“Love never ends.”

“Love never ends.”
A Message on Matthew 28:16-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 19, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

1 Corinthians 13:8a (NRSV)
“Love never ends.”

Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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Today is in many ways a day for endings. We come to the end of our sermon series on the “love chapter” of the Bible, and this is also my last Sunday to be your pastor.

But it is a day for new beginnings as well. A new sermon series will start when the new pastor, Rev. Patrick Evans, arrives in July, and I’ll start a new sermon series as pastor at First United Methodist Church in Huntsville, TX. (Yes, I was originally appointed to Hallsville, TX, but that appointment got changed at Annual Conference. It’s a long story…)

For the text today we examine the very end of Matthew’s gospel, what is referred to as “The Great Commission.”

At first it might not seem like this scripture has anything to do with “Love never ends,” but I think it does.

As we have discussed the past eight weeks since Easter, love is the most powerful force in the universe. And we read in 1 John 4:16b “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

So if God is love, and God is eternal, then we can deduce that love never ends because God never ends.

In the “Great Commision” we read today from Matthew 28 we find Jesus speaking his final earthly words to his disciples. We read there are 11, one short of the 12 we normally hear about, because Judas Iscariot was no longer with them, having taken his own life after betraying Jesus. The disciples have not appointed anyone to take Judas’ place, but will do so later.

Once on the mountain that Jesus told them to go to, Jesus appears to them. Then we find an interesting little sentence in the scripture: “When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted.”

I find this to be peculiar. The Disciples saw Jesus in the resurrected bodily form, before he ascended into heaven. They knew he was dead, and then he shows up alive. That’s pretty convincing, right? So when they see him, they worship him. Sounds appropriate, right?

But then there is that three-word ending to that sentence: “…but they doubted.”

Wait? Say what? How could they doubt? I mean, Jesus shows up in person, in the flesh. They had to believe, right? What more proof could they have wanted?

And yet the scripture says, “but they doubted.”

As humans we have doubt. It’s part of our human nature. There is a built in skepticism in our DNA that grows through our life experiences. When we get hurt or taken advantage of in our life experiences we become skeptical.

I remember one summer I was visiting my dad and we were out in his garden. He raised all kinds of peppers and we came across one that I was not familiar with. “Is that pepper hot?,” I asked.

“Nah,” he said, reaching down, picking a small pepper off the plant and taking a bite out of it.

“Hmm,” I thought. So I did the same thing. I picked a pepper, took a big ol bite out of it and started chewing it. And it set my mouth on fire. Like molten metal hot. It was so, so hot, and we’re out in the garden a long distance from his house and the cooling water I so craved at the moment.

I spit out the pepper, looked at my dad and said, “These things are hot! Real hot!” I was surprised and wondering how in the world his mouth wasn’t on fire and burning up like mine was.

Then he grinned and I saw the pepper between his front teeth. He had bit off the pepper and, instead of chewing it up, held the pepper between his teeth the whole time. He had a real good laugh out of that one. Me, not so much.

That experience created doubt in my mind. Anytime from then on if my dad said a pepper wasn’t hot, I remembered that experience and doubted what he was saying was true. I doubted.

The disciples doubted.

In our faith journeys we often give the disciples attributes that we think they had, but that the scriptures prove otherwise. We try to make them superheroes of the faith, having superpowers and deep theological knowledge and experiences that set them up on a higher level than other people.

But that’s not the case. Jesus chose common, ordinary people to be his disciples. Now don’t get me wrong, they did phenomenal, extraordinary things, but they were able to accomplish those things through the power of the Holy Spirit, not because they were extraordinary human beings. God doesn’t call the equipped, the equips the called. And even those he calls sometimes have doubts.

Having doubts does not preclude us from being disciples. If anything, it qualifies us to be disciples and to make disciples.

Which brings me to the second point I want to make this morning: make disciples.

The Great Commission that Jesus gives to his disciples he also gives to us. We are to go and make disciples. All of us. Each single one of us.

There is a kind of myth that the pastor is the only one who is supposed to make disciples. That is a myth. Yes, that does fall into the pastor’s job description, but it is also the job description of every follower of Jesus Christ.

Make disciples.

Now I think there are two aspects to this commission. First, we are to make disciples of ourselves. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not a passive activity. We are to grow deeper into our relationship with God, and we do that through prayer, through reading and studying the Bible, and through consistent worship with other believers. Only when we are disciples ourselves can we lead others to become disciples.

It’s kind of like the safety briefing they give on airplanes where they tell you that in case of an unexpected loss of cabin pressure an oxygen mask will drop down in front of you. You are to put your own mask on before helping or assisting others. If you fail that bit of advice, you might lose consciousness while trying to help someone else, and if you are not conscious you really can’t do much to help others.

We have to be disciples in order to make disciples.

The second aspect of the Great Commission is that we are to go and make disciples of others. We are to lead others to Christ.

I have discovered that as a whole Christians are very reluctant to venture into this territory. I know because I used to be one of them. (Proof that God has a sense of humor, huh?) I didn’t want to offend anyone by sharing my faith with them. Somewhere along the way I got the idea that religion is one of those things you just keep to yourself and don’t really share with other people.

It’s funny looking back on that time in my life how the rules I applied to my faith life were different from other parts of my life. I never shied away from sharing my political views and would talk politics. I would also share my opinions on my favorite sports teams and talk down about the teams I didn’t like. (i.e., the Yankees.)

I had no problem sharing the other parts of my life, but when it came to faith matters I shut and locked the door and pulled down the shades.

I also remember another reason I didn’t share my faith was because I didn’t feel qualified to do so. I kinda sorta knew the Bible but thought I had to have a broad and very deep understanding of the faith in order to share it with others.

My pride kept me from putting myself in a situation that might make me look like I didn’t know what I was talking about. Uh-uh. Not going to do that. I’ll just leave that to the people who are a lot smarter and better educated about religious things.

In other words I doubted. I doubted my ability to share my faith and make a difference in the life of another person. And those doubts kept me from doing what Jesus called his disciples to do, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Maybe you have doubts about your ability to share your faith. I think that’s normal. And you have good company. Remember what we said about the disciples?

I think Satan rejoices when we let our doubts keep us from becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ or sharing our faith with others. And he trembles in fear when we overcome those doubts and serve God wholly and fully!

Love never ends. God’s love never ends. So if we try to go deeper in our faith or try to lead someone else to Christ and we mess up, guess what? IT’S OKAY!!! The disciples messed up and yet they were still able to have a huge positive impact for the Kingdom of God. We can mess up and still have a positive impact for the Kingdom of God. We can mess up and God still loves us!

Our success or failure will not make God love us more or love us less. That’s just how powerful God’s love is. God’s grace is given to us not because we deserve it, not because we earn it, but because God loves us. God is love! And that love was proven to us by Jesus Christ who gave his life on the cross so that we, who are sinners, can be reconciled to God.

My final point about the scripture today is that it reinforces the eternalness of love. Jesus tells the disciples, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus promises to be present with us forever, and Jesus keeps his promises. Love never ends.

So my challenge to you on this, my last Sunday as your pastor, is to live boldly and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Remember that God is love and will empower you to personally become a more committed and loving disciple of Christ, but will also guide you in ways that you can lead others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ as well.

You’ve got this, church. You can do it, with God’s help. Love never ends. Make disciples of Jesus Christ.

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

“Love endures all things.”

“Love endures all things…”
A Message on Romans 5:1-5
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 12, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

1 Corinthians 13:7d (NRSV)
“[Love] endures all things”

Romans 5:1-5 (NRSV)

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

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Today we are continuing our sermon series based on the “love chapter” of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, by exploring the topic, “Love endures all things…” Our text for this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans that encourages us to endure, saying, “affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Endurance is the ability to keep going when times are tough. Hope is the mental aspect of that concept, but endurance implies both a mental and physical aspect. And I contend a spiritual one as well.

Here’s a story that I think illustrates that. Once there was a group of celibate monks that never left the monastery. One day they embarked on a pilgrimage which required them to walk through a nearby town.

The senior monk prepared the younger monks for the journey, reminding them of their vows of celibacy and telling them that on their journey they would more than likely come across women. “If we encounter women, please do not be distracted from your vows. If you find yourself attracted to a woman, endure that temptation with prayer by praying ‘Lord, help me.’ The Lord will then give you the strength to endure the temptation.”

So they go on their journey. As they are traveling through the town, the senior monk, walking in the lead, stubs his toe on a big rock. In great pain, he cries out, “Lord, help me.”

The young monks become frantic, looking around and saying, “Where? Where?” [Source: https://upjoke.com/endure-jokes ]

Now I tell that story to illustrate that when we pray to God for endurance, the result is often like when we pray for patience: instead of God giving us patience, he may instead give us opportunities to practice patience. When we pray to God for endurance, instead of giving us endurance, he gives us opportunities to practice endurance.

I think Paul explains this in the scripture we read from Romans 5. Here he lists endurance as part of a bigger, lengthier process.

“we also boast in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…”

He starts with affliction. Now this can be physical, emotional, or spiritual. Afflictions are no fun. They are painful. They hurt. Afflictions are not something that we seek out, but experiences that find us even if we do our best to avoid them.

But Paul turns lemons to lemonade by pointing out that affliction produces endurance.

Endurance is like a rock with rough edges in a river. Slowly, over time, the water smooths away the rough edges of the rock and makes it into something different: smooth and beautiful.

But he doesn’t stop there. Endurance, when experienced, produces character. Enduring something affects who we are as human beings. Endurance, over time, molds our character into something different than what we were before, something better.

And that changed character in turn produces hope, which we talked about last week.

Endurance is one chapter in a bigger story of our faith lives. When we find ourselves having to endure tough times we can use it to strengthen our spiritual lives, or we can simply suffer.

I think of endurance one of the people I think of is the late Carol Haberle. On April 27, 2021, Carol passed away after a 40 year battle with Multiple Sclerosis.

When I came here 7 ½ years ago and met Carol she was well into the advanced stages of the disease. It had devastated her body, but not her mind. In visiting with her I discovered that she had such a joy of life and an almost supernatural optimism.

I was pleasantly surprised. Here was a woman confined to a wheelchair by a horrible, crippling disease, which had no cure, and which she knew would eventually take her life. And yet she was full of joy, loving life and smiling from ear to ear.

Not only that, but she had profound spiritual experiences. She gave me a copy of a notebook with writings of her experiences with the Holy Spirit. It blew me away.

When I think of endurance I also think of her husband Dave. This man took his wedding vow seriously, especially the part about “in sickness and health.” Dave took great care of Carol during her long illness. He would go home from his job at the basket factory everyday at lunch to feed her and take care of her. He endured her disease by doing for her what she could no longer do for herself. If you ask me, he epitomizes the scripture that love endures all things.

Love does endure all things. Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Love gives us the power to endure any hardship we might experience.

Love is best expressed on the cross of Jesus. It was there that the only Son of God, full God and fully human, sinless and perfect, endured terrible suffering and pain out of his love for every human being that is imperfect, that is stained by sin.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

Love is the source of the power that we need to endure, to persevere, when tough times come. “Lord, help me.”

So my challenge to you this week is to endure life’s tough times with grace. Lean upon and deepen your faith during those tough times, looking to Jesus Christ, the author and protector of our faith, whose death on the cross proves just how much you are loved.

And let us always remember, “affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

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

“Love Always Hopes”

“Love always hopes…”
A Message on Acts 2:1-21
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 3, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

1 Corinthians 13:7c (NIV)
“[Love] always hopes…”

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 people 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.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Fellow Jews 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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As you have heard me point out before, I think it is very significant that of the 12 disciples that Jesus called to follow him, four of them (one-third of the 12) were fishermen. Not carpenters like Jesus himself was, not farmers, not bankers, and not even politicians. Fishermen.

I think one of the reasons Jesus chose so many fishermen to become disciples is because those who fish know about hope. They know a lot about hope.

The Jacksonville Educational Foundation Fishing Tournament was held yesterday on Lake Jacksonville as part of the Tomato Fest activities. Those fishing in the tournament knew about hope. Every time they cast their lure they had hope that a bass would hit it and get hooked, and then they would catch it.

Now I can tell you from personal experience that the “cast-to-catch” ratio is very, very low. The odds of catching a fish on any particular cast is very slim. If you cast 100 times and catch one fish, that’s a good day. Most of the time the lure comes back empty. But the person fishing doesn’t give up. They have hope. And because of that hope, they cast again, paying careful attention to the line, hoping that this time, with this cast, they will catch a fish.

Hope is what keeps them going even when they aren’t successful. And spiritually, hope is what keeps us going when we experience challenges and difficulties in our lives.

Years ago, way back in 1998 (which sounds weird to say). there was a nice little movie starring Sandra Bullock titled, “Hope Floats.” In the movie Sandra Bullock plays Birdee Pruitt, a young mother who is humiliated on a live TV show when she finds out her best friend is having an affair with her husband. She leaves the big city with her daughter and heads back to her hometown in Texas where her high school rivals gave her a hard time about her fall from grace.

When going through all the difficulties that a broken relationship has, Birdee remembers something her mother told her: “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it is the middle that counts the most. You need to remember that when you find yourself at the beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up.” – Birdee Pruitt, from the movie “Hope Floats.”

The disciples were going through a tough time in the scripture we read today from the first chapter of Acts. They discover Jesus (or perhaps more accurately, Jesus finds them), they follow him around for about three years, and they expect great things to happen. They come to believe that Jesus is the messiah, the chosen one, who will redeem the Jewish people from the oppressive hand of the occupying Roman forces.

They have heard Jesus speak, heard him preach, seen him perform miracles, and tried to understand all those strange parables he told. And it seems the more they understand, the more they don’t understand. Nothing Jesus does seems to make sense. He talks about turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, storing up treasures in heaven instead of chasing after wealth on earth, and how the first will be last. Crazy stuff, right?

And then the disciples’ lives are turned completely upside down when Jesus is arrested, crucified and buried. The disciples hid, fearful that because of their association with Jesus the same thing that happened to him could happen to them.

And then they discover that Jesus has risen from the dead. He even appears to them in the flesh, even though they knew he was dead, which really, REALLY confuses them.

They have to be wondering what is going to happen next.

Jesus has left them some hints, though. In the Gospel of John Jesus tells the disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:25-26

And in the first chapter of Acts, we find the last words Jesus says to the disciples before he ascends into heaven is about the promise of the Holy Spirit: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

But there aren’t a lot of details as to when and how this will happen. So the disciples are still trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus, they have the promises Jesus gave them about the Holy Spirit, but there are still so many unknowns in their life. And yet, they still have hope, because love always hopes.

And then, when they gather for a relatively minor Jewish festival called Pentecost that celebrates the wheat harvest, something totally unexpected happens: the Holy Spirit shows up in a big, supernatural way.

The loud sound of rushing wind, tongues of fire above the heads of the disciples, and each disciple speaking a different language, one they may not have known or spoken before.

The promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit happens at Pentecost. A minor Jewish holiday takes on a much bigger and more significant meaning. Pentecost changes not only the disciples, but the world. If you keep reading in the second chapter of Acts you find that about 3,000 people became followers of Jesus Christ just on that one day!

The Holy Spirit continues to change our world today. When we have baptisms, the pastor applies the water, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But that’s not the end. Then the pastor then lays a hand on the baptized person’s head, and sometimes family members, sponsors, mentors, and others will lay hands on them as well, as these words are spoken: “The Holy Spirit work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

The Holy Spirit, one of three persons of the Holy Trinity, works through followers of Jesus still today. The Holy Spirit empowers us to do things that we cannot do on our own. And I believe the Holy Spirit gives us hope.

“Love always hopes…” Hope is powerful. Hope gets us through the tough times, the times when the difficulties of life seem to overwhelm us, the times when the days are dark and the nights are darker. At those times we have hope.

The Holy Spirit gives us hope. Our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior gives us hope. We have hope because we believe the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So my challenge to you today on this Pentecost Sunday is to let hope float. Let us celebrate and be joyful for the coming of the Holy Spirit not only upon the disciples, but us as well. Love is alive. The Holy Spirit is alive. Hope is alive. Love always hopes.

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

Love believes all things

Doubting Thomas by Carl Bloch, 1881

“Love believes all things…”
A Message on John 20:24-29
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 27, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

1 Corinthians 13:7b (NRSV)
“[Love] believes all things…”

John 20:24-29 (NRSV)
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

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Today we continue our journey through the “love chapter” of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, by exploring Paul’s words that love “believes all things.”

Now on the surface it might seem like Paul is telling us that we are to believe everything we see, hear, or experience without any discernment, just taking everything at face value even if that means being gullible.

I don’t think that’s what it means, though. There are dangers in believing everything.

For example, when I get an email from a Nigerian prince saying that because I am a good person they want to give me 30 percent of $30 million (is that $900,000?), I know better than to give them my bank account information even though he says they need it in order to transfer the money to me. (Yeah, right.)

I know that the soap or hair products I use won’t make me handsome, that some of the “diet” products have just as many calories as the regular ones, and that in spite of seeing his photo with these words on Facebook, that Abraham Lincoln did not say, “The problem with quotes found on the Internet is that they often are not true.”

I don’t think that’s what Paul means when he says, love “believes all things.” (If it was, he would have posted it on the Internet, right?)

I believe Paul is talking about spiritual matters.

While most English translations of the Bible use the word “believes” (or “believeth,” in the King James Version), others, like NIV, say love “trusts all things.”

Because we live in a very scientific world we have a hard time believing or trusting in things that cannot be seen or be proven. We want quantifiable, specific, unequivocal, explicit proof of something before we will believe it. And in the scientific world it has to be replicated by other people before it will be accepted as true.

But when we take that type of scientific method and apply it to our faith lives we find ourselves frustrated. We want quantifiable, specific, unequivocal, explicit proof for our faith, and we get disappointed when we can’t find those proofs.

In the upside-down and backwards world of God, though, faith is believing without knowing. And there is a higher sense of reasoning to it. If spiritually we knew everything, if we had all the spiritual answers to all of life’s spiritual questions, then wouldn’t we BE God? And that’s a big no-no.

Hebrews 11:1 gives us the answer with a definition of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In other words, faith is the reality of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

I think this is what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 13 when he says that love “believes all things.” We are to believe the things revealed to us through God’s Holy Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit, and we are to trust in him, even if we don’t know the details.

In the Gospel of Mark we find in the 9th chapter the story of a man bringing his son to the disciples. The boy had an evil spirit and would have convulsions and hurt himself. He also could not talk. The man asked the disciples to heal the boy, but they were unsuccessful in doing so. The man then asks Jesus to heal him.

Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith and then asks that the boy be brought to him. The father tells Jesus that the boy has had this condition all his life, and that he has suffered injuries as a result.

The father then begs Jesus, “…if you are able to do anything, help us! Have compassion on us!”

Jesus said to him, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:23-24

Jesus rebuked the spirit and it came out of the boy. But today I want to focus on what the father said: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Sometimes it’s difficult to believe when you can’t see.

Our scripture from the Gospel of John today tells us the story of one disciple who had trouble believing. Thomas, who through this experience earned the nick-name, “Doubting Thomas,” was not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared to them.

The disciples who were there told Thomas of the experience, but Thomas didn’t believe them. He did, indeed, doubt.

And why shouldn’t he? He knew that Jesus had been killed on the cross. The Roman soldiers didn’t mess around when it came to killing people by crucifixion. They were well-practiced in the process, and by all accounts, including the soldiers and officials, Jesus was dead. His body was taken down and put into a tomb, with a huge rock put over the entrance. No pulse, no breath, but dead.

So when he hears the disciples talking about Jesus appearing to them, he finds it hard to believe. It wasn’t provable back then. The disciples didn’t make a video and post it on tik-tok or Facebook. There were no photos, no quantifiable, specific, unequivocal, explicit proof that Jesus was alive. Just the word of the disciples.

As humans our pride often makes us say things and do things that we normally wouldn’t say or do. I think that may be the case here with Thomas. He makes a bold statement, metaphorically drawing a line in the sand. He won’t believe unless he not only sees, but feels the piercings of Jesus with his own hands.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Seeing is not going to be enough for Thomas. He demands two senses, sight and touch, before he believes that Jesus is alive. He demands two different forms of proof. Nothing the disciples could tell him would change his mind.

A week later Jesus shows up and invites Thomas to indeed place his hands into Jesus’ wounds. Now I think it’s important to point out that Thomas doesn’t do it. The scriptures have no mention that he got up and did what he demanded as proof of Jesus being alive. Just the presence of Jesus was enough to humble him down to his inner core.

Thomas is at a loss of words. He doesn’t say, “Okay, now that I see I believe.” No. All he can say is, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas is overwhelmed with emotions. Words fail him. The only words that come out are “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus then says something very important: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

As Christians I think that is a very important scripture to shape our faith. While Jesus is God and is capable of doing whatever he wants, more than likely you and I will never experience the presence of the physical, earthly Jesus. And I’m okay with that. I hope you are, too.

Remember the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So if we could see the physical Jesus, we wouldn’t need faith. Faith is believing without seeing.

And I think that’s what Paul was referring to when he wrote that love “believes all things.” When it comes to faith matters, our faith allows us to believe without seeing, without having quantifiable, specific, unequivocal, explicit proof. We believe, help our unbelief.

Faith is not science. Faith operates by a separate set of heavenly rules, not earthly ones.

So why is that important? I think this past week gives us a good example of the importance of faith. An 18-year-old man entered an elementary school and killed 22 people, most of them young elementary students. It shocks us to hear of such evil in our world, and especially in our state.

How do we react to such horror? Is God really in control? If so, why would he allow something like this to happen? Can we believe without seeing?

While there is much debate and finger pointing going on in the aftermath of the horrible event, there is a deeper and just as disturbing struggle occurring on the spiritual level.

There is sin and evil in our world. As Christians, we are to fight against the forces of sin and evil. We are not to avoid the struggle, but do everything we can to fight against sin and evil in our world.

In the liturgy we use for baptisms, those being baptized (or their parents/sponsors) are asked, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

Love “believes all things.” Through faith we are to believe that God does give us the power to fight as hard as we can and in as many ways as we canagainst the spiritual forces of wickedness, evil, injustice, and oppression. We know that Jesus tells us he is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is the truth. We are to repent of our personal sin and live our lives like our savior, Jesus Christ.

So my challenge to you is to believe when you can’t see. Trust in the Lord, knowing that love “believes all things.” Even in the face of unspeakable horrors, we are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ and our faith provides the power to change the world one person at a time. “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” – Hebrews 12:1b-2a

And be careful trusting those quotes from Abraham Lincoln on the Internet.

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

“Love is not…”

“Love is not…”
A Message on Philippians 2:1-5
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 8, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

1 Corinthians 13:4c-6 (NRSV)
…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.

Philippians 2:1-5 (NRSV)

If, then, there is any comfort in Christ, any consolation from love, any partnership in the Spirit, any tender affection and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

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As we continue our sermon series on the “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 we come to a part of the chapter where the author, the Apostle Paul, does sort of a switch-a-roo.

The previous two weeks we have explored, “love is patient,” and “love is kind.” The scripture this week changes from describing what love “is,” to what love “is not.”

“…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.”

While the writer part of me wonders why Paul would switch from listing the positive attributes of love to listing things that love is not, the theologian in me really appreciates it. As I explained to the kids during Mini Methodist Bible study on Wednesday, if you are doing any of these things listed, you are not being loving.

For example, if you are envious, you are not loving. If you are boastful, you are not loving. If you are arrogant (had to explain that one to the kids) or rude (they knew that one), you are not loving. If you insist on things being your way, you are not loving.

You can’t be irritable and loving at the same time. The same with being resentful. And if you rejoice when someone does something wrong, you are not loving.

If you think about it, love is kind of an exclusive characteristic. To love means to have certain characteristics. To love, there are certain things you cannot be.

Now don’t get me wrong. As humans we experience a wide range of emotions, including negative ones. But it’s how we react to those emotions that is important. That is the big thing that matters.

I was struck with a very ironic moment during Mini Methodists this past week when I was explaining to them what the word “irritable” meant. Being elementary students they weren’t paying attention, especially in the way that I wanted them to. They were talking with the people next to them, fidgeting, asking questions way off the subject… just being kids, you know.

And then it dawned on me, as I was attempting to explain to them what the word “irritable” meant, that I was becoming… well… irritable! Yep. And I realized that when I felt that way, I did feel very loving. Love is not irritable. Oops!

Today is Mother’s Day, and I thought about that this past week as I read through the book of Ruth in the readings in The One Year Bible. Naomi, a Jew, moves with her husband to the foreign country of Moab because of a famine. While there the couple’s two sons marry Moabite women and life is good… for a while.

Then Naomi’s husband dies. And then her two sons die. Being a widow in those days was life threatening as there were very few ways for women to have any income to support themselves.

So Naomi heard the famine was over in Judah, so she decided to go back home. One of her daughters-in-law, with Naomi’s urging, stayed in Moab. The other, named Ruth, dedicated herself to staying with Naomi and traveled back to Judah with her, in spite of Naomi’s pleadings that she stay in Moab.

The two women travel to Judah, and Ruth works tirelessly gleaning barley for the two of them to eat, following behind the workers and picking up what little they had missed or left. She finds out the field where she is gleaning is owned by a man named Boaz. Boaz finds out who Ruth is and that she is working so hard to get food for Naomi and herself. Boaz befriends her and they end up being man and wife.

Not only that, but they have a son named Obed, who then has a son named Jesse, who then has a son that we come to know as King David. Ruth goes on and is listed as one of the few women in the lineage of Jesus given in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. And Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, counts Ruth as one of his relatives.

I bring this up on Mother’s Day to emphasize a couple of things: first, blood doesn’t make family, love does. Ruth was Naomi’s daughter-in-law, not daughter. And yet Ruth cared for Naomi as if she were her own mother, moving to a land that was foreign to her (Ruth), staying by her side, and working very hard physically to support her. Ruth didn’t have to. She chose to. Not because she was related to Naomi by blood, but out of love for her.

In today’s world there are a lot of blended families. There are step-parents, step-grandparents, adoptive parents, and even folks that we feel so close to that we consider them family. Moms often find themselves in those situations. They can kick and fight against that, which I don’t recommend, or extend grace and love, which I do recommend. Blood doesn’t make family, love does. It’s not easy, it has many challenges, but we must remember that love is the most powerful force in the universe.

The second point I want to make about Ruth is to talk about how she exhibited love. If we compare her to the list of things about love that Paul gives us in 1 Cornithians 13 that we have studied so far we find out that she fares very well.

Ruth certainly had patience, and she undoubtedly was kind. In reading the scriptures about Ruth, she didn’t display any of the things that Paul tells us love is “not.” She is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. She didn’t insist on her own way. She wasn’t irritable or resentful and she didn’t rejoice in wrongdoing.

Ruth exhibited many of the characteristics we read in Paul’s letter to the Philippians today. Listen again to Paul’s words: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.”

That’s what good mothers do. And they do so because of love.

My mother had six kids. I can remember her cooking us fried chicken for supper. First she would cut up three chickens (an art that is being lost in today’s world of pre-cut-up chicken), lay the pieces out on wax paper and salt them and then begin frying them. With eight mouths to feed it took several chickens.

She would first cook the giblets (which I still pronounce as “JIB-lets,” even though that’s not correct.) first so that us kids would have some “snitchings” to quell our appetites until supper time. And when we ate she alway chose the “boney back” pieces to eat. She said she liked them and preferred them, but as I got older I realized that she was just choosing those pieces so her children could have the meatier pieces of chicken. She was making a sacrifice for her children, one of many she made.

My mother did nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regarded others as better than herself. She looked not to her own interests, but to the interests of others.

So my challenge to you today, on this Mother’s Day, is to remember what love is not.

“…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.”

Let us also remember Paul’s words from his letter to the Philippians: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”

And today, Mother’s Day, make sure your mom doesn’t get the “boney back” piece of chicken.

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

Love is kind…

“Love is… kind.”
A Message on 1 Corinthians 13:4b, and Colossians 3:12-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 1, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

1 Corinthians 13:4b (NRSV)

… love is kind…

Colossians 3:12-14

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

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Today we continue our sermon series on the “love chapter” of the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13.

Last Week we explored “love is patient,” and this week we will explore “love is kind.”

I think the “love chapter” kind of gets a bad reputation. About the only time we hear it is at weddings, and so it gets associated with that exclusively. We think it only applies to couples getting married.

I think it’s good that it is used at weddings, but I think when Paul wrote it he wasn’t thinking of it applying to weddings only. Our world can certainly use more love right now with all that’s going on. Love is something we should seek and also give every day.

As I mentioned in my column for the newsletter this past week, God is love. We should seek to be like God. We should love more.

So we know that love is patient, and this week we are going to explore how love is kind.

Love is kind. Kindness is being friendly, generous, considerate of others.

Now when we think of kindness we think of how we feel and act toward others, but it can also apply to how we feel and act toward ourselves.

I really admire Andrew Peterson for not only his music but also the profound lyrics that he writes. Several years ago he wrote a song for his then teenaged daughter who was struggling with self-worth the way many teenagers–and adults–struggle with it. Here are some of the lyrics:

I know it’s hard to hear it when that anger in your spirit
Is pointed like an arrow at your chest
When the voices in your mind are anything but kind
And you can’t believe your Father knows best
I love you just the way that you are
I love the way He’s shaping your heart
Be kind to yourself
Be kind to yourself

We are to be kind to ourselves.

We are also to be kind towards others.

This last weekend at the confirmation retreat I have to admit I was not kind on Friday night. The boys stayed in a cabin with me, and even though I had asked them to be quiet and go to sleep, they didn’t. The third time I got up to tell them to go to sleep was at 2:30 in the morning.

Now to to be fair, Carlin was asleep. I don’t know how, but he was asleep. The other two were not.

It was not pretty. I was not kind. I even did what I swore as a child I would never do: I became my dad. “DON’T MAKE ME HAVE TO GET UP AND COME IN HERE AGAIN!!!!”

I felt bad after I said it… a little bit. I feel worse about it now than I did then.

To contrast, Dean and Julie Harvey were kind to the kids all weekend. This couple opened up their ranch free of charge to host our confirmation retreat. They fed us, they worked hard to give the kids a great time, cooking meals, saddling horses, providing fishing equipment and even real worms, and playing games.

Julie did get firm when one of the boys, after flipping over a kayak in the lake (on purpose, I believe), decided to take his life jacket off while in the middle of the lake. But even then she was kind. (Well, a lot more kind than I was as I was yelling at him.)

Jesus was kind, but he also was firm when he needed to be. (When he turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple, for example.) Jesus was kind toward and loved those who society refused to love, people like lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Jesus was kind to these folks, and also to those who were rich and well off. (Nicodemus being one example.)

We should be like Jesus.

Listen again to these words we read today written by Paul to the people of Colossae, a city in what is now the country of Turkey, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

Clothes are what we put on our body to protect us. If it’s cold, we put on jackets or coats. If it is warm, as it is becoming now, we wear lighter clothing that breathes to keep us cool.

Clothes are also what other people see on us. It changes our appearance. Law enforcement officers can be identified by their clothing. So can most medical workers. And in our society we go to great lengths to find and spend great sums of money on specific brand name clothes so we can belong to the “in” crowd, so we can belong to a certain tribe or group of people, even if it is just by appearances.

But when we follow Jesus, as these young people in the confirmation class decided to do today, our perception changes. We no longer seek to prove to others that we are better than them. No, just the opposite. Our focus turns to others, not ourselves.

As Paul says, we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. None of those focus on ourselves. All of those focus on others.

Kindness is one of those. Kindness is being like Jesus, putting others’ needs first. And kindness can open a lot of doors for the Gospel.

Years and years ago, back in 1969, musician Glen Campbell recorded a song written by Curt Sapaugh and Bobby Austin titled, “Try A Little Kindness.” He even titled his album after the song.

The Lykins Family played and sang that song this morning for our offertory. The words of the chorus are:

You’ve got to try a little kindness
Yes, show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

At a concert in 2002 in South Dakota, Glen Campbell’s last song was “Try A Little Kindness.” He introduced the song by saying this: “When you are kind, and treat people kind, you get treated in kind.”

That’s my challenge today for the confirmands who have publicly declared that they are followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, and for the entire congregation: be kind. Be kind, one to another. Be kind to those who disagree with you. Be kind to those who belong to a different political party than you. Be kind on social media (no matter how hard it is).

Be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Be kind. Be loving.

Don’t make me be like my dad again.

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

He is risen!

He Is Risen!
A Message on John 20:1-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 17, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

John 20:1-18 (NRSV)

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

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

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Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s Easter!

Jesus being resurrected from the dead and the tomb being empty on Easter morning is at the very center, the very foundation, of our faith. It is a non-negotiable. It is to me, without doubt, the most important event ever in the history of all time. Period.

One of the primary sources that informs our faith is the Bible. We have the Holy Scriptures, inspired by God, written by people through the Holy Spirit, that is the very word of God.

We have the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, that provides us not only with a history of the Jewish people, God’s chosen ones, but informs our faith with prophecies and wisdom that gives us such great insights into God’s love for his people.

We have the New Testament, including the four gospels written by those who knew Jesus, who heard him teach, watched him heal and perform miracles, and traveled with him, giving first-hand accounts of the events of his life and his teachings.

We have the epistles, letters written by disciples and apostles, to provide guidance and encouragement to those who were Christ followers, those establishing and worshiping in new churches trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Christ.

We have the book of Revelation, written by John, describing his vision of things to come, of the last times, informing our faith that Jesus will indeed come again and that heaven will come on earth.

But it all revolves around Easter. Easter is the sun of our spiritual solar system, the nucleus of our faith atom.

So why is Easter so important?

First of all it is the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy, proving that Jesus was the Messiah, the long awaited savior of Israel. For example, Isaiah 53, which tells us about the “suffering servant,” especially verses 5-6: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Second, it proves the divinity of Jesus, that Jesus was/is truly God. Humans are born, new lives that come into the world. And humans die, they cease to live. Our bodies cease to function. We no longer breathe. Our hearts no longer beat. The blood that constantly flows through our circulatory system stops. Life is no more.

But Jesus says in John 10:30, “The Father and I are one.”

If Jesus were only human, if he were only a nice guy that was a prophet, one who had great insights but was still only human, then the tomb wouldn’t be empty. Jesus was 100 percent human, and one hundred percent God. And while our human minds may find that difficult to comprehend, we have to remember that what is impossible for humans is possible for God.

Dead people stay dead. There are people who come near death, who have what are called “near death experiences,” but not for three days. Jesus was dead, there was no doubt about that. Roman soldiers at the time were very proficient with crucifixions. They had plenty of practice and knew what they were doing. And they were good at it. The spear in Jesus’ side while he was still on the cross left no doubt as to his physical state.

If Jesus were only human, his body would have still been in that grave on that Sunday morning. The women would have found someone to roll away the stone sealing the tomb, treated the corpse with spices, wrapped it in more linen, and then the tomb would have been resealed.

But praise God that’s not what happened. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave proved that he really was/is the Son of God. It’s not some magic trick or slight-of-hand, merely the impression that Jesus’ dead body came back to life. No. Mortals can’t do that. But God can. And only God can. That proves that Jesus is God.

And one more thing I think the resurrection of Jesus informs our faith with is that it gives us hope. It fills us with hope. Easter is about hope.

It does so because through Jesus’ resurrection we are given something that is much bigger and powerful than a promise. We are given a covenant, a binding and lasting agreement between humans and God.

As humans we like to think pretty highly of ourselves. We’re at the top of the food chain. We have knowledge and understanding of even abstract concepts. Some of us even understanding calculus and trigonometry and weird math that mixes letters with numbers. (I am not one of those people, by the way.)

As humans we are confident in our abilities to be self-sufficient. We can take care of ourselves. To use bad grammar, “We don’t need nothin’ from nobody.” We are in control of our own destinies.

And we think that until something comes along that metaphorically hits us in the solar plexus and knocks the breath out of us and brings us to our knees. Things like losing a job. Things like the death of a loved one. Things like a heart attack, a diagnosis of cancer or dementia or some other disease. Things like war. It’s at those moments that we realize that as humans, although we may be at the top of the food chain, we are not as strong as we think we are.

We need a savior. We need hope.

Jesus gives us that hope. Jesus IS that hope.

Jesus is that hope, and we know that because of the love he showed for us. Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross and suffer a cruel and horrible death, one that we as sinners deserve but one which he took on himself so that our sins could be forgiven and then we, being pure, can be reconciled to God.

Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

When we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, when we make that covenant pledge through baptism of water and the Spirit and through the affirmation of our faith, we share in Jesus’ resurrection. And are given the promise that no matter what happens to us in this world, something better is coming.

If you read about prisoners of war and some of the gruesome things they experienced, one of the key factors in determining if an individual survived or not was whether or not they had hope. Hope was the thing that kept them going.

As followers of Christ we have hope. The empty grave on Easter morning fills us with hope, a hope that is not only assured, but given to us through a covenant oath of blood. And God keeps his promises.

We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people. Let us live not in a state of fear or cowardice, but boldly living and loving the way Jesus did. Let us face the future not with anxiety and timidness, but with a spirit of joy and exuberance knowing that even though we may not know what the future holds, we can rest assured that we know who holds the future. God will be there with us.

In the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John we find Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb and getting the shock of her life. Jesus was no longer dead. He was risen.

Mary didn’t know what it meant. Mary didn’t know the details of how it happened, or why it happened. She didn’t know what it meant for her future. There were so many unknowns, so many things she didn’t know.

But one thing she did know. “I have seen the Lord.” And that gave her hope.

My challenge to you this Easter Sunday is to “see the Lord.” To live like Mary Magdalene as an Easter believer, full of boldness and courage knowing that God’s promises are kept. We don’t have to know the details. Our faith bridges that gap. The empty tomb, the greatest event the world has ever known, gives us hope to do things not humanly possible.

The tomb is empty. He is alive. We have hope. Praise God.

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

“Lost and Found”

Lost and Found
A Message on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 27, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (NRSV)

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he [Jesus] told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with[b] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

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As we continue to follow the Lectionary this Lenten season we come to the 15th chapter of Luke and the parable of the prodigal son.

Now the word “prodigal” is not one we use in our everyday language. The word comes from an old Latin word meaning “wasteful, to squander.” And the prodigal son is named that because that is what he does with the inheritance that his father has given him. The translation we read from today calls it “dissolute living.”

For Mini Methodists Bible Study this past week we acted out the parable, and I told the young folks that the prodigal son blew all his money on soft drinks, candy, and video games. (I really didn’t want to go into detail about what “dissolute living” meant. Call me a chicken.)

So we know the son disgraces his father by asking for his inheritance early, and by leaving and blowing through all the money in “dissolute living.” It is not until he hits absolute rock bottom that he figures out just how damaging his selfishness has been.

He takes a job feeding pigs, but the pigs are eating better food than what he has. Now this is significant because for the Jewish people pigs were unclean animals. The Jewish laws in Leviticus clearly state that the swine are unclean. The people are not only not to eat them, but not to touch them or have anything to do with them.

And yet the prodigal son finds himself in the situation where he is not only feeding and taking care of hogs, but is even one step lower than they are in terms of food that is available.

In our Bible study last week one of the questions we answered was which character do we personally identify the most with? Are we the prodigal son? The loyal older brother? The Father?

I think that’s helpful because it forces us to view the parable from different perspectives. But what I want to do today is zoom out and look at the parable from a bird’s eye view and how it fits into Jesus’ teachings on “lost and found” in the 15th chapter of Luke.

Now you probably noticed that today’s scripture reading jumped around a bit. This sometimes happens in the lectionary. I think they did it today because they want to give us the setting and audience of where Jesus is and who he is speaking to. But it skips over two other parables that I think are important and need to be considered to be parts of a broader view of the parable of the prodigal son.

The first parable is about leaving the 99 sheep to go look for the one lost sheep. That one sheep is lost, and when it is found there is great rejoicing.

The second is the parable of the lost coin. A woman has 10 silver coins and somehow loses one of them. So she lights a lamp and starts sweeping the house until she finds the lost coin. And when she finds it she calls her neighbors and friends to rejoice with her over finding the coin.

The parable of the sheep ends with this sentence: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

The parable of the lost coin ends with this sentence: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Now let’s contrast those endings with the one we read today in the parable of the prodigal son: “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” Luke 15:32

So you see, while the parable of the prodigal son can stand on its own, when we back up and view it with the other parables in chapter 15 it gives us a broader picture of the importance of the “lost and found” that Jesus teaches about.

Lost and found. Usually the first thing that comes to mind is a cardboard box at a school or a church that contains things that people have lost. People are encouraged to go by and look at those items to see if any of them belong to them, and if so they then take that item. It goes from being lost to being found.

Most of the time those articles that are lost aren’t looked on as having much value. Sometimes people won’t even claim articles that are theirs because they don’t want the embarrassment of retrieving something from the lost and found.

Jesus takes the lost and found metaphor and applies it to people. And he teaches us very important lessons in doing so.

Our human logic works a lot differently than how God works. We are very works-oriented. If you want to have money, you need to work for it. If you want a promotion, work for it. If you want others to view you with esteem, you work for it.

Unfortunately that mindset also seeps into our religious views as well. If we want to go to heaven, we need to work for it. If we want God to love us, we work for it by keeping the 10 commandments and following a list of rules. We even turn being a Christian into a competition, trying to out-do others in practicing our Christianity with a subconscious (and unfortunately in some cases, conscious) desire to elevate our status above others. “I’m a better Christian than they are.”

And yet Jesus teaches us, over and over and over, that such thinking is not correct. That kind of thinking is earthly thinking, not Godly thinking. Jesus specifically has a passion for the lost. And he tells us this over and over and over.

We talked in Bible study this past week about what we would do if a homeless person walked into our sanctuary on a Sunday morning during worship. Say it was a man who hadn’t bathed in a long, long time. His clothing is filthy and ragged, his hair is dirty and frazzled, and he has a stubble beard and mustache from not having shaved in weeks. His breath has the sour smell of alcohol and cigarettes.

And say you come in the sanctuary and lo and behold he has committed the most horrible, unforgivable sin imaginable: He is sitting in your “spot.”

Would he be greeted warmly? Would he be welcomed with loving arms? Would you sit down right beside him and strike up a conversation with him, introducing yourself to him and telling him how glad you are that he is with us for worship today?

We might say, “Yes, I would do that!” But be honest. Would we? Really?

Years ago a musician named Todd Agnew wrote a song titled, “My Jesus.” In it he asks the question of which Jesus do you follow, the Jesus of the Bible, or the Jesus of the world?

The words of one of the choruses is this:

‘Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the rich
So which one do you want to be?

He goes on to say:

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet

Would that Jesus be accepted in this church?

There are many people in our community who are spiritually lost. As a church we are not to cloister ourselves off from the lost and consider us to be God’s chosen ones, but just the opposite: we are to go to them and share with them the love and grace of Jesus Christ. We are to take the gospel, which means “good news,” to them. We are to be outwardly focused, not inwardly focused.

Church is not a shrine for saints, but a hospital for sinners.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was very adamant about this. One of his famous sayings is, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most.”

In Luke 19 when people start grumbling about Jesus going to Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus replies, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Jesus came not for the found, but the lost. We should also reach out to the lost, like Jesus, and help them be found.

So my challenge to you this week is to remember lost and found. Make a conscious effort to reach out to one person who is “lost” this week and invite them to church. I can tell you it will push you out of your comfort zone. It will be uncomfortable. It will be awkward. It might even be unpleasant. But do it anyway. Do it for Jesus. Do it for God’s kingdom.

After all, we’ve nothing to do but save souls.

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

Under the Wings

Under the Wings
A Message on Luke 13:31-35
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 13, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

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Today’s text from the lectionary reading in Luke transports us to a time when Jesus is coming to the end of his ministry and has slowly been traveling toward Jerusalem. We find it in the 13th chapter of Luke in the midst of a series of parables and teachings that Jesus is sharing with his disciples and the crowds that followed him.

This passage starts off with “some Pharisees” coming to Jesus and telling him that Herod is out to kill him. Now if you remember the Pharisees are the religious leaders of the Jews and most of them don’t like Jesus because they perceive him as a threat to the way they have always done things. Plus he calls them out for some of the things they do like being all about the letter of the law but not the intent. All rules, no love.

But this scripture indicates that not all the Pharisees were opposed to Jesus and his teachings. We even find out about a Pharisee named Nicodemus in the Gospel of John who comes to Jesus to learn more of his teachings and even makes himself “unclean” by assisting with the burial of Jesus’ body, which is a shocking thing for a Pharisee to do.

The Pharisees in the scripture today, which we hope are helpful ones, warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. But they have to be taken aback by his response in which he calls Herod a “fox.” Here is The Message paraphrase of what Jesus tells them:

“Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick; the third day I’m wrapping things up. Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside Jerusalem.”

Now it was probably not good for one’s physical health or longevity to refer to the leader of that part of the country at the time as a fox. It was not a compliment. But Jesus said it anyway. And we know from other scriptures that Herod was confused by Jesus and really didn’t know what to do with him. We know he had John the Baptist beheaded but that experience made him leery about having Jesus arrested or executed. And once word got back to him about what Jesus said about him it probably would have confused him even more.

But Jesus uses this statement as a segue into talking about Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was, and had been for a long, long time, the center of the religious world for the Jewish people. The main reason was that the temple was there, built to exacting specifications, and it was there the Jewish people of the day believed that God dwelled on earth.

It was also the place where people brought their sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. Bulls, sheep, goats, and even birds were sacrificed at the temple, some every day, and on specific holidays thousands of animals would have been sacrificially slaughtered.

As the center of religious life it was also the location that prophets came to share their words with the people. This includes true prophets and false prophets. At the time the way to determine a true prophet from a false prophet was if their prophecies came true. If they did, they were a true prophet. If they didn’t, then they were stoned to death.

That being said, there were many true prophets that were killed simply because the religious leaders didn’t like what they were saying. John the Baptist is just one example.

So Jerusalem was the religious center and, because of that, a place where prophets came to prophecy and many were killed for doing so. And it had developed a reputation for doing so. That’s why Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”

But then Jesus uses a metaphor. Jesus, being a country boy, knew a lot about agriculture and livestock. That’s why there are so many parables and metaphors in the New Testament that talk about agricultural things.

One of those things Jesus knew about were chickens. Experts don’t agree but contend that chickens were first domesticated as early as 6,000 BC, which is way before Jesus walked the earth. Chickens are a good source of protein, not only from their meat, but also from their eggs. Most communities had chickens and it would have been common to see them in almost every town and city, and around dwellings out in the country.

One of the characteristics chickens have is to protect their young. Roosters can be very aggressive and have spurs on their feet which are sharp and are used to attack any threats, including people if the rooster perceives them as so. (My father-in-law had one that was real aggressive that kept coming after me even though I had a stick and would hit it upside his head every time. He’d just shake it off and come back for more.)

Most varieties of hens, though, don’t have spurs. But they are still very protective of their baby chicks.

One of the ways they protect their chicks from rain, hail, and threats is to spread out their wings over their chicks.. Here is a photo showing how they do that.

Here’s the theological twist of this metaphor, though. Although the mother hen offers protection to the chicks under her wings, the chicks have to be smart enough to know to get under those wings. Under those wings they are protected. Outside of them, they are at much greater risk and pretty much on their own.

That’s what Jesus is saying in the scriptures today when he says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.”

As humans God has given us free will. We make choices. We are not animals in which instincts instruct them what to do. No. We have minds and free will that allows us to make choices in our lives.

Jesus, in talking about the Jewish religious leaders of Jerusalem, refers to himself as a mother hen who wants to gather all her chicks under her wings to protect them. He wants to gather the “children” of Jerusalem under him, to understand that indeed he was the messiah, and that in his coming God does come to earth and dwells among the people, not just at the temple.

Jesus comes not to abolish the 600-something laws that the Jewish people had, but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17) He is the new covenant between God and humans, sent by God himself to provide for humans of all time something they could not achieve by their own works: salvation.

The disciples understood this and thought Jesus was the messiah, even though they didn’t understand the details of how it all worked, especially the salvation part. But they had faith and believed that Jesus was the long-awaited messiah. We see that in the words of Peter in Matthew 16:16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus wants to gather the children of Jerusalem under his wings, under his Lordship, not for personal gain or to boost his ego, but so that they could better understand God and just how much God loves them. He wants them to have a closer relationship to God, to understand God better, and to, as Paul writes in Ephesians 3:18-19, “comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Have you ever tried to convince someone that you are telling them something that is true but yet they won’t believe you? It’s frustrating, isn’t it.

That had to be what Jesus was feeling as most of the religious leaders again and again refuted that he was the messiah. They wouldn’t believe him. He did miracles like walking on water, turning water into wine, healing the sick and lame, giving sight to people who had been blind their entire lives, curing people of leprosy, and even bringing the dead back to life. But it wasn’t enough. Their hearts were hardened and they would not believe.

They chose to use their free will to ignore the love and protection under the wings of the mother hen and instead insisted on staying out on their own, being pelted by the rain and sleet, and making them vulnerable to the evil ones like the carnivorous animals looking to have a meal of baby chicken.

As Christians today we are often like those baby chicks that use our free will to choose not to come under the protective wings of Jesus. We think we can do everything on our own.

Our world whispers into our ear that we are more powerful than we really are, that we don’t need a savior, that we don’t need God because we have full control and power over our own lives. We make it all about us, about what we want, about how we can impress others. We chase after and peck at the elusive grasshoppers and bugs of fame and power and wealth, not knowing that in doing so we are out in the open without protection, making our souls vulnerable to the evil one.

We forget the words of Jesus in Matthew 26, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”

My challenge to you this Lent is to be the young chicks that seek shelter under the wings of Jesus. Let us use this time before Easter to draw closer to Jesus. Let us cast off those things that separate us from the love of God, those seductive sins that whisper into our ear that we don’t need Jesus, that we don’t need a savior.

Let us not be like the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Let us be like the disciples, who even though we may not know all the details and how it all works knew that Jesus was indeed the messiah, the son of God, who comes to pay the price we as sinful humans are unable to pay ourselves.

Let us seek shelter under the wings of Jesus.

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

Temptation: A Message on Luke 4:1-13

(Artwork: Christ in the Wilderness by Briton Riviere.)

A Message on Luke 4:1-13
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 6, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’


‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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Today we switch liturgical focus as this is the first Sunday in the season of Lent.

Lent is 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) and historically it has been a season of preparation, of repentance, and of practicing spiritual practices.

One way some Christians observe Lent is to “give up something” for Lent. The reason for this goes back to the scripture we read today where Jesus fasts in the desert for 40 days and nights. As a spiritual practice, people will fast during the season of Lent in remembrance of Jesus’ fasting in the desert.

Here’s the deal, though. Whatever you give up has to be important to you. For example, if you don’t like coffee and don’t drink coffee, then it wouldn’t make sense for you to say, “I’m giving up coffee for Lent.” Nope. It needs to be something that is important to you. It needs to have an aspect of sacrifice associated with it.

The scripture we read today from Luke’s gospel tells us of Jesus going into the desert to fast for 40 days and nights.

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness occurs in all three of the “synoptic” gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In all three accounts Jesus goes into the desert right after being baptized by John in the Jordan river. In Matthew and Luke Jesus is “led” by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, whereas Mark is more forceful, saying the Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness.

So why does this happen?

Well if we explore the Old Testament scriptures we can find out. There we find that before anyone begins a profound religious experience they first fast.

In 1 Kings 19 we find the prophet Elijah running for his life from Jezebel. He heads out into the wilderness toward Mt. Horeb, and in making that journey he fasts for 40 days and 40 nights. (1 Kings 19:8)

Moses fasted as well. In Exodus he climbs Mt. Sinai (which is also Mt. Horeb) and fasts for 40 days and nights while getting the 10 commandments and the laws from God. He does this not only one time, but three times!

So fasting is historically a way for God’s people to prepare for a great religious experience.

Jesus is at the start of his ministry, so he gets baptized and then fasts in the desert in preparation of that.

But why the temptation? Why does the devil show up to tempt Jesus?

I think we can find some answers in the temptations themselves. The first temptation the devil tries on Jesus deals with something that humans experience: hunger. The devil says, “Hey, with all that fasting I bet you’re hungry. You’re the son of God. Use some of that power to turn these rocks into some nice, warm, freshly baked loaves of bread that you can eat. Come on, you can do it!”

But Jesus doesn’t do that, does he? He tells the devil no but in a creative–and effective–way. He quotes scripture to the devil. Scripture out of the book of Deuteronomy, to be specific.

“One does not live by bread alone.” This comes from Deuteronomy 8:3, which reads, “He [God] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 8:3

Luke shortens that passage, but Matthew’s gospel contains the entire last part of the verse.

Seeing that Jesus has resisted the temptation of hunger, the devil then changes tactics. Here in Luke’s gospel he next resorts to the human temptation for power. Here is The Message paraphrase:

“For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, ‘They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.’”

Again Jesus resists the temptation and quotes Deuteronomy to the devil, this time paraphrasing from 6:13 and 10:20: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

The devil, being persistent, tempts Jesus one more time. And this time he uses scripture to do it. He takes Jesus up to the top of the Temple and tells Jesus to throw himself off of it so that angels can catch him and keep him from falling. And the scriptures he quotes Psalm 91:11-12, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” – Psalm 91:11-12

(See, even the devil knows the scriptures.)

But for the third time Jesus resists the temptation, once again turning to the good ol’ book of Deuteronomy where he quotes the first part of 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test…”

Now that’s the order of the temptations here in Luke. In Matthew the last two are reversed, and there are theological reasons for that, but I don’t want to go into that today. That’s another sermon for another time.

Today I want to focus on temptation.

The beginning of Lent is a good time to focus on temptations.

Several years ago I gave up fried foods for Lent. Things were going real good until I went to Kiwanis Club that Thursday. At the time we were meeting at a Mexican food place, and when I sat down I saw in front of me chips and salsa. It was at that point that I knew I had messed up. I suddenly became aware that those lovely, crisp, delicious, salty tortilla chips were, sadly, fried.

I usually sat near Janis Adams, who works at Austin Bank, and we always teased each other about how many tortilla chips we ate. Janis and I could empty that basket in no time, and the poor people that worked at the restaurant were always having to bring us more.

But that first Thursday in Lent years ago I sat down, looked at those chips, and realized I was facing temptation. I knew I had given up fried food for Lent, and I knew that those tortilla chips were fried, but I also thought, “Man, I didn’t think about tortilla chips when I gave up fried food for Lent. I should have picked something easier.”

I was tempted to eat the chips anyway. Who would know? Didn’t Jesus say to keep your fasting secret anyway? No one would know but me. Well, and Jesus.

So even though I was tempted, and to paraphrase Yoda, the temptation was strong with this one, I didn’t give in to it. I didn’t eat the chips.

Janis noticed immediately. “You’re not eating chips? Are you okay?”

I explained to her that I gave up fried foods for Lent.

Janis, being Janis, was really supportive of me. She said, “Huh,” then picked out the biggest chip, dipped it in the salsa, looked me straight in the eye and took a big ol’ bite, going “Mmmmmm. Oh these chips taste so good! Mmmmmmmm!”

Because we are human we will be tempted, and most of the time it will be by something much bigger and more important than tortilla chips.

The devil will tempt you where you are weakest, whatever that may be. And none of us are exempt from temptation.

Being a Christian doesn’t shield you from temptation. If anything it puts more of a target on you. The devil seeks to get a foothold wherever he can.

Jesus being tempted illustrates his human-ness. He was tempted but also showed us how to overcome temptation.

The Apostle Paul knew about overcoming temptation as well. He wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

And Jesus’ half brother, James, knew about temptation as well: “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. – James 1:12-15

Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 14:38 (which is also in Matthew 26:41), “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:38 (NIV)

And here’s what the author of Hebrews says: “Because he [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:18 (NIV)

And again from Hebrews: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” – Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

So yes, we will be tempted. And yes, our faith in Jesus, who was also tempted, can give us the strength to overcome temptation.

So my challenge to you this week is to resist temptation. As we enter into this season of Lent remember Jesus being tempted in the desert. Take the words of James to heart: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Temptations will come, but we can overcome them. Even if they are tortilla chips.

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