The Mark of the Feast

The Mark of the Feast

May 09, 2021*

(Mothers’ Day)

 By Pastor John Partridge

John 15:9-17                          Acts 10:44-48                         1 John 5:1-6

With today being Mother’s Day, I thought that I would start by thinking about what it is that many of our Mother’s taught us.  But right up front, I want to recognize that not everyone has had a positive experience with their mothers.  Some of the people we know, and some of you who are reading this, experienced verbal, mental, or physical abuse and for that, or other reasons, you do not have a positive association with Mother’s Day.  Similarly, I want to recognize that Mother’s Day is a source of pain for some of you who wanted children, but either couldn’t have them, or lost them.  I get it.  We made friends with many people who shared these kinds of experiences and walked with us, and encouraged us, along our adoption journey.  But for all of you for whom Mothers’ Day is a day to be avoided, as well as for all of you who have fond and loving associations with this day, I hope that you will bear with me and not avoid today’s message because while a loving mother is a human ideal, it is just part of our human experience that God uses to point to something better.

When mothers do their jobs well, we remember them for teaching us how to dress ourselves, for our sense of fashion and style, for teaching us values, and although it takes a while for us to realize it, for demonstrating the value of sacrificing ourselves to meet the needs of others.  Our mothers taught us how to cook, how to clean, how to count, how to share, how to be nice, and a host of other things that we learned by demonstration, rote learning, osmosis, and sometimes mind-numbing repetition, but when motherhood is done well, one of the things we remember most… is love.

And that leads us to the first of today’s scriptures where, in John 15:9-17, Jesus explains why demonstrating love to others is important:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus says that God loved him, and because of God’s love for him, Jesus showed his love to us.  But just to be sure that we know what love is, Jesus offers us a block of instruction.  First, we are encouraged to stay inside of Jesus’ love and the requirement to do that, is to obey the commands of Jesus.  That seems straightforward, but to be sure that we understand, Jesus explains further saying that our obedience isn’t intended to make us slaves, but to bring us joy.  And the command that we are supposed to obey, is this: Love each other in the way that Jesus loved us.  Jesus says that he chose us and appointed us to go out into the world and bear fruit that will last for eternity.  And finally, Jesus repeats his definition and his instruction for clarity and for emphasis, “This is my command: Love each other.”

Out of all the commands of God, and all the teachings of scripture, that Jesus could have highlighted, and out of all the things to which our relationship with God might have been connected, Jesus doesn’t choose anything that we could judge to be oppressive, or onerous, or burdensome but instead summarizes all the commands of God necessary for our rescue as salvation as simply, “love each other.”

At some point, someone in our lives showed us what love looked like.  For many of us, it was our mothers, but even if it wasn’t, Jesus says that love is something that we learn from experience, and something that we pass on to others.  God loved him, so Jesus loved us, and now it’s our job to pass that love on to the people, and to the world, around us.

But as simple as that is, the disciples had a problem understanding what it meant to love the people around them.  The Jewish tradition, at that time, was that the promises of God, and virtually all of God’s instructions, were intended for the Jews, and for the Jews alone.  When God said to love your neighbor, the traditional understanding of many people was that God meant that you should love your Jewish neighbor, that while it was important to love the person that belonged to your church, or that belonged to your religion, it wasn’t necessary to love the people that didn’t go to church, or that belonged to a different religion.  But that wasn’t what Jesus taught, and although it took a while for it to sink in, the disciples began to understand what that meant.  In Acts 10:44-48, Peter is preaching to a group of people who are both Jewish and non-Jewish and as he does, something unexpected happens…

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tonguesand praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

When Peter is speaking, the Jewish believers witness the Holy Spirit of God as it enters into everyone, both Jew and Gentile, the insiders, and the outsiders, and they were astounded.  They were sure that the Gentiles didn’t count.  For their entire lives they had been taught by their church leaders that the rules and God’s promises only applied to them and not to the outsiders.  But their eyes told them something different.  It was clear that when God said everyone, God meant… everyone, and so Peter invites the Gentiles to be baptized.  This is an important point. Because that was a big deal.  While circumcision was the mark that said a man belonged to God’s people, the people of Israel, the Jews, baptism was the mark, the symbol, that signified that people belonged to Jesus, and to his church, and to the people that would become known as Christians.  Baptism was the mark of belonging, and the mark of being invited.  Rather than calling it the mark of the beast, it was the mark of the feast, because it revealed to the world that you belonged to Jesus.

And if that wasn’t clear enough, John amplifies and clarifies that message in his letter to the church in Asia in 1 John 5:1-6 where he says:

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth.

John says that everyone (there’s that word again) that believes that Jesus is the savior and rescuer of the world is a child of God and the way that we show our love for God is to carry out his commands and love his children.  But John wants to be even clearer.  He says that Jesus was born into the world both by water and by blood.  Both “by water” and “by blood” are metaphors.  Saying that Jesus came by water is a reference to Jesus being born as a human being to a human mother and that makes Jesus like us.  But John also reminds us that Jesus came into the world “by blood” which is saying that Jesus was born into the world through death.  While we generally think of death as how we leave this world, Jesus rose from the dead and lives for eternity, so John is saying that just as we are born to our mothers in this life, Jesus was born into a new life by passing through death.

But what does that mean, and what difference does it make?

What it means, is that when we are born to a mother, we are born into a family and born into this earthly life.  But when we meet Jesus and accept him as the savior and rescuer of the world, we are born into something bigger than our earthly family.

And it makes a difference because while the example of sacrificial love that good mothers demonstrate for their families is important, it is only part of the story.  When we put our faith and trust in Jesus and accept him as the savior and rescuer of the world, we are born into a new, bigger, and more important family that will last forever.  As much as good mothers might model sacrificial love, Jesus is the better example of real and perfect love.

Everyone is invited to belong, the insiders, the outsiders, the imperfect, the screw-ups, the loving, the unloving, the church people, the people that have never set foot in a church, and everyone that ever needed a second chance.  Everyone means everyone.

We are all invited to belong, to receive the “Mark of the Feast” if you will, and to be baptized and demonstrate to the world that you belong to Jesus.

Jesus chose you and has given you the task of going out into the world and bearing eternal fruit.

And along the way Jesus commands us to do one thing…

Love each other.

Because everyone means… everyone.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/GolLW9LrWsQ

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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.

Baptism: Not About Water

Baptism: Not About Water

January 10, 2021*

by Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 1:1-5             Acts 19:1-7                 Mark 1:4-11

If you have watched any of the Snickers candy bar commercials for the last few years, you almost certainly remember some of the dramatic transformations that people make when they are “hangry” and then, get better after eating a Snickers.  The way in which the advertisers portray this human metamorphosis is intended to be funny, and it often is.  But it’s funny because many of us already have experience with family, friends, or ourselves, being a little (or more than a little) cranky, or “hangry” when we haven’t had anything to eat.  I remember a number of times when, as loving as we knew him to be, my mother would send me to my room and caution me not to bother my father until after he had eaten dinner.  Our children can testify that similar things have happened in our household as well.  In all these cases, we recognize that our irritability, crankiness, or “hanger” really doesn’t have anything to do with noisy children, or anything else.  The real cause is simply that we are hungry.  Likewise, I watched a television show yesterday as on of the main characters argued with his mother about doing a mother-son dance at his wedding.  Many excuses were thrown out including the choice of music, and her inability to dance, but in the end, all her excuses weren’t about any of those things, but were entirely based upon her fear of looking foolish and being mocked by her new in-laws.  Often, the thing on the surface that everyone is talking about, isn’t really the root of what’s important.

And that’s exactly what’s going on today as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus.  The baptism of Jesus, and the subsequent tradition, and sacramental theology, as well as our many interpretations and denominational differences that revolve around the act of baptism, despite often disagreeing about how the water is to be applied, are all, in the end, not about water.  To explain what I mean, let me begin in the beginning.  The very beginning, at the time of creation, where we read this description in Genesis 1:1-5:

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

In the beginning… God.  Right up front, that’s the important bit.  The earth was formless and void, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  You will notice that water is a part of the story.  And water may even be an important part of the story.  But water is not what the story is about.  The story is about the Spirit of God, the miraculous work of God, and the transformation of darkness into light.  And the light, we are told… was good.

And if we keep that example in mind as we read the story of Jesus baptism, we will see more clearly, that it is a story about something much more important than the immersion in, or the pouring of, water.  The story in the gospel of Mark 1:4-11, says this:

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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

As we did in the Genesis creation story, we must watch for who is doing the action.  It may remind us of English class where we were asked to identify the nouns and the verbs, but it is important that we separate the players and actors from one another in the story.  We must ask ourselves, what is the story about, and who is doing the most important action?  And, in this case, it is God, once again, who is the one that we must watch.  In this case, although they are all important to the story, John the Baptist, the Jordan River, and even the entire Judean countryside and the all the people of Jerusalem, are only set dressing for the important action.  Jesus comes to the river, is baptized by John, and God shows up.  As Jesus was coming out of the water, heaven itself is torn open, and the Spirit of God descends upon him and God the Father speaks from his throne in heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Yes, Jesus was baptized, with water, by John, but that is not the important part of the story.  The important part that is central to understanding the story, is that the Spirit of God is the principal participant who is doing the important action of the story.  This is a story from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and it is only after this anointing, or baptism, of the Spirit that Jesus performs miracles and does all the other things that we read about in the gospel stories.  And so, we see that while baptism is vitally important to the story, it is the baptism of the Spirit that is central to the story, and not the immersion, or the pouring, of water.

But, if you want to double check and make sure that description is correct, look at Luke’s story about baptism in Acts 19:1-7 where he says:

19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

The men that Paul met in Ephesus knew about John the Baptist, and had been baptized with water, but Paul says that, as important as water baptism was, it was not the most important part.  The most important part wasn’t to be baptized with water but to be baptized with the Spirit of God.  And then, without using water, Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they received abilities that they had never had before, and this was illustrated for us when they spoke in foreign languages and prophesied about the future.

Paul’s explanation is that our being baptized with water is a two part action, our part is to repent of our sins and be baptized with water as an outward symbol of our repentance, but God’s part is to enter into us, at the time of baptism, in an act of transformation and empowerment, so that we are spiritually changed from the inside out and given the ability to do things through God’s strength, and through God’s Spirit, that now lives within us, that we could never do alone.

So, you see, the reason that we return to the story of Jesus’ baptism every year, isn’t just that water baptism is important, or that it is one of our few sacraments, means of grace, or moments when we can personally encounter the living God, although all those things are important.  The most important reason that we return to this story every year, is that it reminds us of the work that God began at creation, the work of transforming darkness into light.  The story of Jesus baptism reminds us that this was the moment of God’s empowerment of Jesus, as Jesus received the anointing of God’s Spirit and it reminds us that our baptism represents something far greater than our repentance and our interaction, by immersion, pouring, sprinkling, or otherwise, with water.  The story of Jesus’ baptism reminds us that we are the actors and the players in God’s work, that because of our baptism, we are baptized, anointed, and filled with, and completely transformed by, God’s Spirit who has taken up residence within us.  And, not only because of our actions in consenting to, and being baptized, but most importantly because of God’s actions at the time of our baptism, we are now equipped to do whatever amazing, and even miraculous thing that God calls us to do, through the power of the Spirit that lives within us.

As much as our denominations might argue about it, baptism was never about water.

Baptism has always been about transforming darkness into light, transforming evil into good, healing the broken, sharing the Good News of God’s rescue, and doing the work of God in the world.

Baptism was never about water.

It has always been about God transforming and equipping us to do his miraculous work in the world.

Let us remember our baptism…

…and get to work.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/_kNHAqSfq90

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.



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