Not THOSE People!

Not THOSE People!

May 19, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Acts 11:1-18                          

 

How many of you have friends that are so close that they have become family and are included in almost everything that your family does?   Or, how many of you with children, have some of their friends that are so close, that they can show up at your house at almost any time of the day or night, just walk in without knocking, help themselves to whatever is in the refrigerator, plop down on the couch next to you, as you’re watching television, and just look over and say, “Hey.  What’s up?”  Many families have friends like that, but if push comes to shove, we would all have to admit that – legally – they aren’t really family.  In order to legally be a member of the family you must either be born into the family, or you must be legally adopted through a very particular and well-defined legal process.

Church membership is a little like that.  Anyone can attend church here, and if you come for a while everyone will know that you belong here, but in order to “legally” become a member, there is a process that must be followed.  Some churches make the process super easy; others make it harder than it needs to be, and ours is just designed so that you understand how our system of church governance works and are familiar with some of our theology and ways of doing things.

But Jesus’ church was a little of both of those things.  The people of Israel, as the descendants of Abraham, were both a family and a church.  And, after thousands of years of history there were systems and processes in place for everything.  While you might be free to move there from another place, you couldn’t just show up one day and declare that you were a citizen of Israel or announce that you were now Jewish.  It just didn’t work that way.  Either you were born into the family, or you had to follow a particular, and specific, path of education, ritual, and even surgery, in order to become a Jew.  And even then, you, and your family, would probably remain on the outside of much of the culture for generations to come.  Taken together, it was hard to even think about becoming a follower of Israel’s God.  That was not what God had in mind, and one of the things that Jesus came to do, was to fix that.  But changing that culture, and that way of thinking, even among Jesus’ own disciples, was not easy as we see in the story that Luke shares with us in Acts 11:1-18.

11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance, I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

In this story, the followers of Jesus hear a rumor that non-Jews, Gentiles, had heard, and accepted, the message of Jesus Christ and that Peter had been the one who had told them.  And so, when Peter returns to town and re-enters the community of believers, they get in his face and criticize him for doing so.  “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  How dare you have contact with people like that?  How could you?  Good people simply don’t share hospitality and friendship with those people!  It surprises us a little, but the followers of Jesus were so much a part of their culture that they couldn’t separate what they had been taught by their culture from the things that were taught in scripture and by Jesus.  They had been so indoctrinated by their culture, and by their leaders, that they believed what they had learned, even when scripture taught that these things were entirely wrong.  This hits us hard, because we are often guilty of exactly the same misunderstanding.

Peter explains how God called him to do what he had done, but in retelling of his story, we notice how even Peter was stuck in the same cultural pattern.  Peter was desperately trying to be a good Jew and he refused God’s direct command two times, before, on the third repetition, he was finally convinced to break from a lifetime of training, teaching, and practice.

And, at the moment Peter surrendered to the will of God, three men arrive and ask him to go with them.  Gathering six other believers, Peter travels to the home of these Gentiles, preaches the good news of Jesus Christ, the Gentiles believe, repent of their sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But there is something that we skipped past a moment ago.  As Peter prepares to leave his house and travel to the home of the Gentiles, he gathers six other believers to go with him, specifically six other men.  And although this may appear to be sexist, there is a cultural, and legal, reason for his doing so.  First, Peter, plus six others, is seven, and seven is the number of perfection, and that may have had some connotations for good luck or for the blessing of God, but there is something else.  Under Jewish law, the testimony, or witness, of three men is required to establish something as true and factual.  So, when Peter takes six men with him, he is preparing for the possibility that he might have to testify about what happens there, whether that something is an act of God or the commission of a crime of some kind we don’t know.  But in either case, when Peter returns to Jerusalem, and is criticized by the other disciples, Peter testifies to what happens with seven witnesses, one more than twice the number needed to ascertain the legal facts, so that there can be no doubt about what happened in that place.

God is truly at work, and those people have surely been invited into God’s family.

Of course, “those people” are us, the Gentiles, the non-Jewish believers.

If you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that Paul is the one who we generally associate with missionary outreach to the Gentiles, and although that’s true, it is here, that Peter really begins ministry outside of what had been the “normal” outreach to other Jews up to that time.  Although Peter’s calling isn’t to become a missionary to the Gentiles, it was Peter and his six witnesses who proved to the disciples and the gathered church in Jerusalem that reaching out to the Gentiles with the good news of Jesus Christ was something that God was doing and something that God intended for the church to do.  Can you imagine how difficult it would have been, just a few years later, to convince this same group of people that God was calling Paul to carry the message of Jesus Christ into Greece, and Rome, and to nations full of what were thought of as pagan unbelievers if it had not been for the witness of Peter and his six friends?

What Peter discovered was revolutionary and hard to accept, but it was obvious to every witness that God was reaching out to “those people” as well as to the Jews.  It wasn’t just about Israel or the family of Abraham anymore, the boundaries that divide human beings are broken and erased for good.  God isn’t just calling the Jews, or the insiders, but anyone who hungers and thirsts for God and for what is right.

And that all sounds fine… right up until we remember that those words are supposed to speak to us in the twenty first century just as they did in the first century.  The mission of Jesus Christ hasn’t changed and neither has the mission of his church.  These were words that the early church wrestled with and they are words that we are still wrestling with two thousand years later.

Why?

Because no matter how far we’ve come, we still seem to find ways to divide people between insiders and outsiders.  Maybe “those people” are no longer the Gentiles, but we still find ways of labeling them as “hopeless,” as “outsiders,” “lost causes,” and yes, “those people.”

So, think about who “those people” might be for us.  Who are the outsiders, the outcasts, and the unwelcome?  And once we have an idea of who that might be, let’s find ways of reaching out them and inviting them in.

Because that’s exactly what Jesus has called us to do.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

‘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.

 

The Value of an Invitation

Invitation

We get four or five things in the mail everyday.

Most of our mail is junk.

Almost all of the rest is bills.

Of course, we get letters from my mom who still writes on paper and uses stamps, but the rest of our friends and family communicate electronically.

But one in a blue moon we receive an invitation.  Just a handful of envelopes arrive during the course of a year to invite us to baby showers, birthday parties, weddings, etc.  Many of those are migrating to electronic media as well, but even so, the number of invitations that we receive is relatively small.  I say this because in a mailbox, physical or electronic, that is filled with junk every single day, invitations are not only not junk, they are welcome, valuable, and often become the thing that gets opened first.

We like to be invited to things.

Even if we can’t attend, the invitation makes us feel valuable.  Someone thought of us, appreciated us, and took the time, effort, and expense to ask us to share a moment of time with them.  An invitation is a sign that tells the world that we are wanted.

Our church is no different.

Many of the people at Trinity came to church, sometimes decades ago, because someone invited them to come.  So why is it that we seem reluctant to invite others?

We shouldn’t be.

Thom Rainer spent four years researching unchurched people.  One of the things that surprised him as they compiled the results was that ninety six percent of unchurched people in the United States are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church if they are invited.  Think about that.  More than nine out of ten people would be interested in attending church, of only someone would take the time to ask them and make them feel wanted.

[Note: Thom Rainer’s entire article on http://www.ChurchCentral.com, “Survey finds many unchurched would come to church if invited”  is worth reading.]

What’s more, the people of Trinity Church are proving this to themselves and the results are increasingly obvious.  In the last few weeks, I’ve heard from several people (some of whom have recently become members) that they are here because they were invited.  I have been hearing this more and more often and I want to make sure that others notice.

Recently, one family said that they came because of an invitation, from me, that I don’t even remember.  Another came a couple winters ago when I gave them one of those little business card invitations and invited them to our Christmas Eve service.  Another family was invited by Ruth and Gary Sturgill, another by Brett and Beth Huntsman, several by Ronnie and Cheryl Wendell, and another after our Easter invitation postcards were delivered to the surrounding neighborhoods were combined with personal invitations to many of our friends from Perry Helping Perry.  Just this week, Chris Jukich greeted someone at the door that she met, and invited, at our community breakfast on Saturday.  There are more examples that I know about, and even more that I am forgetting.

So here’s my point:

People tell me that they want Trinity Church to grow.  It can, and it is.  We are growing because the people at Trinity are reaching out and inviting their neighbors, friends, and family to join us.  Some, like Marla Armstrong and Jan Gash, are inviting people all the time.  In fact, many of you are doing it.  I apologize if I didn’t mention you by name.

Thank you.

Trinity Church is a special place.  The people here aren’t perfect, but we are generous and friendly and have made this into a place where people can experience community, mercy, grace, and love.

We have something to offer.  You are probably here because someone invited you and you found something that you liked.  I hope that you have been blessed because you belong here.  I believe that you have, because many of you have told me so.

I encourage you to do the same for someone else.

We are already growing because the people of Trinity Church understand the value and the importance of a simple invitation.

You can make a difference.

Help someone else to feel wanted and valued.

Help others to find a home where they can experience community, mercy, grace, and love.

Join us in being “invitational.” Tell your neighbors, family, and friends about Trinity Church.

People need a place to belong.

Invite them.

There’s more than a 9 out of 10 chance that they’ll consider it.

 

 

 

_________
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Immigration: A Christian Dilemma


    Should we build a wall at the border, or should we let everyone through?  As I scroll through my social media feeds, I see posts by friends that seem to support both extremes.  Some say that, as a matter of security, out nation must seal the border.  Others say that as a matter of Christian compassion, we must care for the foreigners among us and allow them in. 
So what should a faithful Christian believe?
Is there a “right” answer?
Honestly, I don’t know. 
    What I do know, is that both extremes miss the mark.  I recognize that both “sides” are represented by people of faith who believe in the message of the gospel.  But at the same time, each group ignores vital and valid points that are made by the other.
    In the interests of full disclosure, I am the product of an immigrant family.  My grandparents came here from Germany, as did my Mother-in-law.  Our family is certainly sympathetic to the cause of immigrants.  But even so, I understand that the discussion pulls us in different directions.
Here are some points of discussion worth considering:
1)      As followers of God, we are called to be the voice for the voiceless (Proverbs 31:8) as well as to care for the foreigners among us (Exodus 22, Jeremiah 22, Ezekiel 22, Zechariah 7)
2)      There are limited resources with which to care for them and a limited number of volunteers who can provide care.
3)     Border crossings that avoid official checkpoints, cross deserts and other  inhospitable territory.  As a result, men, women and children die crossing the border.
4)      Unscrupulous people, who are hired to guide others across the border, often abandon their charges or sell them into various forms of human trafficking.
5)      Whenever the chance of success is higher, or the rewards for success become greater, more people attempt to cross the border.
6)      Is it fair, or just, to those who are following the law and applying for proper documentation, to allow undocumented immigrants to flow across the border?
7)      Is it fair, or just, for native born citizens to compete for employment against undocumented migrants?
8)      There are valid local and national security concerns related to some of the people who are crossing the border.  Is it justice to put others at risk by allowing known criminals into the country without a background check?
   Clearly, we are called to be compassionate and to care for the foreigners among us, but the most compassionate, caring, and just thing to do may not be found at either extreme.  Building walls and returning undocumented migrants results in injustice, but opening the floodgates and allowing everyone in creates a different kind of injustice.  Making it easier to cross the border will increase the number of people who die crossing it.  And the failure to regulate who is crossing, will drive migrants into the hands of human traffickers. 
    When the waiting list for legal documentation can drag on for years, how are those applicants harmed by migrants who are given such documentation after crossing the border in the dark of night?
    We have seen similar waves of immigration.  There were waves of Irish, Germans, Czechs, Chinese, Vietnamese, and others.  Perhaps with this wave of immigrants from Central America, we might reconsider an old idea.  What if we built a new “Ellis Island” on our border with Mexico?  It would be a place where migrants would be welcomed, cared for, and kept safe, but also a place where they could be documented, we could conduct background checks, and verify that they met other requirements. 
    At Ellis Island, migrants were tested for disease, and were required to provide documentation that they had employment and a place to live in their new country.  While most migrants passed through Ellis Island in a day or two, my grandfather was detained for a week because the man who was supposed to verify his employment was delayed.  He was finally approved for entry after that man sent a telegram which verified his status.
Once again, I don’t know what the answer is.  Most likely, there is no single answer.

But each extreme carries us toward injustice. 
Justice and compassion demand that we try to find a way between these conflicting demands. 

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A Great Cloud of Witnesses


What does it mean to be surrounded by a “cloud” of witnesses? 
    Not long ago I was preaching on Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees in regard to the existence of life after death.  In Luke 20:27-38, Jesus reminds them that Moses called God, “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Jesus implies that it would be foolish to say such a thing in the present tense if they were not, presently, alive.  Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
The Apostle Paul described life as a sporting event in which we are called to give our best, saying,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (Hebrews 12:1)
    Paul expands on the idea of resurrection and the afterlife to remind the church that those who are alive in the next world are watching those of us who remain in this one.  Paul specifically refers to the prophets, saints, and martyrs but it isn’t difficult to imagine that this also includes all of those who have always loved us and cared for us, but who no longer remain among the living of this world.  I know that my grandmother prayed for me nearly every single day of her life and I have no reason to imagine that she has stopped doing so today.
Let me share a mental picture that I have found meaningful.  Have you ever held a newborn baby, yours, or your grandchild, niece or nephew for the very first time?  Do you remember how that made you feel?  It is a magnificent feeling.   Hold on to that feeling.  Now, imagine the moment when you first arrive in the next world, right after you have “crossed over” and passed through Saint Peter’s pearly gates, right after you’ve met Jesus face to face, or however you might image your arrival.  Now, you see, standing before you, a group of people.  Some you know, but many you do not.  In the front are your parents, lost children, and dear friends, but there are many more, perhaps hundreds, even thousands of faces that you do not know.  As you embrace your family and your friends, your father, or perhaps your grandfather, takes you by the hand and says, “There is someone here, that I have wanted you to meet for a very long time.” And he turns to a an unfamiliar face and says, “This is myfather” or “This is my grandfather.”  And then, for hours on end, they in turn introduce you to their fathers, and their wives, and their children, allof whom have known you since you were born, and have been watching you grow, and have been praying for you that Jesus would watch over you and guard your steps. 
    And the feeling that you have is the feeling of holding that newborn child in your arms, multiplied by ten thousand, or more.
    Every moment of your life that you were in trouble, every moment when you faced difficult choices, every moment when you needed prayer, all of these hundreds and thousands of friends and family who love you, were watching and praying for you.
   Think of this, when we walk outside in a heavy fog, that moment when the clouds lay upon the surface of the earth, we are not near the cloud, or next to the cloud, we are completely engulfed and surrounded by the cloud.
    This is the picture that Paul draws for us.  With every choice that we make, with every success or failure, with every crisis or ordinary day, we can imagine that this cloud of people who love us, family and friends, surround us, watch over us, and pray for us.
    Because our God is the god of the living and not the dead, we are constantly watched over by those who love us, care for us, and who are, even now, praying for us.  Paul says that because we are surrounded by this “great cloud of witnesses” we should cast aside everything that is holding us back and have the confidence to forge ahead into the unknown toward whatever God has placed in our path.  

May we all have the courage to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”

A Letter to Sugar Grove Church


   This week I mailed a letter to the church where I attended while I was away at college more than twenty years ago.  Although I attended Ohio Northern University for six years, I attended Sugar Grove United Methodist Church for only two or three.  I tried other churches and I tried not going to church at all for a while.  Nothing felt right.  Some churches were just cold and no one talked to me.  The big Methodist church downtown was friendly enough but the pastor was a pacifist and I was in the military so it was often awkward.  Finally, I found Sugar Grove.  My welcome there was a little unexpected.  Sugar Grove was several miles outside of town in the middle of miles and miles of wheat and corn.  No students attended Sugar Grove nor did any professors or university staff… just farmers and local folks.  Nevertheless, that is where I was made to feel right at home and a part of the family.  Even though I haven’t had any contact with the good folks from Sugar Grove for a very long time, I wanted to let them know that I will be ordained in June and that they had a part in God’s unfolding plan.  Below are some excerpts from my letter.
Sugar Grove United Methodist Church                                                                                  

Ada, Ohio 45810

Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, from John Partridge, a student you might remember from long ago.

Many years ago, sometime around 1986, I first visited your church at Sugar Grove.  I had been a student since 1982 and, although I had attended many of the churches in town, I had never felt particularly at home in any of them.  I don’t remember whether I came just to give it a try or at the invitation of Don Spar, but the latter is more likely.  In any case, I remember Don telling me that if I wasn’t going home for Easter that year, his mother insisted that I come to church with them, and then follow them home for Easter dinner.  I also clearly remember, after church, seeing an older man, make eye contact from me from the other side of the sanctuary and make his way to me, weaving his way through the maze of pews, just so he could shake my hand and welcome me to Sugar Grove.  I knew that I was, finally, at home.

Whenever I share my call to ministry story, or tell others of what the church has meant to me in my journey, I often share stories about Sugar Grove.  Sugar Grove has always been a part of my story and a part of my call to ministry.  I thought I would write to let you know about my upcoming ordination, because chances are, none of you knew.

I am not sure that there is anyone at Sugar Grove that remembers me, and that’s okay, but I know who you are and what you have meant to me.  Your faithfulness to the message of Jesus Christ is, and always will be, a part of my story.  May God richly bless each one of you and your ministry.  I hope that you will remember that no matter your size, every day you are a part of a thousand stories that you might never hear on this side of eternity.  Never forget that every day you are making a difference in the lives of others just like you made a difference to me.

I hope that Sugar Grove United Methodist Church will always continue to love like Jesus.
….
 
Sugar Grove isn’t unique.  I have known other small country churches that were more loving and more welcoming than other, larger, urban and suburban churches. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

No matter who you are… 

Love like Jesus.