even in our suffering, even in our hurt, even in our disbelief, we must trust that God knows and understands more than we are capable of understanding and far more than we are even able to imagine.  Because God is all knowing, but also because God is loving, kind, and just, we must find a way to trust that these things are, somehow, a critical part of the plan of God because anything less would require us to believe that God is capricious and cruel instead of thoughtful and good.

 

But all of that brings us to the “So what?” part of the message.  What difference does knowing these things make to me?  And for that we arrive at Ephesians 5:8-14 where we hear these words:

 

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

 

Paul says that because we believe, we have stepped out of darkness and into the light of God and as such we must live and act as if we are.  We must be agents of light, goodness, righteousness and truth.  Since God is the expert in everything, we must study the word of God to discover what things are pleasing to him and which of those things we can do.  Paul says that we must not only avoid darkness and evil but we must work to make the world better, and we must fight against immorality and evil.  We must not pass through the world as if we are asleep at the wheel.  We must wake up, rise from the dead, and do those things that God has commanded because he is the expert, and our job… is to change the world.

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.