After Easter: “Do You Love Me?”

 

After Easter: “Do You Love Me?”
A Message on John 21:1-19

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 22, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 21:1-19 (NRSV)

 

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

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I find this scripture in the Gospel of John to be beautiful in so many ways.

 

Here’s the situation: It’s after Easter. Jesus has been crucified, died, and was buried. He rose from the dead, surprising everyone, and then started appearing to his followers in different locations and at different times.

 

So the disciples don’t really know what to do about all of this, so several of them go back to their occupations they had before they became disciples of Jesus Christ. They go back to fishing.

 

Fishing was an important economic resource at the time. The fish were salted and dried, which preserved them, and could then be transported and eaten later. Some were eaten fresh, of course, but as you can imagine fresh fish with no refrigeration available doesn’t travel very well.

 

Now how many disciples does it describe in the scripture we read today? Any guesses? There were seven. (Seven is an important number in the Bible.) The scripture says, “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin (of “Doubting Thomas” fame), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee (which would be James and John), and two others of his disciples (who are not named).”

 

So seven men are in one boat fishing. They are fishing at night, by the way.

 

How many of you have ever been night fishing? Raise your hands. I have, and I have to tell you I don’t like it. The main reason is that you can’t see. And I like to see.

 

Years ago Pam’s dad, James, had a boat and we were camping with them and fishing on Lake Leon out in Eastland County, west of Fort Worth. We went out one night crappie fishing and caught some nice fish. On our way back to the camp, though, we had to go through an area of submerged trees. James was driving the boat and going slow, but all of a sudden we felt the boat lifted up out of the water several inches and then it stopped.

 

We had wedged the boat up in three branches of a submerged tree and it was holding us fast. We were stuck.

 

We tried different things to get it unstuck but it didn’t work. Finally we put the trolling motor on high and we would start at the back of the boat, run quickly to the front, and then stop. Millimeter by millimeter, and after about an hour of doing this, we finally got it unstuck and were able to make it back to camp.

 

We had a spotlight and some flashlights with us but with them we still got into trouble in the dark.

 

I can’t imagine the disciples out at night, fishing in a leaky wooden boat, in a sea known for its sudden, unpredictable storms.

 

The scripture we read today calls it the Sea of Tiberias, but in the Bible it goes by several names: Sea of Galilee,  Sea of Kinneret, lake of Gennesaret, and sometimes just “the sea” or “the lake.” It’s not actually a sea as it has fresh water, not salt water, and it isn’t real huge, either, measuring about 13 miles long and 8.1 miles wide. By comparison, Lake Palestine is 18 miles long and 4 miles wide at its widest. So basically and shorter and wider Lake Palestine.

 

The lake is fed by the upper Jordan river, and the Jordan river also flows out of it as it makes its way south to the Dead Sea.

 

There are a lot of fish in the sea/lake. There are several different species but one is probably familiar to you today: tilapia. This fish is even called “Peter’s fish” in the area because of the scripture from the 17th chapter of Matthew where Jesus tells Peter to go and catch a fish and that he will find a coin in the fish’s mouth to be used to pay the temple tax.

 

Besides the tilapia, the lake contains “biny” fish, a predatory species which feeds on yet another species, sardines. Yes, like the sardines you get in a can at the grocery store. There are also catfish in the lake, but the clean/unclean laws in Leviticus classifies catfish as “unclean” (they don’t have both fins and scales) so they didn’t eat them.

 

More than likely the fish that filled the nets of the disciples was tilapia. It is the only fish in the lake that schools and moves to the shallows when the weather cools.

 

So the disciples have been out fishing for these tilapia all night long and haven’t caught a thing. Now we have to remember, these are professional fishermen, not amateurs. Before following Christ three of them in this group (and maybe four if Andrew is one of the unnamed disciples) made a living by fishing. And if you didn’t catch any fish, not only did you not get paid, you also might not eat.

 

They fish all night, and nothing. Nada. They got skunked.

 

So they are tired, frustrated, and maybe a little irritable as well.

 

Then someone on the shore points out the fact that they haven’t caught anything. Great. Pour salt in the wound, will ya. He then tells them to put out their nets on the right side of their boat.

 

Yeah, like that’s going to work. They had been fishing all night. All the long, dark, night. They fished and fished and fished and tried everything they knew to catch fish and had come up with nothing. What are the odds that putting out the nets one more time, on a specific side of the boat, would be any different.

 

But what did they have to lose? Maybe the stranger knew something they didn’t. So they tried it. And indeed there were fish here. Lots of fish. Big fish, completely filling up the net. There were so many fish, they couldn’t bring the net on board.

 

It’s at this point that “the disciple that Jesus loved,” who most people believe to be John, figures out that the person standing on the shore and giving fishing instructions is Jesus. Peter, every the impetuous one, puts on some clothes, jumps out of the boat, and swims to shore toward Jesus.

 

Now the question could be raised why Peter was fishing naked. Here’s my theory: if you don’t have many clothes, and you want the clothes you do have not to smell like fish, then it makes sense not to wear them while you are fishing. Also, it could have been a very warm time of year, so temperature could have come into play.

 

(Now y’all know that I love to fish. But I promise that no matter how stinky or hot it gets, I will not fish naked. I know that will give you great comfort and peace.)

 

It doesn’t say whether the other six disciples get mad at Peter for abandoning them at a critical moment when they are trying to get their catch to shore, but I wonder that. And I get to thinking that maybe it’s a Mary/Martha kind of moment, that while yes, the large number of fish was important, seeing Jesus was perhaps the greater of the two things.

 

There is so much symbolism in this passage of scripture. The fishermen who became disciples, whom Jesus called away from their nets and who he taught to fish for people, go back to fishing. It is while they are doing this that the resurrected Jesus appears.

 

The fish becomes a symbol of the early Christian church. It still is today. Jesus fed the thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread.

 

So back to the scripture. Jesus is cooking fish over a charcoal fire. Now this is easy to skip over, but I find it fascinating. What is charcoal? How is it made? It’s wood that is set on fire and then extinguished before the fire burns up all the wood. In a way that’s what happened to the disciples, right? They were set on fire when Jesus called them and they followed him, then his death on the cross seemingly extinguished their fire. They didn’t know what to do. And then the resurrected Jesus shows up and rekindles the fire in them and gives them their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In other words, to fish for people. And what does Jesus have cooking over the charcoal fire? Fish, of course.

 

But perhaps the most beautiful example of symbolism in the passage comes with the interaction between Jesus and Peter. Jesus asks Peter what seems to be a repetitive question: “Do you love me?”

 

He does this three times. Why the repetition? It doesn’t seem to make sense?

 

But then we remember what Peter did after Jesus was arrested. Peter fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy that Peter would deny him (Jesus) three times before the rooster crowed. And while at the time Peter vehemently argued that he would never deny Jesus, the fact is that he did. And how many times did he deny knowing him?

 

Three. Three times.

 

I am convinced that Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” three times as a way of offering forgiveness to Peter, once for each time he denied him. I think that’s why Peter’s response to being asked this a third time is different than the first two: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

 

I think this third time it suddenly hits Peter what is going on. And it probably knocks the spiritual wind out of him. And it probably was painful to realize that Jesus repeating the question three times was in response to Peter’s denying him three times.

 

But it doesn’t end there. It’s also interesting to note the responses Jesus gives to Peter each time Peter replies.

 

“Feed my lambs.”

“Tend my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.”

 

“Feed my lambs.”

 

I find it to be descriptive of spiritual growth. Lambs are baby sheep. Their nourishment comes from milk. This reminds me of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.”

 

This describes those new to the faith. They are not yet spiritually mature but will grow over time, becoming spiritually mature. Those who are spiritually mature are to help brothers and sisters in the faith to become spiritually mature.

 

“Tend my sheep.”

 

To me this describes someone who is past the infant stage. Adult sheep can tend for themselves in many ways, no longer needing to be fed milk. They feed by grazing and can do it by themselves, but they still need a shepherd to “tend” them, to watch out for them, and to lead them to green pastures and “beside the still waters.”

 

In the same way I think that Christians in this stage of spiritual growth are able to practice many of the spiritual disciplines by themselves (daily Bible reading, prayer, tithing, etc.) but still need someone more spiritually mature to “tend” them and encourage them.

 

“Feed my sheep.”

 

Here I think Jesus is referring to the spiritually mature followers, i.e. sheep. He is asking Peter to feed them, signifying the leadership role that Peter is to play in the early church. Also, we must remember one of the major purposes of adult sheep: to make more sheep! Peter, and we, are to feed spiritually mature believers with spiritual food (primarily the Word of God) so that they will then “produce fruit” and make lambs, other disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

So what can we learn from this scripture that we can apply to our lives today?

 

I think one is that for every time we mess up, God offers us forgiveness. Peter denied Jesus three times during a very critical time, and Jesus offers Peter forgiveness three times.

 

In conversations I have with unchurched people I often hear things like, “You don’t want me in church. I’ve done some really bad things in my past life that I’m not proud of.”

 

My response is that God’s church is the very place they need to be. They need to feel the Holy Spirit move in their lives to let them know that when we ask for forgiveness, God gives us that forgiveness. And if God can forgive us, then we can begin the process of forgiving ourselves.

 

As church members we need to make sure we are always welcoming to those carrying heavy burdens. We need to remember that the church is not a shrine for saints, but a hospital for sinners.

 

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” His response was, “Yes.”

 

But we can also ask God, “Do you love me?” And God’s response is always, “Yes.”

 

“How much,” we often think.

 

“This much,” God replies. (Hold arms out wide.)

 

So my challenge to you this week is to remember just how much God loves us and how willing God is to forgive us–and all his children–of the times we deny him. Peter went on to do great things and to establish what we know as the church.

 

And we can, and should do the same. Let us as disciples of Jesus Christ fish for people.

 

But if you want me to go fish fishing at night, I’m probably gonna pass.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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Another Side Of Sunday: The Path

We invite you to enjoy a post from Jeremiah’s Menu as you continue your path from the empty tomb.

Today… I was a picture of His hands at work…

She told me Friday… I need you to come to Praise & Prayer and knit… she said I would be the demonstration…

Through the entire service…? I asked…

Yes…

Well… OK… if it helps people to connect with Him… Amen…

So this morning… I sat at the front of the small gathering… on a single stool… ball of yarn on the floor… knitting… Read more

 

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Another Side of Sunday: The Path

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Luke 5:1-5

The guest preacher Sunday spoke to our church, preparing us to make take the next steps in the Vibrant Church Initiative process.  Let’s take some time this week to reflect on his insights and consider our call to be fishers of men.

On one occasion… an ordinary day, a day like any other, not a holiday or a special event, no potluck luncheon or revival meeting. It was a day like the one before where Peter was fishing and cleaning his nets. Just an ordinary day, but when Jesus shows up He makes the ordinary extraordinary. What does an ordinary Sunday at church look like for you? Do you recognize Jesus in your ordinary?

Getting into one of the boats… When you step into a canoe or boat things move. Sometimes it’s hard to keep your balance in the midst of the rocking and swaying. The preacher said, “When Jesus gets into your boat, it will be rocked.” The reality is we like stability, and tend to resist change. It’s risky. We might just topple right over into deep waters. Change is inevitable. It signifies growth. Are you growing when it comes to being a part of the church? Is God calling you to do something that leaves you shaking? Are you resistant to change? Why?

Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. Life seems easier when you’re fishing from the bank. No danger of falling into deep cold water. It’s safe and secure, but the fishing is limited. I told my fifth and sixth graders recently, “Never go fishing without your life jacket. It saves you.” Jesus calls us to put out into the deep, but we never go alone. He is our Life Jacket, our salvation.

Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” In other words, we’ve been fishing and caught nothing. The fish aren’t biting today. Our words and thoughts often echo Peter’s. “We’ve always done it this way. This is our way. We’ve got it mastered. Why do it different?” Is there something in the church you really like, want to do the same way every single time? Is that something working to make disciples, bringing others to Christ?

But at your word I will let down the nets. My friend and I have this saying when we’re feeling called out of our ordinary. When our boats are rolling side to side, and we’re off balance. When we hear God whisper: Go deeper, push harder, do it My way. After we’ve shared our struggle, admitted our fear and hesitancy, we often say, “There is no other way.” In other words, I may be trembling on the inside, but I’ll move forward, take the next step, attempt to do what God is calling me to do. Because His way is always better and good and right.

Consider our church as a whole, the call it has to go and make disciples. How is God calling us to deeper waters? What part is God calling you to do? Will you answer like Peter? Will you say, “Because You say so, I will?”

Jesus, we invite You to come. Get into our boat. Lead us to deep waters. It is our hearts’ desire to serve You, to live out the commission You gave to Your disciples. Forgive us when we hold onto our comfortable things, when we refuse to love our neighbor. When we allow fear to overcome our call. Teach us how to be a church that cries out, “Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord!”

Mary Magdalene with the Resurrected Jesus by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov

 

“He Is Risen!”

A Message on John 20:1-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 1, 2018, Easter Sunday
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 20:1-18(NRSV)

 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

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One day a Sunday School teacher was talking to her elementary-age students about Easter. “Can anyone tell me what Easter is?” she asked the class.

 

“It’s when you get new dresses and shoes and hats,” said one little girl.

 

“It’s when the Easter bunny comes and you hunt Easter eggs!” said another student.

 

“Yes, but what is the REAL meaning of Easter?” she asked.

 

It got real quiet in the room. Then, very slowly, a little boy raised his hand. “Yes, Johnny,” the teacher said.

 

“Easter is when we celebrate Jesus,” he said.

 

“That’s right,” said the teacher. “What do we celebrate about Jesus?”

 

“Well,” said Johnny, “There were some people who didn’t like Jesus, so they killed him. And after they killed him on the cross, they put him in a hole in the ground.”

 

“A tomb,” said the teacher, feeling proud that at least one of the children knew the meaning of Easter. “Go on.”

 

“Well, then, after he’s been in the hole in the ground three days, he comes out at Easter.”

 

The teacher was proud. “That’s right, Johnny, very good.”

 

“Then,” said Johnny, “if he sees his shadow it means that there will be six more weeks of winter.”

 

While this story is humorous, it points out what I think is a very real truth: for many people Jesus rising from the dead is treated as just another fictional legend. It’s just something that isn’t real but that does have entertainment value.

 

The scripture we read today from the Gospel of John tells us about the first Easter morning. Mary Magdelene goes to the tomb early in the morning. Mary was a follower of Jesus who has been the subject of urban myths herself. There are theories that she was a prostitute, that she and Jesus had a baby, and other things that are based more on speculation than on fact or the scriptures.

 

Two of the gospels, Luke and the longer ending of Mark, say that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. All four of the gospels mention her, and she is mentioned 12 times between the gospels. That’s more than most of the disciples get mentioned.

 

It is fact and not fiction that she is an important follower of Jesus Christ. It’s also a fact that early in the morning she goes to Jesus tomb. In John’s gospel she goes alone, while in Mark’s gospel she is one of the “Three Marys” that visit the tomb. (Mary Magdalene, Mary Mother of James, and Mary “Salome”) Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene going to tomb with “the other Mary,” and Luke just mentions “the women.”

 

Mary gets the name “Magdalene” from the town she was from, Magdala. This was a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Mary, or more technically “Mariam,” was a popular name at the time and so often they were referred to also the town they were from in order to differentiate between different Marys.

 

Mary is the one in John’s gospels who is the first to see the risen Jesus. She recognizes him when he calls her by name. Jesus gives her a task, to go and tell the disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And she does. Her first words to them are, “I have seen the Lord!”

 

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very tenet of the Christian faith. I don’t think you can be a Christian if you don’t believe this.

 

Over the years there have been many attempts to discredit the resurrection. Jesus wasn’t really dead, only unconscious. Right before he was crucified Jesus switched bodies with someone else. The Roman guards were bribed by Jesus disciples who came in the night and took his body away.

 

To me these theories are no more valid than the groundhog seeing his shadow on Groundhog Day.

 

Jesus was really dead. The Roman guards saw to that. They well well versed in crucifying people, and they knew when they were dead and when they were not. The spear in Jesus side confirmed it. Jesus was dead.

 

But he didn’t stay dead. The huge stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus walked out alive. He even tidied up the place a bit before he left, rolling up the cloth that had been around his head.

 

We read these words in scripture, and we believe.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is proof that he is the messiah, the Son of God. And it gives us joy and it gives us hope.

 

Hope because we know because of our faith death does not have the last word for those who believe. No matter what happens to us in this world, we have hope because we are promised that something better is coming.

 

When a loved one dies, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When the doctor gives us a diagnosis of cancer, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When relationships disintegrate and our hearts are broken, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When addictions destroy lives and bodies, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When our bodies begin to fail as we grow older and pain becomes a daily reminder of our mortality, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

Something better is coming, and we can claim and hold on to that because Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

 

Jesus isn’t dead. He is no longer in the grave. He is risen!

 

So my challenge to you this Easter Sunday is to live boldly, knowing that something better is coming. It’s not a fictional story. It’s not an urban legend. It is fact: Jesus is alive. He is risen.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Another Side of Sunday: The Path

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly.

John 19:1-3
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The Roman soldiers’ mocking of Jesus as “King of the Jews” shows their unwillingness to recognize Him as the Son of God and the Lord of all creation – the Lord of their lives. Why were they unwilling to let Jesus be their Lord? Why, at times, are we all?

For the Romans, who were the powers-that-be of their day, their worth came from political power, wealth, and social standing. To humble themselves before a heavenly King (as opposed to kneeling to a worldly emperor) would be to admit they lacked something; that they weren’t in control. After all, what was the Roman Empire all about if not control? For the unbelieving soldiers, then, it may come as little surprise they mocked Jesus, denying his Lordship and attempting, in vain, to satisfy themselves with all the money and power they could get.

The tendency to deny or downplay the authority and Kingship of Christ is, sadly, not a condition limited to the unbeliever. Many times in our lives (even when we are longtime Christians) we make decisions which help us feel “in control.” We often go after things we want: money, popularity, pleasure, even when we know that to be a follower of Christ means to live in “joyful obedience” to Him.

Thankfully, we know the gift of the cross is forgiveness for our sins and the times we fall short in our walk with our King. Praise God, His isn’t a worldly empire easily overthrown by the next world power. Rather, our King rules over an eternal kingdom where, through His suffering, death, and resurrection, we have a home. May we always strive to follow the King!

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, help me to see the difference between this world and Your world. The temptations are great, and often I seek happiness in places that I know will not make me happy. Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live this life and life to come in joyful obedience. Amen.

Worship Through Music

 

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Another Side of Sunday: The Path

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

Luke 24:13-16

Two friends left Jerusalem on their way to Emmaus talking about Jesus and His death. They were confused, and sad. They too, had heard the tomb was empty. Still, an empty tomb didn’t really explain anything. I can almost hear the questions in their mind maybe even some of the discussion they had along the road.

I thought this was it. The Messiah had come, but now He’s dead. Did I misunderstand His teaching? Was I manipulated to believe in a lie? And now an empty tomb, the women talking of angels. What in the world is going on? Who would take His body and why? Or is possible He told the truth? Could He be alive?

There are years the path leading to Easter somehow stops and I don’t want to go any further. I’m like Mary holding tight to the legs of the risen Jesus and I don’t want to let go. Life will be fine if I stay right here. But Jesus didn’t allow His followers to take up residence at the empty tomb.

Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Matthew 28:10

Today is the fourth day after Easter. Ninety-six hours have ticked away each of us follows a path away from the tomb. Consider the path you’ve walked since Sunday.  Which direction have you taken? What questions flood your mind? Who is walking with you?

Lord, as we walk away from the tomb and our Easter celebrations, help us consider where we are going. What direction you are calling us to. It is so easy to have a celebration and walk away unchanged. Not this year Jesus. We want to be changed, renewed, different. May your Resurrection have its full work in us. Amen.

Upside Down: “Kings”

 

Upside Down: “Kings”
A Message on John 12:12-16
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 25, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 12:12-16 (NRSV)

 

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
   the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
   sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

 

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Today we are concluding our sermon series “Upside Down,” which looks at the things of earth that seem upside down from the things of heaven, by looking at the topic of kings.

 

This is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, where Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem riding on of all things a young donkey.  It’s called Palm Sunday because when people heard that Jesus was coming then stripped branches off of palm trees and waved then and put then on the road for his donkey to walk on, and they did this because that’s how they celebrated royalty.

 

The scripture we read today has the crowd shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord–the King of Israel!”

 

Now the history of the people of Israel had with kings was somewhat sketchy. There were only three kings over the united kingdom of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon.

 

The first, Saul, came about when the people demanded a king. The name Saul, as a matter of fact, means “asked for, prayed for.”

 

Here’s the situation. Somewhere around 1500 BC the tribes of Israel occupy the promised land and yet they don’t really have a centralized form of government. They have the laws that Moses gave them but really no one person in charge like they did when Moses was around.

 

So they have judges. Now when we think of judges we think of legal matters regarding the law, and these people did indeed do that, but they also served as leaders of the people in terms of military and governmental functions as well.

 

But the people didn’t like that. When Samuel the prophet came around they started whining and complaining that they didn’t have a king. Samuel had appointed his sons as judges, but they were evil and didn’t follow God’s ways.

 

So the people of Israel came to Samuel and demanded a king. They wanted a king because all the other countries had kings and they didn’t. I can just hear them whining like a little kid, “We want a king. Everybody else has a king. We want a king.” (I’ve always wanted Samuel to answer them, “Well if the people in every country went and jumped off a cliff would you go and jump off it, too?”)

 

So Samuel prays to God and God tells him to go ahead and give them a king, but to warn them of just how mean and tough the king was going to be on them. So Samuel tells them that this king won’t be nice to them, that he will take away the things they have and make them slaves, but the people don’t listen. They want a king.

 

So Saul is chosen as the first king. And things go pretty good at first, then Saul starts doing mean and evil things just like ol’ Samuel prophesied.

 

David comes on the scene, and Saul tries to kill him multiple times, things like trying to impale him on a spear, stuff like that.

 

Then Saul dies in battle and David becomes king. David does good in the eyes of God until we get to the whole Bathsheba thing and having her husband killed. David repents, but the damage has already been done.

 

Wise Solomon succeeds his father David as king of Israel. He starts off pretty good but then, wise as he is, starts falling away from God.

 

After Solomon the kingdom divides into two separate countries, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Each of them have a succesion of kings. Most of the kings are not good, especially in Israel. Judah has some pretty good kings, like Hezekiah, but then bad kings came along and destroyed all the good the good ones did.

 

So the Jewish people don’t have a very good track record with kings.

 

At the time Jesus walks on the earth the kingdom doesn’t have a king. The land is under the military and governmental control of the Romans, and they appoint governors over the Jewish people but pretty much leave them to themselves as long as they don’t cause trouble. The Pharisees and Sadducees oversee the Jewish people, but do so under the oppressive thumb of the Romans.

 

Throughout the history of the Jewish people, though, they have been waiting on the messiah. The prophets spoke of one who would come and deliver them from being oppressed and who would be their leader. This messiah would change everything.

 

When Jesus enters Jerusalem many of the Jewish people think he is the messiah, he is the one. There is great joy and anticipation on what the messiah is going to do.

 

Most of them probably thought about the messiah more in military terms. He would come in with a great and powerful sword and overthrow the Roman controlwith massive bloodshed and great military victories.

 

But Jesus doesn’t ride into town on a stallion of war, but on a beast of burden. A donkey. A service animal, small but strong, the complete opposite of a war horse.

 

As a matter of fact there is still a breed of donkeys that are called Jerusalem donkeys. They are called that because the pattern of their coat makes a cross on their backs. Legend has it that the cross start appeared on the donkeys after Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was crucified. The shadow of the cross fell across the donkey’s back and made the pattern. That’s not true but it is a good reminder of the type of animal Jesus rode.

 

Even though Jesus was on a donkey the people still celebrated! Yes, it wasn’t the kind of entrance they expected, but hey, let’s see what happens! Yay for the King of Israel. Boo for the Romans.

 

But when Jesus doesn’t overthrow the Romans by military force, the shouts of Hosanna turn to shouts of “Crucify Him!,” all in just a few days time.

 

So how should we as followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st century view kings? How should our faith shape our view of “kings,” those who lead countries?

 

In the United States we don’t have a king, we have a president. Some people in this room like him, some people in this room hate him, and some really don’t care one way or the other. I’m not going to get into politics today other than what the Bible tells us about how we should treat our leaders.

 

The scriptures tell us that our top priority is to God, but that we are also to pray for and submit ourselves to those who have authority over us.

 

Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

 

Now that doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with them or some of the things they do. But we are to be subject to them.

 

“For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.” (1 Peter 2:13-14)

 

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”  (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

 

The world will always have rulers. Some good, some not-so-good, and some just downright evil. That’s the way it has always been, and I’m pretty sure that’s the way it will be until the second coming of Christ.

 

Leaders come and leaders go, but God always remains as our ultimate authority figure. As our ultimate King.

 

Back in the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel wrote these words:

 

He changes times and seasons,
   deposes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
   and knowledge to those who have understanding. (Daniel 2:21)

 

Our world today is so full of shouting about kings. Screaming, actually. Each side tries to scream louder than the other, to be more radical than the other, and the media loves it and counts the money from the ratings. Depending on which side you believe, things are great because of our “king,” or they are horrible because of our “king.”

 

While we are to be subjects to human government “kings” we must remember that  our full loyalty is to the King of Heaven, not an earthly king.

 

We need be upside down from the worldly view.We need be faithful and loyal to King Jesus at all times and at all places and in all circumstances.

 

Let us not be like those in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago who cried out “Hosanna!” one day only to scream “Crucify him!” just a few days later.

 

Jesus, being God, knew that the same people praising him for being the messiah would be the same ones who would call for his death. I wonder how he felt as he rode into Jerusalem that day knowing that.

 

Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on the way to the cross. Joy turned to pain and sorrow.

 

There is a song by a group called Downhere that has some poignant lyrics with regards to kings. Ironically it is a Christmas song, but I like to listen to it year round.

 

It was written by a member of the group named Marc Martel, and in an interview he gives some of the story behind the song.

 

“My favorite thing about Christmas is that as a believer, I am often challenged by the fact that God’s way of doing things often seems to be the opposite of what we would come up with. Instead of the world’s way of coming down to earth, which would involve celebrity, riches, arrogance, our God and Savior chose humility, poverty and the ultimate sacrifice of dying on a cross hanging between two thieves. This completely humbles me as a believer. I’m amazed at how God uses the mundane to save us from our sin and ourselves.”

 

Here are the words of the chorus:

 

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me

 

So my challenge to you on this Palm Sunday as we begin Holy Week is to remember who the ultimate king really is. Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem in a limousine or on a war horse, but on the humble, hard-working beast of burden, a donkey. He showed the ultimate power of love and humbled himself to die on a cross, although he had every earthly power of kings at his command.

 

How many kings step down from their thrones and give their lives for the salvation of the world?

 

Only one did that.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

,

Another Side of Sunday: The Path

The chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, “Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of.” Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed…. Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barrabas… [and] handed [Jesus] over to be crucified.

Mark 15:1-5, 15

“Very early in the morning they made a decision.” The decision would condemn an innocent man. The decision  would bring shame to the Jewish people. A decision that was prophesied. A decision which resulted in promises being fulfilled and lives changed forever.

We make many choices and decisions throughout the day. How will the choices you make today affect others? Will you make them flippantly or with careful consideration. Will you allow God to work through you to show love and kindness and extend Grace that has been given to you?

I pray that during this week of the Lenten Season you think of your choices as having a ripple effect. Will the ripples that spread into your home, community, and world be positive?

Remember, you may be the only “Jesus” a person sees in a day. Don’t sell him out.

Father, you have taught us, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Those are easy words to say, but so often difficult to live by. Help me to recognize those times that I judge, whether it be consciously or not. Remind me that if I walk in your ways, O Lord, my path will remain clear and my heart open. Amen.

Music for your reflection:

 

 

Upside Down: “Service”

Upside Down: “Service”
A Message on Matthew 20:20-28
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 18, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 20:20-28 (NRSV)

 

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

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There is a new television series that doesn’t air over the air or even on any of the cable or satellite channels. It’s called “Returning the Favor” and it is shown on, of all things, Facebook. It features Mike Rowe, former host of “Dirty Jobs” and the narrator of “Deadliest Catch,” who travels the country looking for “do-gooders” (their term, not mine). Mike and his film crew interview them, and then usually leaves them a big check to help with their costs of “doing good.”

 

The episode I watched Thursday had them in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania talking to Carol Stark, known locally as “The Crazy Lady.” She got that nickname because Carol spends her time, and her money, working with the street kids in that county. She works with homeless teenagers, teenagers who have gotten into trouble with the law, ones who have gotten kicked out of school.

 

And she doesn’t just work with them, she teaches them to work. One student talked about how he got in trouble with the law and owed a $5,000 fine. He was homeless at the time and there was no way he was going to be able to pay the fine. Then Carol went to the judge and talked the judge into having the young man work community service instead of paying a fine. (Mike asked the young man how much community service offset a $5,000 fine, and the young man replied, “A lot. A whole, whole lot.”)

 

Carol taught the young man how to work. He had never worked before in his life. She taught him the importance of work, the value of a job well done, and how work can develop self esteem and values.

 

And that was just one teenager. Carol had helped so many teens in that community. Hundreds. No one else in that community cared about these teenagers, but Carol did.

 

I bring up Carol as an example of service to others because we are continuing our sermon series “Upside Down” by looking at the topic of service today.

 

Today’s scripture from Matthew’s Gospel intrigues me in a couple of aspects. The first is that the disciples were being so competitive at… well… being disciples. There was one-upmanship going on among the twelve, pushing and jockeying for positioning about who was better than who.

 

It’s like elementary kids competing for who will be first in line. At Mini-Methodists on Wednesday the adult volunteers usually will alternate on who gets off of the bus or the people mover first. Last rows first, or first rows first. And the kids have figured this out, so when they get on the bus they choose their seats based on who they think will get off the bus first. (They hate it when I drive or ride because I will tell them “the middle” or the opposite of what they are expecting.)

 

Why is it in our human nature to be so competitive? And you would think of all people that the disciples wouldn’t have the problem, but they did.

 

Now here’s the thing I find humorous about today’s scripture. James and John are the sons of Zebedee who leave their father’s fishing boat to follow Jesus. Now it’s not the disciples themselves who approach Jesus asking that they be selected as better disciples than all the rest, but it’s their mother! It’s their mom!

 

These are grown men and yet here comes mom (I can just see her tugging on James’ earlobe to come on) asking Jesus to place her sons over the other disciples.

 

What I wonder is if it was James and John’s idea for mom to approach Jesus and ask him the question, or if it was mom’s idea? Was she wanting a bumper sticker to put on her donkey that said “My sons sit at the right and left hand of Jesus.” Was it her idea to do it so that she could have bragging rights about her kids?

 

Or was it the brothers’ idea to have mom approach Jesus and ask him because they were either two scared to do it themselves or thought that mom would increase their chances of being the “chosen ones.”

 

The great thing about the situation is Jesus’ response. Now I often wonder if he did this: (show photo of Jesus doing a facepalm). We don’t know if he rolled his eyes or did a facepalm or not, but we do know that his response was that the positions of prestige were not his to give, but his father’s.

 

Word gets back to the other 10 disciples about what ol’ James and John tried to do, and as expected they get pretty ticked about it. But then Jesus uses the moment to do a little teaching. “…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

This had to be so upside down, so different from worldly thinking, the disciples had to go, “Say what?”

 

It’s track season now. Jesus is saying that instead of giving the trophies and honors to the athletes that finish first, give it to the person that crosses the line last. Can you hear the announcer over the PA system, “… And in last place in the 1500 meter dash, with a time of 2 hours, 13 minutes, and 43 seconds, John James from Zebedee High School.”?

 

It doesn’t make sense, does it? Not from our worldly thinking, no. But when it comes to serving others, it makes perfect sense in heavenly thinking.

 

The last shall be first. The meek will inherit the earth. The greatest will be a servant. The first will be a slave.

 

Jesus said he came “not to be served but to serve.” As Christians, as followers of Jesus, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to do the same. We shouldn’t seek to be served, but should seek to serve.

 

My late mom not only believed this but she also lived it. There were eight of us in the family (6 kids and 2 adults) so mom had to cook a lot of food. When we would have fried chicken she would cut up and fry three chickens. (For you young folks, chicken didn’t always come already cut up.) Mom always chose what she called the “boney” pieces, the back and ribs and necks. She said it was because that’s what she liked, but I’m pretty sure she chose those so that her family could enjoy the more premium pieces of chicken. She put our needs before her own.

 

As Christians today, how are we living out servant leadership? How are we walking in the Jesus Way of seeking not to be served, but to serve? How many of us are sitting at the table waiting to eat instead of getting up, giving others our seats, and being servants and serving the Bread of Lifo to them?

 

It’s hard to be a servant in today’s world. We have become such a consumeristic society that even subconsciously we view the world in terms of what can benefit us, not how we can benefit others.

 

It has even infiltrated religion. We come to church with an attitude to get, not to give. We come looking to be fed, to see what we can get out of it, what’s in it for “me.” When we do we miss that worship is giving to God and giving to others, and that it is through giving that we receive, that we are fed.

 

We look inward in the church, instead of looking outward toward those in our community who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

To me on of the most beautiful acts Jesus did with his disciples is when he washed their feet. Found in the 13th chapter of John’s gospel, this act of service is so humbling, so condescending and self-effacing, that it’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around it.

 

The job of foot washing at that time in history was given to whoever was lowest on the social pecking order. Usually a slave or a servant, there was no prestige in washing the feet of people who wore sandals and walked around on gravel and dirt all day.

 

And yet that’s what Jesus himself does at the Last Supper. He washes the feet of his disciples, even the feet of Judas, the one he knows will betray him.

 

And then he gives them this command: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

 

Servanthood. It’s an integral part of being a Christian. Jesus came to be a servant, and was a servant. In the same way we should be servants, too.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be a servant. Have a servant’s heart like Jesus does. Have a servant heart like “The Crazy Lady” Carol Stark of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We are surrounded in our community by people who are hurting because they don’t know the love that God has for them. Instead of being competitive about how good a Christian we are, like James and John (and their mother) did, let us seek to wash the feet of those in our community who do not know Jesus Christ. (Maybe not literally, but you know what I mean.)

 

“…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

Another Side of Sunday: The Path

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about!” As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazorean.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man!” A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.” At that he began to curse and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly.

Matthew 26:69-75

Confessing Jesus and praising him loudly and boldly is very easy among friends and fellow believers. But what will we do when our perception of Jesus’ power and love are rattled and we find all of our dreams shattered like broken shards of glass lying at our feet? Will we confess him as Lord then? Will we serve him because we believe and because he is Lord even when there is no external or readily apparent reason to serve him?

Peter’s rooster has crowed in many lives since Peter heard it and realized what he had done: broken his word to the Lord and broken the Lord’s heart. That rooster crow comes in many forms, but it is that agonizing moment when we personally realize that we have betrayed or denied our Lord—not for thirty pieces of silver like Judas and not for fear of our life like Peter, but for nothing.

The really powerful and beautiful part of this story is that unlike Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s story doesn’t finish here. He returns to serve and glorify the Lord in mighty ways. So for those of us who have failed mightily, there is not only hope, but a proven example that Jesus welcomes back failures to make them strong and call them to his service. In the meantime, let’s keep trying to be strong and not fail with the help of the Lord’s Spirit and the confidence that Peter would not know until Jesus had risen from the dead!

Almighty and holy God, I fully recognize that I make promises that I cannot keep. Please forgive me when I have been hasty with my promises, slow in keeping my vows to you, and weak in fulfilling my commitments. There is a bit of both Peter and Judas in me. This troubles me and shames me, but also reminds me that I need your strength and your Spirit to be strong and to live faithfully. My truest prayer, dear Father, is that I never outlive nor betray my love for you and the grace you have given me in my Savior. In the precious name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Worship Through Music