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.

John: Troubled

Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
A Message on John 14: 1-7, “Troubled”
By Rev. Bonnie Osteen
June 28, 2020

Jesus the Way to the Father
14‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

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There is so much content in these few short verses. There’s worry, rooms, dwelling places, mansions, doubt, the way, the truth, the life, eternal life, and more. And we often hear this scripture to bring us comfort.

We start off with ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ and from there we dive into the reasons why our hearts should not be troubled.
What? Troubled heart?
My heart is troubled because we can’t have worship like we used to have.
My heart is troubled because I need to wear a mask to keep others healthy, and maybe me too, and social distance, and wash hands.
My heart is troubled with the racism in this world.
My heart is troubled with what school will look like in the fall.
My heart is troubled with whether I will have a job in these next few weeks.
My heart is troubled because I don’t want to social distance.
My heart is troubled because I’m mad.
My heart is troubled because I don’t like what someone said or what someone did.
My heart is troubled because we have hungry children.
We know what it means to be “troubled”: It’s the opposite of being peaceful, calm, serene, at ease, or comforted. To be “troubled” is to have inward commotion which causes you to become agitated and restless.

Jesus gives the solution for troubled hearts. Have faith in Jesus. So, you may be wondering if I’m saying, “If your heart is troubled over the things I just mentioned, then you may not have faith in Jesus?”
Well, yes, I am saying that. Not that any of those things aren’t important, but the first part of the statement is what shows where our heart is, is it troubled?
All of our prayers and our studies about following Jesus, obeying Jesus, loving Jesus, trusting Jesus go right out the window, when we say, “Our hearts are troubled.” I will admit it is difficult to have faith in God. We often think we can do a much better job. But our ultimate goal is to have faith in Christ. Jesus reveals the truth of God and the life that is found in God. Then, we have the choice to live in the way of Jesus, which is not worry.

We hear the disciples were troubled. It is Jesus’ final night with his disciples before the cross. Jesus has identified Judas as the betrayer and is left with the other eleven apostles. He stated he would be killed. He even predicted that Peter would deny him – three times! He has washed their feet, and given them a new command, telling them to love one another as Jesus has loved them. He tells them that he is going away and where he is going, they cannot come. Peter wants to know why they cannot follow him, and Jesus responds by asking if they are ready to lay down their lives for him. This is where we pick up in the account as we begin John 14. Since they had come to value Jesus’ words and truthfulness, the disciples were disturbed. Certainly, the disciples had reason to be troubled.
The combination of fear and despair were overwhelming. From our perspective they had every right to be agitated. And they couldn’t understand it, let alone control it. This dear man, Jesus, whom they believed was the Messiah, was saying “good-bye.”
So, we go back to look at ourselves. What troubles you? What thoughts about the present and the future worry you? What from the past still has a hold on you – your sins, failures, feelings of inadequacy? What fears block your sense of peace? All these things, and here Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus was addressing our minds, our hearts, and the focus of our faith.

So, we too can trust. We are familiar with troubled hearts. We know all about troubled hearts. That’s why Jesus calls us to deepen our connection with Him. As Jesus met the disciples at their point of pain and agitation, Jesus meets us at our trouble.
So, Jesus tells us, “You trust in God; trust also in me.”
So why trust Jesus? We can hold onto our faith because Jesus is trustworthy.
He said one of the disciples would betray Him; Judas did. He said Peter would deny Him three times; He did. He said He was going to die; He did. He said He would rise and live again; He did. He said He would go – ascend – and be with the Father; He did. He said He would send His Spirit; He did. We can hold on to our faith because Jesus is trustworthy.

The Psalmist put it this way
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

What is the Way, The Truth, the Life, and why should that convince me to ‘not be troubled’?
I can just imagine the sigh of relief as their weights of worry and fear subsided.
Now, was Jesus telling his disciples that nothing bad would happen to them? Did Jesus tell them that everything was going to be ok and that they would live a life of total bliss? The answer is no…
Jesus was reminding them, and reminding us today, that even when life may get tough and the future unsure, that they, and we, can trust God.

When we really trust Jesus, what do we have to be troubled about? The reason the disciples were so stirred up is that they were not trusting in Jesus’ promise and his Power.
And they had not seen the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we have! Jesus says: “Believe in me! Trust in Me! Live in Me! Live for Me!” We too need to listen to Jesus’ challenge to believe in God and him. It’s the ultimate cure for troubled hearts.
Beyond the initial experience of trusting him as Savior, it becomes a daily thing for us. This involves placing our lives under his complete control. Jesus must be Lord of every area of our life. No matter the circumstance, we must trust him to do in our lives what’s best. Our belief in him comes alive by believing his word, praying, supporting the work of his church and sharing this love with others.
And this is really the foundation for finding peace to get through these tough times.

All the other things that he said depend on this one thing – Trust in him.
Faith is knowing that God is with you through all things. Trust is believing that God fulfills his promises.
Thank you, Jesus, for giving us the gift of faith.

John: The Father

John: The Father
A Message on John 12:44-50
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 21, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 12:44-50 (NRSV)

Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”

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Today we are continuing our sermon series exploring the Gospel of John by looking at the 12th chapter and the relationship between Jesus and the Father.

If we back up in the 12 chapter we find Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as well as Jesus talking about his death. So Jesus’ time with the disciples is getting short, and he uses that time to continue to teach the disciples. In the NRSV version there is a subheading for the scripture we read today that describes it as a “Summary of Jesus’ Teaching.”

We’re looking at this today because today is Father’s Day, the holiday where we honor and recognize fathers.

Now I want to be clear that it is important for us to remember that even though Jesus calls God the Father that God is beyond gender assignments. God is neither male or female. God is God, not a particular gender. That being said, however, we also can’t simply ignore the words of Jesus as he describes his relationship with God.

So why does Jesus refer to God as the Father if God is neither male or female?

I think a lot of it goes back to the culture of the time. Throughout the Old Testament and even at the time of Jesus the family structure focused on the father.

In the Epic of Eden bible study that we have been doing (and are still doing) Sandra Richter goes into much detail about the family unit in the Old Testament. She points out that the basic household unit of the Israelites was called the “father’s house(hold),” which in Hebrew is called the bêt ʾāb.

In the bêt ʾāb the father was the head of the family, and not only immediate family but extended family as well. For example, if the father and his wife have sons, it was expected that when the sons married they and their brides would reside in the father’s household. If they had daughters then the daughters, when they married, would become part of their husband’s father’s bêt ʾāb.

These family units were the foundation of Israelite culture and society. The father provided shelter, protection, and sustenance (food). Fathers were very important then, and I contend that fathers are still important now.

So it would make sense for Jesus to refer to God in fatherly terms. God, our father, is our bêt ʾāb, providing us with shelter, protection, sustenance, and most importantly, unconditional love.

In verses 49 and 50 of the scripture we read today, The Message paraphrases it this way: “I’m not making any of this up on my own. The Father who sent me gave me orders, told me what to say and how to say it. And I know exactly what his command produces: real and eternal life. That’s all I have to say. What the Father told me, I tell you.” John 12:49-50

We also have to remember that in Matthew and in Luke, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. And the first words of the Lord’s prayer are, “Our Father…”

And in several places in the New Testament we find Jesus referring to God as “Abba, Father.” This term, “Abba,” does not refer to a Swedish pop music group (that’s a different Abba), but is an Aramaic term of endearment. It would be like the way we use the words “daddy,” or “Poppa,” or as Fernanda pointed out during the children’s message, “Papa” in Spanish.

It is a term used to describe a close, loving relationship. It is, indeed, a term of endearment.

Here are some other things the Bible says about fathers:

“As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.” Psalm 103:13

“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

“Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Psalm 68:5

It’s important for us to remember that for some people Father’s day is not a pleasant day. Some people may have had an abusive father or a father that was absent from their lives. Yet others, including me, may have had fathers who have passed away and are no longer with us, and Father’s Day is a painful reminder of their dad’s passing.

In those cases I pray they find comfort in the Heavenly Father, available to each person, regardless of their circumstances with their earthly father. And even if your earthly father let you down, I can promise you that your heavenly father will not.

One of the biggest challenges our society faces today is the number of fathers being absent from the home. Now there are a number of reasons for fathers being absent in the home, and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad or guilty if that’s the case. However, fathers in homes are important. There are a number of statistics and studies that provide that data, and the results aren’t good. As a matter of fact, they are downright scary.

As a matter of fact, there is a guy who has set up a YouTube channel aimed specifically at those who don’t have a father in their lives. Called, “Dad, How Do I…” a man named Rob Kenney gives video advice on things that many people would ask their dads in their lives. (Now this isn’t to say mom’s don’t know how to do these things, mind you, but these are things traditionally asked of dads.) Topics include how to change a car battery, how to tie a tie, how to iron a shirt, how to unclog a sink, and how to put up a shelf.

There is such a demand for this type of information that the channel has 2.3 million subscribers. That’s not viewers, but people who have subscribed to the channel. Kenney posts a new video every Thursday and teaches about tools on “Tool Tuesday.”

Kenney’s parents went through a messy divorced when he was a child and he and his siblings lived with his dad, who, he said, “didn’t really want us.”

When Kenney was 14 his dad abandoned him and his seven siblings, forcing Kenney to grow up without a dad. He remembered what that was like and pledged that if he ever had kids he would do things differently.

He did have children of his own and raised them into successful adults. Then during the quarantine this past spring he got the idea to make videos of things he wished his father had taught him. And from April to now he had 2.3 million subscribers sign up for his channel.

Fathers are important, both earthly and fatherly.

Our earthly fathers are important for the way they shape our lives.

My father was a great teacher. He wanted us six kids to know as much as possible about everything. And my dad knew a lot! He was Google before there was Google. Not only was he a country doctor, but built his own house and hospital, was a master woodworker, a rancher, a gardener, an avid reader, and had a strong philosophy in being able to repair things that were broken, no matter what they were.

Dad believed in changing the oil in our vehicles ourselves. I still remember the first time I changed the oil in a vehicle. He had me crawl under our car with a crescent wrench and a pan to catch the oil. He pointed out to me the oil drain plug and told me to put the pan under it and loosen the plug (“Lefty loosey, righty tighty.”) I was only about seven or eight at the time and it was hard to loosen the drain plug, but I finally got it to break loose. I used my fingers to finish unscrewing it and then removed it.

What Dad failed to tell me was that as the oil flowed out it wouldn’t go straight down into the pan, but would come out in an arc. And it did. Right onto my face.

I came out from under that car fast as I could, with oil all over my face. My dad laughed so hard I thought he was going to pass out. He apologized for not telling me about the oil coming out in an arc and helped me get cleaned up. And he told me that even though I was embarrassed by what happened to me that I would always remember it and therefore it would never happen to me again. And he was right. I still remember it, and although now I take my vehicles to Westbrook’s Auto Care and let them change the oil for me, I still remember how to do it. And rest assured, if I ever do it again you can bet my face will be far away when I remove the plug.

Dads teach us great life lessons. And they make us laugh. There’s even a genre of humor that is called “Dad Jokes.”

Here are some examples:
“If a child refuses to sleep during nap time, are they guilty of resisting a rest?”

“Don’t trust atoms. They make up everything!”

“What did the pirate say on his 80th birthday? AYE MATEY”

Yes, you may feel free to groan. But that’s what makes a dad joke!

We need dads that make us laugh. We need dads who protect, dads who provide, dads who teach, dads that love. But most of all, we need godly dads.

Let me show you a graph. This is a few years old, back before COVID-19, but still very relevant. This graph shows what influence the father of a family has on his children attending church. When mom and dad both attend church, then 72 percent of their children will remain faithful to God. If only the dad goes, that percentage is 55 percent. If only the mom attends and the dad does not, only 15 percent of children will remain faithful. If neither the mom nor the dad attend church, that number drops to only 6 percent.

That is a huge difference! If the dad chooses not to attend church, three is only a 15 percent chance that his children will go when they are adults. And if neither parent goes, only 6 percent will attend!

We need more people in church, we need more people following Jeus Christ, but we REALLY need more fathers in church that follow Jesus Christ.

So my challenge to you today, especially for those who are fathers, is to be godly. Believe in Jesus, the light of the world, instead of living in darkness.

And if you want me to teach you how to change the oil in your car, just let me know.

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

John: The Father

John: The Father
A Message on John 12:44-50
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 21, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 12:44-50 (NRSV)

Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”

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Today we are continuing our sermon series exploring the Gospel of John by looking at the 12th chapter and the relationship between Jesus and the Father.

If we back up in the 12 chapter we find Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as well as Jesus talking about his death. So Jesus’ time with the disciples is getting short, and he uses that time to continue to teach the disciples. In the NRSV version there is a subheading for the scripture we read today that describes it as a “Summary of Jesus’ Teaching.”

We’re looking at this today because today is Father’s Day, the holiday where we honor and recognize fathers.

Now I want to be clear that it is important for us to remember that even though Jesus calls God the Father that God is beyond gender assignments. God is neither male or female. God is God, not a particular gender. That being said, however, we also can’t simply ignore the words of Jesus as he describes his relationship with God.

So why does Jesus refer to God as the Father if God is neither male or female?

I think a lot of it goes back to the culture of the time. Throughout the Old Testament and even at the time of Jesus the family structure focused on the father.

In the Epic of Eden bible study that we have been doing (and are still doing) Sandra Richter goes into much detail about the family unit in the Old Testament. She points out that the basic household unit of the Israelites was called the “father’s house(hold),” which in Hebrew is called the bêt ʾāb.

In the bêt ʾāb the father was the head of the family, and not only immediate family but extended family as well. For example, if the father and his wife have sons, it was expected that when the sons married they and their brides would reside in the father’s household. If they had daughters then the daughters, when they married, would become part of their husband’s father’s bêt ʾāb.

These family units were the foundation of Israelite culture and society. The father provided shelter, protection, and sustenance (food). Fathers were very important then, and I contend that fathers are still important now.

So it would make sense for Jesus to refer to God in fatherly terms. God, our father, is our bêt ʾāb, providing us with shelter, protection, sustenance, and most importantly, unconditional love.

In verses 49 and 50 of the scripture we read today, The Message paraphrases it this way: “I’m not making any of this up on my own. The Father who sent me gave me orders, told me what to say and how to say it. And I know exactly what his command produces: real and eternal life. That’s all I have to say. What the Father told me, I tell you.” John 12:49-50

We also have to remember that in Matthew and in Luke, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. And the first words of the Lord’s prayer are, “Our Father…”

And in several places in the New Testament we find Jesus referring to God as “Abba, Father.” This term, “Abba,” does not refer to a Swedish pop music group (that’s a different Abba), but is an Aramaic term of endearment. It would be like the way we use the words “daddy,” or “Poppa,” or as Fernanda pointed out during the children’s message, “Papa” in Spanish.

It is a term used to describe a close, loving relationship. It is, indeed, a term of endearment.

Here are some other things the Bible says about fathers:

“As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.” Psalm 103:13

“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

“Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Psalm 68:5

It’s important for us to remember that for some people Father’s day is not a pleasant day. Some people may have had an abusive father or a father that was absent from their lives. Yet others, including me, may have had fathers who have passed away and are no longer with us, and Father’s Day is a painful reminder of their dad’s passing.

In those cases I pray they find comfort in the Heavenly Father, available to each person, regardless of their circumstances with their earthly father. And even if your earthly father let you down, I can promise you that your heavenly father will not.

One of the biggest challenges our society faces today is the number of fathers being absent from the home. Now there are a number of reasons for fathers being absent in the home, and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad or guilty if that’s the case. However, fathers in homes are important. There are a number of statistics and studies that provide that data, and the results aren’t good. As a matter of fact, they are downright scary.

As a matter of fact, there is a guy who has set up a YouTube channel aimed specifically at those who don’t have a father in their lives. Called, “Dad, How Do I…” a man named Rob Kenney gives video advice on things that many people would ask their dads in their lives. (Now this isn’t to say mom’s don’t know how to do these things, mind you, but these are things traditionally asked of dads.) Topics include how to change a car battery, how to tie a tie, how to iron a shirt, how to unclog a sink, and how to put up a shelf.

There is such a demand for this type of information that the channel has 2.3 million subscribers. That’s not viewers, but people who have subscribed to the channel. Kenney posts a new video every Thursday and teaches about tools on “Tool Tuesday.”

Kenney’s parents went through a messy divorced when he was a child and he and his siblings lived with his dad, who, he said, “didn’t really want us.”

When Kenney was 14 his dad abandoned him and his seven siblings, forcing Kenney to grow up without a dad. He remembered what that was like and pledged that if he ever had kids he would do things differently.

He did have children of his own and raised them into successful adults. Then during the quarantine this past spring he got the idea to make videos of things he wished his father had taught him. And from April to now he had 2.3 million subscribers sign up for his channel.

Fathers are important, both earthly and fatherly.

Our earthly fathers are important for the way they shape our lives.

My father was a great teacher. He wanted us six kids to know as much as possible about everything. And my dad knew a lot! He was Google before there was Google. Not only was he a country doctor, but built his own house and hospital, was a master woodworker, a rancher, a gardener, an avid reader, and had a strong philosophy in being able to repair things that were broken, no matter what they were.

Dad believed in changing the oil in our vehicles ourselves. I still remember the first time I changed the oil in a vehicle. He had me crawl under our car with a crescent wrench and a pan to catch the oil. He pointed out to me the oil drain plug and told me to put the pan under it and loosen the plug (“Lefty loosey, righty tighty.”) I was only about seven or eight at the time and it was hard to loosen the drain plug, but I finally got it to break loose. I used my fingers to finish unscrewing it and then removed it.

What Dad failed to tell me was that as the oil flowed out it wouldn’t go straight down into the pan, but would come out in an arc. And it did. Right onto my face.

I came out from under that car fast as I could, with oil all over my face. My dad laughed so hard I thought he was going to pass out. He apologized for not telling me about the oil coming out in an arc and helped me get cleaned up. And he told me that even though I was embarrassed by what happened to me that I would always remember it and therefore it would never happen to me again. And he was right. I still remember it, and although now I take my vehicles to Westbrook’s Auto Care and let them change the oil for me, I still remember how to do it. And rest assured, if I ever do it again you can bet my face will be far away when I remove the plug.

Dads teach us great life lessons. And they make us laugh. There’s even a genre of humor that is called “Dad Jokes.”

Here are some examples:
“If a child refuses to sleep during nap time, are they guilty of resisting a rest?”

“Don’t trust atoms. They make up everything!”

“What did the pirate say on his 80th birthday? AYE MATEY”

Yes, you may feel free to groan. But that’s what makes a dad joke!

We need dads that make us laugh. We need dads who protect, dads who provide, dads who teach, dads that love. But most of all, we need godly dads.

Let me show you a graph. This is a few years old, back before COVID-19, but still very relevant. This graph shows what influence the father of a family has on his children attending church. When mom and dad both attend church, then 72 percent of their children will remain faithful to God. If only the dad goes, that percentage is 55 percent. If only the mom attends and the dad does not, only 15 percent of children will remain faithful. If neither the mom nor the dad attend church, that number drops to only 6 percent.

That is a huge difference! If the dad chooses not to attend church, three is only a 15 percent chance that his children will go when they are adults. And if neither parent goes, only 6 percent will attend!

We need more people in church, we need more people following Jeus Christ, but we REALLY need more fathers in church that follow Jesus Christ.

So my challenge to you today, especially for those who are fathers, is to be godly. Believe in Jesus, the light of the world, instead of living in darkness.

And if you want me to teach you how to change the oil in your car, just let me know.

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

John: The Bread of Life

Jane Ball’s Date Pecan Bread

John: Bread
A Message on John 6:22-35
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 14, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 6:22-35 (NRSV)

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

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I love bread. All kinds of bread. Rustic whole wheat bread, French bread (Oui!), baguettes, tortillas (both corn and flour), pita, naan, potato bread, rye, pumpernickel, Hawaiian bread (the official communion bread of United Methodists), sourdough (oh, I have a special fondness for sourdough!), banana bread, brioche, challah (a Jewish bread that is braided), ciabatta, cornbread, and even biscuits! And I’m sure there are others I am leaving out!

Here’s a photo of a bread (see above) that our friend up in Longview, Jane Ball, made. It’s a sourdough date pecan bread. Yum!

I like bread so much that, to paraphrase Will Rogers, I don’t think I’ve ever met a bread I didn’t like.

I don’t think I am alone, either. Raise your hand if you got hungry when I mentioned all those kinds of breads. See! I’m not alone.

Bread is an important part of our lives, isn’t it. And the smell of fresh bread cooking can bring back memories of times and loved ones past. A while back our daughter Emily made some from-scratch cinnamon rolls using my grandmother’s recipe. When they were baking the smell was so wonderful and took me back to my grandmother’s house when I was a kid. And they tasted just like my grandmother’s as well!

Bread is a very significant part of our lives today and it has been that way for thousands and thousands of years. Bread is an ancient food, and today we are going to explore its social and theological significance as we continue our summer sermon series on the Gospel of John.

We find bread mentioned a lot in the Old Testament. The first mention of it that I could find is in the third chapter of Genesis, where Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God tells Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

Unleavened bread, or bread that has no yeast in it, became very significant to the Hebrew people during the Exodus as they left slavery in Egypt and became a nation of their own. Because they left Egypt in such haste their bread didn’t have time to rise, so they grabbed what they had and made unleavened bread to eat. As it says in Exodus 12:34, “So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders.”

Thereafter the Hebrew people were to eat unleavened bread during the Passover every year to remember their escape from Egypt.

In the desert, when Moses went to God on their behalf, God provided manna, the bread from heaven. Manna, which means “What is it?” would come down each night like dew, and the people would gather it and eat it.

After wandering in the desert for 40 years, the people entered the promised land and its crops of wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and other grains. There God stopped providing manna and the people once again made and ate bread.

We find bread being an important part of worship in the tabernacle for the Hebrew people. Leviticus lists the ways bread was to be used in offerings, and it was used a lot! People would bring bread, or sometimes flour, and give it to the priest for an offering, specifically grain offerings and sin offerings.

Bread was so important to the worship of God that in the tabernacle, on a gold table, the high priest placed 12 loaves of bread every sabbath day. Called “The Bread of Presence,” it was arranged in two rows of six loaves, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. At the end of the week new, fresh loaves replaced the existing loaves, and the priests ate the “old” bread.

In addition to its religious significance it was a significant food source for the people. It’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around just how important bread was on a daily basis for the Hebrew people. If we want bread we go to Walmart or the grocery store and buy it. Even during the recent COVID-19 shortages bread was pretty much available, with some exceptions. We just take it for granted.

But in the ancient world it was far from taken for granted. It was a significant source of carbohydrates for the people and because it kept for quite a while after it was cooked it was a portable source of food for those traveling or roaming with livestock.

Most towns and villages had a common oven that multiple families used to cook their bread, and they would do so on a daily basis. Some were leavened, or bread that had yeast in it and therefore rose, or unleavened, bread that did not have yeast in it which are sometimes called “flatbreads.”

Bread was super important in the Old Testament, not only for religious purposes, but also just in matters of survival.

As we move into the New Testament we find bread still used for religious purposes as well. The same sacrifices were being made, at the temple in Jerusalem now instead of the tabernacle, and the religious observances, such as the feast of the Passover, made use of bread.

In today’s reading in the Gospel of John we find bread taking on increased religious significance. If we back up to the beginning of the 6th chapter of John we find Jesus performing the miracle of feeding 5,000 people with just two fish and five barley loaves, taking up 12 baskets of leftovers. (Twelve baskets, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve disciples? Hmmmm.)

So the crowd is pressing in on Jesus and he can tell they are wanting to “take him by force to make him king,” Jesus goes up to the mountain to try to find some solitude.

The disciples go down to the shore and then, when it is nighttime, they get in a boat to cross the sea to go to Capernaum. They start rowing across when the winds really start whipping up and the sea becomes rough. They struggle but aren’t making much headway, only about three or four miles, when they see a figure coming toward them walking on the top of the water.

This really freaks them out until Jesus speaks out and identifies himself, then they take him into the boat and unlike other narratives where the wind and waves die down, in John’s Gospel they miraculously find themselves on the shore at their destination.

That’s where we pick up the story in the scripture we read today. The people can’t find Jesus, see a boat missing, and so they get in boats and travel across the sea to Capernaum as well.

When they find Jesus they ask him, “When did you get here?” and he responds, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.” John 6:26, The Message

He goes on to tell them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Here Jesus uses a metaphor to describe himself and his teachings. He points out that most food perishes, or it eventually goes bad.

Pam and I kind of have an ongoing debate in our house as to the significance of the “Best By” dates that are put on food. One of us takes a hard and fast rule when it comes to those dates, and if the date has passed, the item goes in the trash. The other person views those dates as sorta flexible, that if you bought it by that specific date that it is probably still good if it still smells okay. (Can you guess which one is which?)

Jesus tells his listeners that food on the earth has expiration dates. It eventually goes bad. But that the food that he gives does not. It lasts forever. And the Son of Man, meaning himself, will give it to him.

But the people still aren’t convinced. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

Now this to me is an interesting question because Jesus wasn’t talking about the works of God. So maybe this is just something they have on their mind.

So he answers them: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Or as The Message paraphrases it, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

The people then ask for proof, that Jesus give them some sort of sign, some sort of miracle, so that they may know Jesus is telling the truth. They ask him what kind of works he is doing that proves what he is saying is true.

Now we need to remember that these are the same people that the day before witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. They have already seen Jesus perform a miracle, but yet are asking for another one.

I think that is kind of representative of human nature. We want to believe, and yet even when we God at work in our world we are still skeptical and want further proof. We want miracles and signs on our terms, don’t we. How stubborn we are to believe what God has already shown us isn’t enough.

The people addressing Jesus then pull some Old Testament on him, keeping with the bread metaphor by talking about the manna that God provided their ancestors as they wandered in the desert. I think they are challenging Jesus to do the same thing, right then and there. Sort of saying, “Okay, if you are really the Son of God, then make it rain manna!”

But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:32-33

Here’s The Message paraphrase of that response: “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”

Their response is “Sir, give us this bread always.”

So Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Bread and drink. Sounds kinda like the Lord’s Supper, doesn’t it? I think it is Jesus foreshadowing what will happen at the Lord’s Supper although ironically in John’s gospel (13th chapter) John doesn’t describe Jesus’ last meal with the disciples the same way that Matthew, Mark, and Luke do. Instead John focuses on Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

And we can’t forget that Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s prayer, which includes the words, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” So much religious significance in that one sentence!

So how can we apply this to today’s world? Is it even relevant to today’s world with everything that is going on?

I believe that it is. I believe it is even more needed in the world today than ever.

The world needs the bread of life today. The world is hungry for the true bread of life.

You see our society has been eating a diet of junk food filled with all kinds of chemicals and artificial ingredients. We have consumed mass quantities of selfishness, greed, lust, racism, materialism, and hate, just to name a few. We eat it because it is convenient, ready-to-eat, and cheap. We engorge ourselves on it, falling to temptation. And eating all that “junk food” has given us indigestion, a pain in our gut that is eating away at our soul and making us spiritually sick.

What we need is to change our diet. We need to throw away all of the junk food of our lives and feast on the bread of life. We need to knead the dough of the bread of life by using our muscles of spiritual disciplines and staying focused on God. We need to limit the ingredients in our lives when it comes to social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and those things that stunt our spiritual growth. We need to live our lives so that they become an aroma pleasing to God. We need to resist the temptations of the world and instead look forward to the heavenly feast prepared for us by our Father in heaven.

You get the idea? Jesus is the bread of life, and it is through his death and resurrection that we no longer have to sacrifice flour or bread for the forgiveness of our sins. We no longer have to shed the blood of animals because Jesus shed his blood.

Whoever comes to Jesus–and he is available to everyone, by the way, even people you may not like–will never hunger or thirst. And this is not something that we should keep to ourselves, but share with others. We should tell them what the bread of life has done in our lives and what it can do in theirs.

There is a world of hungry people that need the bread of life. So my challenge to you this week is that whenever you eat bread this week, no matter what kind of bread it is, remember that Jesus is the bread of life. And remember to tell someone about the bread so that they, too, may no longer hunger or thirst.

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

John: The Word

John: The Word
A Message on John 1:1-5
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 7, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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Today we are starting a Summer Sermons Series based on the gospel of John. This series will last throughout the summer as travel through the Gospel of John from the beginning to the end. And today we are starting at the beginning.

There is some confusion about who wrote the gospel of John. Some people think that it was John the Baptist, but that can’t be because if you remember John the Baptist was beheaded on the command of Herod Antipas, who had popped off to his step daughter, Salome, in front of a crowd that he would give her whatever she wanted. Salome took the advice of her mother, Herodias, who didn’t like John, and asked for his head on a platter. And that’s what they did, unfortunately.

Is the author of the Gospel of John the John who wrote the book of Revelation, who is sometimes referred to as John of Patmos (which was an island where the author was stranded during persecution). Traditionally it has been thought that they are the same person but there are scholars that disagree. And most scholars agree that a different John wrote the epistles, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John.

Many people believe that John the Apostle wrote the gospel of John. Many also believe that John is the “disciple whom Jesus loved” because it is only in the gospel of John that we find this phrase.

Now the Gospel of John is different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Those three are known as the “synoptic” gospels, meaning from a common view. John is different in several ways and it is believed to have been written later than the three synoptic gospels.

The Gospel of John does not include a lot of the information in the synoptic gospels, things such as the temptation of Jesus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and the Lord’s supper.

It is also believed that John was the last living of the 12 disciples. Tradition has it that he was the only of the original 12 disciples to die of old age. All the others were martyred.

Here’s what I believe: I think John the Apostle wrote the gospel of John, and I think the same person wrote the book of Revelation. And I really don’t know if the same person wrote the epistles of John, and I’m okay with that. And I also reserve the right to be wrong.

Now, just who exactly was John? If we go back to before John met Jesus we find that he is a fisherman. He is one of two sons of a fisherman named Zebedee, the other older brother being James. Jesus calls James and John to stop fishing for fish and to follow him and fish for people, and they do. (I still have to think that ol’ poppa Zebedee couldn’t have been very happy about that.)

Jesus even gives the brothers James and John a nickname, calling them “Sons of Thunder.”

So John knew Jesus well. Very well.

Today we read from the very beginning of the gospel of John, and the author does something very interesting from what the other gospel writers did. Both Matthew and Luke talk about the birth of Jesus (Luke more so than Matthew) and Jesus’ family tree. Matthew’s “begats” go all the way back to Abraham, whereas Luke is the overachiever and traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Adam.

Mark doesn’t include any information about the birth of Jesus for unknown reasons.

But in the beginning of his gospel, John focuses on the divinity of Jesus and how he was present from the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.”

Now let’s first explore the name John gives to Jesus: “the Word.” The greek term is “logos,” which is where we get the word “logo” from. (But not the word “Lego.” No. That comes from the Danish phrase meaning “play well.”)

The Word. Present in the beginning, with God, and was God. That’s a lot to wrap our minds around!

In our first reading today that Bonnie read from the very beginning of the Bible, we notice these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

John uses similar language to begin his gospel, especially the phrase “In the beginning…”

I think he does this purposefully. He is comparing Jesus, the Word, with being a new creation, something created by God, and in the case of Jesus, actually being God.

So John does some neat things in this first paragraph of his gospel. He refers to Jesus as the Word (with a capital W), that the Word is God, that everything that came into being happened because of the Word, and then changes gears.

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

So then he refers to Jesus as being “the life,” which was then “the light” of all people, a light that cannot be overcome by darkness.

So there just in the first paragraph we have Jesus referred to as the Word, God, the life, and the light. That’s quite the literary accomplishment!

But what does that mean to us today? How does the way John begins his gospel have any effect on us today?

I think the most powerful things we can understand about this passage is twofold. The first is that Jesus IS God. The second is that Jesus is the light of the world.

Okay, so why is it important to understand that Jesus IS God? Well, it’s very important for us theologically. If we view Jesus only as God’s son, then Jesus is subordinate to God. In military terms God would be the superior officer and Jesus would be under his command. So it’s a kind of hierarchy thing.

And if Jesus is God’s subordinate then he wouldn’t really be God, would he? He would be a semi-God or a demi-god.

It’s like in the Avengers movie when the Hulk shows up and is mad at Loki (for good reason, mind you.) Loki says, “Enough! …all of you are beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by…” and then the Hulk grabs him and starts smashing him into the floor over and over and over, before looking down at him and saying, “Puny God.”

It is important that Jesus be fully God, not only for our Trinitarian theology but for our salvation. Jesus IS God, and his death and resurrection atones for our sin and gives us a pathway to righteousness that we could not have created on our own.

We find a lot of our support for a trinitarian view of God in John’s gospel, this being one example. Jesus and God are both God but are not two Gods, but one. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are not three gods, but one. And since this is Trinity Sunday this is a good time for us to explore this part of our faith!

There is a pastor and professor up in Woodbridge, Virginia named David Schrock. He has researched John’s gospel and come up with a chart that shows the scriptures in the Gospel of John that support the view of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit three-in-one. Here it is: (show slide).

That’s pretty impressive if you ask me!

We have to remember that this view of the triune God at the time John’s gospel was written was quite the source of debates and even heresies such as Modalism, which stated that God was one person that was expressed in three different modes (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) at different times. And that’s just one heresy. Others were Arianism, Partialism, and several other “isms.” (Here’s a link to a cartoon video that humorously explains all this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw

So John might have chosen to emphasize Jesus’ divinity at the beginning of his gospel to offset the heretical views that some people of the day were embracing. By emphasizing that Jesus IS God he defends the faith against that form of thinking. And although he never used the term “Trinity” (it is actually not found anywhere in the Bible), his gospel provides good evidence of supporting a Trinitarian belief in God.

So John had a very high Christology that Jesus was God. And thank God for that!

Now, let’s explore the second aspect of the scripture we read today: Jesus is the light of the world.

This one is close to my heart because I have a bachelor’s degree in photography, back when everything wasn’t digital and we had to use film and chemicals and paper.

Now I would venture to say when most people think in terms of darkness and light they think about paint or colored pencils or even crayons. If you are creating a painting or artwork and you want something to appear as black, you use black paint, ink, or colors. It’s something physical you can apply to the paper or canvas to create that image.

But in the photography world, and yes, even in today’s digital photography world, it is much different. Photography writes with light, the tiny charged particles of energy called photons that bounce around. These photons are focused by the lens of the camera onto a digital photosensitive surface in the cameras (or film in the old days) that is sensitive to the photons and react when they impact it.

Because these photons have different amounts of energy and are traveling at different wavelengths, the sensor (or film, again) detects that and gives us colors. All kinds of colors.

But for the black in a photograph, it is simply a void where no photons hit. Black is not a color, but simply the absence of light. It is not a “something.” It is a lack of something, a void.

I think this works well as a spiritual metaphor for us today. There seems to be a lot of darkness, a lot of voids, in the world today. We have the COVID-19 pandemic, racism resulting in death, peaceful protests as well as rioting and looting, an economic downturn, politics that seem to get nastier and meaner every day, fake news (on each side), and, perhaps worst of all, the cost of brisket has skyrocketed. (Okay, I know that’s not the worst thing but you have to admit it’s pretty bad if you love barbeque as much as I do.)

The world seems to be a dark place. And in all those instances (with perhaps the exception of the brisket) all could be made better by having the light of Christ shined on them.

Our world is in need of a savior. Our world is in need of God whose light can shine into the darkest of places and apply the greatest force in the universe to those situations: love.

I did a wedding yesterday up in Gilmer, TX for a young couple. As part of the wedding liturgy I always read 1 Corinthians 13, also known as the love chapter.

As I was reading those holy words I got to thinking about how they apply not only to weddings, but perhaps even more so to the darkness in our world.

Here is the first part of that chapter: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

“Love never ends.”

John tells us that Jesus is the light of the world, and that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” It is our job as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, to reflect that light.

Now let’s be clear that the source of light doesn’t come from us. We aren’t the source of light, but the reflectors of it.

We are to be like the moon. The moon doesn’t produce any light on it’s own. There is no nuclear fusion going on within it to create photons that escape its gravity. No. The moon reflects the sun, and in doing so provides light in the darkness.

Likewise we are to reflect the light of Christ. In the fifth chapter of Matthew Jesus tells his disciples (and us) “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

My challenge to you today is to understand that Jesus IS God, and that our mission is to reflect the light of Christ to the world. We are to reflect that light into the darkest voids, the darkest places, where hatred and violence and racism exist. And the light we are to reflect is love, the love God has for each person, the love he showed us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He is certainly not a puny god. That is for certain.

In the name of the Holy Trinity on this Trinity Sunday: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Change: Discernment

Change: Discernment
A Message on Acts 2:1-21
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 31, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

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Today is Pentecost, known as the birthday of the church. It is the celebration of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples as was promised by the Old Testament prophets as well as Jesus before his crucifixion.

Now for the disciples Pentecost was a harvest festival, known as the Festival of Weeks, and was celebrated seven weeks and one day after the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread that we read about in Deuteronomy 16:9. It was also, according to Exodus 23:16, known as the Feast of Harvest and in Exodus 34:22 we find it is the festival of the wheat harvest.

Because it is seven weeks and one day, which if you’re good at math you can figure out equals 50 days, it was called Pentecost. A pentagram has five sides, right? So Pentecost is 50 days.

The disciples were gathered together for this Jewish festival. They would have been in Jerusalem and either in or near the temple. It had been 49 days since Jesus’ resurrection from the grave and the disciples, while no longer hiding behind closed doors, were still trying to figure out how to be a follower of Jesus Christ with Jesus no longer earthly present. They still considered themselves to be Jewish and observed the Jewish festivals, so they gathered together for this harvest festival.

When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples at Pentecost it also is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that he had made while with the disciples. Here is an example from the gospel of John:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” John 14:15-17

Later in the 14th chapter, Jesus says this: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-26

In the Gospel of Luke we find John the Baptist offering this prophecy: “John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’” Luke 3:16

Even in the Old Testament scriptures we find prophecies about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Here’s an example from Joel:

“Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28-29

And here is this from Isaiah: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground, I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.” Isaiah 44:3

And here’s one more from Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

So the promised coming of the Holy Spirit was something that the disciples had to be aware of, especially with Jesus telling them about it. But they didn’t know when or how this would happen… until Pentecost.

And wow, did God show up in a big way! Supernatural things started happening. A loud sound like the rushing of wind filled the place. Tongues of fire appeared above the disciples heads, creating a visual phenomenon to match the auditory one.

And all the disciples started speaking several different languages. As our scripture tells us there was quite the multicultural crowd present in Jerusalem. Pentecost was one of three religious festivals each year that Jewish men were expected to attend in Jerusalem. The temple was in Jerusalem, and so people traveled from a wide geographical area to be in Jerusalem 50 days after the Passover.

Now notice that the disciples spoke these languages “as the spirit gave them ability.” Now the disciples probably knew a couple of languages, including Hebrew (the language the Torah was written in and that Jewish worship was conducted in), Aramaic, and Greek. But we’re talking a lot more languages than that! (At least that’s what I believe.) They were speaking languages they didn’t know, and were doing so through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now here’s something interesting to note, and that is what the disciples were saying in all the different languages. We find it at the end of verse 11: “…we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

So the disciples were speaking all these different languages and telling of the great things God has done.

So, what does this have to do with change, and specifically discernment?

Here’s the way I see it. In the crowd at Pentecost were two types of people. The first kind we have already talked about, the people who heard the disciples speaking their language and were amazed, knowing that God was doing something amazing.

And then you have another group. This group wasn’t impressed with what was happening with the disciples. As a matter of fact, they made fun of them, the NRSV says they “sneered” at them, and said, “They are filled with new wine.” In other words, the disciples were acting unusual because they were drunk.

So we have two completely different impressions of what was happening on that day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. How in the world can we have such different views of what was happening with the disciples? How can we have one group believing they were witnessing a miracle from God, and another group that thought the disciples were drunk. That’s quite the disparity!

This is where I think discernment comes in. I think it was how people discerned what was happening that gave them the impressions they had about what was going on.

I saw a video on YouTube recently about how we as humans discern stories on social media. It seems we have a predilection, a bias, for news stories that support our opinions and views on a particular subject.

Let me see if I can explain with an example, let’s say the Coronavirus pandemic we are in. Let’s say that your personal opinion is that this virus isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. When you see news and social media stories about the virus, you will tend to believe the stories that present the information in a way that supports what you believe. You believe those to be true. The stories that present the virus as a very serious situation with the potential for many illnesses and death you tend to disregard as not true.

The same thing is true if you believe the opposite way. The stories about the seriousness of the virus you will believe to be true, and the stories about how it’s not that dangerous you will believe to be untrue.

It’s called confirmation bias. In our discernment process we tend to believe those things that confirm what we already believe, and disregard those things that go against what we believe.

I think that at Pentecost we see confirmation bias at work in the people who thought the disciples were drunk. They didn’t like the disciples and their belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah, and certainly didn’t believe that he rose from the dead. So their perception bias, their discernment, kept them from viewing the supernatural events as being from God. They believed what they wanted to believe.

Okay, so let’s pause for a second and define what discernment actually is. In normal language it means “the ability to judge well.” Synonyms include judgement, discrimination, and perceptiveness.

But there is a somewhat different definition when it comes to Christianity. The definition here is “perception in the absence of judgement with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding.”

That’s what is called spiritual discernment. I think that’s what the people who were amazed at the disciples at Pentecost had, and it’s what those who sneered at them and thought they were drunk did not have.

When it comes to change, which there is certainly a lot of nowadays, discernment is a good thing to have. And spiritual discernment is a VERY good thing to have.

Our country is in need of discernment. The death of George Floyd at the hands of police, and the destruction and looting in response both show a need for people to have discernment, on all sides. George Floyd’s death is a tragedy and we should lift our voices for justice, but the destruction and looting of cities, including many businesses owned by minorities, is also a tragedy.

So many people in our country have lost their moral compasses, and we need to work, to discern, both regular discernment and spiritual discernment, the way back to what is right and true and loving.

Okay, so let’s talk about spiritual discernment. How does one develop spiritual discernment? Good question. I’m glad you asked.

I think one of the best ways to develop spiritual discernment is to practice spiritual disciplines. These include Bible study and reading, prayer, regular worship attendance, sacrificial giving, performing works of charity, Christian conferencing (meeting with accountability groups), and seeking justice for people from all walks of life. (The need for that last one has become very evident this past week up in Minneapolis.)

I believe when you practice the spiritual disciplines that it calibrates your spiritual discernment radar so that you are more receptive to the workings of the Holy Spirit. When you live your life close to God, it’s a lot easier to discern the Holy Spirit’s actions.

Now I believe it is the power of the Holy Spirit that provides spiritual discernment, but practicing the spiritual disciplines paves the way for that discernment. It’s like if you were going to plant a garden, you wouldn’t just go throw seeds on top of the ground. You have to first work the ground, plowing or tilling it, removing weeds, making sure it drains properly and has the proper fertilizer.

I believe that the spiritual disciplines prepare the ground for the planting of the Holy Spirit, and that they pull the weeds and water and nurture the seeds that are planted so that they grow and bear fruit.

Just as an athlete has to train in order to perform at peak ability, so we must also work our spiritual discipline muscles in order to be at peak spiritual discernment.

Jesus promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and that happened at Pentecost. All the things that Jesus had taught them that had confused them started making sense through the spiritual discernment given to them through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ life, his teachings, his holy words about what would happen to him after his death and resurrection, and how those actions provide forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, all became much clearer to the disciples after Pentecost. The Holy Spirit gave them the gift of spiritual discernment.

So my challenge to you this week as we celebrate Pentecost today is to improve your spiritual discernment. In these days of change it is a great skill to have. Practice the spiritual disciplines so that the Holy Spirit may take root and grow in your life, giving you spiritual discernment as one of its fruits.

That way when the Holy Spirit moves mightily among God’s people, you won’t think they are drunk.

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

Change: Worry

Change: Worry
A Message on Matthew 6:25-34
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 24, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 6:25-34 (NRSV)

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

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Way back in 1988 an American singer released a song that shot to the top of the charts, becoming the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and displacing the previous number one song, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns and Roses. It was unusual in a couple of ways. First, it was the first acapella (no musical instruments) song to make it to number one. It is also a song that features whistling. Yep, whistling. What is even more amazing is that all the acapella parts, including the whistling, were sung by the same person.

The song won a lot of awards and at the 1989 Grammy Awards won Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

The song, if you haven’t guessed it by now, was titled “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and was performed by Bobby McFerrin.

The lyrics went something like this:

Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy

In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy
Don’t worry, be happy now

The chorus was simply “Ooh, ooh ooh ooh oo-ooh ooh oo-ooh,” and the words “don’t worry, be happy.” It is a very simple song!

While the song has great advice for us, it is advice that is easy to say but much, much harder to do. “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

Do you worry? Are you a worrier? We are going to talk about worrying today as we continue our sermon series on “Change” by looking at the topic of “Worry.”

Now I should probably start off by confessing that I am a worrier. I worry about things… a lot of things. I try not to but it’s something I really struggle with. Here lately I’ve been worrying about COVID-19 in terms of when and how we should start back in-person services at this church. But that’s just one topic in a whole list of things I worry about.

Now I try not to worry. I really do. And I might go for a while without worrying about a particular thing, but then I find myself worrying about it yet once again.

And yet in the scripture we read today from the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus explaining that we are not to worry, but to put our trust in God.

Listen to this paraphrase of part of that scripture from The Message Bible: “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Years ago there was a contemporary Christian Group with the unique sounding name “Sixpence None the Richer” that performed a song with the simple title of “Trust.” The words of the chorus were:

Trust in the lord with all your heart
Lean not on your own understanding
In all of your ways acknowledge him
And he will make you paths straight

Don’t worry about tomorrow
He’s got it under control
Just trust in the lord with all of your heart
And he will carry you through

If the first part of that chorus sounds familiar, it should. It is almost word for word from Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

I think the second part, the “Don’t worry about tomorrow” part, comes from the scripture we read today from Matthew’s Gospel. (It is also found in Luke 12:22-34)

We find scriptures that deal with the topic of worry throughout the Bible. Here are just a few of them:

“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.” Philippians 4:6-7

“…do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25

“Cast all your anxiety on him [God], because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27

With so many scriptures telling us not to worry, then why do we still do it?

I think a lot of it has to do with control. As humans we have a desire to be in control of things that affect our lives. We think that if we have control over things then we will feel secure and comfortable. We fear the unknown, so if we stick with what is known then we won’t worry, right?

Uh, no. If this pandemic we are living through now has taught us anything, it has been that life is unpredictable, that there are so many things that are beyond our control.

While this may be the first pandemic any of us have lived through, there are things that other generations have gone through that have been extremely disruptive in other ways.

Pam and Emily drove out to Pam’s dad’s house this past week, so it was just me and the dog at home the past few days. Knowing that Memorial Day is tomorrow I started watching a series about World War II called WWII in HD. They took color film, which was just beginning to be used, and digitized and improved it to high resolution.

I’m kind of a WWII history buff of sorts, not nearly on the same level as Brett Eckles, though, and have read lots of books and seen movies and documentaries about the war, but in watching this series I was again amazed at what the men and women of our country–and other countries–sacrificed in that war.

The series interviews men and women who served in the war and gave their personal recollections of the things they experienced. One of the people they interviewed was Jack Werner, a Jew who escaped Austria soon after Hitler came to power by walking over the Alps into Switzerland. Jack traveled to the United States and once here he volunteered for the US Army to help fight against what he fled from.

Jack enlists prior to Pearl Harbor, but instead of being sent to Europe he gets assigned to the 7th Infantry and is sent to the Pacific theater. There he fights in battles in Attu, Kwajalein, Leyte Gulf, and Okinawa, where he is seriously wounded.

In the series he talks about the brutal conditions the soldiers fought and how high the death toll was. He talks of how worried the soldiers were, especially at night when the Japanese would often attack.

Once Jack and four other soldiers went on a patrol. They got lost and suddenly found themselves surrounded by the Japanese. He and one other soldier were the only ones of the five that made it back alive.

As they served their country they worried. They worried about living through the battles, about their loved ones and families back home, and they worried about their country. But those worries didn’t keep them from charging into harm’s way, even if it cost them their lives.

This Memorial Day we acknowledge those who served our country and paid the ultimate price with their lives. As the saying reminds us, “All gave some, and some gave all.” May we always remember those who gave all.

In watching the film footage and hearing Jack and the other men and women’s stories, I realized that I really don’t have anything to worry about compared to them. Their experiences give me a different perspective about worrying.

John Wesley knew the value of perspective when it comes to worrying. One day John was traveling with a man who was very worried. He said, “I do not know what I shall do with all this worry and trouble.”

As they walked by a pasture John noticed a cow looking over a stone wall. He pointed it out to his traveling companion and said, “Do you know why that cow is looking over the wall?”

“No,” the man replied.

Wesley said, “The cow is looking over the wall because she cannot see through it. That is what you must do with your wall of trouble—look over it and avoid it.” [Source: Knight’s Master Book of New Illustrations, Walter B. Knight]

The English clergyman and abolitionist John Newton, who just also happened to write “Amazing Grace,” gives us another perspective from which we can view worry.

“I compare the troubles which we have to undergo in the course of the year to a great bundle of [sticks], far too large for us to lift. But God does not require us to carry the whole at once. He mercifully unties the bundle, and gives us first one stick, which we are to carry today, and then another, which we are to carry tomorrow, and so on. This we might easily manage, if we would only take the burden appointed for us each day; but we choose to increase our troubles by carrying yesterday’s stick over again today, and adding tomorrow’s burden to our load, before we are required to bear it.”

Years ago when we lived in Kilgore we had a neighbor in her 90s who lived by herself. “Miss Alta,” as we called her, was quite the character. One time I asked her if she ever got worried living all alone. She responded, “Young man, let me tell you something. 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 use both of you losing sleep.”

Of course the best perspective we can have on worry is from Jesus Christ. Worrying really is counterproductive. We can’t live longer by worrying, and in fact worrying has serious physical and emotional effects that actually shorten our lives!

So my challenge to you for this week is to join me in turning your worries over to God. Whenever we find myself worrying about something, let us make a conscious effort to turn those worries into a prayer and turn them over to God. Let us remember that because of the Grace of God given to me and to all of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that we can truly sing, “Don’t worry. Be happy”!

And when we lay my heads down on the pillow at night, let us take Ms. Alta’s advice and turn all our troubles over to God. After all, you know, he’s going to be up all night anyway.

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

Change: The World

Change: The World
A Message on Romans 12:1-2
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 17, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

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As we continue our journey exploring the topic of “Change” in the Bible we come to a topic that we have gained a new perspective on since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Apostle Paul calls it the “world.” “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

What is this “world”? I like to think of it as the things that influence us.

It’s the programs we watch on television. It’s what we do for a living and the people we interact with as we make a living. It’s the conversations and interaction with our family and friends, the content of what we view on our electronic devices, the political beliefs we align our lives to, the books we read, the movies we watch, the way we take care of–or don’t take care of–our physical bodies. It’s how we spend our money and what we do “for fun.” and I contend it even involves the food we eat and the liquids we drink.

It’s all the little things–and probably a few “big” things–that so subtly over time creates in our minds an image of who we are and what our purpose on earth is. And it’s these things that largely shape our sense of self worth. We form a perception of who we are in the larger society and our role in the world.

The world is seductive. It is patient as it slowly, day by day, sends us messages specifically crafted to appeal psychologically to our egos and our sense of competitiveness. The world promises to build us up, make us better than others, to make our lives “complete.”

There’s only one problem: it’s not true.

How do we know it’s not true? The Bible tells us so.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In the world you face persecution [trouble]. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

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

James is his characteristic blunt self when he writes, “Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” — James 4:4

In John 18:36 Jesus tells us, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

And Paul tells the Christians living in Colossae, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” — Colossians 3:1-3

And listen again to the scripture we read today from Romans 12, this time from The Message paraphrase: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

On the topic of change, most of the time we don’t like it when the world changes, do we? Our world has certainly changed this past few months, hasn’t it? Things we took for granted, even simple things like toilet paper, we no longer take for granted.

There have been some silver linings, though, with this COVID-19 pandemic. One of those silver linings has been the way the phenomenon of celebrity has been stripped of some of its mystique. We have discovered that Hollywood celebrities aren’t really as important as what we make them out to be. We have developed a better appreciation not for celebrities, but for “essential workers” such as health care workers, first responders, peace officers, and even those to deliver and stock groceries and supplies. The soaring meat prices make us more respectful of those who work in meat processing plants.

All this has shown us, if we have eyes to see, the things in our lives that are really important, separated from the things that we thought were important but are discovering really aren’t. We are discovering the difference between being “conformed” and being “transformed.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Have any of you wanted something so bad that you thought you couldn’t live without it? I remember when we got our first cell phone. It was one of these. [Show photo of bag phone.] Oh, I thought we were so awesome when we got that bag phone. Yep! We could call people from anywhere! (Well, anywhere there was service, which wasn’t very many places back in those days.) Yes, it was expensive, but hey, we got 30 free minutes every month! Wow! We were somebody! We were with the “in” crowd that had cell phones, or so we thought.

Looking back I can see that we were being “conformed” to the world, not “transformed.” It seems so ridiculous now.

Fashion is another area where we can see “the world” at work “conforming” us. How many of you were “big hair” people back in the 80s? I’m talking big, big hair. Here let me show you some photos! Remember these hairstyles? What was the saying, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”? And it was both men and women! (And I hear the “mullet” hairstyle is making a comeback. I don’t know about that…)

The world, and it’s persuasion for us to be conformed to it, changes. We are trying to conform to a moving target. But God does not. And it’s only in God that we can find true meaning and truth. A relationship with God through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the only thing that will fill what theologian and mathematician Blaise Pascal described as the God-shaped-hole in each of us. That hole in our soul can only be filled by Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham once said, “Christianity is not a long list of restrictions. It flings open the windows to the real joy of living. The cosmos would have us believe that following Christ is nothing but ‘thou shalt nots.’ The cosmos would have us believe that Christianity is a killjoy, a stolid kind of life, unnatural and abnormal.

“But the evidence in the Bible is to the contrary. Christ said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10). And those who have been truly converted to Jesus Christ know the meaning of abundant living.”

If we are conformed to the world, then we are not transformed by the love of God in Jesus Christ. It’s one or the other.

It’s like having one foot on the dock and the other foot in a boat that is slowly moving away. We have to decide and make a choice. If we try to keep one foot trying to conform to the world and the other foot on trying to be transformed by the love of Jesus Christ, we will end up wet and without either one.

Because we have free will, we have a choice. We choose. God will not force anyone to love him. Love that is forced is not love, after all.

So my challenge to you today is to resist being conformed to the world, but be “transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Remember that the things of this world are temporary, but a relationship with Jesus Christ has eternal rewards. Make that relationship the number one priority of your life. Why walk when you can fly?

And if this COVID-19 doesn’t let up soon you may see me sporting a mullet.

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

Change: Sacrifice

Rev. Bonnie Osteen
May 10 Mother’s Day
A Message On Isaiah 49:13-18,1 Kings 3:16-28

Change: Sacrifice

Pastor Doug planned this sermon series several months ago, anticipating possible changes in our lives that may have occurred. Instead, we were met with completely different changes with the COVID-19 arriving world wide. So, these last few weeks, we have been looking at what changes have occurred in our lives, especially with the herald of coronavirus. We have looked at changes in time, physical bodies, growing young and today we are looking at sacrifices.

Definition of sacrifice: “an act of giving up something valued, for the sake of something or someone, regarded as important or worthy.”

Let’s look at the emu. Did you know that the male builds a nest and then the female lays the eggs, and then the dad sits on the eggs for 50 days!! No eating during that time, he lives off the stored fat in his body and loses about 1/3 of his body weight. When the baby emus are born, they stay with the male until they are about 18 months old. For someone who has gained weight during quarantine, I’m going to say that the emu definitely is sacrificing for those little emus.

And today is Mother’s Day! Happy Mother’s Day everyone. It’s not only the day that women celebrate being ‘mom’s’, but it’s also the day that we all celebrate our own moms, and other moms that have made an impact in our lives.

Our youngest daughter is celebrating Mother’s Day for the first time today. Last year, Katherine underwent surgery for twin to twin transfusion syndrome at 18 weeks and was then on bedrest until 28 weeks. Then in the hospital for 2 weeks and then gave birth to Jude and Jaxx when she was 30 weeks along. Then she was dismissed from the hospital and Jaxx spent 56 days in the Neonatal ICU and Jude was there for 73 days. Every day, Katherine and Brian would drive to Houston from Friendswood, to care for the babies. So, from the time she had the surgery, until the second baby was brought home, was about 160 days! That’s about 5 ½ months of either bedrest or driving everyday to the hospital. When we think about the definition of sacrifice: “an act of giving up something valued, for the sake of something or someone, regarded as important or worthy”, we can see that they had many days which required sacrifices, and also wisdom. Changes had to be made, sometimes daily.

We all have our stories about ways that our lives have changed which included the need for sacrifices.

Now think about what sacrifices you have made during this time of coronavirus. What sacrifices were made to keep family and friends healthy? What about employment? Or unintentional home schooling? Or wearing masks and social distancing? And these decisions were made with wisdom.

Let’s look at our scripture reading for today from 1 Kings.
King Solomon took the throne after King David, even though he was not the next heir. The scriptures tell us that this happened because it was the will of God. Solomon loved God, even though his priorities sometimes wiggled. Still, God responded to Solomon’s imperfect love and gave him the gift of a reputation that shows him as successful in many ways. The story for today, in many ways foreshadows what is to come later in the book of Kings, with having to divide the kingdom into two parts.

So, here’s the story. There were two women who each gave birth to a son about three days apart. Shortly thereafter, one of the babies did not survive and his mother switched the babies in the night. The next morning, when the other mother was to nurse her baby boy, she discovered that her child had been switched during the night. So, the two women went to King Solomon to find justice. When they arrived, they began to argue about who was right and who was wrong, and who was the ‘real mother.’ The king sent for a sword, and this is what happened next.

1 King 3:25-28
25The king said, ‘Divide the living boy in two; then give half to one, and half to the other.’ 26But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—‘Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!’ The other said, ‘It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.’ 27Then the king responded: ‘Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.’ 28All Israel heard of the judgement that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.
The first woman was willing for someone else to raise her child, just so that he would live. And so King Solomon, with the wisdom that God gave him, was able to see that she was the mother to this son.

We are often called upon to make difficult decisions. To put the needs of others above our own.
Mothers have to often make difficult decisions.
We all have to make difficult decisions. With God’s help we can do it wisely.
The good news is that the scriptures promise us that God is with us. As we think about how Christ moves in our lives, I invite you to recite this prayer with me.

Prayer for Wisdom during times of sacrifice:
Dear Lord,
I seek your wisdom. Let me understand, that the heart of wisdom, is found when I rest, only in you. Let me draw upon all my experience, all my knowledge, and then cast it aside, looking for you, only for the mercy, of your beloved son. Let me hear your Word, let me obey your Word.
In my weakness before you, only there will I find, the wisdom of Christ.
Since he is strong, where I am weak, make me wise, oh Lord, by making me humble, by filling me with mercy, Like Jesus, In whom all the wisdom of the universe is found.
In Christ’s name, Amen.