Don’t Worry: Jeremiah

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo, ceiling of Sistine Chapel

Don’t Worry: Jeremiah
A Message on Jeremiah 29:10-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 20, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NRSV)

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

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In spite of what the rock group Three Dog Night told us in 1970, Jeremiah was not a bullfrog. Nope. (You older folks will have to explain that one to the younger folks…)

Jeremiah was a prophet, known as the “weeping prophet,” who is credited with writing not only the book of Jeremiah but Lamentations as well.

One of the verses we read today from Jeremiah is rather-well-known, verse 11: “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.” It was even our Bible verse for Mini Methodists this past week.

As with all scripture the context is very important. There are some who preach the “Prosperity Gospel” that use this scripture to try to convince people that the more money you give to their ministry the more money God will give you. It’s kind of like a spiritual stock market, I guess. Give enough money to the ministry and God will tweak the alignment of the Universe to make great things happen in your life and you’ll get rich! After all, God loves you and wants you to have everything your heart desires, right?

Uh, no. God is not an ATM machine that gives you money if you punch in the right code. No.

If we look at the context of that verse we find a much different meaning.

The timeframe is around 650-570 BC, and the Jewish people, who had been split into two kingdoms, were both invaded by foreign armies, their cities destroyed, and the people taken away into exile in Babylon.

The person who was writing this was named Jeremiah. He was the son of a priest, which I guess makes him a preacher’s kid. Jeremiah was a prophet, and because of that he had a pretty tough life.

You see prophets did more than predict the future. They served as the conscious of the people, calling them back to obedience to God’s word when they started straying from it. And as you can imagine people didn’t really like someone telling them what they were doing was wrong.

And what the people were doing was wrong. What’s the first of the 10 Commandments? Do you remember? “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:2-3

Well the Jewish people weren’t doing that. They started worshiping other gods like Ba’al and Moloch, even going so far as to sacrificing their children to Moloch by burning them alive!

So it wasn’t like the people had a tiny infraction here and there. This was some serious stuff!

Jeremiah was from the northern kingdom, Israel, but lived in Judah, the southern kingdom. He lived during the reign of five different kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.

Now when Jeremiah became a prophet the kingdom was not yet in exile. Josiah was king of Judah and was a pretty good king. He tried to get the people to turn back to God and had some success, but it didn’t last.

Jeremiah started his prophecy during the 13th year that Josiah was king of Judah, about 626 BC, telling the people (in the words of the rock group Santana), “you got to change your evil ways, baby.” (Well, probably not the “baby” part.)

It wasn’t easy to be a prophet. In addition to telling people what they didn’t want to hear (but that they needed to hear) prophets faced other dangers. It seems that the test of a prophet was whether or not their prophecies came true. If they did, great. If they didn’t, well then the punishment was being stoned to death. (Man, talking about not wanting to be wrong!)

So when Jeremiah started prophesying Judah was still it’s own country. Things were pretty good and the people just did whatever they wanted, ignoring God’s laws and failing to worship him only. It was in this environment that Jeremiah started telling them of the destruction that was going to come upon the nation, how they were going to be invaded by a foreign army if they didn’t straighten up and fly right. And the people just pretty much ignored Jeremiah.

Well, we know the people didn’t change their evil ways and what Jeremiah predicted happened. The Babylonians invaded, killed a bunch of people, destroyed much of the cities–including the Temple that Solomon had built–in 587 BC. Those that survived were marched off to Babylon where they lived the difficult life of an exile.

It was in this exile that we pick up with the scripture today from Jeremiah. Notice that the first sentence we read says, “For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” Jeremiah 20:10

Jeremiah was telling the people that they would be held captive for 70 years, but then, at the end of that time period, he would restore them back to their land and cities.

Now 70 years seems like a long time. But, it is a finite amount of time. Jeremiah was telling them that the exile wasn’t going to last forever. That it would eventually end.

Jeremiah was more than just telling them what was going to happen, he was giving them something they really needed: hope.

I have a friend in Houston that serves a branch of Chaplewood UMC that is called Mercy Street. They meet on Saturday evenings and minister to the least and the lost. They have former drug dealers, recovering addicts, those that have spent time in prisons and jails, and those who have gone through some severe emotional trauma. Basically it’s the people our society pushes to the edges. The church uses a term that I really like and that I’m going to steal… er, uh, “borrow” for today’s message. That term is “hope dealer.”

My friend, Rev. Melissa Maher, said the term was coined by a former drug dealer that turned their life around when they found Jesus at Mercy Street. They said something along the lines of, “I used to be a dope dealer, now I’m a hope dealer.” And it stuck. Their tag line is, “We’ve got the good stuff.” The ministry has been and continues to be a very successful one.

Jeremiah was a “hope dealer.” He gave the people hope by telling them that even though times were tough (and let’s face it, being an exile in a foreign land where you were forced laborers is a pretty tough time) that something better was coming! Jeremiah told them to have hope, that after 70 years they would go “home.”

If you think about it, the Bible is a book about hope. The Old Testament tells us of God’s love for his people, of God’s pursuit of his people, his forgiveness, and announcing that a messiah is coming.

The New Testament tells us of Jesus who comes to fulfill those scriptures. Jesus becomes the new covenant between God and his people, establishing a new hope that our debts are already paid and our sins forgiven, and that we have a hope and assurance of life everlasting.

As Christians we should all be “hope dealers.” And what the world really needs now are hope dealers.

While we are not captives living in exile, we are going through some difficult times. The Corona Virus has turned our worlds upside down. Nothing is normal anymore. I don’t know a single person that hasn’t been affected by this.

In addition to the pandemic it is an election year where it seems to be like both sides try to scare the other to death about how bad our country will be if the opposing candidate wins. And the national media covering all of this is like adding oxygen to a fire, increasing stress and anxiety levels.

Protests. Violence. Wildfires. Hurricanes. COVID-19. Sex trafficking. Disappearing young folks. There’s plenty in our world to make us worry.

And yet… as Christians we believe in hope. We know that no matter how much the world goes to hell in a handbasket, Jesus is Lord. He is our hope, our living hope.

Psalm 20:7-8 says, “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.”

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

1 Peter 1:3 tells us, “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…”

So my challenge for you this week is to be a hope dealer! Tell everyone you know the scripture we read today from Jeremiah: “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.”

No matter how dark the skies of life may get, no matter how chaotic the world may be, no matter what difficulties and challenges we face, as Christians we can have hope because we know that Jesus’ death and resurrection is more powerful than anything the world can throw at us. We know that no matter how bad things get that Jesus is Lord and his unconditional love for us gives us the power to face the future unafraid. We don’t have to worry. We can be bold and be “hope dealers” to others because we indeed have hope.

Jeremiah was not a bullfrog. He was a hope dealer.

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

Don’t Worry: Supplication

SONY DSC

Don’t Worry: Supplication
A Message on Philippians 4:4-7
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 13, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Philippians 4:4-6 (NRSV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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Today we are going to continue our sermon series “Don’t Worry” by looking at an act, something that we can actually “do” when we are worried, and that is to “supplicate.”

Now “supplicate,” or it’s noun form, “supplication,” is not a word that we use very much in our daily language use. We don’t say, “When the police officer pulled me over for speeding she still gave me a ticket in spite of my supplication.” It’s just not a word that we use much.

But it’s a good word, especially for us Christians! If we go back to the original language of the New Testament which is Greek, we find the word that is used is deēsei. It is translated into English as “supplication,” which comes from the Latin word supplicare, which means “plead humbly, beseech, kneel down.” It implies being a servant and making a respectful appeal to a higher power.

While the NRSV and KJV translates it as “supplication,” the NIV uses “petition,” which I can understand. But still, I like “supplication” better.

Supplication is about power in a relationship. The one doing the supplicating, which in the scripture we read today would be us, doesn’t have the power, but is in a way throwing themselves on the mercy of the one who does have power, in the scripture today being God.

As we mentioned earlier one of the implications of supplicating is to kneel down, or even to bow down with our face to the ground or even on the ground. Now it might sound kind of silly to us today but kneeling or bowing down had incredible symbolism in years past. Back when battle was done with swords and shields the party that had the high ground had the advantage. Even today in modern warfare the high ground is still preferred on the battlefield.

If one is kneeling or bowing down before another the one doing the kneeling or bowing is assuming a defenseless position. (Kneel down.) If you are bowed down before another with your face to the ground (illustrate) you are defenseless. You cannot see the opponent and therefore cannot make any defensive moves should that opponent move to strike you with hand or sword. You are at the opponent’s mercy, subject to whatever they want to do.

That bowing down, that acknowledgement that the other has power and you don’t, is supplication.

This past week I finished up the book I was reading, Grant by Ron Chernow. It was a great book and I highly recommend it. In the book Chernow goes into great detail about the end of the Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army was defeated by Union General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

Grant and the Union Army had the power in that situation. Lee and the Confederates, having lost the war, did not have the power. They were at the mercy of Grant and the Union troops.

The death totals during the war were horrific. It is estimated that between 618,000 750,000 soldiers died in the war. Even though they were the victors, the Union death toll was actually higher than the Confederate deaths.

Many Union supporters saw the leaders of the Confederacy as traitors, having committed treason by withdrawing from the United States and fighting against the Union. At the war’s end they wanted vengeance against the Confederate leaders and soldiers, calling for their punishment and even in some cases, their executions.

At Appomattox, though, Grant, even though he had the power, chose to show mercy not only to Lee but to the Confederate soldiers as well. He extended grace to them. He basically told them to just leave their weapons and go home.

Grant realized that a lot of work was ahead to heal the wounds caused by the war. In showing mercy to the Confederate troops he earned respect from many of them, a respect that was shown by how many former Confederates and southerners who actually voted for Grant when he ran for President.

In the case of the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the followers of Christ at Philippi, Paul is telling them–and us–to supplicate ourselves to God, to put ourselves at God’s mercy.

Now that’s hard for us to do today. Our society drills into us that we are never to show weakness, we are never to humble ourselves but are to aggrandize ourselves, telling ourselves and others how important we are. “Look at me! Look at how much better I am than others!”

We see this in sports. Football has started back, and especially in the NFL the self-aggrandizing celebrations have gotten out of hand, in my opinion. A running back or a receiver will make a touchdown and start dancing and celebrating and thumping their chest as if they scored all by themselves. They don’t thank the linemen who blocked for them or the quarterback that got the ball to them. No, they act like a three year old yelling, “I did it by myself!”

What’s worse, in my opinion, is when a team is getting blown out, losing really bad, and one of the players on the losing side makes a play and then starts celebrating like they single-handedly won the Superbowl. Uh, no. It reminds me of that old cheer, “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon rind, look at the scoreboard and see who’s behind.”

That is NOT supplication. Supplication is just the opposite. Supplication is acknowledging that you can’t do it on your own because you don’t have the power to do it. Supplication is bowing down to God with your face to the dirt and asking and depending on God to provide a solution. It is becoming dependent on God rather than yourself.

And an interesting–and wonderful–thing will happen when we supplicate ourselves before God.

Here is The Message paraphrase of Philippians 4:6-7,

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7, The Message

Did you catch that? When you turn your worries over to God you will receive a peace, a comfort, a sense that everything is going to be okay.

When we lived in Kilgore we had an elderly neighbor named AltaWelch. She was a widow and had no children and she kind of adopted us as family.

One day I asked her if she ever got scared living in her house alone, especially at night. “Lord no,” she responded. “I’m 90 years old. What do I have to be afraid of? Let me give you some advice: When you go to bed at night turn all your troubles over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway and there’s no need in both of you losing sleep.”

Paul, in the scripture we read today, is kind of saying the same thing. When you find yourself worrying, turn that worry into a prayer, humbly and with supplication give it to God. Admit that you don’t have the power to “fix” things, and turn it over to God who is much better equipped to solve problems than we are.

One other point about the scripture today: thanksgiving. Notice that it says, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Did you notice that “with thanksgiving” part? Yep, it’s there for a reason.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that being thankful to God during difficult times might not be the easiest thing to do or even at the top of our minds when we are stressed and worried. But the Bible clearly teaches us that we are to offer thanksgiving regardless of the circumstances.

Look at how the scripture we read today begins: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.”

In 1 Chronicles 16:34, as well as in many of the psalms, we read, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

If you are reading The One Year Bible (and I hope that you are, and encourage you to if you are not…) you’ll notice that the reading for this past Friday was from the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians. There Paul writes, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
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Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

We are to give thanks to God in all circumstances. It isn’t easy, but I view it as a spiritual discipline that becomes easier to do the more that we practice it. I find that it also helps to counteract worry. It’s hard to worry and be thankful at the same time.

Supplication also counteracts worry. If you turn all your troubles over to God you will find that you won’t worry near as much.

Now the trick is to actually turn them over to God and leave them there. I find myself sometimes turning worries over to God only to go back later and pick them up again. That’s why supplication is so important. Through supplication we are reminding ourselves that we don’t have the power that God does to deal with problems or issues and, if we supplicate ourselves before God, we are less likely to go back and try again to fix things ourselves.

So my challenge to you this week is to fight worry with prayer and supplication. When you find yourself worrying about something, turn that worry into a prayer. Supplicate yourself before God, turning the worry over to him completely, and then leave it there!

In the words of the chorus of an old hymn,

Leave it there, leave it there
Just take your burden to the Lord and leave it there
If you trust him through your doubt, he will surely bring you out
Take your burden to the Lord, leave it there

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

John: Persecution

John: Persecution
A Message on John 16:25-33
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 30, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 16:25-33 (NRSV)

“I [Jesus] have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. 26 On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 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. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

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Today’s scripture from the Gospel of John is a little disturbing. Jesus is telling his disciples that in following him, in living the way he lived, the way God wants us to live, we will be persecuted.

Now some translations of the Bible use the word “troubles” instead of persecution, and others use the word “tribulation.” But today we’re going to view it as persecution.

“In the world you face persecution.” Ouch! I don’t know about you, but I don’t like persecution, and I sure don’t like to be persecuted. Nope.

Many people don’t expect that when they become Christians. They think that when they accept Jesus as their savior that he will save them from all kinds of troubles as well. There is this belief that if we keep the commandments and do good and go to church and put money in the offering plate then there will be sort of this holy bubble of protection around them and that nothing bad will ever happen in our life.

We think we will always get the close up parking spaces at Walmart, that we will make more money, that our health will be perfect, that our children will behave and only make good choices, and that we will be held in esteem by everyone.

And when we think that way (or at least somewhat that way) it disturbs us when we read this scripture that says we will be persecuted. No, we don’t want to be persecuted. Yes, we want to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but we don’t want our faith to be challenged or to be persecuted.

It doesn’t work that way, though. The author of the Gospel of John knew this, and he wasn’t the only writer in the Bible that thought this.

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:12-14, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.”

And we have to remember what Matthew records Jesus saying in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

So how many of you are thinking right now, “Wait. I didn’t sign up for this.” Well guess what? You did. No takebacks.

Now it’s hard for us in our country and our society to comprehend being persecuted for our religious beliefs, although in the last few months it has been becoming more uncomfortable to be a Christian. Our society is becoming more and more secular and in many ways condemning Christians and almost rejoicing when a Christian leader falls from grace.

I predict that things will get more uncomfortable for Christians before they get better. But even then I think our persecutions will not be at the level that they are in other parts of the world today or as they have been in history.

I think of the members of ISIS, the Islamic sect, marching a long line of 21 Coptic Christians along the shore of the sea in Libya before having them kneel and brutally murdering them by slitting their throats and beheading them.

There are many places in the world today where Christianity is not only frowned upon, but it is actually illegal. Here are just a few: North Korea, China, Laos, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yeman, Somalia, Pakistan, and Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, just to name a few!

It’s hard to believe but in some places in the world today you can be killed for being a Christian. You can be killed for worshipping Jesus. The martyrs who died at the hands of ISIS prove it.

Throughout the history of the Common Era Christians have been persecuted. In 64 AD there was a huge fire that destroyed a large part of Rome. Emperor Nero, who many suspect of having the fire set on purpose, falsely blamed the Christians and thus started the government sanctioned persecution of Christians. Some were made to wear animal hides and were then torn apart by dogs, others were forced to wear shirts soaked in wax and burned alive as human torches. It was brutal.

Then came the unusually named Polycarp, who was the religious leader of the Christians in Smyrna, which is today Izmir, Turkey. (And no, his name doesn’t mean “many fish,” but “much fruit” in Greek.) Somewhere around 156 AD, when he was in his 80s, he was arrested, brought before the Roman authorities, and told to either worship the Roman Emperor or be put to death. When asked to deny Christ, his response was “Eighty-six years have I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

They then threaten to burn Polycarp at the stake. He responded, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”

So they did. When they went to nail him to the stake to prevent his escape he responded with, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle, without the help of your nails.” So they did.

He said a prayer and they lit the fire, and the witnesses said it formed “an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, and formed a circle around the body of the martyr.”

When the soldiers saw that his body was not being consumed by the flames they had an executioner pierce him with a sword, at which point fluids came out of his body and extinguished the fire.

Now that, folks, is persecution!

Now I’m not saying that we should all volunteer to be executed so that we can become martyrs. No. My point is that if this man can be persecuted to the point of death, and in going to his death glorify God and keep the faith as a follower of Jesus Christ, then we, as followers of Jesus Christ, should be able to withstand any persecution that comes our way and use that persecution to glorify God and our savior.

If it came down to denying your faith in Christ and living, or standing firm in your faith and dying, which would you choose?

I pray that none of us will ever have to make a decision like that.

I also pray that we remember those who did face that decision when we face minor persecutions for our faith. I pray that we can do as Paul writes in Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

Jesus tells the disciples, and us, that we will be persecuted for our faith. But that’s not how he ends the conversation. He follows that statement up with this: “But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

I think it’s good for us as followers of Christ to remember to have a Godly perspective rather than a worldly one. For example, if a good friend shuns us because of our faith the worldly perspective would have us feeding our anger and/or looking for revenge, but a Godly perspective would have us knowing that sometimes God puts people in our lives for a lifetime and others just for a season.

If we are suffering and hurting and it seems like time is going by so slowly, a worldly perspective is to focus on that suffering and hurt, wondering if we are being punished for something we did or how it might be interfering with the plans we had for our lives. A godly perspective is to know that our lives are but the smallest speck compared with God’s eternity, and to remember Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Take courage! Jesus has conquered the world! There is nothing in this world that is more powerful than the love of Jesus! No matter how badly we are treated by people in this world, no matter how much we are persecuted–even to the point of death, Jesus’ love is more powerful. Through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead Jesus has indeed overcome the world.

So my challenge to you this week is to have courage in the face of persecution. Don’t be surprised when it happens, as Jesus has told us that we will experience it. But Jesus also tells us to have courage to keep the faith as he has overcome the world. No matter how badly we are persecuted, those who are persecuting us do not win. They cannot win. Jesus wins, and because Jesus wins, we also win.

Praise be to God!

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

John: The True Vine

John: The True Vine
A Message on John 15:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 23, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 15:1-11 (NRSV)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

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I have learned a lot about growing grapes the past couple of years. About three years ago I bought a muscadine grape vine and planted it in the backyard of the parsonage. And that’s all I did to it other than water it when it got real dry.

Week before last I went out and picked the ripe muscadine grapes and made some muscadine jelly. There weren’t a whole lot of grapes, and the ones that were there were small, but I got enough to make jelly. (Well, not really. I needed 5 cups of juice and only got 4, so I added a cup of Welch’s grape juice to make up the difference. Okay, I know, but don’t judge. The jelly tastes great!)

Now my daughter Emily attends Texas A&M University (Whoop!) where she is majoring in Agricultural Communications and minoring in Horticulture. She knows about plants and growing things and the past several years she has been telling me over and over and over that I need to prune my grape vines during the winter when they are dormant. She begs me to prune them. And every year I don’t.

I’m not good at pruning things. It hurts my heart to prune. I figure if the plant is growing, just let it grow. As a result I have a real bushy plant (here’s a photo). I am disappointed year after year that I don’t get very many grapes from it and that the grapes I do get are very small. So I say that I’m going to prune the vines come winter but then I chicken out and say things like, “Well, if I water it more this year than I did last year I’ll get more and better grapes.” Except it never works.

Here are two photos. On the left are my grapes. On the right are what they are supposed to look like. Sigh… So why are mine so puny? I’m guessing it’s because I don’t prune the vines. The plant’s root system is spread too thin trying to get water and nutrients to too many leaves and stalks that it doesn’t have what’s necessary to raise good, large grapes.

Pam is much better at pruning than I am because she is more brutal than I am. Back before I went into the ministry we had rose bushes at our house. After seeing my feeble attempts at pruning and she would get the pruning shears and prune them properly. And every year I thought she had pruned too much and killed the plant. It would just be like a couple of sticks left and it looked so pitiful and I would think, “Well, she’s killed that bush. We’ll have to replace it this coming year.” (I would also think to myself, “I’m never letting her cut my hair. I wouldn’t have any left!)

But we never had to buy new rose bushes. In spite of my pessimism and her viscous pruning, the rose bushes would grow strongly and produce beautiful blooms.

In the scripture we read today from the gospel of John Jesus is talking about grape vines and the importance of pruning them. Even in the ancient world they, unlike me, knew the importance of pruning the vines so that they would produce more and better fruit.

Grapes were a very important part of the ancient world. In Genesis we find Noah being credited as the first person to plant a grape orchard. He planted grapes after he and his family got off their cruise. (He also got drunk off the wine from those grapevines, but that’s another sermon for another time.)

One of the things required for the sacrificial system, along with animals and grain, was wine. So it had significant religious purposes even in the Old Testament.

In Jesus’ parables we find the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). So grapes and vineyards and wine were important in Bible times!

And of course in the New Testament I hope you think of the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus told his disciples that the wine was his blood and that the bread was his body. It’s something so significant that we still celebrate it today (except for during this pandemic). I am SO looking forward to the day when we can celebrate it again!

Today I want to explore what Jesus means when he is talking about the true vine, pruning, and producing fruit.

First, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” This means that God is the vinegrower, and Jesus is the vine. Jesus, in doing the will of God, is the “true vine,” the connection to God.

Of course in Trinitarian theology we know that Jesus is not only the way to God but IS God, as is the Holy Spirit. God in three persons, all equal, all God. But Jesus is using a metaphor here, and when it comes to God all metaphors fall short.

Jesus is saying this for our benefit, to help us comprehend a theological concept. Jesus is telling us, through the terms “true vine,” that he is the real deal.

There is a variety of wild grapes that grow in the middle east, but they are not very good. The grapes themselves are small, dry, and not very productive. In Isaiah 5 we read about these wild grapes.

“Let me sing for my beloved, my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” Isaiah 5:1-2

Later in the chapter Isaiah writes this: “And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” Isaiah 5:5-6

Because the grapevines that are growing are wild grapes, the owner is destroying it, abandoning it. Isaiah is saying that because Jerusalem and Judea have not followed God’s laws and have turned away from God, becoming in effect “wild grapes,” then God will abandon them to their wicked ways. The vines in the orchard were not “true” vines.

Jesus is the “true vine.” As we read in the scripture last week from the previous chapter in John, Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Unfortunately there are many wild vines that lead us astray today. These vines look pretty, they are nice and green and look attractive, but they don’t produce any fruit. We water and fertilize them with our time, our energy, our finances, our relationships. We give them our attention, thinking that at any time they are going to bear the fruit we seek: completeness, wholeness, finding the meaning for our life.

But the fruit never comes, because it can’t. IT’s not the true vine. Only Jesus is the true vine, the only one that produces the fruit of righteousness, of grace, of love.

Now let’s talk about pruning. Pruning hurts. We don’t like to prune, and we don’t like to be pruned. But just as with grapes, pruning is necessary to bear fruit.

When we follow Jesus there will be times when it will be necessary for him to prune us. When we start thinking too much of ourselves and make everything be about “me,” when we begin thinking the world revolves around us, we need to be pruned in order to bear the fruit of humility.

When we begin to make idols and begin to worship them, things such as greed, popularity, possessions, careers, or hobbies, then we need Jesus to prune us in order to produce the fruit of worshiping only the one true God.

When we fail to feed the poor, to seek peace, to stand up for justice, to advocate for the oppressed, and to fight evil in our world, we need Jesus to prune us in order to produce the fruit of, well, being Christian.

The reality is that anything we think, say, or do that doesn’t bear fruit for the Kingdom of God needs to be pruned. It’s not pleasant, and it can be painful at the time, but it is what is necessary for us to be connected to the True Vine and produce good fruit.

The final topic I want to explore today is that of bearing fruit. As Christians, we are called to bear fruit, to further the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Christianity is not a self-centered religion. Unfortunately many people get the idea that the primary focus of being a Christ follower is our own salvation, of making that decision to follow Jesus and therefore, be “saved” which keeps us from burning in hell after we die. I call that “Jesus as fire insurance.”

But there is so much more to being a Christian than that! It is an important part, yes, but once we are “justified” (to use a Wesleyan term) then we are to work to move on to sanctification.

Remember is Wesleyan theology we have prevenient grace, which is God working in our lives, even when we don’t realize it or know it, before we come to Jesus. Justifying grace is when we accept that grace that Jesus offers us by making the decision to accept him as our savior, but the third expression of grace is sanctifying grace, those things that we do after we are saved that draw us closer to God and to–get this–bear fruit.

How are we to bear fruit? By telling others about Jesus. Not only that, but being active in leading others to Christ as well. When we are pruned from the world’s temptations and desires, then we will focus on God, being connected to the True Vine, and will lead others to Christ. We will fulfill the great commission found in the 28th chapter of Matthew: “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.” Matthew 28:19-20

That’s how we produce fruit! Unlike my puny grapes, big, beautiful, gorgeous clusters of grapes!

So my challenge for you this week is three fold: 1. Remember to stay connected to the True Vine. 2. Prune anything out of your life that doesn’t lead toward producing fruit toward the Kingdom, and 3. Tell others about Jesus so we can bear fruit for the Kingdom.

And if you need your grapevines pruned, you better call Pam or Emily, not me.

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

John: Glory

John: Glory
A Message on John 12:36b-43
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 9, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 12:36b-43 (NRSV)

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. 37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

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In order for us to grasp what is happening in the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John we need to back up to the beginning of the 12th Chapter.

Jesus visits at the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and his sisters Mary and Martha, . Martha serves him and Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume, which drive’s Judas nuts because of the cost.

After that the Jewish leaders plot to kill Lazarus because of all the people coming to see him and people believing in Jesus because of him being raised from the dead.

Then Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey with huge crowds surrounding him and running ahead of him.

Once in Jerusalem talks about his death and says, “God, I glorify your name.” Then a voice comes from heaven that says, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

Some in the crowd thought the voice was thunder, while others thought it was an angel talking to Jesus. Jesus says, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Then the crowd starts arguing about whether he is the messiah or not, pointing out that the scriptures say the messiah will be with them forever and he is talking about being raised up.

That is when we come to today’s reading where Jesus leaves and hides from them. He has to get away from the crowds and the unbelief that so many in the crowd have about him.

The part of today’s scripture that I want to focus on today is the last paragraph: “Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

Here is The Message paraphrase of that scripture: “Isaiah said these things after he got a glimpse of God’s cascading brightness that would pour through the Messiah. On the other hand, a considerable number from the ranks of the leaders did believe. But because of the Pharisees, they didn’t come out in the open with it. They were afraid of getting kicked out of the meeting place. When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.”

First let’s talk about glory? Just what exactly is glory?

The first thing that comes to my mind is the Battle Hymn of the Republic and it’s refrain:

Glory, glory, Hallelujah! Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

It’s not a word we use much anymore but it is used in the Bible, 443 times to be exact (in the NRSV). In theology terms it means praise, worship, and thanksgiving given to God.

A new usage, which I didn’t know until working on this message, is that the word “glory” can also refer to the luminous ring or halo depicted in art around the head of Jesus or a saint. Hmmmm. You learn something new everyday…

Another way to think about “glory” is being “used to describe the manifestation of God’s presence as perceived by humans.” (That one is from Wikipedia, by the way.)

One of the ways I think of glory is when in the Old Testament Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. Here’s the way it is described in Exodus 24:13-15, “Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.”

The spectacle really freaked out the Jewish people. They were fearful of God’s glory and wanted Moses to intercede for them, which he did. And when he came down the mountain his face glowed, which also freaked them out, so much so that he had to wear a veil when he was around people.

And yet after all that, after seeing all those things, the people still became stiff necked and disobeyed.

Another way I think of glory is when it comes to the tabernacle and temple the Jewish people used to worship God. We find several references in scripture where the tabernacle, the place it was believed that God resided on earth, was completed. Here is Exodus 40:34-35, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

We find the same thing happening at the completion of the temple under the leadership of King Solomon. “… the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:13b-14

So we have that concept of glory from the Old Testament scriptures, along with Moses going into a cleft of a rock for protection when the glory of the Lord passed by, because no one can see the face of the Lord and live. (Exodus 33)

With that frame of mind, let’s look at that last paragraph of today’s scripture reading. “…for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

In our society today we glorify people in many different ways. A superstar athlete is glorified for their athletic skills (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Movie stars are glorified for their abilities to act (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Recording artists are glorified for their music (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Successful businessmen or politicians are glorified for their leadership (and sometimes their scandalous actions).

Fame is an interesting phenomenon.

I am currently reading a biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Rob Chernow that I find to be fascinating.

First, did you know his name really wasn’t Ulysses S. Grant? It was Hiram Ulysses Grant but when he was appointed to West Point he tried to reverse his first and middle name so that his initials wouldn’t spell HUG, but the paperwork got messed up and he went with Ulysses S. Grant, contending that the “S” didn’t stand for anything.

Also I found out that he was Methodist! Yep! Several times in the book the author refers to his attending Methodist churches and how his Methodist upbringing formed his moral values.

I also learned that he had several failures before he succeeded in moving up the military ranks and leading all the Union forces during the United States Civil War.

After winning the war for the Union, Grant became a celebrity even though he really didn’t want to be. He shied away from the spotlight but was unable to after the war. Whenever accolades were heaped upon him he deflected them from himself and gave credit to the brave men who fought under his command. He didn’t want glory for himself but sought to glorify those who fought, and the thousands who died, for the Union cause.

Grant was adamantly anti-slavery and worked hard after the war to protect and give full rights, including the right to vote, to the freed slaves. He even went so far as to buck President Andrew Johnson, who as vice president became president after the assasination of Abraham Lincoln. Johnson wanted to please southern plantation owners and was very racist in his views of the freed slaves.

Now Grant wasn’t perfect. He had a weakness for alcoholic beverages, something he fought throughout his career. He was naive and trusted people, many who took advantage of him and fleeced money from him.

But throughout the book (well, the parts of it that I have read so far) I have been impressed with his desire to give glory to others other than himself.

It’s difficult not to seek human glory, isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be admired, honored, acclaimed, celebrated, praised, and recognized? I think it’s part of human nature that we want to be liked by others, and another part of our human nature to be considered better than others.

But there is a danger in that. When we seek the praise and glory of others we are metaphorically creating a false idol that we begin to worship, instead of worshipping God.

Equally–or maybe more so–dangerous is our glorification of others. Like Dorothy and the characters in the Wizard of Oz we lift up others to the point of worship, only to find out when we look behind the curtains that they are only human, complete with human flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes.

We have to be aware of becoming like the Pharisees in today’s scripture who loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

We need to periodically pose the question to ourselves that the Apostle Paul writes in the first chapter of Galatians: “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

So my challenge to you this week is to be conscious of seeking human glory. Instead, seek to glorify God through the words you say, the actions you take, and by how you love others. Let us not be like the Pharisees, but let us be like Jesus Christ himself, giving glory and honor to our father in heaven.

Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

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

John: Glory

John: Glory
A Message on John 12:36b-43
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 9, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 12:36b-43 (NRSV)

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. 37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

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In order for us to grasp what is happening in the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John we need to back up to the beginning of the 12th Chapter.

Jesus visits at the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and his sisters Mary and Martha, . Martha serves him and Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume, which drive’s Judas nuts because of the cost.

After that the Jewish leaders plot to kill Lazarus because of all the people coming to see him and people believing in Jesus because of him being raised from the dead.

Then Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey with huge crowds surrounding him and running ahead of him.

Once in Jerusalem talks about his death and says, “God, I glorify your name.” Then a voice comes from heaven that says, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

Some in the crowd thought the voice was thunder, while others thought it was an angel talking to Jesus. Jesus says, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Then the crowd starts arguing about whether he is the messiah or not, pointing out that the scriptures say the messiah will be with them forever and he is talking about being raised up.

That is when we come to today’s reading where Jesus leaves and hides from them. He has to get away from the crowds and the unbelief that so many in the crowd have about him.

The part of today’s scripture that I want to focus on today is the last paragraph: “Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

Here is The Message paraphrase of that scripture: “Isaiah said these things after he got a glimpse of God’s cascading brightness that would pour through the Messiah. On the other hand, a considerable number from the ranks of the leaders did believe. But because of the Pharisees, they didn’t come out in the open with it. They were afraid of getting kicked out of the meeting place. When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.”

First let’s talk about glory? Just what exactly is glory?

The first thing that comes to my mind is the Battle Hymn of the Republic and it’s refrain:

Glory, glory, Hallelujah! Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

It’s not a word we use much anymore but it is used in the Bible, 443 times to be exact (in the NRSV). In theology terms it means praise, worship, and thanksgiving given to God.

A new usage, which I didn’t know until working on this message, is that the word “glory” can also refer to the luminous ring or halo depicted in art around the head of Jesus or a saint. Hmmmm. You learn something new everyday…

Another way to think about “glory” is being “used to describe the manifestation of God’s presence as perceived by humans.” (That one is from Wikipedia, by the way.)

One of the ways I think of glory is when in the Old Testament Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. Here’s the way it is described in Exodus 24:13-15, “Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.”

The spectacle really freaked out the Jewish people. They were fearful of God’s glory and wanted Moses to intercede for them, which he did. And when he came down the mountain his face glowed, which also freaked them out, so much so that he had to wear a veil when he was around people.

And yet after all that, after seeing all those things, the people still became stiff necked and disobeyed.

Another way I think of glory is when it comes to the tabernacle and temple the Jewish people used to worship God. We find several references in scripture where the tabernacle, the place it was believed that God resided on earth, was completed. Here is Exodus 40:34-35, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

We find the same thing happening at the completion of the temple under the leadership of King Solomon. “… the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:13b-14

So we have that concept of glory from the Old Testament scriptures, along with Moses going into a cleft of a rock for protection when the glory of the Lord passed by, because no one can see the face of the Lord and live. (Exodus 33)

With that frame of mind, let’s look at that last paragraph of today’s scripture reading. “…for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

In our society today we glorify people in many different ways. A superstar athlete is glorified for their athletic skills (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Movie stars are glorified for their abilities to act (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Recording artists are glorified for their music (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Successful businessmen or politicians are glorified for their leadership (and sometimes their scandalous actions).

Fame is an interesting phenomenon.

I am currently reading a biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Rob Chernow that I find to be fascinating.

First, did you know his name really wasn’t Ulysses S. Grant? It was Hiram Ulysses Grant but when he was appointed to West Point he tried to reverse his first and middle name so that his initials wouldn’t spell HUG, but the paperwork got messed up and he went with Ulysses S. Grant, contending that the “S” didn’t stand for anything.

Also I found out that he was Methodist! Yep! Several times in the book the author refers to his attending Methodist churches and how his Methodist upbringing formed his moral values.

I also learned that he had several failures before he succeeded in moving up the military ranks and leading all the Union forces during the United States Civil War.

After winning the war for the Union, Grant became a celebrity even though he really didn’t want to be. He shied away from the spotlight but was unable to after the war. Whenever accolades were heaped upon him he deflected them from himself and gave credit to the brave men who fought under his command. He didn’t want glory for himself but sought to glorify those who fought, and the thousands who died, for the Union cause.

Grant was adamantly anti-slavery and worked hard after the war to protect and give full rights, including the right to vote, to the freed slaves. He even went so far as to buck President Andrew Johnson, who as vice president became president after the assasination of Abraham Lincoln. Johnson wanted to please southern plantation owners and was very racist in his views of the freed slaves.

Now Grant wasn’t perfect. He had a weakness for alcoholic beverages, something he fought throughout his career. He was naive and trusted people, many who took advantage of him and fleeced money from him.

But throughout the book (well, the parts of it that I have read so far) I have been impressed with his desire to give glory to others other than himself.

It’s difficult not to seek human glory, isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be admired, honored, acclaimed, celebrated, praised, and recognized? I think it’s part of human nature that we want to be liked by others, and another part of our human nature to be considered better than others.

But there is a danger in that. When we seek the praise and glory of others we are metaphorically creating a false idol that we begin to worship, instead of worshipping God.

Equally–or maybe more so–dangerous is our glorification of others. Like Dorothy and the characters in the Wizard of Oz we lift up others to the point of worship, only to find out when we look behind the curtains that they are only human, complete with human flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes.

We have to be aware of becoming like the Pharisees in today’s scripture who loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

We need to periodically pose the question to ourselves that the Apostle Paul writes in the first chapter of Galatians: “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

So my challenge to you this week is to be conscious of seeking human glory. Instead, seek to glorify God through the words you say, the actions you take, and by how you love others. Let us not be like the Pharisees, but let us be like Jesus Christ himself, giving glory and honor to our father in heaven.

Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

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

John: Blindness

Jesus Heals a Blind Man by Brian Jekel

John: Blindness
A Message on John 9:1-12, 35-41
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 26, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 9:1-12, 35-41 (NRSV)

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. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

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The late cajun comedian Justin Wilson used to tell the story of coming across a group of cajuns holding up a long barn pole (kind of like a telephone pole). The group was having trouble keeping it upright, sticking straight up in the air, because at the top of a pole was a small Cajun boy holding a tape measure. The boy was trying to let out the tape measure to the ground and not having much success as the pole was wobbling back and forth as those on the ground tried to hold it still.

Justin walks up and says, “How y’all are! What are y’all doing?”

One of the men responds with, “Are you blind, hah? We tryin’ to measure how tall this pole is.”

Justin says, “Well den, why dontcha lay it down on de ground and measure it?”

The guy says, “You think we’re stupid? We done did dat. We know how long it is. We tryin’ to find out how tall it is!”

In the scripture we read today from the ninth chapter of John, we find the religious leaders kind of like those Cajuns trying to see how tall the pole was: they just didn’t get it.

The whole situation starts back at the beginning of Chapter 9 when Jesus comes across a blind man. The disciples travelling with Jesus ask him in a roundabout way why the man was blind. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

No that sounds may kind of sound ridiculous today but in the first century it was common thinking. I had a professor in seminary say that an oversimplification of theology in the Old Testament was this: “You do good, you get good. You do bad, you get bad.”

The thought process went something like this: since the man was born blind, then God must have been punishing him for some horrible sin he had committed, or been punishing his parents for some horrible sin they must have committed. The bottom line was that somebody must have sinned, and sinned bad, and God was punishing him/her/them by taking away this man’s sight when he was born.

As Christians we don’t believe that, of course. Or do we? I believe that sometimes we still do. I know that I used to. I think it’s part of our human nature to sometimes believe it. When things fall apart and we are in despair we ask ourselves if God is causing the bad things to happen as punishment toward us. In counseling with people after a tragedy I have heard people full of grief say things like, “Is God punishing me for something I did?”

My answer to such questions is “No.” Now God is all powerful and certainly has the ability to inflict punishment on us should he decide to, but in God’s grace he doesn’t. Our God is a loving God, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.” — Psalm 103:12

God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. He allows them to, but he doesn’t cause pandemics, car wrecks, cancer, etc.

In the scripture we read today Jesus tells his disciples that the man’s blindness wasn’t caused by his sin and it wasn’t caused by his parents’ sin, either. Then Jesus gives them a reason why the man was blind: “…he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Max Lucado, in his book, “It’s Not About Me” (which I highly recommend, by the way), he tells of a friend who was hospitalized with cancer. The prognosis was not good and the friend found himself doubting his faith as well-meaning friends told him that if he only had faith he would get better. He didn’t get better. Max met with him, heard his anguish, and responded with this:

“It’s not about you. Your hospital room is a showcase for your Maker. Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.” Oh, that you could have seen the relief on his face. To know that he hadn’t failed God and God hadn’t failed him— this made all the difference. Seeing his sickness in the scope of God’s sovereign plan gave his condition a sense of dignity. He accepted his cancer as an assignment from heaven: a missionary to the cancer ward. A week later I saw him again. “I reflected God,” he said, smiling through a thin face, “to the nurses, the doctors, my friends. Who knows who needed to see God, but I did my best to make him seen.” [Lucado, Max. It’s Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy (p. 126). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.]

I witnessed a similar thing with our own Darryl Bonner several years ago. Even as Darryl lay dying in a bed at a hospice care facility he exuded the love of Jesus to those who were taking care of him. He definitely, as Max put it, cranked up the volume of God’s song. Darryl had it booming in that room.

Jesus, in healing the blind man in today’s scripture, cranked up the volume of God’s song as well. Again, God did not cause the man’s blindness as a punishment of some sin he or his parents had committed. No. But in being healed from this blindness he became a witness to God’s glory.

So Jesus heals the blind man and the blind man becomes a witness to the miracles of Jesus. Now an interesting thing happens: some people refuse to believe him.

The scriptures tell us that some people didn’t believe he was the same man who used to be blind and beg. And if you read the part we skipped today, verses 13-34, we find the Pharisees pretty much harassing the man, refusing to believe him. They call him in to question him again and again.

The Pharisees even bring in the man’s parents, who are scared to death, and ask if the man really was born blind and if this is the same man. The parents respond, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” — John 9:20-21

After being questioned multiple times by the Pharisees, who keep questioning the man because they don’t like his answers. They kept saying that Jesus was a sinner and because of that he couldn’t have healed the man’s blindness. The man, getting frustrated with the Pharisees, finally has enough. He tells them, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” — John 9:30-33 The Message

The Pharisees, stung and offended, do what most people do when offended: offend back. They say, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” — John 9:34. And after they said that they drove him out of the temple, I’m sure pretty roughly.

That’s where we pick up the second part of our scripture today where Jesus finds out that they had driven the man out of the temple. He starts a conversation with the man and the man believes that Jesus is the son of man.

Jesus then says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” — John 9:39

Well the Pharisees, who hear this, are again offended by this stinging rebuke and bow up against Jesus. They say, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” (Again, remember that these people associated blindness with sin. So basically, “We are not sinners so therefore we aren’t blind.”)

Jesus responds to them: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Ouch! Or as the teenagers used to say years ago, “Booyah!”

Jesus is using blindness as a spiritual metaphor. The Pharisees, being not only the religious leaders but the social and cultural leaders of the Jewish people, believe themselves to be better than everyone else, especially those with disabilities, those that are cripple, blind, mute, or who have leprosy. After all, those people sinned and God is punishing them by giving them their disability.

They had eyes, but they did not see. Meanwhile, the blind man, who previously could not see, does believe in Jesus Christ.

It echoes what was written in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah sees a vision, the one where a seraph gets a hot coal from the altar with a pair of tongs and goes and touches Isaiah on the lips. God tells Isaiah, “Go and tell this people: ‘Listen hard, but you aren’t going to get it; look hard, but you won’t catch on.’ Make these people blockheads, with fingers in their ears and blindfolds on their eyes, So they won’t see a thing, won’t hear a word, So they won’t have a clue about what’s going on and, yes, so they won’t turn around and be made whole.” The Message

Jesus even quotes this scripture from Isaiah in the 13th chapter of Matthew. He ends it by telling his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” — Matthew 13:16.

As humans we are pretty bad about seeing only what we want to see. We see it in politics in this election year. Something will happen and one side of the political aisle sees it only one way, and the other side sees it as just the other. It’s the same event, but the perceptions are completely opposite. We see what we want to see.

It’s like the old adage of do you see the glass half full or half empty? (I say it depends on what liquid is in the glass.)

Here, let me show you a piece of artwork. This is called “On White II” by Wassily Kandinsky. What do you think about it?

Until Pam and I watched an old movie this past week I had never heard of Kandinsky, but apparently he was one of the pioneers of abstract art way back in the 1920s. This piece, “On White II” (which I guess means there was a “On White I”?), is one of his more famous pieces.

To be honest with you when I look at this I kinda go, “meh.” I like the bright colors and the cool geometric shapes, but that’s about it. I don’t see much beyond that. To me it kinda looks like a wristwatch exploded.

But according to those that know such things, there is much, much more to this piece of art. Here, I’ll quote to you from the official Kandinsky website about this painting: “As the title suggests, white is predominant in this painting, including the background. Kandinsky used white to represent life, peace and silence. The majority of the geometric shapes are presented in a variety of colours, reflecting the artist’s love for the free expression of inner emotions. Striking through the kaleidoscope of shapes and colours are bold, spiked barbs in black, representing non-existence and death.” [http://www.kandinskypaintings.org/on-white-ii/]

Uh….. huh….okay… I guess?

After reading that I realize that my perception of this piece of art is a lot different from “those who see.” It makes me think that not only am I not in the deep end of the art appreciation swimming pool, but I kinda doubt that I am even in the kiddie pool.

As humans we see things differently. We perceive things differently.

Years ago there was a country song sung by John Conlee titled “Rose Colored Glasses.” In the song John sings of how his woman has cheated on him and doesn’t treat him well, and yet he still loves her. The words of the chorus are:

But these rose colored glasses
That I’m looking through
Show only the beauty
‘Cause they hide all the truth

In the first century the religious leaders of the day were metaphorically looking through rose colored glasses when it came to how they were spiritually leading the people. They were the smart ones, the ones who knew all the laws in the scriptures, and they were all too eager to enforce those laws on the Jewish people.

But those rose colored glasses, that they were looking through, kept them from seeing the real Jesus, from perceiving the truth.

Today as Christians we can also see things through rose colored glasses, being blind to the truth.

If we look down on others as being less important, less “holy” than we are, then we are like the Pharisees and are blind to the truth.

If we rationalize our theological views to make them match our political views, then we are blind to the truth.

If we say we are Christians and followers of Jesus Christ but put our own wants and needs in front of others, we are blind to the truth.

You get the idea.

So my challenge to you this week is to give yourself a spiritual eye exam. Ask yourself if you are seeing only the things you want to see, or are you seeing things through the eyes of Jesus.

In the words of singer songwriter Brandon Heath, in his song “Give Me Your Eyes,”

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see.

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

“On White II” by Wassily Kandinsky

John: The Woman Caught in Adultery

John: Condemnation
A Message on John 8:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 19, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 8:1-11 (NRSV)

…Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.

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As we continue our sermon series on the Gospel of John today we will explore an event that only occurs in John: the woman caught in adultery.

None of the synoptic gospels include this story, only John does. And there are scholars that think this story is a late addition to the Gospel of John because it does not appear in some of the earliest manuscripts. But for the purposes of today let’s just assume that it did actually happen and that John witnessed it and wrote about it in his gospel.

John describes a very awkward situation. A woman has been caught in adultery. Not only was she doing something wrong, but according to the scribes and the Pharisees that bring the woman before Jesus, she was caught “in the very act of committing adultery.”

Now it is important to remember the scribes’ and Pharisees’ motivation in bringing the woman to Jesus. They were trying to trap Jesus. They didn’t like Jesus’ teachings because he was calling them out for their hypocrisy. They were saying they were following the laws of Moses, but they were all about the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law.

So when they bring this woman to Jesus it wasn’t really about the woman and what she had done. The thing was not the thing. They wanted Jesus to say something or do something that would provide them with evidence that they could use to kill him (or have him killed). They wanted to kill Jesus, but being the good, law-abiding religious people they were, they wanted a good reason to kill him so that they would still look good by not disobeying the law.

To quote the character Mongo from the movie “Blazing Saddles,” “Mongo just pawn in game of life.” The woman caught in adultery is a pawn in their game of scheming and entrapment. Their end game is much bigger: killing Jesus.

That isn’t to say that what the woman has done is just a minor infraction of the law. We may not think it’s that big of a deal today because in Texas adultery is not a crime. (I did some research and found out that 21 states still consider adultery a misdemeanor, while six states still consider it a felony. But in Texas, it is not a crime.)

At the time of Jesus (and prior to that all the way back to Moses) adultery had a much stiffer penalty. If you turn back in your Bibles to Deuteronomy 22:22 you’ll find the punishment for adultery. “If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.”

As if there is any doubt about that, in Leviticus 20:10 we read, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”

Pretty harsh, right?

Another interesting thing to note is that the scribes and Pharisees prescribe the method of executing the woman: stoning.

Now the law we read about in Leviticus don’t say anything about stoning being the method of death, but Deuteronomy does list it as the punishment in Deuteronomy 22:23-24, “If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

We don’t know the specifics of the situation the scribes and Pharisees bring before Jesus, but the punishment suggested indicates that it might be one like Deuteronomy 22:23.

It’s important to note the location of where this interaction between the religious leaders and Jesus takes place. Jesus is at the temple, the location where the Jews believe that God resided on earth. It was the site of sacrifices and worship as well as religious teaching, which is what Jesus was doing before the religious leaders interrupted him.

The temple was an important place. It was not only the religious center of the world for the Jewish people, but also was an important center of culture, commerce, and civil life (with the exception of the occupying Roman rulers, of course.) It was where people gathered to discuss things, to philosophize, to “see and be seen.”

Knowing this, think of just how humiliating this would have been for the woman caught in adultery. We are not given any hints as to how she was dressed (or undressed, as the case might have been), but to be marched to a public place and made to stand in front of a group of people and accused of adultery had to be a difficult thing for her emotionally. The only modern equivalent I can think of is if someone’s adultery is shared on Facebook. Twitter, and other social media platforms.

So this woman, humiliated and shamed, stands before everyone, including Jesus. But Jesus does something interesting. He bends down and starts writing on the ground.

Now we don’t know what he wrote. John’s gospel does not record that. Scholars throughout the year have speculated and there are some interesting theories, but again, it’s all guess work. We just don’t know. And I think that is on purpose. I believe he knelt down and wrote on the ground not to put a prophetic message in the dirt, but for another reason: so that he would not be looking at the woman.

If you think about it, much of the shame and embarrassment and humiliation the woman was experiencing was the result of everyone looking at her, knowing what she had done. But Jesus doesn’t. By writing on the ground he averts his gaze from the woman to the ground, in effect refusing to participate in her public shaming.

Then, only when everyone is gone, he stands and looks at her face. He refuses to participate in her public shaming even with his nonverbal communication.

Now let’s talk about condemnation. The Greek word used in the scripture we read today is katakrinō. It is more like a legal term, meaning “to give judgement against,” and “to judge worthy of punishment.”

We still use the word condemn in judicial and punishment terms. We use phrases like, “He was condemned to life in prison.” Or “He was condemned to death.”

Another way we use the word is to describe a house or building that is in such horrible condition that it is not safe for people to be in it. We say, “They finally condemned that old building,” or “They condemned that dilapidated house.”

“Condemnation” or to “condemn” are not happy, uplifting words. If you are on the receiving end of them they don’t make you feel good.

As humans, part of our human nature is to condemn. If you don’t believe me just watch the news. In the US the two major political parties condemn each other regularly. Special interest groups condemn the people that think differently than them. And with social media today anyone who posts something that isn’t politically correct is condemned. People no longer politely disagree with each other, they yell… or worse.

Pam’s dad used to have chickens. I remember him buying some young chickens that were all the same age. These were what we called “yard birds” that roamed around in the yard during the day but then were locked up in a chicken coop at night. They all got along great with each other but when these chickens reached a certain age their behavior started changing. If one of them got a spot on their back one of the other chickens would start pecking at it. This, of course, made the spot worse, which meant that the other chickens REALLY started pecking at it. Things got worse and worse until they had literally pecked the chicken to death.

After a while, the pattern repeated itself as the chickens selected another victim and condemned it to death.

Too many times we as humans are like those chickens. Somebody will make a bad choice and it will become publicly known. Then we join in the “pecking” of the victim, both on social media and word of mouth, condemning them for whatever it was that they did.

That’s what the Jewish leaders were doing when they brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They knew the punishment for adultery was to stone the victim to death. I have no doubt that if Jesus had responded with, “Yep. That’s what the law says,” that they would start collecting rocks and wouldn’t have batted an eye as this woman was stoned to death.

The Pharisees and scribes noticed a weakness on a fellow chicken: the woman caught in adultery. They started pecking at her, detaining her, dragging her out in public, and forcing her to appear in the Temple. And if it weren’t for Jesus, they would have pecked her until she died.

Now it’s interesting the note that the man is never mentioned. It takes two to tango, and two to commit adultery. So where was the man? Why wasn’t he dragged in front of Jesus like the woman?

I sometimes wonder if the Pharisees and scribes didn’t set the whole thing up. I was feeling kinda bad for thinking that until I heard someone else say something about it. I was driving on Thursday and tuned in to “The Well,” the new Christian teaching station out of Tyler on 94.3 & 95.3 FM.

I tuned in and on the air was a pastor named Paul Shepherd, in California. He started talking about this scripture and pointed out that the Pharisees “caught her in the act, which means they were looking for it. That begs the question, ‘What are y’all doing looking at it?’ They stand outside her window. They didn’t even fool with the man. Such hypocrites. They knew they better not roll up on that man, saying ‘We saw you.’ And they little Pharisees, don’t know how to fight. They knew not to run up on that man. He’d bust all of ‘em up. So they waited for him to leave, ran in, grabbed the woman that they caught in the act that they were looking for. Mmm, mmm, mmm. Lord have mercy. Oh, the devil [was] busy [that day].”

While that involves some speculation, it is one theory why we don’t hear about the man. I have another one: what if the Pharisees and scribes paid the man to do it. Or what if it was someone they knew, maybe another Pharisee or scribe? Or what if the woman was a prostitute? What if that was the only way she could keep from starving since there weren’t a lot of jobs for women at the time, and desperate people will do desperate things just to survive. We just don’t know, but we know the religious leaders of the day provided false witnesses against Jesus, so I wouldn’t put it past them.

While we don’t know about the man, we do know they detained the woman. She was brought before Jesus, with the Pharisees and scribes wanting him to condemn her. After all, that’s what the law said, right? And the law is the law. Better start picking up rocks…

But Jesus doesn’t fall for their trap. He knows their hearts and the real motivation behind bringing the woman before them. And he answers in a way that doesn’t violate the letter of the law, but in fact interprets it in a way that makes it even better.

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Brilliant.

The Pharisees and scribes were all about the law. They were the experts on all the religious rules. But they also knew that there multiple times in the Psalms scripture says everyone sins. They had all sinned. Everybody sins. Now they would have considered themselves to be upright, righteous people, better than everybody else, but they knew better than to say they had never sinned.

If you think about it, when we condemn others it’s about power. If I condemn someone I am saying that like the Pharisees and scribes I am somehow better than them. I am more moral, more holy, a better citizen, much more valuable than the person who messed up. I am more powerful than them.

But that’s worldly thinking, not Godly thinking. It’s easy to fall into that kind of worldly thinking. Real easy. But the easy thing is most often not the right thing. The easy thing is rarely the right thing.

The Pharisees and scribes realize that they cannot condemn the woman because they, too, are sinners. Jesus doesn’t condemn the woman, either, even though, being sinless, he certainly could.

Now people are pretty quick to point out this scripture when someone is judging another. And rightfully so. They remember the “neither do I condemn you” part, but they conveniently forget the second statement Jesus makes to the woman: “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Or the shortened version, “Go, and sin no more.”

And that is an important distinction to remember. In not condemning the woman Jesus isn’t justifying what she did. He is not saying, “Oh, I don’t want to judge you, so it’s not my place to say whether adultery is right or wrong for you.” No. Sin is still sin, and sin is still wrong. Jesus don’t like sin.

Jesus does not say it’s okay to sin, but he does show that we should be more about compassion than judgement. We should be more compassionate than we are judgemental.

We need to remember that as he was dying on the cross for our sins, for your sins and my sins, he refused to show judgement to the Roman soldiers that were killing him. Instead he showed compassion. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

So my challenge to you this week is to show compassion more than judgement. Be less like the Pharisees and scribes and be more like Jesus.

Don’t be like a chicken and start pecking on others. After all, one day the other chickens may decide to peck on you!

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

John: Baptizing with the Holy Spirit

John: Baptizing With the Holy Spirit
A Message on John 1:29-34
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 12, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 1:29-34 (NRSV)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

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I want to start off today by telling you a story of a young boy who attended church in a denomination that practiced full immersion baptism. (Some people call it “dunking.”) He had been to church several times and had seen people baptized, and he was really impressed by it.

So one day he decided that he would play preacher and baptize the family cat. He got a washtub and put some water in it with a water hose, then hunted down the cat. He picked up the cat and brought it to the tub of water, said what he could remember of what the preacher said, and then tried to dunk the cat.

Well as you might expect the cat was having none of it. It fought him, scratching and biting him before running away only partially wet. Undaunted, the young boy once again catches the cat and tries again. Same result: the cat scratches and bites, gets out of his grip, and runs away.

The boy thinks the third time might be the charm so he once again catches the cat, carries it to the tub or water, and tries again. No luck. The cat, who is catching on by now, goes full on fight mode against the boy, and escapes yet once again barely wet.

The boy, exasperated and covered in bites and scratches, yells after the cat, “Fine, then! Just go on and be a Methodist!”

Today we will be continuing our sermon series on the Gospel of John by looking at the topic of baptism. And we are doing that today because, as you have already seen, today is confirmation day, a day when young men and women who have completed the 12 week confirmation classes make a decision to follow Jesus Christ as his savior and be baptized or, if they were baptized as children, affirm their faith.

Now here’s something that I find interesting: the Gospel of John doesn’t specifically talk about Jesus’ baptism. Nope. The closest we get is what we read today. The three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about Jesus coming to John and being baptized in the Jordan River, but in John’s gospel all we get is John the Baptist talking about Jesus.

Now that doesn’t mean that the author of John (who was not John the Baptist, remember) didn’t believe Jesus was baptized. No. What we have is kind of John the Baptist’s commentary on what happened. For example, while he doesn’t talk about the act of baptising Jesus he does talk about personally witnessing the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove and resting on Jesus, confirming for him that Jesus is the Son of God.

In the synoptic gospels, which do give specifics about Jesus’ baptism, we find some differences. There is a voice from heaven which says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Mark and Luke, the voice addresses Jesus himself, but in Matthew the voice is witnessed by those present at the baptism of Jesus.

When we talk about baptism the thing that usually comes to mind first is water. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river which, of course, has water. That’s why we baptise with water. But there is something else as well. We also baptize with the Holy Spirit.

If you noticed when I baptized the confirmands that after I either placed them under the water or poured it over their head, I placed my hand on their head and said these words: “the Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

In doing this I invoke the Holy Spirit on them. They are baptized by water and the Spirit.

That’s what we do as United Methodist. We baptize with water and the Holy Spirit.

There is a booklet published by the United Methodist Church titled, By Water and the Spirit. This book does a great job in describing the United Methodist views on baptism, including why we baptize infants, why we have three modes of applying the water (sprinkling, pouring, and immersion) and, of course, why we baptize in both water and Spirit.

Here’s how that publication puts it: “Through the work of the Holy Spirit — the continuing presence of Christ on earth — the Church is instituted to be the community of the new covenant. Within this community, baptism is by water and the Spirit (John 3:5, Acts 2:38).

“In God’s work of salvation, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection is inseparably linked with the gift of the Holy Spirit given on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Likewise, participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is inseparably linked with receiving the Spirit (Romans 6:1-11, 8:9-14).”

At the beginning of the baptismal liturgy, which we read this morning, we find these words that express what we as United Methodists believe about baptism:

“Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Through the Sacrament of Baptism
we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.
We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation
and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.”

These young women and men have boldly made the decision to follow Jesus Christ. They understand what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be United Methodist, and what is expected of them as members. As we were discussing supporting the church with prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness, they were excited to find out that as members they are eligible to serve on church committees! I think that is so awesome!

An important part of the baptismal service is that not only do those being baptized profess their faith, but the congregation renews the membership vows they took when they were baptized. In effect we who have been previously baptized are reminded of the covenant we made when we were baptized and pledge once again that we will uphold those vows.

This past week at the confirmation retreat we talked about how in the United Methodist Church we have two sacraments. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. United Methodists observe two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

We consider these sacraments because they are acts that Jesus not only performed, but charged his disciples–and us–to observe as well.

So my challenge to you this week, a week in which we celebrate the baptisms and the confirming of faith of these young people, is to remember your baptismal covenant and renew your vow to live a life like Jesus Christ.

Jesus, God’s only son, came to earth and lived among us as a human. He performed miracles and taught us how to live as his followers and promised us the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us live into our faith in bold ways, even in the midst of a pandemic.

And if you ever want to baptize a cat, I suggest you reconsider.

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

John: Jesus Cleanses the Temple

“Driving of the Merchants from the Temple” by Scarsellino

John: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
A Message on John 2:13-22
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 5, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 2:13-22 (NRSV)

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

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Today in continuing our sermon series on the Gospel of John we look at a scripture that is somewhat troubling for many Christians.

In reading the Bible we find Jesus to be very loving. He loves those that have been cast to the edges of society at the time, teaches about loving not only our neighbors, but our enemies as well.

We discover that God is love, and Jesus, being God, is therefore love as well.

We develop what I call a “happy-clappy” perception of Jesus

Knowing all of that it can be unsettling for us as we read the scriptures today that tell of Jesus cleansing the temple. Here we read of this man of love, this son of God, who gets upset and is… well… semi-violent, turning tables over and driving people and animals out of the temple with a whip. A whip, for crying out loud! Yikes!

This event is recorded in all four gospels, which makes it very significant. It happens toward the end of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) but toward the beginning of the Gospel of John, which is the one we read today.

In the three synoptic gospels, the scriptures say that Jesus drove out the money changers and the animals but doesn’t mention a whip. Only the Gospel of John does this.

Some people believe that Jesus used the whip just for the animals. I’m not fully convinced of that, however. Here’s why.

Jesus was upset at the people that had set up what amounted to a marketplace at the Temple. The Jewish people were called to come to the Temple at appointed times to bring their offerings and things for sacrifices.

There are five types of offerings in the Old Testament: the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the purification offering, and the reparation offering.

Each one of those offerings require giving something to be sacrificed. It might be an animal such as a bull, goat, sheep, or even a dove or pigeon, or bread or grain. But you can’t make an offering if you have nothing to give.

Okay, so now that we have a better understanding of the sacrificial system we can get a better understanding of what Jesus was doing, and why, according to John, he made a whip and I believe used it against those selling things and exchanging money in the temple.

One reason people give for thinking Jesus made the whip for the animals is the wording in John’s gospel: “…he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.”

But I think there is more to it than that. I think he went after the people as well as the animals. One reason I think that is because of the description: a whip of cords.

Now growing up on a farm we used to use whips (humanely, by the way), including bullwhips. Bullwhips are single tailed whips which, ironically, are not used to whip animals. Instead in the hands of a skilled cowboy the end of the whip actually breaks the sound barrier, making a loud “crack” which is actually a mini sonic boom! It is this noise that the animals react to and the cowboy uses to turn or drive animals. The whip never touches the animal.

Of all the whips I’ve seen used with livestock, however, I have never seen a “whip of cords” used on a ranch.

A whip of cords is used on people. Think of what is called a “cat o’ nine tails” kind of whip. I think Jesus is foreshadowing the fact that those kinds of whips will be used on him before he is crucified.

Another thing important for us to remember is the location of where this is happening: the Temple.

The temple was in Jerusalem, and the Jews believed that it was the place on earth where God lived. People brought sacrifices to the Temple. For many of the Jewish people, doing so meant a long trip. For example, if you were a Jew living in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and set out for Jerusalem, you would have a long trip ahead of you.

As the crow flies it’s about 64 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem. But the Jewish people weren’t crows and they didn’t fly, they walked. Plus there was Samaria in the way, and since the Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along the Jews had to travel an extra distance to go around Samaria in order to get to Jerusalem.

Those who know such things estimate that such a trip would take somewhere between six days to two weeks. So if you were going to Jerusalem to offer your sacrifices, you had quite a journey ahead of you.

So just think of what you would have to carry with you for such a trip. And if you were bringing your own livestock and breads/grains to sacrifice, you would have to wrangle the livestock and haul the bread/grain all that distance with you.

So instead of doing that, many people made the journey to Jerusalem without sacrificial items and then once there they would buy the livestock and bread/grain for their sacrifices. Not only that, but if they had Roman or Greek currency, anything other than the Jewish currency called shekels, they would have to convert their currency into shekels. And while that sounds all fine and dandy, these “money changers” would charge fees for this, and some of those fees were pretty outrageous.

The ones it hurt the worst, of course, were the poor. These folks couldn’t afford cattle, goats, or sheep, so they would have to either bring or purchase doves or pigeons. (And, to be honest, if I’m poor and actually end up catching a pigeon, the odds are very high that I’m having squab for supper!

So the poor folks, who couldn’t afford bulls or sheep or goats, would bring what little money they had to buy doves or pigeons. (Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, were poor folks as they brought doves to the temple eight days after Jesus was born for him to be circumcised and consecrated.)

And just like buying food at Six Flags or Disneyworld, the prices at the Temple for a dove or pigeon were much higher simply due to the demand. They could charge more because they could get away with it. And if you had some currency other than Jewish currency you had to pay for an exchange rate on top of the purchase of the birds, so the poor folks got a double whammy.

Now let me be clear that this scripture is not speaking against making money. No. After all, the Bible says not to muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain. What this scripture IS speaking against is taking advantage of others in order to make money, and especially those coming to worship God.

So when Jesus sees all this taking place at the Temple he gets upset. Very upset. He gets mad! So he makes a whip and drives both the animals and the people out, turning tables over and causing quite the commotion.

So, did Jesus lose his temper? I think it’s pretty clear that he did. Did his “losing it” count as a sin against him? No, I don’t think it does. Then how does his cleansing the temple with a whip reflect on his ministry and all the good things he did?

I want to introduce you to a term called “righteous indignation,” also sometimes referred to as “righteous anger.”

So, what is it? It is outrage, or anger, that is right and justified. Wikipedia defines it as “typically a reactive emotion of anger over mistreatment, insult, or malice of another. It is akin to what is called the sense of injustice.”

Now a lot of us grew up believing that to be angry is a sin. I’m one of them. If I get mad at someone I need to control that anger because it’s a sin, right? Actually, there are instances when it is not.

Let me give you an example. Say you go to a grocery store, and as you are walking in the parking lot you see someone roughly push an elderly lady down, grab her purse, and take off running.

Would you be angry with the person that did that? You bet! I would be furious!

That is righteous indignation. That is anger towards a person who took advantage of someone much weaker than themself. And such anger is not a sin.

Jesus cleansing the Temple is often used as an example of righteous indignation. He is angered that the vendors and money changers are taking advantage of those coming to worship God. He is mad that the people ripping others off are desecrating the Temple, which is supposed to be holy and where God resides on earth. He is righteously angry, and in John’s gospel he takes things into his own hands–literally–by flipping over tables and putting a whip to those who failed to treat the Temple as holy and reverent.

So how does this apply to us today? Is it okay for us as Christians to be righteously angry? Yes, absolutely!

Our daughter Emily has been with us this past week, and so Friday night she got our TV online so that we could watch the musical, “Hamilton.” I had heard about the play, of course, (I don’t live under that big of a rock.) and I was kind of like “meh” about watching it. But I love history and was interested in how it treated the historical events of the founding of our nation, which we celebrated yesterday with July 4 celebrations.

From my history classes I remembered Aaron Burr as being in a dual and killing somebody, but I had forgotten who. (And if I’m completely honest, a lot of what I know about Aaron Burr came from the original “Got Milk?” commercial years ago where the guy is eating a peanut butter sandwich when he gets a phone call from a radio station trivia contest asking the question who shot Alexander Hamilton. The guy has all sorts of historical memorabilia around about the dual and tries to say “Aaron Burr” but can’t because of the peanut butter sandwich in his mouth.)

In the Hamilton musical (spoiler alert!) Burr and Hamilton face off against each other in a duel. Pistols at 10 paces. At the count of 10 Hamilton turns and raises his hand straight up in the air and fires his pistol straight up, refusing to take aim at Burr. (In actuality Hamilton shot a tree branch high above Burr’s head, aiming there on purpose. That’s what really happened, but you know show business…)

Burr, however, aims his pistol at Hamilton and fires, striking him and mortally wounding him. Hamilton dies the next day.

I found that I experienced righteous anger at Burr for shooting the man that refused to shoot at him. And the musical points out that for Burr, the killing of Hamilton would follow him the rest of his life and leave a stain on his legacy.

Christians should experience righteous indignation, righteous anger.

If someone is treated negatively simply because of the color of their skin, which is called racism, we should have righteous anger.

If someone wants to kill police officers simply because they are police officers, we should have righteous anger.

If someone takes advantage of those who are poor or down and out, we should have righteous anger.

If someone physically assaults someone, or even goes so far as to kill them, we should have righteous anger.

If someone steals money or other items from another, we should have righteous anger.

If one country invades another country just so it can expand its territory, we should have righteous anger.

You get the idea. There are times that we, as Christians, should be righteously angry.

However, (and this is a big “however”), we have to be very careful that in our anger we respond by not saying or doing something that is not Christlike.

In the example I gave earlier of the purse snatcher, we should have righteous anger. But what if as a response to that anger I run the purse snatcher down, tackle him/her, and commence to use my fists to pummel them and just beat the thunder out of them. Is that a Christian response to righteous anger?

I hope you said no. “No” is the correct answer, by the way. Now if you’re like me that might be what you want to do to the thief. But even though our human side wants to do that, it’s not the Christian thing to do. Now I think it would be okay to chase them, to try to apprehend them and hold them until the police arrive. That is a good, Christian thing to do, as well as checking on the elderly woman that got pushed down, but you shouldn’t beat the thunder out of them, even though you may want to.

We should heed the words that the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”

Jesus was angry but did not sin when he cleansed the temple. He was mad, there’s no doubt about that, but he did not sin. Being God he could have sent some lightning bolts down and vaporized the people selling animals and the money changers, but he didn’t. He chased them out but didn’t sin in doing so.

So my challenge to you this week is to remember the difference between anger and righteous anger. Remember that it’s not always a sin to be angry, but that we should always respond in a way that reflects the love and grace of Christ.

And if you are eating a peanut butter sandwich and get a telephone call from a radio trivia contest asking the question who shot Alexander Hamilton, be sure you have a glass of milk ready.

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