Matthew 18:23-35
Christian Characteristics: “Mercy”
A Message on Matthew 18:23-25
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 21, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 18:23-35 (NRSV)
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

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Today we are continuing our sermon series on “Christian Characteristics” by exploring the topic of mercy. One of the things I want you to keep in mind as we look into mercy today is this question: Can you be a Christian if you don’t show mercy?

In reading the gospels we find that Jesus, when he wants to make a point, tells a story. We call them parables and they aren’t just stories, but stories that have moral or spiritual points.
The scripture we just read from the Gospel of Matthew is one such example. Known as the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus uses this parable to teach on the subject of forgiveness and, more specifically mercy.

Mercy doesn’t get a lot of press in our society, which is sad. We hear quite a bit about compassion, which comes from the Latin words that meaning “to suffer with.” We hear a lot about forgiveness, too. And those are good qualities. But mercy comes from the Latin word merces which means “price” or “wages.” There is an equality associated with compassion and forgiveness, but disparity in mercy. In mercy one person has more power than another. Mercy really is about power.

Here’s a weird example. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but all this week I have had the same song going over and over in my head. (I looked up what that is called, by the way. Here’s what I found out at the ever helpful Wikipedia: “An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, sticky music, stuck song syndrome, or Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI) is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.”)

The song that I have had an “earworm” with this past week is a recording done years ago by the country group The Judds. I have been hearing Wynonna and Naomi Judd singing their song, “Have Mercy.”

Now it’s not a religiously significant song, but a song about a woman who discovers her man is being unfaithful to her and seeing other women. The words to the chorus are:

Have mercy on me
You treat me so bad I’m in misery
It’s breaking my heart, can’t you see
Baby, baby have mercy on me

The song does, however, represent one the key components of mercy: power.

Mercy is about someone in power extending grace to someone who has less power.

In the case of the Judd’s song, the singer is asking the man, who has the power of free will and being faithful or unfaithful not, (an we know which one he is choosing), to use that power he has to extend grace to the singer by stopping the infidelity and being loyal to her.

A more recent example of how power can be abused is with the scandals happening in Hollywood where directors and actors have used their power to take advantage sexually of others. There is a big power disparity in these cases. The stars and directors and producers have power over who they choose for roles in the movies and shows, and the victims are those who are wanting to get into the business and want to get those great roles to benefit not only their pocketbooks but their careers. As a result those in power abuse it when they abuse the women and men who don’t have as much power. It’s sad and inexcusable.

We see a different disparity of power in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant. The power in Jesus’ parable is about wealth and the power it brings.
The King calls in the people that owe him money. One servant that comes before him owes the huge amount of 10,000 talents.

It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around how much value 10,000 talents was. If we place a value of one dollar per talent, making it $10,000, then we think that yes, that’s a lot of money that the servant owes. It’s not chump change.

But here’s what is even more shocking: at the time one talent was worth about 15 years of a day laborers wages. So 10,000 talents comes out to 150,000 years of labor.

Let’s try to put it in terms of today’s dollars. A talent was actually a measurement of weight, and scholars don’t agree but the weight was probably somewhere between 75 and 110 pounds per talent.

It’s value as money was based on the weight of gold or silver and also the value of that gold or silver at the time. When I checked on Friday the value of gold was $1,336.30 per ounce.
So just for grins let’s take the low end of the weight of a talent at 75 pounds. There are 16 ounces in a pound, right, so if we multiply 75 pounds by 16 ounces we get 1,200 ounces per one talent.

So at the current price of gold that would make a talent of gold worth $1,603,560.

Get the picture? That’s for one talent. And the servant owed the king 10,000 talents!

At the current price of gold it comes out to more than $16 billion! That’s a lot of money. I think the point Jesus is trying to make is that it was an amount of money the servant would never be able to pay.

In the parable Jesus doesn’t tell us how the servant ended up with that kind of debt. We don’t know if he had a gambling problem, if it was given to him for purchases and he stole it, or if he racked it up in credit card debt. (Okay, probably not that last one.) We just don’t know.

What we do know is that he was in debt to the king big time. Deep debt. Deep, deep, deep, debt. I don’t know what the minimum payments on a credit card with a balance of $16 billion is but I think it’s safe to say he would have trouble making them.

So the servant comes before the king, and the king finds out that the man can’t pay what he owes, so the king orders the man, his wife, and his children, and everything he owns, to be sold as slaves and for the money to go against the debt the man owes.

When the servant hears this news he pleads with the king. He asks for mercy, for the king to give him time to pay back what he owes. (Which is interesting because, as we just discussed, it was going to be impossible for him to do so.)

Surprisingly, the king, who has the power, does show mercy on the servant, who is pretty much powerless in the situation. The king uses his power to extend grace to the man. He shows him mercy. He and his family and possessions won’t be sold to pay against the debt.

And then, even more surprisingly, the king cancelled the debt. Not only is the man and his family not sold as slaves, but the $16 billion debt is forgiven! Wow! That is huge! What a gracious king, right? What an act of mercy!

So the servant, who has to be so happy, leaves. On the way out he runs across another servant who owes the forgiven servant some money. The amount is 100 denarii.
Now at the time a denarius was the usually day wage for a laborer. I did some research and found out that last year the average wage for an agricultural worker was $16.88 per hour. Multiply that by eight hours a day and that comes to $135.04 per day.

So the modern equivalent of a denarius is $135.04. The second servant owed one hundred of these to the forgiven servant, so that comes to $13,504.
That’s a figure that can be paid over time. Hopefully no one here has $13,504 in credit card debt, but even if they do it can be paid over time (paying more than the minimum payments, of course) and be paid off.

But the first servant, who had just had $16 billion of his own debt forgiven by the king, refuses to show compassion to the second servant, who only owed him a measly $13,504. Not only that, he gets physical with him, grabbing him by the throat.

The second servant pleads with the first to give him some time and he will pay back what he owes, but the first servant, the recently-forgiven servant, tells him he wants his money right now. When the man can’t pay it, he has him thrown in prison until he could pay the debt.
Debtors prisons, as they became to be known, were prisons were people were incarcerated until they could pay their debts. Often the prisoners were forced to work in the prison not only to pay their debt but also the costs of their incarceration.

We don’t know the specifics of debtors prisons in the first century in the Holy Land, but it’s pretty safe to say it wasn’t a place a person wanted to be.
In Jesus’ parable the second servant was thrown in prison for not being able to pay his debt to the first servant. Well then as now word gets around, and other servants didn’t think it was fair for the first servant, who had such a great debt forgiven the by the king, to lock up his fellow servant. So they go and tell the king.
Well the king gets rightly upset and calls the first servant in before him. He then enforces his kingly powers to not only publicly scold the servant for not forgiving his fellow servant for his small debt when he had just been forgiven of such a huge debt, but also to sentence him not only to prison but also torture until his original debt could be paid, which we have already established would be impossible. The person who received mercy failed to show mercy to others, and therefore ended up being tortured for life.

Jesus concludes the parable with these words “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Ouch!

Now I hope you pick up the symbolism in this parable. God gives us a gift beyond monetary value through his son Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth, walked and taught among humans, and then was executed on the cross–even though he was innocent–in order for us to not only have our sins forgiven, but to have eternal life.

That, folks, is mercy. Ever since Adam and Eve blew it and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, sin has separated humans from God. In the Old Testament the animal sacrifice system was used where the blood of a innocent animal was used to atone for the sins of humans.

But the trouble with that kind of sacrificial system is that you have to keep doing it. You sin, then sacrifice an animal, then sin again, sacrifice another animal. But with Jesus Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, the son of God who was sinless was executed like a criminal. But because he was the son of God and willingly went to the cross, the perfect one atoned for all for humanity’s sins.

Jesus’ actions showed mercy. Jesus, being God, has power that we do not. Jesus has power, we do not. And yet Jesus died for the powerless, for sinful humans, and in doing so, in that expression of mercy, empowers us as children of God. Not because we deserve it. Not because we earn it. Simply because he loves us.

And Jesus tells us to do show mercy like he did. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7

Mercy is ultimately an expression of love. The king expressed love when he forgave the servant of all that the servant owed him. The servant, in turn, failed to show love when he insisted that the second servant pay him what was owed.

God shows us mercy–and love–by sending his only son to earth and allowing him to die on a cross. What a wonderful gift, worth much more than $16 billion! There is no monetary price tag on spending eternity in heaven.

And because God is so merciful to us, we should be merciful to each other. We, who have received mercy, are called to show mercy. We should not exploit the power we have over others for our own benefit. Instead, we are to show them mercy, just as God our Father shows mercy to us.

At the beginning of this message I asked the question: Can you be a Christian if you don’t show mercy. I don’t believe you can. It is that integral to the Christian faith.
So my challenge to you this week is to get mercy stuck in your head like an ear worm. Let us be grateful and recognize God for the mercy he has shown us, and let our response be to show mercy to others. Let us not be like the unforgiving servant, which I think should be called the unmerciful servant. Let us show mercy to others.

What if instead of a Judds’ song stuck in our head we got mercy stuck in our heads? What if our actions outside of the church buildings showed mercy upon all we come into contact with throughout our week, those we work with, fellow students, even strangers at the grocery store or in restaurants?

We could change the world, one person at a time. Are you up to the challenge? Are you ready to show mercy?

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

Hope for your weekend

Paul says, Hope that is seen is no hope at all. (Romans 8:24)

Sometimes we catch a glimpse of hope. It’s like God pulls back the veil to enlarge our hope capacity.

May you be hope-filled as you recharge this weekend.

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And for your weekend listening.

Another Side of Sunday: Hope

Our series on Christian Characteristics points us toward hope this week. Hope is “to cherish a desire with anticipation; to want something to happen or be true; to expect with confidence” (Merriam-Webster).

Let me ask you:

Are you a hope-full person? What do you anticipate or expect with confidence? Is your glass half-full or half-empty?

Paul reminds us in the book of Romans:

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:24-25

Paul’s thought didn’t end with verse twenty-five. He continued with four words, in the same way, connecting two paragraphs.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27

Reading The Message, beginning at Romans 8:22, gives us the context of our hope. We are waiting for something new to come to fruition.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Romans 8:22-28 The Message

Hope is wrapped in waiting, but waiting can be a tough, lonely thing.

The truth is we don’t like to wait and often become weary. Sometimes we’re prone to give up. We throw our hands in the air and turn to something that instantly gratifies.

Paul’s words remind us of the hope in waiting. Everything we wait for, every moment we wait with confident anticipation enlarges our soul. The longer we wait the larger we become.

And we are not called to do it alone.

Meanwhile…

During the waiting, when time seems long and nothing is happening. When we don’t see any fruit from the labor, no new birth on the horizon. When we come to the end of ourselves and can’t find the words to pray anymore.

The moment we are on the verge of giving up, Holy Spirit is there to help. Maybe the enlarging of our souls comes the second we raise our hands to Him and find comfort in having no words at all.

Oh, sweet brothers and sisters, do you see it? Can you feel hope rising?

God knows us better than we know ourselves. He tenderly looks at our pregnant condition and keeps us right in the middle of His presence. This is our ultimate hope. And it will never disappoint.

And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Romans 5:5 NLT

Every detail, every single thing we’re waiting for is wrapped in His arms. The hard relationship, the wayward child… the thing you continue to pray for… and the very thing you’ve given up on…

God is working all of it into something good (Romans 8:28). This we can expect with great confidence. In this we hope.

Jesus, in Your house are many rooms and You have gone to prepare a place just for me. The waiting is long and I’m sorry for the times I’ve given in… given up. Renew my hope, restore my expectation, enlarge my soul. I want to hope in You, to let go of words and trust You know my condition… my heart. Keep me in Your presence until the day all the good You are working comes to fulfillment. In Jesus name, Amen.

[Feature Image Photo on blog by Liane Metzler on Unsplash]

Christian Characteristics: “Hope”

Christian Characteristics: “Hope”
A Message on Romans 8:18-25
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 14, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 8:18-25 (NRSV)

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

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I recently read a book titled Yellow Star, a short book based on the life of Sylvia Perlmutter. Sylvia lived in Lodz, Poland and was four-and-a-half years old when World War II started. Sylvia and her family were Jewish, and when Germany invaded Poland in 1939 their family, along with 270,000 other Jews, were rounded up and forced to live in a ghetto. It was an area of the city that was sealed off with gates and barbed wire fences, guarded at all times by Nazi soldiers.
It was a brutal existence. Sylvia witnessed the soldiers shooting people on the streets. The families in the ghetto had no heat in the winter, very little food (the soldiers shot little children who would sneak under the fence and smuggle food back in to their families), and sometimes had running water, and sometimes did not.
When food became extremely scarce, Sylvia’s mom would give her portion of watery soup to Sylvia. When Sylvia asked why she did this, her father said, ““From pain your mother gave you life, through pain she continues to give.”
And regularly families would be herded out of the ghetto and forced into box cars on train where they were told they were being taken to a place where they would have a better life. In truth, they were taken to the concentration camps and killed.
Sylvia survived. Her dad came up with excuses and ways to stay off the trains. She was 10 years old when those in the ghetto were finally liberated by Russian soldiers. Here’s what she said in an interview years later:
“In 1945, the war ended. The Germans surrendered, and the ghetto was liberated. Out of more than a quarter of a million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto. Of those who survived, only twelve were children. I was one of the twelve.”
Even in the midst of all this horror Sylvia and her parents hold on to hope, the hope that things will change, that they will get better.
“Life goes on in the ghetto. Spring breezes blow through the wire fence. The mood becomes brighter with the sun. Life goes on in the ghetto. There are weddings and dances and songs. Mothers take their new babies outside to show them off to the neighborhood. Pink faces swaddled in blankets stitched with yellow stars. Life goes on in the ghetto.”
If you read stories of survival like this one, whether it’s of floating in the ocean for weeks in a life raft or simply not having enough to eat, you’ll see on common thread among those who survive: hope.
Hope is a powerful force. A very powerful force, especially in the Christian faith.
It’s kinda hard to define hope. The dictionary says it is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” That’s pretty succinct and I think pretty accurate.
Here are what other people have said about hope:
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” — Desmond Tutu
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words — And never stops at all.” — Emily Dickinson
“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” ― Tom Bodett
“Our world today so desperately hungers for hope, yet uncounted people have almost given up. There is despair and hopelessness on every hand. Let us be faithful in proclaiming the hope that is in Jesus.” — Billy Graham
The Bible has a lot to say about hope, too. More specifically, the word “hope” is used 202 times in the NRSV of the Bible.
Here are just a few of those scriptures.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7
“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:19-20 (I preached on this a couple of weeks ago, remember?)
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

“The hope of the righteous ends in gladness, but the expectation of the wicked comes to nothing.” Proverbs 10:28
And of course, the scripture we read today from the 8th chapter of Romans.
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:24-25

What Paul says in these three short sentences really gets my mind to thinking. What is it about hope that so fascinates me? I think it is the belief in the “not yet.” It deals with the future. We don’t hope for what is in the past, do we? No. Hope is about the future and yet it affects the present.
Think about something you have hoped for, really hoped for, and that actually came to be. Once it happens, you no longer hope for it, do you?
In hope we are saved. As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have hope. We have hope that when we repent of our sins God forgives us.
Hope is the fuel that gets us through the tough times in life, and we all will have tough times. (“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said.)
Hope is what we cling to in order to keep from being overwhelmed by death. Hope tells us that the love of God is stronger than death, and that our salvation, and the salvation of all believers, takes the victory and sting away from death. Death is conquered by the love of God expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And here’s one of the great things about hope: like joy, it’s contagious!
Early in the year 1736 John Wesley was on a ship bound for America, specifically Georgia. He was traveling to the “new world” to evangelize the Native Americans. While out on the ocean, however, the ship encountered a really bad storm. The main sail was split and waves washed over the boat.
Most of the passengers, and even some of the sailors, were freaking out and screaming. A group of German passengers, known as Moravians, were calmly singing hymns in the ship in the midst of the storm.
This made a huge impression on John Wesley, one which years later would have a significant religious experience and felt his heart “strangely warmed” at a Moravian worship service at Aldersgate Street in London.
It was the Moravians’ hope in the face of disaster that impressed Wesley. He saw how they had hope in a life-threatening situation, and it stuck with him. For years. He remembered that, and it ended up shaping his theology.
Do you have the kind of hope that inspires others? Is your faith so firmly grounded that when you have difficult times you don’t despair because you have hope? If not, it’s time to start working on that.
So my challenge to you today is to have hope. Work daily on your relationship with Jesus Christ so that it produces hope, not only hope in your life, but hope that will inspire others.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Another Side of Sunday: A Weekend Reminder

We can find joy in the slowing of a weekend. Celebrating worship, rest, and fellowship give us an opportunity to let the work week go and experience renewed joy.  Remember the children sharing a joyful song Sunday?

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.”

“Where?”

Where have you experienced the most joy this week?

What during the week seemed to steal your joy? Was it a circumstance? Someone’s action? Your own actions?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

May you count it all joy as you enjoy your weekend. Here’s a little something to bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart.

Another Side of Sunday: Recipe for Joy

A new teaching series began this week: Christian Characteristics. Merriam-Webster’s defines characteristic as “a distinguishing trait, quality or property.” Believers have traits, qualities, and properties that set them apart, and these characteristics draw others to Jesus.

Sunday’s focus was joy.

Before we go any further take a moment to consider yourself when it comes to joy. Ask a trusted friend, “Do you consider me to be joy-full?”

I am reminded of a recipe I once heard or read. I believe it still rings true. A simple acronym provides us a recipe for joy.

Jesus… Others… You…

This is not one of those recipes where the ingredients can be thrown into a bowl and mixed. Order is of great importance. As Believers when we align our thoughts and actions in this way (Jesus, Others, You) joy becomes a part of who we are in Christ.

I see it reflected in Sunday’s Scripture.

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5 (emphasis added)

Jesus ushers us into new life the moment we decide to follow Him. As we put Him first in our daily walk, our faith continues to grow and God’s power resides in us.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 (emphasis added)

Followers of Jesus aren’t guaranteed a rosy life on easy street. We face trials and heartache and pain. These are used to refine our character, create genuine faith, and connect us to others. The hard in our lives is exactly where Jesus reveals Himself to others through us.

 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9 (emphasis added)

You and I are the ones who reap the benefit of this recipe. Take a look at how many times you see the word “you” in the Scripture.

YOU love Him, YOU believe in Him, obtaining the outcome of YOUR faith, the salvation of YOUR souls.

In Galatians 5:22 joy is found in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. As we put Jesus and others before ourselves, joy naturally springs forth. It’s not something we can manufacture or pretend to have. It is a gift, a supernatural working of the Spirit in us.

Are you missing joy in your life? Do you find yourself grumpy, critical, or bitter? Is it time to try a new recipe?

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

Matthew 22:37-40  The Message

Father, so many times I have placed my happiness as my priority. I want life to be fun and full of joy. I’m sorry for the moments I’ve gotten mixed up in thinking something or someone will bring me joy. You and You alone are the One who can bring me joy. Guide me to put You first and to love You more and more each day. Show me how to share Your love with others. Amen.

[Feature Image Photo on blog by Aaron Burden on Unsplash]

Christian Characteristics: “Joy”

Christian Characteristics: “Joy”
A Message on 1 Peter 1:3-9
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 7, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

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Today we are beginning a sermon series on Christian Characteristics, where we will be exploring specific characteristics that Christians have.

I want to talk about the characteristic of “joy” today, and I want to start out with a willy, nilly, silly ol’ bear named Winnie the Pooh.

In the Winnie the Pooh books and movies we are introduced to a wide variety of Christopher Robin’s friends.

There’s good hearted Winnie, of course, who naive and sometimes dim witted, although sometimes he is very insightful. And his driving passion in life is to find and eat as much honey as he can.

There’s also Piglet, who is always quickly scurrying around worried about things. Piglet is always anxious and nervous, known for his saying of “Oh d-d-dear.”

Then there’s Eeyore, who sees the downside to every situation. A donkey with a tail that keeps falling off, Eeyore is alway pessimistic, ever glum, and sarcastic. His most famous saying is “Thanks for noticing.”

And there is Tigger, a joyous, rambunctious tiger who bounces on his tail. Tigger is spontaneous, outgoing, and loves to have fun.

Of course there is Rabbit, who is impatient and irritable. He insists that things be done his way and is obsessed with rules, planning and order. He is very picky when it comes to his garden and he is known for bossing others around.

And we can’t forget about Owl, a pompous bird that goes to great lengths to try to convince all the animals in the woods that he is the smartest and most intelligent, even though in truth he is often scatterbrained.

Kanga is a female kangaroo and the mother of Roo. She is the only female of all the characters and has a kind-hearted, motherly charm toward the other animals. She is patient, likes things to be clean and organized, and is quick to offer food and motherly advice to anyone who asks her.

So why am I going over these characters from Winnie the Pooh? Here’s why. I want you to think about your faith life, which of those characters would you say best describes where you are on your faith journey right now? In your walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, which Winnie the Pooh character most accurately represents you?

Are you Winnie? Do you have a naive, shallow understanding of the Christian faith? Does your passion for honey, or something that rhymes with honey, money, cause you to do things that get you into difficult situations?

Or are you Eeyore? Is your faith gloom and doom? Do you just know the world is going to hell in a handbasket and feel that nothing you can do will make a difference? Do you complain and moan and say, “Lord Jesus, come now”?

Or are you Rabbit? Are you all about the rules of religion and impatient and irritable if everything in the church isn’t done the way you think it should be done?

Are you motherly and compassionate to others like Kanga? Are you like Owl in that you try to impress others with how much you know about Christianity (even if you really don’t know that much) and talk about how good a Christian you are and how others aren’t?

Okay, get the idea?

Now there is one character that I haven’t mentioned and I did that on purpose: Tigger. I saved Tigger for last for a reason.

Today we’re talking about Christian Characteristics, right? And specifically we’re talking about joy, right? Tigger is about joy. And I believe our world seriously needs more Christians that, like Tigger, express joy.

The Bible has a lot to say about joy. The scripture we read today from 1 Peter is a good example.

Now if your remember Peter is the disciple that Jesus told would be the rock of the newly forming church. He was named Simon before Jesus gave him the name Peter which comes from the Greek word Petros which means rock. (Matthew 16:18)

He was a fisherman, along with his brother Andrew, who Jesus called to be disciples as he walked along the sea shore. In addition to being one of the original 12 disciples, he was one of the leaders of the disciples. He was the one that confessed Jesus as the Messiah, he was the one that denied Jesus three times and then wept afterwards, and was the disciple that preached on the day of Pentecost.

Eventually he was crucified in Rome and insisted it be upside down because he wasn’t worthy of being crucified in the same way as Jesus.

So that’s who Peter was. Even though Peter was a great leader of the disciples we don’t have many things in the Bible that he wrote. We have 1 Peter and 2 Peter, and that’s pretty much it. And these are letters, also called epistles, that he wrote to members of the early church.

Listen again to what Peter writes in verses 8-9: “Although you have not seen him [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Let’s read that again, this time from The Message: “You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him–with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what your looking forward to: total salvation.”

Here are some other scriptures about joy:

In Galatians 5 we find Paul listing the fruit of the Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22)

In Romans 12 Paul writes, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

In John 16 we find this: “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” (John 16:22-24)

And here’s a great scripture from Proverbs: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

As Christians we should be filled with joy. We have much to be joyous about! We have experienced God’s saving grace given to us not because we earn it, but because God loves us. We are so loved by God that he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to earth and allowed him to die on a cross so that by being the ultimate sacrifice for our sins we are forgiven and reconciled to God.

Like the song that the Lykins sang this morning, we should have the “Joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.” We should be so joyous, even when we’re going through tough times, that others who don’t know Christ should wonder what in the world is going on with us.

The late musician Rich Mullins used to tell of a time when he and his band were touring in Ireland. There’s a saying in Ireland in the pubs when there is one group of people who are joyous and laughing, and someone will say, “I’ll have whatever they’re having.”

Rich said that as Christians we should be the ones that are always joyous, so much so that those without a relationship to Christ will say, “I want what they’re having.”

Joy is such an integral part of Christians fulfilling the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Here’s an example. How many of you have gone into a fast food restaurant and you can tell that the person behind the counter really doesn’t like their job, doesn’t want to be there, and doesn’t really care about you as the customer. How many of you have seen the video of comedian Anjela Johnson’s character “Bon Qui Qui” working at “King Burger”? She’s working behind the counter of a fast food restaurant when a customer approaches the counter. She’s talking on the phone to a friend of hers about her relationships. The customer finally says, “Excuse me.”

Bon Qui Qui says, “Uh, do you see me in the middle of a conversation? Don’t interrupt…rude.”

Then she says to the person on the phone, “Girl, I’m gonna have to call you back,” and hangs up. She then looks at the customer and says, “Welcome to King Burger, where we can do it your way, but don’t get crazy…”

How many of you have been treated maybe not that bad, but something similar by someone at a a fast food restaurant. How does that make you feel? How does that affect your decision on whether to dine there again.

And how many of you have gone into a fast food restaurant where the person behind the counter has a smile on their face, they talk to you pleasantly, and you can tell that they enjoy working there? Doesn’t that make you want to go back?

This past summer my family was blessed to go do Disneyworld in Florida. The thing that really impressed me with Disneyworld is that every employee there that I came into contact with acted as if they loved their job. Every single one. I even talked to a couple of people whose job was to pick up and empty trash. I thought that maybe all this “happy-with-my-job” attitude might be fake or just an act. But it wasn’t. They really did have joy working at Disneyworld, even if it was picking up the trash.

What if we as Christians were less like Bon Qui Qui and more like the employees of Disneyworld? What if we actually lived as if the “joy of the Lord is our strength?” I think it would make it easier to fulfill the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ because unchurched folks would be saying, “I want what they’re having.”

So my challenge to you this week, and for the entire year, actually, is to be a joyous Christian. Let your faith life be more like Tigger and not like Eeyore. More like Disneyworld employees and less like Bon Qui Qui.

Let us believe in Jesus Christ like Peter says “and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,” so much so that others will say, “I want what they’re having.”

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

,

Another Side of Sunday: For your weekend listening

They lyrics of a song caught my attention yesterday. Hearing the word anchor reminded me of this week’s scripture.

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.–Hebrews 6:19-20

Music can often inspire another look at God’s word. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Another Side of Sunday: Hebrews 6:13-20

Begin by reading Hebrews 6:13-20, the first Sunday of the year’s Scripture. For another version, read The Message.

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. –vs. 19-20

We go to great lengths to keep our promises. Remember as a child making a pinky-promise or adding “cross my heart and hope to die…” to solidify your words? I don’t know about you, but it is hard work for me to keep my promises.

Hard to follow through when I’ve doled out a consequence while parenting my three. At times, hard to remember what promise I’ve made. There were times I broke promises, even when I made it to God.

As I sat and reflected quietly in my pew I heard the words spoken, “God always keeps His covenant.” I jot down four words in the margin of my Bible.

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Think about that.

Not, God won’t break a promise.

Not, God tries really hard to keep His promises.

Not, God chooses never to break a promise

God can’t. It is not in His nature, doesn’t even occur to Him.

I breathe awe deep as I think about it. It’s like warming myself by the fire on a crisp night. God can’t break promises… ever. This new insight leaves me basking in the goodness of God. A goodness beyond my imagination.

And this, sisters and brothers, is the Hope that anchors our soul firm and secure. It ushers us into the inner sanctuary, behind the curtain of separation and brings us face to face with our High Priest… Jesus.

You’re a good, good Father. It’s who You are, who You are… And I am loved by You. It’s who I am, who I am… You are perfect in all of Your ways to us. I am amazed by You Jesus. Amen 

(Today’s prayer comes from the lyrics of Chris Tomlin’s song Good Good Father.)

[Feature Image Photo on blog by Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash]

“Promises”

“Promises”
A Message on Hebrews 6:13-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Dec. 31, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Hebrews 6:13-20 (NRSV)

13 When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. 16 Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute. 17 In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, 18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. 19 We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

Raise your hand if you’ve ever made a “pinky promise.” You know, that kind of promise that is beyond just a promise. It’s much more serious, much bigger than just a promise. It’s a pinky promise.

It’s a way of saying that no matter what happens, the promise will not be broken. It’s like a legal contract, except that it isn’t legal, of course. But making a pinky promise, instead of just a regular promise, indicates the seriousness in which both parties take the commitment to uphold both ends of the promise.

Okay, so all of us who have made pinky promises, how many ever broken one? Come on now, tell the truth and shame the devil. I think all of us have, at one time or another.

I did a little research into the pinky promise and found something that is… Well… Uncomfortable to me. I found out that the idea actually originated in Japan. In that culture and at that time it meant that if one of the parties broke the promise the punishment would be to cut off the pinky finger of the offender.

So, now knowing this, please raise your hand if you’ve broken a pinky promise and our ushers will come by… No, don’t worry, we’re not going to start cutting off pinkie fingers.

As human beings isn’t it interesting the lengths we will go to in declaring a promise that we say we won’t break, but we end up doing anyway? In addition to the pinky promise when I was growing up we would also say something like,

“Cross my heart and hope to die,
Stick a thousands needles in my eye…”

When you think about it, that’s pretty serious stuff, especially for kids!

Ironically the reason we go to such extreme lengths to validate promises is that we’re really not very good at keeping them.

It could be argued that it all started in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. God tells them, “Hey, you have access to everything here and can eat anything except for this one tree.” I can just hear Adam or Eve turn their head quickly and say, “Which tree?”

And of course that is exactly the tree they eat from.

Throughout the Bible we find again and again covenants made between God and humans, and in every instance it is the humans that break the promise made. God never breaks the promise. Not one time. But humans? Well, that’s a different story.

There is a cycle that occurs in the Old Testament. Here’s how it goes. God says to obey his words and laws and worship only him and the people will have things go their way and everything will be great. And the people say, “Sure, we promise to do that.” And then it isn’t long before they are breaking that promise as they worship foreign gods, and ignore the laws. Well then the consequences of those actions start taking place and God allows foreign forces to come in and take over and kill a bunch of people and sending the survivors off to exile. Then, after they’ve lost everything and are desperate, they call out to God to deliver them, and God has compassion on them and does so. And then the cycle repeats itself.

I think breaking promises is just part of the sinful nature of humans. Sometimes greed wins out, or lust for power, or some desire that puts one’s needs above others.

Most of you know I was sick the past couple of weeks. (Boy, was I sick.) I got on Netflix and watch 10 episodes in a row of World War II in Color. As part of that program I was fascinated at how Hitler signed a pact with Russia about how he promised he wouldn’t attack Russia and they would split up the land between the two countries.

Hitler starts taking over all these countries around Germany and is having great success. But then after just two years he breaks that agreement with Russia and goes to war against them, all because he wanted more land than what the agreement gave him. Of course the Russians didn’t take to kindly to that and fought back, forcing Germany to fight wars on two fronts, and then three as Hitler came to the aid of Mussolini in Northern Africa and Italy.

And what really boggles my mind is how many millions of people, not just soldiers but civilians as well, died as a result. Russian losses alone are estimated at 20,000,000 people. That’s not a typo. Twenty million people.

Breaking a promise can have consequences. Tax time is coming up. When we sign at the bottom of our tax returns we are promising that the information we have given on the forms is accurate and true. If we knowingly break that promise, if we give information that isn’t true, and the IRS figures it out, then there are consequences we will have to deal with.

While humans are bad about not keeping promises we can take comfort as Christians in knowing that God always keeps his promises.

I think that’s what the writer of Hebrews is telling us in the scripture we read today.

Listen to The Message paraphrase: “When God made his promise to Abraham, he backed it to the hilt, putting his own reputation on the line. He said, “I promise that I’ll bless you with everything I have—bless and bless and bless!” Abraham stuck it out and got everything that had been promised to him.”

Remember the story of Abraham? God said “Trust me and leave everything behind and go to a foreign land and I will bless you.” And Abraham does. Now it’s not a trouble-free journey, but God keeps his end of the promise.

The writer of Hebrews continues: “When people make promises, they guarantee them by appeal to some authority above them so that if there is any question that they’ll make good on the promise, the authority will back them up. When God wanted to guarantee his promises, he gave his word, a rock-solid guarantee—God can’t break his word. And because his word cannot change, the promise is likewise unchangeable.”

We still appeal to higher authority when we make promises. Another program I watched a lot of when I was sick was “Cops.” (Yes, I know I need to work on my program selections…) When I watch those episodes I am fascinated by the promises people make to convince the officers of their innocence. “I swear to God those drugs aren’t mine.” I swear to God I didn’t (do whatever they are accused of, even though it’s all on videotape). “I swear to God I haven’t been drinking.”

And even when the evidence is overwhelming against them they still promise using God’s name they are innocent.

The writer of Hebrews continues: “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Now we need to know the significance of that name “Melchizedek.” If we go back to the 14th chapter of Genesis we find kings and nations at war with each other. Abram (who is later renamed Abraham) has a nephew named Lot who lived in Sodom, and the city is overrun and captured. Lot is marched off into captivity but word gets back to Abram. So he talks about 300 men and goes and attacks the army and frees Lot and other captives and gets back all the possessions the army had taken.

The kings of the area are glad of Abram’s success. One of the kings is named Melchizedek, who is King of Salem. He is also the high priest, which is the top of the Jewish religious life of the day. There is no human higher than him in religious terms. And King Melchizedek comes and blesses Abram.

“And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Exodus 14:18-20)

Now Abram goes on to become Abraham, one of the holiest figures of the Old Testament. Melchizedek as the priest is the one who intercedes for the people before God. Later on with Moses when the tabernacle is created it is the high priest, and the high priest only, who can go into the “Holiest of Holies” in the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was and where it was believed that God resided on earth.

So the writer of Hebrews is telling us that Jesus Christ is our high priest, the one who intercedes before God on our behalf. Jesus stands before God representing us.

Jesus’ blood overcomes the sins of all of our broken promises.

Now just because that is the case doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make promises or try to keep them. Just because our sins are forgiven doesn’t give us license to go and sin all we want to.

No. But it should make us more aware of the promises we make to God and do everything we can to keep those.

We make a promise, a covenant oath, when we are baptized and becomes members of the body of Christ. We publicly proclaim that we promise to follow Christ, that our words and out actions will fulfill the great commandment to love God and love others.

Back in 1755 John Wesley led a group of believers in a renewal service at what was known as the “French Church” at Spitalfield in London. The service was designed for those in attendance to remember the covenant, or promise, they made when they made the decision to become a Christian.

As part of that service the people recited a prayer. Now there is some debate as to who should be credited with the prayer. Wesley credited it to and English Puritan named Richard Alleine, but other scholars believe that it was also influenced by the German Pietist movement.

Anyway, I think it’s a great prayer. You will find it printed in your bulletin and I hope that you will clip it out and put it somewhere prominent so that you can recite it every day.

We are going to stand and say it now, on New Year’s Eve, as a reminder of the promises we made to God:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified i
n heaven.
Amen.

So my challenge to you this week, as we turn the page on the calendar and begin a new year, is for us to remember our promises to God. God is always faithful and always keeps his promises. Let us do our best to keep ours as well.

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