Meeting Jesus: Mary

 

“Meeting Jesus: Mary”
A Message on John 19:25-27
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 12, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 19:25-27 (NRSV)

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

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Today is Mother’s Day, a day set aside to honor mothers everywhere for all the great things they do.

I want to start off today tell you about Anna Jarvis, who lived in West Virginia right after the turn of the century in the early 1900s. Anna was a Methodist, a member of St. Andrews Methodist Church located in Grafton, West Virginia.

In 1905 Anna got an idea that it would be a good idea to have a special day to honor mothers everywhere, especially her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. Anna’s mom had died that year. She was an incredible woman, having been a peace activist who had taken care of wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, as well as starting clubs for moms to address public health issues.

Anna wanted some way to pay tribute to her mom for all the things she had done, and for all mothers, saying that a mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”

In 1908, Congress was petitioned to make Mother’s Day a national holiday, but they refused. States, however, thought it was a good idea so they started making it a holiday. Then, in 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed legislation making Mother’s Day a nationally recognized holiday.

That’s not the end of the story, however. Anna Jarvis became very upset with the commercialism of Mother’s Day. She started organizing boycotts of the holiday (talk about irony!) and protesting at conventions of companies that profited from the holiday. In 1925, at a meeting of American War Mothers, who were selling carnations for Mother’s Day, she got so upset that she was actually arrested for disturbing the peace.

I find that very ironic, somehow. I also find it ironic that Anna Jarvis, the woman who created Mother’s Day, never had children.

When I was growing up in Cooper, TX it was tradition on Mother’s Day to give carnations to mothers in attendance who had the youngest child, who had a child that traveled the farthest to be there, who had the most children, etc.

My mom won several times for having the most children (there were six of us).

I always felt awkward with that distinction. Mother’s day should not be a competitive contest. Not only that, but there are women who want to be mothers, who try everything they can to become a mother, but who are not successful. All the contests can make women in those situations fee pretty bad. I have known women who refused to go to church on Mother’s Day because of that very reason.

Motherhood is a rollercoaster of experiences and emotions. The highest of joys and the deepest of sorrows.

Our scripture today is about a woman, a mother, who experienced both the highs and lows of motherhood, perhaps more than any other person has. Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood both the joys and sorrows of motherhood.

She experienced the joy and anxiousness of being visited by the angel Gabriel and being told she would be giving birth to the Son of God, the Messiah. Even though she was young, she had to be familiar with the biology of how a child is created, and what the angel told her didn’t make sense biologically, but she trusted anyway, saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary probably didn’t anticipate the circumstances in which Jesus was born. I don’t know of any woman who wants to give birth to her child in a barn. And then, when they go to dedicate the baby, hearing the prophet Simeon tell Mary “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Mary also had to worry about her secret of being married to Joseph yet having a child that wasn’t his. We know that Joseph was told in a dream about the situation and so he didn’t divorce Mary, which he was well within his rights to.

Mary even knew the anxiousness and worry of not knowing where her child was. In the second chapter of Luke we are told that Jesus, when he was about 12, didn’t leave Jerusalem with the family when they were returning home. Mary and Joseph probably thought he was travelling with other family members and it wasn’t until they had traveled for a day that they realized Jesus was missing. They frantically went back to Jerusalem where it took them three days to find him. And when they found him, he was with the best and brightest religious leaders of the day, listening to them and asking them questions.

I can just imagine Mary grabbing Jesus by the ear and dragging him out of there, telling him, “I don’t care if you are the Son of God, you will tell me where you are at all times, do you understand me young man?”

And we must remember that it was at the prompting of his mother that Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine.

Mary watched her son mature and begin his ministry. She saw him give sight to the blind, give hearing to the deaf, and make the lame to walk. She saw the crowds adore him and the religious leaders try to kill him. She saw him dining and hanging out with those that were the outcasts of society. She heard him speaking in parables that puzzled the religious leaders of the day. She saw him select 12 men to be his disciples, one of which would betray him.

And in the scripture we read today we hear how she watched her son be tortured and painfully and slowly executed as if he was a common criminal.

As a pastor I can tell you that one of the most heart-wrenching moments that causes such pain among people is the death of a child. As more than one person has told me, parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children. Age doesn’t matter. Whether it is a young child or grown adult with grandchildren of their own, the grief is overwhelming. It simply breaks a parent’s heart. I am just an observer, but it breaks my heart as well. I hold in high esteem those that go through situations like this.

I can say that I know how I would feel if it was one of my two daughters. But I really don’t know, and I hope and pray that I don’t ever find out.

We can try to imagine Mary’s pain as she saw he son hanging on the cross, but we really can’t know, can we? It had to be devastating. Beyond devastating. I wonder if she thought back to the things Gabriel told her, to the things Simeon told her. I wonder if her faith in God waivered. How could God allow this to happen? Surely there must be a better way! I wonder if she thought that mothers weren’t supposed to outlive their children.

The bottom line is we simply don’t know. The scripture tells us that Jesus called “the disciple he loved,” which most scholars agree is John, and told him to take care of Mary, his mother.

Now this is interesting because we know that Jesus had siblings. Mary had more children after Jesus, with Joseph being the father. For example, James, whose writings appear as a book in the Bible, was a half brother of Jesus. Same mother, but different father.

In those days if something happened to the first born son, then it was the second born son that had the responsibility to take care of his parents as they aged. So why didn’t Jesus tell James or one of his other siblings to take care of his mother? Why did he choose John, who was not even a relative?

We can only speculate, but one of the reasons may be that James wasn’t around. Most of the disciples left Jesus when he was arrested and especially when he was crucified. It was something Jesus had predicted. John 16:32 reads, “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.”

We know that after Jesus death and resurrection the disciples got back together as a group. We know because John 20:19 says that they were together in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. They were afraid the Jews would crucify them just as they had done Jesus. It was then that the resurrected Jesus came and stood among them.

Another possibility for Jesus entrusting his mother’s care to John is that John is the only disciple to live to an old age. All the others were martyred at various times and places. John is the only one that made it to his senior years, which might have affected Jesus decision.

We know that Mary’s life was changed by meeting Jesus. Anyone who has had children knows that having a child does indeed change one’s life.

So what can we learn from Mary that we may apply to our lives, especially as we celebrate mothers?

First, I think Mary can remind us that following Jesus doesn’t mean we will lead trouble-free lives. You would think that of all people Mary wouldn’t have any problems after giving birth to and raising the Son of God. Right? But that wasn’t the case. Her blood pressure rose and her heart probably raced as she and Joseph looked for a lost Jesus in Jerusalem, just like ours does when we can’t find one of our kids. And I’m sure the tears flowed as she stood at the foot of the cross.

Another thing I think we can learn from Mary is to trust in God. She had to trust in God when she conceived Jesus, and she had to trust him even when her son was dying. That doesn’t mean she didn’t question God or even angry with God. I tell people that it’s okay to be angry with God. It’s okay to argue with God, and sometimes that makes us feel better during difficult times, but just know that God will win the argument.

Paul talks about how in this life we see things as in a mirror dimly. We aren’t God, so we can’t predict the outcome of everything in our lives. We can only see things from our limited perspective. We can’t see the whole picture. That’s why we have to trust God.

Trusting God is not easy. It’s a day-by-day and sometimes hour-by-hour process. But when we don’t know what to do we have to put our trust in someone who does.

Another thing I think we can learn from the scripture we read today about Mary is to honor and take care of our mothers. Paul, writing in Ephesians, says “Honor your mother and father” is the first commandment with a promise: “…so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

I think this is missing in today’s society. I have heard children backtalk and even curse their mothers in public. Unless there is an underlying mental issue with that child, I think he/she should learn what Ivory soap tastes like. (And yes, I personally know what it tastes like.)

We are to honor our mothers. They gave us life. They nurtured us, carried us in their bodies, and went through extreme pain in order to bring us into the world. They fed us, took care of us, and taught us. They are our moms. We should honor and respect them. It’s just the right thing to do.

So my challenge to you this week is to be like Mary, Jesus’ mom. Know that just because God calls you (and he calls each one of us) he doesn’t guarantee you a trouble free life. Trust in God, not only during the good times, but especially in the difficult times. And honor your mother like Jesus honored Mary, his mother. Moms aren’t perfect, but honor them and respect them. They may have made bad life choices, they may have emotionally scarred you, but they are still your mom.

Make Anna Jarvis, the creator of Mother’s Day, proud.

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

Meeting Jesus: Children

 

“Meeting Jesus: Children”
A Message on Mark 10:13-16
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April May 5, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 10:13-16 (NRSV)

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

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We’re continuing our sermon series on people whose lives have been changed by meeting Jesus, and today were not focusing on one specific individual but a group of people: children.

Children are creative and smart in ways that adults aren’t. Here are some examples of answers to tests and homework that students have given. (Show slides)

Here’s a brilliant answer that is also correct. “What ended in 1896?” The answer the child gave: “1895.”

“Where was the American Declaration of Independence signed?” Answer: “At the bottom.”

Here’s one that was counted wrong but that I argue is 100 percent correct: “What is the strongest force on earth?” Answer: “Love.”

I love this one. The assignment is this: “You are to assume the role of a Chinese immigrant in 1870 and write a letter home describing your experience.” As you can see the answer is written in Chinese, which is great. I have no idea what it says, and I doubt the teacher did either, but I think it’s brilliant!

One more from a math test. Question: “Bob has 36 candy bars. He eats 29. What does he have now? Answer: “Diabetes. Bob has diabetes.”

While those are funny and accurate answers, there was nothing funny about being a child in the Middle East in the first century. To really understand the significance of the scripture we just read from the gospel of Mark we need to understand what the perception of children that people had in the first century.

Children were important to carry on the family name, especially male children. But beside that they were pretty much viewed as a labor force to help with what people had to do to survive. They could work in the fields, watch sheep and goats, milk goats and cows, help with the nets for fishing, and things like that.

They certainly weren’t fawned over like they are today. Today families often revolve around the children. It would not have been that way in Jesus’ time.

We find that when parents started bringing their kids to Jesus that the disciples tried to prevent it. Jesus was too important, too much of a holy man, to have anything to do with children. It was a waste of his time.

But Jesus viewed it differently. Mark tells us he was “indignant” at the disciples. Other translations say “much displeased” (KJV) or even “irate” (The Message). Those are pretty strong words, but it was a serious matter to Jesus. A very, very serious matter.

“… whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

So what does it mean to “receive the kingdom of God as a little child”?

I like The Message paraphrase of that phrase: “Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”

Sometimes as adults we complicate things to much that the main thing ceases to be the main thing. We get caught up in all the minutiae and the rules and trying to make ourselves look better than others that we miss seeing the forest for the trees.

Children have no problem believing in miracles. They have no problem believing in things they cannot see. Children are not racist and don’t hold stereotypes until they are taught those by adults. Children are joyous, optimistic, inquisitive, willing to dance crazily while not caring what other people think. Children are passionate.

Those are the kinds of things I think Jesus meant when he talked about receiving the kingdom of God.

Today these seven confirmation students have those qualities. I have met with them weekly since January, and they are smart, articulate and passionate, but at the same time asked some theologically deep questions. And today they made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They have received the Kingdom of God.

So my challenge to you this week is to be like children, to be like these confirmation class members. Believe in miracles and things that you cannot see. Don’t be racist and hold stereotypes, but be joyous, optimistic, inquisitive, and passionate. Be willing to dance crazily to however the music and Holy Spirit moves you, not caring what others might think.

And if you ever need help on a test, ask a kid. After all, they’re pretty smart.

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

Meeting Jesus: Blind Bartimaeus

 

“Meeting Jesus: Blind Bartimaeus”
A Message on Mark 10:46-52
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 28, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 10:46-52 (NRSV)

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

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Today we are beginning a sermon series titled, “Meeting Jesus.” Through this series we will explore people who met Jesus with specific focus being on how their lives were changed by meeting Jesus.

Today we start of in the Gospel of Mark with a person known as “Blind Bartimaeus.”

Here’s what we know about Bartimaeus. He was the son of Timaeus. We know this because the prefix “Bar” means “son of.” Another example would be Bartholomew, one of the 12 disciples.

We know that Bartimaeus is blind. This is a significant challenge even in today’s world, but had much more dire circumstances in the first century Middle East. Because of his blindness Bartimaeus can’t work and has to beg in order to survive. He had to depend on the kindness and generosity of others just to have something to eat.

We know that at one point Bartimaeus had sight. We know this from his asking Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.” This implies that at one time he had sight, but that he doesn’t now.

There is something else that is important to know about blindness in the first century. If a person was blind it was thought that that person had sinned, and therefore the blindness was punishment from God. And if a baby was born blind, then the baby’s parents must have sinned.

In John 9 the disciples ask Jesus about this. “As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’” — John 9:1-3

So not only did Bartimaeus face physical hardships because of his blindness, but he also had to deal with the social and emotional trauma of people thinking he was blind because of some horrible sin he had committed.

We know that Bartimaeus is set up on the side of the road outside of Jericho. This would have been a high traffic area, providing him with a large number of people both entering and leaving Jericho to beg from, increasing his odds of success.

Jesus and his disciples and followers are on their way to Jerusalem when they encounter Bartimaeus. They had traveled to Jericho, gone through the town, and were headed to Jerusalem. The very next chapter in Mark’s Gospel tells of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we just celebrated on Palm Sunday.

When Bartimaeus heard the commotion of a large crowd of people coming he asked who it was that was coming. He was told that it was Jesus of Nazareth. Bartimaeus must have heard of Jesus and known about the many things he had done and the teachings he had made. He started shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Now you would think that he would cry out to the entire crowd instead of singling out just one person. He could have cried, “Alms for the poor!” or something similar. After all, with such a large crowd coming by he could have given him a lot of money. The way beggars at the time functioned was by setting up at a high traffic spot, such at the side of the road. Bartimaeus would be sitting on the ground with his cloak spread out in front of him.

Today those asking for money will have a bucket or perhaps a coffee cup for people to place money in, but in those times it was the cloak. People could drop coins on the cloak, which was the heavier, outer article of clothing worn. It acted not only for warmth but also for protection from rain and the elements. As many poor people of the day didn’t have homes or shelters they lived outside in the elements and the cloak provided them their only shelter from the elements.

The cloth material of the cloak would have absorbed the energy of coins dropped onto it, thus preventing them from bouncing off or rolling off to the side. The cloak also made it easy to gather the coins together by lifting up the edges, making it easier for the beggar to collect the coins and put them somewhere safe where they couldn’t be stolen as easy.

But Bartimaeus didn’t ask for money. He didn’t call out to the crowd, but only to Jesus. And when he did he called him the Son of David. Now this isn’t just a casual title, but a very important one. The Old Testament scriptures had said that someone of the lineage of David would rule on the throne of Israel forever. This person, the messiah, would be of the bloodline of King David.

We know that Jesus is a descendent of David. That’s why in the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus’ lineage listed all the way back to Abraham, and in the Gospel of Luke the lineage is listed all the way back to Adam. It was though Joseph, Jesus’ earthly step-father, that Jesus had this lineage.

So Bartimaeus calls out loudly to Jesus, only to be “shushed” by those around him. “Hush, be quiet. Leave him alone. He’s too important to want to have anything to do with you.”

But Jesus does something interesting. He stops. He quits walking. In the NRSV translation we read today it says he “stood still.” This would have meant that the entire crowd that was following him would have stopped as well.

Now the way I read it there seems to be some distance between Bartimaeus and where Jesus stops. Jesus doesn’t speak directly to Bartimaeus, but asks others to “call him here.” It says that “they” called to him, which I think means they passed it down the line. “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

Now what I wonder is if the people telling Bartimaeus to shut up were the same ones that told him that Jesus was calling him. If so I can see them doing it with a bit of attitude, can’t you? I don’t see them joyfully telling him “Take heart; get up, he is calling you,” but more with an attitude of “hurry up. We don’t have all day, you know.”

As we talked about on Palm Sunday Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak before he gets up to go to Jesus. This is very significant. That cloak serves as his tent as well as he collection plate. It would have been very valuable to Bartimaeus, probably the most valuable thing he owned. And yet he threw it aside to go to Jesus.

When he comes to Jesus he is asked a simple question by Jesus: “What do you want me to do for you?”

There are a lot of things Bartimaeus could have asked for. He could have said money, he could have said power, he could have said a place to live and food to eat. But he simply said, “My teacher, let me see again.” That was it. No riches, no list of wishes as if Jesus was a magical Genie who could grant him those wished. He just wanted to see again.

Jesus response was simply, “Go; your faith has made you well.” There was no Benny Hinn swinging of the jacket or placing his hand on his head and shoving him. No magic words. Just simply “Go; your faith has made you well.”

Now this is significant in that Jesus tells Bartimaeus what has restored his sight. “…your faith has made you well.”

We see that several times in Jesus ministry. It is faith that does the healing. In Mark 5 Jesus heals a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years when she just touched the edge of her cloak. He tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

In Luke 17 Jesus heals 10 lepers, yet only one of them returns to thank him. Jesus tells him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

So you see it is a person’s faith that is integral in healing.

But the most amazing thing that I find in the story of Blind Bartimaeus is that last sentence of the scripture we read today: “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

Mark’s gospel is known for its use of the word “immediately.” Mark doesn’t wait around, things happen…well… immediately. So Bartimaeus is immediately healed. He regains his sight.

And he does an interesting thing, in my opinion. Instead of jumping up and down and going and telling everyone that he can see again, he follows Jesus. He becomes part of the crowd of followers as Jesus goes to Jerusalem. We don’t know if he goes back and gets his cloak or not. We don’t know if he lays that cloak down for Jesus’ donkey to walk on. I think we can safely assume that he would have been among the crowd who shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” But in my mind I cannot place him with those who, just days later, yell “Crucify him!”

So what does Bartimaeus teach us that we can apply to our lives today? How did Bartimaeus meeting Jesus change his life?

First, I think it teaches us just how powerful faith is. Bartimaeus receives his sight back because of his faith. I wasn’t his righteous acts. It wasn’t because he was a good person. It was his faith that made him well.

How strong is our faith? I have seen miracles involving faith. Not restoration of sight miracles, but miracles nonetheless.

When I was serving as an associate pastor at Greggton UMC years ago there was an elderly gentleman in very bad health. He was dying, and he knew it. The senior pastor and I went and visited him in the hospital. We prayed over him and then he surprised us. He prayed over us. I can’t recall the prayer word for word but it was one of the most eloquent, thoughtful, and meaningful prayers I have ever heard. He prayed for us as ministers. He prayed that we would continue to share God’s love with others, that we would continue to share the Good News. He prayed blessings on us. And that afternoon he died.

That is the kind of faith I want to have. That is the kind of faith I hope you want as well.

Another thing I think can be learned from this is that we are called to follow Jesus. Bartimaeus, having his sight restored, could have started working and making money to buy a house, food, and all the things he had struggled with. But instead he “immediately” follows Jesus. He leaves his old life behind, becoming one who follows Jesus without regard to the cost.

I’m afraid today we have many who just “sorta-kinda” follow Jesus. If it’s convenient and doesn’t take away from the other important aspects of our lives, and if we can work it into our schedules, then we might follow Jesus. Maybe. Sorta-kinda.

But Jesus doesn’t want–or need–“sorta-kinda” followers. He wants his followers to be all in.

It’s like having bacon and eggs for breakfast. The chicken is “involved” in the making of the eggs, but the pig is fully committed in making the bacon.

Are you more like the chicken or the pig?

Bartimaeus’ life was changed when he experienced Jesus. Not only did he receive the miracle of having his eyesight restored, but he became a follower of Jesus. In the words of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” he once was blind but now he can see. That means spiritually as well as physically. He knows that life without Jesus isn’t much of a life, and a life with Jesus is a life with meaning, purpose, and value. And it is a life that gives us victory over death as well.

So my challenge to you this week is to be a spiritual Bartimaeus. Be thankful for all that Jesus has done in your life, for giving you new life and a way of seeing things that you were blind to before. Now go and follow him. Be all in as a follower of Jesus Christ, not just a “sorta-kinda” follower.

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

 

Easter Message: “The Living and the Dead”

The Holy Women at the Sepulchre
*oil on panel
*87.6 x 107.3 cm
*circa 1611-1614

 

 

“The Living and the Dead”
A Message on Luke 24:1-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

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This past Wednesday we loaded up the confirmation students in one of the church vans and drove them over to the cemetery behind the funeral home next door.

Now this may seem like a strange thing to do, but the topic we were studying that day was death and resurrection. So I figured what better place to talk about those things than at a cemetery. And what better time to talk about those subjects than Holy Week!

Death is not something we talk about much in our culture. I grew up on a farm which gave me an advantage in learning about death, in my opinion, because animals sometimes die on farms. Sometimes it’s due to old age, but other times it is due to other factors. We had some cows get struck by lightning. We had a bull get out on the highway and get hit by a car. We had a horse founder and die. And we also raised and processed our own beef, which means… well, you know.

But the first time I experienced the death of someone I knew was when my grandfather died. I think I was 12 years old. It was all so foreign to me. His funeral was at a church but it wasn’t like any church service I had been to before. I didn’t understand it very much and I remember being confused. I had a lot of questions.

The confirmands had a lot of questions Wednesday evening as well. “When someone dies do they instantly go to heaven, or do they have to wait until Jesus comes back?” “It is okay to be cremated?” “If someone is cremated how will their body be raised from the dead?” “What will the resurrection be like?”

Good questions from young minds.We answered and talked about those questions.

In the scripture we read today from Luke’s gospel we find questions about death as well. The women go to the tomb where Jesus was laid only to find it empty. The “two men in dazzling clothes,” or angels, appear. The men ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Being familiar with the Easter story we tend to scan over that bit of scripture and thus miss just how much of an unexpected shock it must have been to the women.

The women had gotten up early in the morning and had gone to the ancient equivalent of a cemetery with the intent of putting spices and oil on Jesus’ lifeless body.

It wasn’t something they could have been looking forward to doing. Just two days before Jesus had been brutally beaten and killed. Nails had pierced his hands and feet. A spear had been thrust in his side. Because he died just before the Sabbath began at sundown on Friday, his body could not be properly prepared for burial in the tomb. It had been a rush job, but the women were thankful to Joseph of Arimathea who had gone to Pilate Friday afternoon and asked him for Jesus body. Joseph did the best he could and put Jesus in a tomb that Joseph had created for himself.

Now the women walked to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’ body. They were planning on unwrapping the linen cloth that Joseph had put around Jesus’ body, place the ointments and spices on the body, and wrap it back up with the linen cloth.

Now this was significant for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that by doing this they would be “unclean.” In Numbers 19 the Jewish law said that touching a dead body meant a person was unclean for seven days. They would have to go through certain purification rites and have the water of cleansing sprinkled on them on the third day and the seventh day before they once again would be clean. And if they didn’t do this they would be cut off from the people. Pretty drastic, huh?

The women were willing to pay the cost, thought. The were in for a surprise, tough. They went to the grave expecting to see the dead, and instead they encounter the living. They discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were the first humans to hear the Easter message.

As Christians, as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are a resurrection people. We are not a people looking for the living among the dead. We are a people of new life, an Easter people.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t act like it. We act like people of the world, not people of Jesus.

Even with our best intentions our focus can drift from heavenly things to the things of our world. Our problems seem to grasp our attention and refuse to let it go. The bills pile up and financial challenges seem like they will overwhelm us. Our health or the health of loved ones become medical problems resulting in test after test, procedure after procedure, prescription after prescription of expensive medicines that may not seem to help.

Or maybe our worldly focus is on relationships that are strained or even broken. Maybe we have been betrayed and our hearts are broken. Maybe the memories of something we’ve done in the past create guilt and continue to affect our present and the future.

Maybe our focus is on money and power and climbing to the top. Maybe our focus is on our work or our careers, taking away time and energy from our families and loved ones.

You get the idea. The problem is that all those things are temporary. All those things are spiritually dead. We look for life, for significance, for meaning, for purpose, where those things cannot be found. We look for the living among the dead.

In 1 John 2:15-17 we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

The worldly things are passing away. Jesus does not.

Matthew 6:19-20 reads, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Jesus is not dead. He is alive. That is the very foundation of the Christian religion.

We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people.

Each Sunday, when we gather as followers of Jesus Christ to worship God, we celebrate Easter. Even during the season of Lent, which just ended, a season of repentance and preparation, Sundays are not counted in the 40 days of Lent, because each Sunday is a “little-Easter.” If one is fasting or has “given up” something for Lent, those don’t have to be observed on the Sundays during Lent. (How many of you who gave something up for Lent are thinking to yourselves, “NOW he tells us!”)

The resurrection is such a big deal to us Christians that we even changed the day we observe the Sabbath. We observe the Sabbath on Sunday because that is the day of Jesus’ resurrection. We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people.

So my challenge to you this Easter Sunday is to remember that as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we aren’t just Easter people on Easter Sunday, but every day of the year.

Death has been overcome by the love of God the Father, Jesus his only son, and the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is available to every person who calls Jesus Lord.

Let us not look for the living among the dead. The tomb is empty. Death does not live. Jesus is alive.

Let us live each day remembering that we are Easter people.

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

“Spreading Cloaks”

 

“Spreading Cloaks”
A Message on Luke 19:28-40
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 14, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 19:28-40 (NRSV)

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

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I want to start out this Sunday, Palm Sunday, by looking at something that has become somewhat of a cultural phenomena: the red carpet.

Now when we hear someone say that they are “rolling out the red carpet” it means that extreme hospitality is being shown to someone important or famous.

If you’re like me your think of Hollywood and the Academy Awards or some other awards show where celebrities pull up in big, fancy cars, get out to the flashes of the paparazzi’ cameras, say a few comments (usually politically oriented or something about how environmentally conscious they are), and then walk into the building… all on a big red carpet.

I did a little digging to find out the origin of the red carpet. It turns out that the first mention of a red carpet comes to us from the ancient playwright Aeschylus in his play, “Agamemnon,” written somewhere around 458 BC.

In this play the title character, Agamemnon returns from Troy. His wife, Clytemnestra, as part of welcoming him back, offers him a red path to walk on. She says,

“Now my beloved, step down from your chariot, and let not your foot, my lord, touch the Earth. Servants, let there be spread before the house he never expected to see, where Justice leads him in, a crimson path.”

But Agamemnon isn’t too sure about it. Knowing that only gods have something that nice to walk on, he expresses a reluctance to walk on it. He says, “I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.”

Ironically, the woman who creates the use of the red carpet ends up murdering Agamemnon in the play. Bummer.

So we see the “red carpet” goes back a long ways. (Ironically it wasn’t used for the Academy Awards until 1961.)

Nowadays the red carpet is used for someone special and even then for a special event.

In the scripture we read today from Luke’s Gospel we find people using an ancient equivalent of the red carpet for someone special and for a special event. The people laid their cloaks down on the road ahead of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Now what exactly is a cloak?

When I was in 5th grade at Cooper Elementary School my teacher was Mrs. Pat Waters. She was a great teacher. I can still remember in the winter time her telling us to go to the back of the room and get our “cloaks” as we were preparing for the end of school. I had never heard that word before but figured out pretty quickly that our “cloaks” were our jackets, coats, and sweaters, but I had never heard the term “cloaks” before.

In Jesus’ time people wore two major articles of clothing: a tunic, which was worn as an undergarment, and a much costlier cloak worn as an outer garment.

The cloak was the much more important of the two. It not only provided protection from the weather, especially in the winter time, but it was used as a kind of tent to sleep under outside. [Source: https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/11586/Tunic-Cloak.htm]

The cloak was so important that in there were laws about that Moses gave the people. In Exodus 22:26-27 we read, “If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.”

We also find a similar law in Deuteronomy 24:12-13: “If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God.”

Cloaks were important. Very important.

In the 10th chapter of Mark we are introduced to Blind Bartimaeus. He is a beggar on the side of the road who calls out to Jesus as he hears him walking by. For a beggar, the cloak was spread out in front of them as they sat on the ground. People would toss coins to them that would land on the cloak making it easy to gather the coins together. Plus, being poor, they often didn’t have a house to live in. The cloak was their home.

That’s what makes it even more impressive when Mark’s gospel tells us that Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and goes to Jesus when called. Being healed of his blindness, Bartimaeus will be able to work and make a living. He will no longer beg. He discards his cloak, his most valuable possession, to follow Jesus.

On Palm Sunday people took their cloaks, those valuable pieces of clothing, and placed them on the ground to make path of royalty and dignity for Jesus.

Now there are a couple of things I want us to understand about this. First is the fact that the road was probably not nice and smooth. Today when we hear the term “road” we think of a nicely paved concrete or asphalt surface. They didn’t have those kinds of roads back then. No the occupying Roman forces did construct roads with bricks or cobblestones but they were not like our concrete or asphalt. Most of the roads were dirt or gravel, and they certainly were not like roads today.

Another point about roads back then was that they were not clean. They were traveled by humans and animals, and when you have animals you have… well… what animals leave behind, if you know what I mean.

So, that is something you don’t want to lay your cloak down on. Not only that, but Jesus is riding a donkey. Now our scripture today from Luke says colt, but the other gospels have him on a donkey, so I’m going to go with that. Plus, a young male donkey is a called a colt anyway.

Regardless of the equine species, you sure don’t want a donkey to… how should I say this… you know… on your cloak.

My brother Dalen and his wife attend a huge United Methodist church in the Metroplex. I don’t know if that church still does it, but he told me that in the past on Palm Sunday they would actually have a live donkey in the service. Someone would portray Jesus and would ride right down the center isle on a live, honest-to-goodness donkey.

Being an old farm boy and knowing a few things about livestock, including donkeys, I asked him, “Well, what do they do if the donkey… you know.”

He replied, “It’s not a problem. The donkey wears a diaper.”

“A diaper? As in, well, a diaper?”

“Yep. They put a big ol’ diaper on that donkey.”

Now the scriptures don’t tell us but I think I’m pretty safe in saying that when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, the donkey did NOT have on a diaper.

Which makes it even more incredible to me that people would lay their cloaks down before Jesus and the donkey as they entered Jerusalem.

So why would they do this? Why would they do such a dramatic thing?

I think in order to understand it we need to have the mindset of the Jewish people in that area at that time. The messiah was promised to be coming. The prophets had written about it and their words were in the ancient scriptures. The area was under the political control of the Romans, a foreign power who used military control to keep the Jewish people in line.

I could see how they would think that the time was ripe for the messiah to come. And this Jesus comes on the scene and does things that no ordinary human could do. He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind (just ask Bartimaeus), the lame walk, the deaf hear, people who can’t talk can talk. He knows the scriptures and stumps the leading religious leaders of the day.

They knew the messiah would go to Jerusalem, the nucleus of Jewish life at the time, and establish a reign that would last forever. This was it! This was the time! Jesus was the messiah! He’s going to drive the Romans out–hopefully by force!–and bring the Kingdom of God to earth!

So the Jewish people, who were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the passover, were very excited about Jesus entering Jerusalem! This was history in the making, and they were going to get to witness it!

So they lay down their cloaks in Jesus path, and they pulled branches off of palm trees (another sign of royalty), and shouted,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John the people shout “Hosanna, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”

So it’s a big celebration.

Now they probably thought it a little unusual that Jesus was riding on a donkey instead of a mighty war steed. After all, a donkey was a beast of burden, a animal of peace. A large horse was an animal of war. So yeah, that might have been a little unusual.

And with us having the advantage of hindsight we know why Jesus chose a donkey. We can see and understand all the ironies of Holy Week, how God chose to save the world in a way much different than humans would have done it.

what can we learn from this? What can the Holy Spirit teach us that is applicable for our lives? After all, we don’t wear cloaks much in Texas.

I think one of the things it teaches us is to be faithful to God in both good times and bad. We don’t want to be like the Jewish people who laid down their cloaks for Jesus’ donkey to walk on one day and then be yelling “Crucify him!” just a few days later. God is still God, even when he does things different than we might be expecting. Being human we can’t see the whole picture, but God can. Let’s give Jesus the red carpet treatment not just when things are good, but during the tough times as well.

Another thing I think it teaches us is to be a people of peace, not war. Now I’m not a pacifist. I want to be, but I’m not. I believe there are times when war must be fought. But in our everyday lives we should strive to be people of peace, not conflict. Forgive the person that cuts you off in traffic. Don’t strike back at the person that embarasses you on social media, even though you want to. When someone breaks your heart don’t let it become a breeding ground for bitterness and anger and resentment. Let it go. Replace it with love, and let love flourish.

Jesus didn’t come to change the world by force, but by love. That’s why he didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a mighty stallion, choosing instead a lowly donkey. He changed the world not by might, but with a servant’s heart that led him to the cross.

So my challenge to you this week is to ask yourself what you are willing to lay down in front of Jesus? Or maybe another way of saying it is this: what are you NOT willing to lay down in front of Jesus? What is your metaphorical cloak, the something in your life that you prize, that you view as so valuable to you that you don’t want to let go of it, much less lay it on the ground before Jesus and let his donkey walk on it. If we are willing to roll out the red carpet for celebrities, who are just humans, what are we willing to do for the King of Glory, Jesus Christ?

Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem leads to the cross, the one he bore for us out of his love for us. Let us follow his example and let love lead.

And if you ever come across a donkey wearing a diaper, let me know. I want to see that.

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

Wesley’s Questions: “Is Christ Real to Me?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Is Christ Real to Me?”
A Message on Colossians 1:24-29
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 7, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Colossians 1:24-29 (NRSV)

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

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Today we conclude our sermon series “Wesley’s Questions,” based on the 22 questions John Wesley and his “Holy Club” of students at Oxford University asked each other daily. Today’s question that we will explore is: “Is Christ real to me?”

Now at first glance it may seem to be kind of an unnecessary question. After all, Christ should be real to Christians, right?

But I think the reason Wesley uses this question for daily reflection is because it is easy as humans to make Christ just sorta-real to us. I think Wesley wants to know, “Is Christ real to me. Really real?”

There are a lot of people in the world who call themselves Christian who believe in a sorta-real Jesus.

I’m embarrassed to say that some of these are United Methodists. Back in 2002 a United Methodist Bishop in the Chicago area, Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, gave a lecture at a United Methodist seminary in Colorado. In that lecture he said that the virgin birth of Jesus was a myth and not historically accurate. He also espoused that Jesus didn’t really have a bodily resurrection.

In my opinion it sure sounds like that Jesus is sorta-real to Bishop Sprague. Just a nice guy, not different than anyone else, and not divine. Not really real, but just sorta-real.

I don’t believe that was the case with the Apostle Paul, who wrote the epistle (letter) we call Colossians. Here’s The Message paraphrase of the scripture we read today from the first chapter. As I read it listen for ways that Paul believes Jesus is really real:

“I want you to know how glad I am that it’s me sitting here in this jail and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.”

In our worship services we say creeds. We don’t do this “because we have always done it.” We recite the creeds to remind us that Jesus is really real. These creeds state what we believe as Christians. The Apostle’s Creed, one of the oldest writings we have about Jesus, starts with “I believe…”

The Apostle’s Creed says this about Jesus:

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

The Apostle’s Creed reminds us that Jesus is real. Really real. And that’s why we say it.

Now another aspect of the question “Is Christ real to me?” I think can be perceived by changing just one two-letter word in that question with another two letter word: “Is Christ real in me?”

This goes beyond a belief in the historical Jesus of Nazareth. It goes beyond believing that he crucified for our sins and on the third day rose again. This question gets to where we have faith in a living Christ, alive and present within us at this moment.

If Jesus Christ lives in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, then the fruit of that presence will be evident in the words we say and how we act.

We know that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If the really real Jesus lives in us, then that is the kind of fruit we will bear.

In the scripture we read today from Colossians Paul says, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

In John 15 we read Jesus saying, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” — John 15:4-5

If Jesus is real to you, and real in you, then you will bear fruit.

Another way that we remember that Jesus is real to us is through participating in the Lord’s Supper. When we come and kneel at the altar we are given real bread, which reminds us of the real, bodily sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. And we are given real wine (well, real grape juice) which reminds us of the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. Real blood, his own blood, shed through tremendous amounts of pain.

(Note: Do you know what blood type Jesus was? “B Saved.”)

So my challenge to you this week is to ask yourself every day, “Is Jesus real to/in me?” Practice those spiritual disciplines like Bible study and reading, prayer, works of mercy, and acts of kindness.

Make sure Christ is not just sorta real, but really real.

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

Wesley’s Questions: “When Did I Last Share My Faith?”

 

 

Wesley’s Questions: “When Did I Last Share My Faith?”
A Message on Mark 1:16-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 31, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 1:16-20 (NRSV)

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

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There’s a story about a doctor who loved to fish. Anytime he had any spare time he went fishing. He became well known in the area for the huge fish he would catch.

Well one day he was out on the lake fishing when his cell phone rang. It was his office, telling him that a woman on a farm real close to the lake had gone into labor and things were progressing so fast that she didn’t have time to get to the hospital.

He paddled to shore (in my story I make him a kayak fisherman), loaded up his kayak and equipment, got in his truck, and drove to the farm where, indeed, the woman was very close to delivering the child. The doctor’s training kicked in and he helped the woman deliver a healthy baby boy. After it was born the doctor asked the farmer if he had any scales to weigh the baby, only to find out that he didn’t. The doctor said, “Hey, I have a digital scale that I use to weigh fish that I catch. It’s out in the truck, let me go get it.”

So he goes and gets the scales, comes back inside, wraps the baby up securely in a blanket, and weighs the baby. And would you believe it? That baby weighed 28 pounds! [source: http://www.jokes4us.com/sportsjokes/fishingjokes.html]

When it comes to fishing there is kind of a common myth that fishermen tend to exaggerate the quantity and quality of their catches. It has made its way in to many jokes about fishing and fishermen.

But then it comes to following Jesus command for his followers to make “fishers of people” there is no joke.

The scripture we read today from the Gospel of Mark shows Jesus calling four fishermen, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, to quit fishing for fish and to follow him and fish for people.

We find this calling of the fishermen in all three of the synoptic gospels: Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, and Luke 5:1-11.

In Mark’s gospel we find the calling of the fishermen to be one of the first things Jesus does. Mark’s gospel begins with John the Baptist, then proceeds quickly with Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and then comes Jesus calling the fishermen to become disciples.

I have said before how significant it is that Jesus called fishermen to be disciples. There are 12 disciples, right? Of those 12 disciples, four of them, one-third of them, had the same occupation. That is substantially more than any other occupation the rest of the disciples might have had.

And I think it is important to remember that Judas, the disciple that betrays Jesus, is NOT a fisherman. Hmmmmmmmm…

So why fishermen? Why not tentmakers, or farmers, or shepherds, or even Jewish religious leaders?

Here’s my theory: Fishing is about faith and hope. Fishermen are hard working people that know how to deal with disappointment. And yet they still have hope. They may fish all day and/or all night and not catch anything. Yet they keep fishing, they keep trying, having faith and hope that they will catch fish even during those times when they don’t. There is a drive, and optimism, that translates well into making fishers of people.

Now most of you know I love to fish. I tell people that I try to only fish on days that end in “y.”

I’m not sure why I love fishing so much. I have liked it since I was a small child and my dad took me fishing for the first time. And I find many parallels between fishing and evangelism.

As a matter of fact I have an entire presentation titled something like “Ratt-L-Traps and Weenie Worms: Bass Fishing Techniques for use in Evangelism.”

Here’s one of those tips:

“Bump-a-stump.” When fishing you have to throw your lure to where the fish actually are, not where you want them to be. Very rarely are they right at your boat (or in my case, kayak). Fish love cover such as underwater limbs, stumps, and even grass. It is more difficult to get your lure in those places, but that’s where the fish are and so that’s where your lure needs to be. Often times I have been fishing an underwater tree or stump and won’t get a bite until I “bump it,” actually hit it with my lure.

Likewise in evangelism we are called to go where the people are who don’t know about Jesus Christ. We can just sit here in our “boat,” this church building, and some people will come and visit, but to be truly effective we need to go where the people are. We need to “fish for people” in places that are difficult. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Go and make disciples.”

See? Get the idea?

I had the honor of attending an Evangelism workshop two weeks ago over at Lakeview. The young man leading the workshop was Ryan Alberson, who just happens to be the son-in-law of our district superintendent, Marlin Fenn.

Ryan, his wife, and their children have served as a church planter in India the past couple of years. He had a goal of starting 200 new house churches (defined as 10 to 20 people who meet weekly in homes) within a period of three years. They exceeded that goal by more than double, creating more than 500 new house churches.

His workshop at Lakeview taught us the techniques they used in India. It is simple and easily duplicated. And very, very effective.

He and his friends taught it to us at the workshop, but now I’m going to teach it to you!

First, start a conversation with someone. It’s not as hard as you think. It can be about anything: the weather, sports teams, etc. Just begin a conversation. (Note: I find it ironic that people find it easier to begin conversations in a bar than in church. Maybe that’s why people would rather go to bars than to church?) Start these conversations first with people that are within your sphere of influence: co-workers, neighbors, people whose kids are on the same sports team as yours, etc.
Usually sometime during that conversation that person will talk about something they are having difficulty with. Don’t interrupt to tell them how much worse you have it than them (we all know people like that, don’t we?) but just listen. This isn’t a contest about who has it worse. Just listen.
When the time is right, tell them something like, “Can I tell you a story that gave me a lot of hope?” Get a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Make two circles. Draw this (draw two circles.) Tell them of a situation that caused you stress and trouble, something that caused brokenness in your life. And no matter how hard you tried to get through this on your own, these worldly thing of brokenness kept pulling you back down like a bungee cord. Tell of what your life was like before your relationship with Jesus. (Draw this on the first circle.)
Then tell them of the difference Jesus made in your life. (Now you have to be truthful here. If having Jesus in your life has NOT made a difference in your life, then we need to talk. Seriously. Call me.) Tell them how by turning to God and believing in Jesus Christ things became better, not necessarily that the situation itself got better but that your attitude and view of the situation changed. Tell them how your relationship with Jesus gave you peace, comfort, and courage. (Draw this on the second circle.)
Tell them how it’s only through Jesus that we can overcome this brokenness. It’s only through a relationship with Jesus Christ can those bungee cords be cut so that they don’t continue to pull you back down into brokenness. (Show them this on the second circle.)
Then ask them “Do you have a story like that?”

That’s it. Really! Using the paper and drawing circles helps with those who are visual learners, and telling your story make it personal, something they can relate to.

One of the keys for sharing your faith is to be able to tell your story simply and in a short amount of time. At the workshop they called it the “15 second speech.” Some people use language from the business world and call it an “elevator speech.” They call it this because you should be able to tell the story of the difference Jesus made in your life in 15 seconds, or during the time it takes to take an elevator to go from one floor to another. (I like the term “elevator speech” better because of the imagery it creates in my mind that what you say in that brief period of time may determine if the person you are speaking to “goes up,” or “goes down,” if you know what I mean.)

Now the temptation is to tell your story with lots of details, with specific dates and experiences. But don’t. Keep it simple, keep it short, and keep it focused on the main point: the difference Jesus made in your life.

During the workshop we even practiced telling each other our “elevator speech.” It wasn’t that hard, and the more you do it the easier it becomes. And again, make sure it’s short and to the point.

So, why should we do this, anyway. Why tell someone our story to help lead them to Christ? Why “evangelize,” especially when the word “evangelical” gets so much negative press today?

The word “evangelize” actually means to proclaim the good news. That’s it. Unfortunately the word has become political, especially the word “evangelical.”

But as Christians we are called to share the good news. We are called to evangelize. We are evangelical (in the true sense of the word, not the political one).

Jesus called the disciples and taught them how to fish for people, to introduce them to the “good news” of Jesus Christ. Here are some of the things Jesus had to say about evangelism:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” — Acts 1:8

Here’s another: “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’” — Mark 16:15

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19-20

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” — Matthew 9:37-38

So you see, if we are going to be followers of Jesus Christ, if we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ, then we must share our faith with others. It’s not optional. It’s the great commission and we are to all abide by it.

John Wesley and his classmates of the “Holy Club” at Oxford University certainly thought it was important to tell others about their faith. They considered it so important that they included it in their list of 22 questions they and the club members asked themselves every day. As a matter of fact it’s number 10 on the list: “When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?”

Now it’s important to remember that they didn’t ask these questions of themselves weekly or just when they met. No. Theses were questions they were to ask themselves every day!

So my challenge to you this week is to be like Wesley’s Holy Club: ask yourself these 22 questions every day. Ann has created these bookmarks that you will find in your bulletin. Take them with you and place them somewhere you will see them daily. Take the time to go through and ask yourself these questions every day.

And this week as you do that I want you to be especially mindful of #10: “When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?” Think of your sphere of influence and who you might be able to share your faith with. Remember to listen more than you talk and to have your “elevator speech” ready. Remember that we are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and the best way to do that is by sharing what knowing Jesus has done in our lives.

I have some homework for you today. As you leave today find someone you don’t know (no, it can’t be your spouse or child) and share your “elevator story” with them. Seriously. Do this. It doesn’t take long and is good practice. So share your “elevator story” with someone today as you leave.

Oh, and if you ever have a baby and the doctor wants to weigh that baby using fishing scales, don’t let the doctor do it.

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

Wesley’s Questions: “Do I Disobey God?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Do I Disobey God?”

A Message on Titus 3:1-7

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 24, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Titus 3:1-7 (NRSV)

 

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

 

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Today we continue our sermon series on the questions John and Charles Wesley’s “Holy Club” asked themselves everyday by examining the topic of obedience. The question the Holy Club used was this: “Do I disobey God in anything?”

 

Let’s just start out by talking about the word, “obey.” There are a lot of negative connotations with that word today. It’s the kind of word that make people bristle up and get angry.

 

There’s a story about a salesman that won an award that was a child’s toy. When he got home he gathered his three children and told them them that the one who had been most obedient would get the toy. The children seemed confused by this and one of them asked, “What does it mean to be obedient?”

 

The dad replied, “Well, which one of you talks back to your mother the least.” The kids still seemed confused so the father asked, “Who does everything your mom tells you to do?”

 

The kids looked at each other for a while. Finally the oldest one said, “Okay, dad. You get the toy.”

 

I think part of the reason that joke is funny, and the reason the word “obey” leaves such a bad taste in our mouths, is because our society focuses so much on individuality that the word “obey” is perceived as a threat to that individuality. It is perceived as someone or something trying to utilize power over an individual, and that doesn’t go well. It is looked at as something we teach our dogs to do.

 

But yet, we obey things every day. For example, if you are going to Tyler on 69 North you better set your cruise control on 55 mph until you get out to Love’s Lookout because if you don’t my neighbor, Dina Wilde, who is a City of Jacksonville police officer, WILL write you a ticket for not obeying the speed limit. (I think Dina would write her own mother a ticket.)

 

There are laws, both state laws and federal laws, that we are called to obey. If we don’t obey those laws, and if we get caught, we will be punished and possibly imprisoned.

 

Another example: this is tax season. If you don’t obey the tax laws and refuse to pay your income tax you will be punished. Not only can they give you monetary penalties, but if it’s bad enough you could go to prison.

 

Today in society I see many examples of people to disagree with a law or a rule, and so they purposefully disobey those laws and rules.

 

It really is nothing new. Back in the days of the apostle Paul we find people disobeying as well.

 

In the scripture we read today we find Paul writing to Titus, a leader in the early church, about some difficulties that are happening with the early Christians. Paul offers words of advice and encouragement for the early Christians, not only with regards to their behavior but also as they confront false teachers.

 

He tells Titus, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.” — Titus 3:1-2

 

Just think how much better the world would be today if people did as Paul advises.

 

“…be subject to rulers and authorities…” Now I don’t want to get into politics, but I think we all know people who have fits about this, don’t we? Both with the current administration and the previous administration, the rancor and bitterness and just plain nastiness of what people say and post on social media is embarrassing. It’s bad. And it’s not Christian.

 

“…to be obedient…” Now Paul doesn’t say to what or whom to be obedient, but seeing as it comes right after the statement about rulers and authorities I and thinking it applies to them. I think it also applies to the scriptures as well, to be obedient to God and his Word.

 

“… to be ready for every good work…” Here I think Paul is telling us not to delay doing good work when the opportunities present themselves. I think he is telling us to avoid “paralysis by analysis” by doing good works as soon as you see a need.

 

“…to speak evil of no one…” Boy, would we use this rule on social media! As my mother used to remind us kids, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say nothing at all.”

 

“…to avoid quarreling…” Again social media comes to my mind. But it isn’t limited to that. I am convinced that there are some people on this earth who just enjoy quarreling. It’s like a hobby or pastime with them.

 

“…to be gentle…” This is needed in today’s world as well. This doesn’t mean you let people walk all over you, but it is more about how we respond to other people and how we treat them.

 

“…to show every courtesy to everyone.” I still see courtesy today, especially in East Texas. People still hold doors open for others, skip the close up parking places to leave them for people who might be elderly or have trouble walking, and things like that. Of course there are people who are not courteous, but surely those aren’t Christians, right? And none of them go to this church, right?

 

Let me tell you about something that happened last week that I think incorporates all of these things that Paul writes about.

 

My roommate from seminary, Tommy Earl Burton, is the senior pastor at Tapp United Methodist Church in New Boston, TX. New Boston is just down the road from DeKalb, TX, where I used to pastor, and it was the closest “big town.”

 

There has been a ministry located in New Boston called “Manna Kitchen” that cooks and delivers food to about 80 people in the Bowie County area three times a week. This was a multi-denominational effort and people from the church I served in DeKalb would volunteer regularly to take meals to those who were homebound and/or unable to cook for themselves.

 

Well something happened recently involving Manna Kitchen and local politics and so the pastor of the ministry which has housed Manna Kitchen said he was shutting it down. This meant that 80 people in the area were no longer going to get meals delivered to them.

 

Tommy Earl and the members of his church got together and decided something needed to be done, so they did it. Starting this Wednesday meals will be prepared at Tapp United Methodist Church and then delivered by volunteers to the people in the area that need them.

 

Tommy Earl and I talked about it on the phone this last week and he said it was amazing how the Holy Spirit moved through the people of his church and the volunteers in order to make this happen.

 

Now listen to The Message paraphrase of that verse with respect to what Tapp UMC has done: “Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous.”

 

The people at Tapp are respecting the government, making sure their food preparations are in compliance with city codes and food safety regulations. They have shown they are willing to “lend a helping hand.” They have not, and will not, say bad things about the pastor or the ministry that made the decision to close, they won’t fight about it on social media or in the newspaper. Instead they are “bighearted and courteous.”

 

Most of all they are obedient to God’s word. The great commandment is to love God and love others. They are being obedient and living out Jesus words in the 25th chapter of Matthew, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

 

Now I will admit that it is not easy to be obedient to God. The focus in our culture on individuality makes it difficult, because so many times God’s word tells us to put the interest and needs of others before ourselves. We live in a “me first” world, where it’s okay to do whatever is necessary to move on up the ladder of success.

 

The world tells us to be as Paul describes: “… foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.” — Titus 3:3

 

But that’s not the way Christians should live. Not at all. And Paul tells us why: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” — Titus 3:4-7

 

When we accept Jesus as our savior we say goodby to our former lives, to the ways we used to live. We put off the old self and put on the Holy Spirit self. That is replaced with a Holy Spirit led obedience. And ironically, it is that obedience that gives us freedom.

 

In 2 John we read: “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.” — 2 John 1:6

 

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson quotes Karl Barth about obedience: “Each act of obedience by the Christian is a modest proof, unequivocal for all its imperfection, of the reality of what he attests.”

 

Obedience is an important aspect of the Christian life. It is so important that the Wesleys thought it should be one of the 22 questions to reflect on daily. It is still critically important for us today.

 

So my challenge to you this week is that you will be obedient to God. I know the world will try to convince you that you shouldn’t be obedient to anything but your own desires, but Biblically we are called to just the opposite of that. We are to be obedient to God, to his word, to the life that Jesus Christ showed us how to live.

 

Obedience is a good thing, not a bad thing. Praise be to God.

 

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

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Am I Honest?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Am I Honest?”

A Message on Colossians 3:8-10

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 17, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Colossians 3:8-10 (NRSV)

 

But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

 

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Years ago in my life prior to going into the ministry I worked in public relations at Kilgore College. One of the instructors there was Bettye Craddock, the journalism instructor.

 

Mrs. Craddock was and is a legend. She’s retired now, but she loved her job, she loved her students, and she did a great job teaching them journalism. They always won the Sweepstakes award at the annual statewide student newspaper competition and The Flare (which was the name of the student newspaper) was much, much better than many newspapers from four-year institutions.

 

Mrs. Craddock was known for her sayings that she would repeat to her students. One of them was “Always take a pencil in case it rains.” This is because a pen won’t write on wet paper, but a pencil will.

 

Another was this: “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” She was instilling into her students to be truthful in their reporting and not to show bias. (Something a lot of the national news reporters need a lesson in nowadays.)

 

“Tell the truth and shame the devil.” That actually is pretty good advice for us as Christians today as well.

 

Today we are going to explore the topic of truth and honesty as we continue our sermon series on the 22 questions the members of John Wesley’s small groups asked themselves daily. Today we focus on question number two: “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?”

 

Now you would think that being a Christian means being honest, right? And it should. But we are also worldly beings and thus are subject to one of the devil’s most effective tools: lying and exaggerating. And it happens to Christians. It happens to us.

 

It’s nothing new. Even Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, the one which Jesus said would be the rock of the church (and thus his name), succumbed to not telling the truth.

 

Remember when Jesus and the disciples were having the last supper in the Upper Room? Jesus was explaining to them what was about to happen, that he would be arrested and killed, and that the disciples would desert him. Peter, full of bravado, proclaimed “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” (Matthew 26:33)

 

Jesus told Peter that yes, he would desert him, and that before the rooster crowed the next morning that Peter would have denied him three times. Again, Peter proclaimed that it would not happen, getting even bolder this time: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matthew 26:35)

 

Such strong words. And yet we know what happened. Peter lied, big time. Peter did in fact, deny Jesus. And he did it three times, just as Jesus said he would.

 

Peter lied. And not just a little bit, either. Later on, in verse 74, when questioned a third time if he knew Jesus, Peter “… began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’”

 

Peter, Peter, Peter. Tell the truth and shame the devil.

 

It’s so easy to lie, to not tell the truth, isn’t it?

 

Income Tax season is upon us. If we haven’t done so already we will be filling out all those forms with figures and calculations to see how much in taxes we need to pay, or, in some cases, how much of our own money we paid in that we will be getting back.

 

We are supposed to be honest on our tax returns, aren’t we? Yes, we take the deductions that we legally qualify for but are we completely honest on our income? Do we “fudge” a little bit? If someone pays us cash for something do we just “forget” to put that on our tax return?

 

One survey found that 86 percent of Americans believe that it is not acceptable to cheat on their taxes. That means 14 percent think it’s okay. Another survey I saw said 24 percent believe it’s okay to cheat on your taxes. That’s almost one in four!

 

What about using someone else’s password to access a Netflix or Amazon Prime account? What about trying to use a coupon that you know is expired but try to pass it off as good anyway?

 

Or what if your spouse asks you, does this outfit make me look fat? (Be very careful how you answer this question, by the way.)

 

Pam and I are fans of the tv show “Lone Star Law.” It’s a show about game wardens in Texas. It always amazes me how people will lie when the Game Warden shows up. If they are falling down drunk they will say they have only had two beers. They’ll say they don’t have any undersize or illegal fish when they do. They will deny shooting at a deer from the roadway even though the deer was a decoy set out by the wardens and they saw the person actually do it! I just want to tell them, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.”

 

Today we have access to more information than at any point in history. We can take our cell phones, push a button, ask a question, and get an answer. It is incredibly amazing.

 

One of those things we can access is history. I love history. Instead of watching television, I get on YouTube and watch history documentaries, among other things.

 

There are programs about past American presidents. President Abraham Lincoln received the nickname “Honest Abe” because of his honesty, in spite of him being a politician. There’s even a meme of Honest Abe out there on the internet today. It’s a photo of Abe with text that reads, “The problem with quotes found on the internet is that they often are not true.” (Show meme)

 

The challenge of the Internet is trying to sift the truth from fiction. This is especially true with social media, and especially true around political posts.

 

It’s hard to be honest today. The temptation to lie, or just to exaggerate, is strong in our world.

 

And yet as Christians, as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, telling the truth is not an option. It is the way we should be. To quote Yoda from the Internet (so you know it’s gotta be true, right?), “Be honest, you will.”

 

I think that is the reason Wesley had it as one of his 22 questions. “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?”

 

I like that Wesley includes exaggeration in with honesty. I really do. Raise your hand if you know someone who exaggerates. Now, raise your hand if you are a person who exaggerates.

 

As a fisherman I know we have a reputation for stretching the truth and exaggerating. We will describe the fish we caught as being “that big” when the reality is that it was only “that big.” (Demonstrate). We will even do it with photos. Here’s a photo of a bass I caught on Lake Jacksonville this past week. If you take it up close it looks bigger than it really is. Here is that same fish that gives you a better idea of just how big–or in this case, small–it is.

 

As Christians we are tempted to exaggerate as well. Even us pastors are not immune. I know one pastor who was serving a small church years ago who kept talking about how many people he had attending worship services since he got there. He was saying they were averaging 80 people in worship. But the truth was it was less than 30.

 

So why did he exaggerate? Why not just tell the truth and shame the devil? In a word, pride. He wanted to be seen by other pastors as a very successful pastor, as better than other pastors. And I’m sure he put the inflated numbers down on the reports we send to the conference office so that he could impress the higher-ups in the church as well.

 

Such exaggeration is sin, plain and simple. And usually people exaggerate because of pride. And such pride is sin.

 

Sometimes the truth hurts. It is the painful one of the two options to tell the truth or to tell a lie.

 

The late comedian Justin Wilson tells about a group of four friends who go duck hunting down in south Louisiana. It was a great day for them and ducks were everywhere. They shot and shot until they ran out of shells. One of them said, “Well, let’s get all these ducks picked up and we’ll head home.”

 

Well, they get all the ducks picked up and counted and there are 250 of them, which is way over the legal limit. About that time two game wardens show up and notice all the ducks. They ask the first hunter, “Well, how many of dem ducks is yours, hah?” The first hunter says, “Oh, I got my limit. So 10 of those are mine.” They ask the second hunter and he says the same thing, “I got my limit. So 10 of those are mine.” The third hunter says the same thing, “I got my limit. So 10 of those are mine.” When they get to the fourth hunter, he looks at the other hunters and says, “Well, I’ll be. I guess the rest of dem is mine, I gar-on-tee!”

 

Years ago the comedian Henny Youngman told about a disagreement he and his wife were having. His wife told him, “I want an explanation and I want the truth.” Henny replied, “Make up your mind.”

 

Mark Twain once said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

 

While those are humorous, honesty is a positive attribute we should strive for. William Shakespeare wrote that “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”

 

Paul, in writing to the church at Colossae, gives us the scripture we read today. He says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

 

The “old self” he speaks of is our lives before we accepted Jesus Christ as our savior. Before Jesus Christ we have a different attitude than what we have after we become Christians.  Our “old self” has a “me first” attitude, a sense that it’s okay to lie, to cheat, to do whatever is necessary in order to get ahead.

 

But when we receive Jesus Christ as our savior, the “old self” passes away. The “new self,” according to Paul, is “renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

 

Eugene Peterson paraphrases verses 9 through 10 this way: “Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it.”

 

Jesus, of course, gives us the best example of honesty. Jesus didn’t lie. Even when it would have benefited him greatly, Jesus didn’t lie. And we should be like Jesus, right? Therefore we, also, should not lie.

 

So my challenge to your this week is to tell the truth. Let us be honest in our work, in our conversations, on our taxes, and in everything we do. Let us be like Jesus, especially when we are tempted to not tell the truth or to exaggerate.

Let us follow Mrs. Bettye Craddock’s advice to “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” Let’s make Abe Lincoln proud. Who knows, he may even post about it on the Internet.

 

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

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Am I A Hypocrite?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Am I A Hypocrite?”

A Message on Matthew 7:1-5

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 10, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Matthew 7:1-5 (NRSV)

 

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

 

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Today we begin a new sermon series titled “Wesley’s Questions” based on the 22 questions that members of John Wesley’s “Holy Club” at Oxford University asked themselves every day.

 

John Wesley never sought to create a denomination. He became a priest in the Church of England (what we know as the Anglican Church today) and became worried that the church wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do in terms of reaching those in the lower strata of society in England.

 

While studying at Christ Church at the University of Oxford he and his brother, Charles, started meeting with other students not only as a way to practice spiritual disciplines but also to hold one another accountable to living a Christian life.

 

They started this group in November 1729 with only four members, but it soon grew. They would spend three or four evenings each week for prayer, Bible study, theological discussion, and accountability. The group grew as time went on.

 

Now it’s important to note that they were ridiculed by the other students at Oxford. They derided them with the term “Holy Club,” because of their pious devotion. They also called them “Methodists” because of their methodological approach to practicing spiritual disciplines. Both names stuck and actually were used by group members to describe themselves.

 

One of the ways they were methodical was by having a list of 22 questions that they reflected on every day during their devotions. Yes, 22. I’ll put a link in my message that I post online where you can access all 22 of them. (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/everyday-disciples-john-wesleys-22-questions)

 

They would ask themselves these questions every day as part of their spiritual disciplines. They didn’t have to, they wanted to. And they did.

 

The first one on the list is this: “Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?”

 

That’s a good one to start with. And that is the one we are starting our sermon series with today.

 

It’s interesting because even though the Holy Club members were asking this question of themselves back in the 1700s it is still a relevant and important question for us to ask ourselves today. As followers of Jesus Christ, do we intentionally or unintentionally create the impression that we are better than we really are? Are we hypocritical in what we say and what we do?

 

First let’s talk about hypocrisy. The word basically means claiming we are living my moral standards or beliefs that our actions prove otherwise. It’s the opposite of honesty and sincerity. But spiritually it goes deeper than that. I think it applies to when we try to live our lives trying to impress others, when we live not for God, but trying to create an impression of something we are not.

 

Facebook is a good example of this. And yes, I am guilty as well. If you notice on my Facebook page I’ll sometimes when I go fishing I’ll post photos of fish that I catch. I’m trying to impress on everyone looking at my page that I am a highly skilled fisherman, that I not only know how to catch fish, but that I can also do it as well.

 

What I don’t post on Facebook is when my lure gets tangled in some brush or on an underwater log. I don’t post when I lose a lure. I don’t post when I get skunked and don’t catch any fish. I don’t post when I get a birdnest on my baitcasting reel that takes me 15 minutes to untangle.

 

We only put the good stuff on Facebook, don’t we. Facebook presents how we want to be perceived, not how we really are.

 

And with the new photo software built into the cameras of our phones the photos we take of ourselves and others are automatically “touched up” and don’t represent reality. Have you ever known someone who takes and posts a bunch of selfies on their page and then when you meet them in real life you kind of go “Yahhhha.” You see that the smooth, unblemished skin is neither smooth nor unblemished. The reality doesn’t match the perceived image.

 

The trouble is when we view these posts that others make it can make us feel inferior, that we don’t have it going on like other people. I think that’s why it’s important to view social media posts with a grain of salt… and sometimes a pinch instead of a grain.

 

What we don’t see on the posts of people we think have it all together are the sinks full of dirty dishes, piles of laundry everywhere, unmade beds, arguments with spouses or children, unpaid bills, and tears of sorrow and frustration. We are shown views of happy faces and happy people, not the frustrations, the sorrows, the betrayals, the struggles of everyday life. No one posts a photo of their kid with a certificate for making a “C” in algebra.

 

I can still remember one of the first lessons I learned in hypocrisy, even though I didn’t even know the word at the time.

 

I was in first grade and my teacher was Mrs. Ethridge. I know this is going to date me, but every morning we would say the Pledge of Allegiance and then Mrs. Ethridge would pray. Yes, prayer. In public school.

 

Well one morning during the prayer I noticed that the boy sitting beside me, Terry Johnson, didn’t have his eyes closed all the way. That wasn’t right. You were supposed to have your eyes closed during the prayer, everybody knew that.

 

So after the prayer I decided to correct this wrong. I raised my hand and Mrs. Etheridge called on me. I said, “Terry didn’t have his eyes closed during the prayer.” I thought I had done so good. Surely Mrs. Etheridge would get on to him and straighten him out, right?

 

Instead Mrs Etheridge said, “Well, Mr. Wintermute, if you would have had your own eyes closed then you wouldn’t have noticed if Terry’s were closed or not.”

 

Boom. We didn’t drop microphones back in the day, but if we did it would have been a mic drop moment.

 

Mrs. Etheridge pointed out my hypocrisy. I had been so worried about Terry doing something wrong that it didn’t even dawn on me that I was doing the same thing. My actions were contrary to what I was claiming as a moral superiority over Terry. And it had a strong impact on me, so much so that I still remember it now decades and decades later.

 

There are many scriptures in the Bible about hypocrisy.

 

“Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” — 1 John 4:20

 

“For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.” — Galatians 6:3

 

“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” — James 1:26

 

“You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”– Matthew 15:7-9

 

“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” –Titus 1:16

 

And then the scripture we read today from Matthew’s gospel about pointing out the speck in our neighbor’s eye while we have a log in our own.

 

This scripture is part of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. It starts off with the beatitudes and then goes on for a couple of chapters with moral instructions. And in the seventh chapter Jesus teaches about judging others, saying that it is hypocritical for us to be judging someone else for something when we may be doing the same thing–only worse–ourselves.

 

It’s easy to do, isn’t it? “Why would you just look at ol’ so-and-so. Can you believe she did that? I swear she doesn’t have any morals, you know?” Or “ “I can’t believe he calls himself a Christian. He never comes to church yet I’m here every Sunday. I bet he doesn’t tithe, either.”

 

Jesus points out to his audience (and us!) that we need to be aware of being hypocritical.

 

He does it again in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the 18th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. There we find a Pharisee, one of the religious leaders of the Jewish people, praying to God and thanking God that he is as holy as he is, unlike some of the other people in the room, including extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even tax collectors.

 

The Pharisee thinks he is much holier, and therefore better, than the other folks. He’s talking about the specks in other people’s eyes. He is so wrapped up in his self-righteousness that he fails to notice the log in his own eye. Jesus points out that the tax collector was praying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” which is a much better and authentic prayer than the so-called religious leader.

 

Now I think it’s important to note here that we all, to some extent, are hypocrites. We strive to be like Jesus but we fall short, and that makes us hypocrites, unfortunately.

 

That being said, some Christians don’t work very hard at not being a hypocrite. Some Christians can open a lumber yard with the size and quantity of the logs in their eyes.

 

It reminds me of the story about a big, burly looking guy that goes to a small town preacher’s house and asks to speak with the minister’s wife. The wife was known to be very charitable and had a reputation for helping those down on their luck.

 

The man starts telling the preacher’s wife about a family that was really in bad shape. The father was dead, the mother was too ill to work, and yet there were nine children she was responsible for feeding and taking care of.

 

The man said, “They are about to be turned into the cold, empty streets unless someone pays their rent, which amounts to $400.”

 

“That’s terrible,” the woman replied. “So, how do you know them?

 

The man looked sadly at the woman, dabbed some tears from his eyes with his handkerchief, and said, “I’m the landlord.” [Source: http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Hypocrites/Trying_to_Help.shtml]

 

As Christians we shouldn’t be like the landlord in that story. We should be authentic, transparent, and humble.

 

When we are not, when we are true hypocrites, not only are we not living into the life of a follower of Jesus Christ but we actually pushing away those who may not have a relationship with Christ. Not only are we not doing good, we’re doing harm.

 

Years ago a guy named Brennan Manning, who himself had some controversy as a hypocrite, wrote something that the group DC Talk used at the beginning of one of their songs. The song starts with Brennan reading these words:

 

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

 

Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us to be hypocrites. God didn’t send his only son to die on the cross and give us everlasting life so that we can pretend to be one thing when deep down inside we are something else. Jesus didn’t suffer the beatings, the ridicule, being spit on and slapped and tortured so that we can say we follow him with our lips but then deny him with the way we live our lives, by our actions that so often speak louder than words.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to NOT be a hypocrite. Let us all check our eyes for logs before we point out the speck in other’s eyes. Do all in your power through spiritual disciplines to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

God wants us to be authentic. Jesus wants us to truthful and humble.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to be able to walk the talk, to truly be disciples of Christ.

 

Then we will make disciples of Jesus Christ, instead of driving them away.

 

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