Meeting Jesus: The Boy with Five Loaves and Two Fish

Meeting Jesus: The Boy with Five Loaves and Two Fish
A Message on John 6:1-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 13, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 6:1-14 (NRSV)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

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

Here’s a little Bible trivia for you today. Of all the miracles Jesus performs in the Bible, how many of those miracles appear in all four gospels?

The answer is one. (If you count the accounts of his resurrection as a miracle of his own doing then it would be two, but most people don’t associate the resurrection with the miracles that Jesus performed.) It’s the scripture we read today about feeding the multitudes with two fish and five barley loaves.

This miracle appears in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The version we read today is the one in John.

Now it’s easy to get confused when discussing feeding the multitudes because according to some scriptures it happened twice, not once. In addition to the one we read today, the scriptures in Matthew 15 and Mark 8 include Jesus and the disciples feeding 4,000 people with seven fish and “a few” loaves. In that account the disciples picked up seven baskets full of leftovers. So don’t get confused.

The scripture we read today from John happens right after Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, and gets into a debate with the religious officials who are upset that he did. Jesus tries to convince the religious leaders that he is, indeed, the messiah, but they are stubborn and hard hearted and don’t want to believe it. They just don’t get it.

So Jesus withdraws by going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but the problem is that large crowds followed him. The man just can’t get any rest. He goes up on a mountain and starts teaching, but the crowd continues to get larger and larger.

Jesus asks Phillip where they are going to be able to buy bread to feed everyone. Now it’s not that Jesus didn’t know the answer, but he was basically testing the disciples and setting them up for what was about to come.

Phillip responds that even six-months wages wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for everyone. Andrew points out the young boy with five loaves and two fish, and that is what Jesus uses to perform the miracle.

Now there are some significant things about this scripture that I think we need to know. First of all the scriptures tell us the boy had barley loaves of bread, not wheat. Barley is a grain that is still grown today. When I think of it I think about Cambell’s soup, but it can also be ground like wheat and used to make bread.

Barley is the earliest grain to mature. Planting and harvest times for grain in the Holy Land are pretty close to what it is here in this part of Texas, believe it or not. The seeds of barley, wheat, oats and other grains are sown usually in November, and then the grain is harvested around April and May. Barley has a shorter life cycle than wheat and oats, so it is the grain that becomes mature first.

I did a little research and found out that it was a tradition in the Jewish community to present an omer, about 3.5 pounds, of the “first fruits” of barley, the first collection of the crop, as a sacrifice at the Temple at Passover. Even if it matured before Passover, it was kept and not eaten until after passover. Likewise the “first fruits” of wheat were presented at the Temple at Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.

So here’s what I think is the theological significance of the scripture we read today telling us what kind of bread it was: Verse four tells us that the Passover was near. That means the barley might have been ripe but that the wheat, unless it was held over from the previous year, was not available.

I propose that the five barley loaves the boy had might not have been for him and his family to eat, but perhaps was made from the first gleanings of the barley and thus was to be presented as a sacrifice. I’m no expert in bread, except when it comes to eating it, but if I was to have to guess I would say that an omer of ground barley, about 3.5 pounds of barley flour, would make about five loaves of bread, which is what the boy had. Now this is speculation on my part and I may be reading too much into it, but I think it makes sense.

So when the boy gives the five barley loaves to Jesus he was still in effect giving it to God as a sacrifice, only instead of giving it to the priest at the Temple he gives it to Jesus, the incarnation of God. This emphasizes the divinity of Jesus Christ as God himself!

Jesus refers to himself as the “bread of life,” and of course he refers to bread as his body during the Last Supper in the Upper Room.

The boy also has two fish. Now when we think of fish to eat we think of fresh fish or frozen fish. What the boy had was probably neither of those two things. Fresh fish doesn’t travel well, so the boy probably had dried or salted fish. Think fish jerky. We have to remember that the people at the time didn’t have refrigeration or the ability to freeze food, so much of it was preserved by drying and/or salting. Drying and/or salting preserved the fish and made it able to be transported.

Now since they were at the Sea of Galilee it could have been fresh, that’s certainly possible, but then we come to the problem of how to cook it on a mountainside.

The fish is theologically significant. One third of the disciples were fishermen. Jesus calls them to follow him, telling them he will teach them how to fish for people. An early symbol for Christianity, when it was against the law, was the fish symbol. It’s still used today. There is even a saying, “You catch ‘em, He’ll clean ‘em.” (Hint: It’s not talking about fish.)

If it had happened in East Texas today we would have gotten gallons of peanut oil and put big pots on propane burners and had us a good ol’ fish fry with hush puppies, fried potatoes, cole slaw, and maybe even some green tomato relish. While that may not be as theologically significant, but it sure tastes good!

So the disciples get the loaves and fish and give them to Jesus. He then asks the people to sit down and then does something he will later repeat as an important part of the last supper: he asks God to bless it.

Now I think it’s important that we don’t skip over this fact. Jesus gives thanks to God for the fish and loaves, and at the Last Supper he gives thanks to God for the bread and the wine. Things always work out better when we ask God to bless something, because God will not bless something that is not good. But when it is good, and when God blesses it, great things happen.

So then they distribute the loaves and then the fishes, and everyone eats (it’s kind of like an “all-you-can-eat-buffet”). Not only does everyone get full, but they have leftovers, 12 baskets full, in fact. But only of the bread. No leftover fish. (It never tastes as good leftover anyway, right?)

There is significance in the number 12 here. After all, there were 12 sons of Jacob that made the 12 tribes of Israel, and there are 12 disciples. The number 12 represents God’s power and authority, completeness.

One more thing I think is important about this scripture we read today: Who is it that has the loaves and fish to begin with? A boy. Not a grownup, not a disciple, not a Pharisee, not a Sadducee, not a Scribe, but a boy. A kid.

Why? I think it’s the same reason that Jesus says not to keep the children from coming to him, because it is to them the kingdom of God belongs. I think it’s the same reason Jesus tell us unless we become like little children we will not enter the kingdom of heaven, or why Isaiah says “and a little child shall lead them.”

Children have hope. They are innocent, curious, and trusting. They have faith and find it easy and quite normal to believe in things they can’t see or understand.

So I think it is significant that it is a child that provides the loaves and fish for the feeding of the multitudes.

And he gave all that he had. It’s kind of like the Widow’s Mite. He didn’t have much, but he gave all of what he had.

I sometimes wonder if in giving the fish and loaves away he worried about getting in trouble at home? Would his parents be mad when he told them what had happened to the two fish and five barley loaves. “We told you to take them to the priest! What happened to them. What did you do with them? Surely you didn’t eat them all yourself, did you? I tell you one thing, if you did you are going to be grounded until the messiah comes, that’s for sure!”

We don’t know, only that he did give. And we are thankful he did.

So, what can we learn from this. What can we take from this ancient experience that is applicable to our modern, digital world?

I think there are a couple of things. The first is that it teaches us not to think in worldly terms.

Phillip, one of the disciples, tried to solve the problem facing them with worldly thinking. When Jesus asked the disciples how they were going to feed the people, Phillip talked about how much money it would take to buy food for everyone. And it was going to be a lot of money!

That’s worldly thinking, not heavenly thinking.

We’re guilty of that same kind of thinking, aren’t we? Our first reaction to a problem is usually a worldly reaction, isn’t it?

“How am I going to be able to afford this?”

“Oh, I can’t wait until I get revenge on ol’ So-and-so.”

“If only I could buy __ then my life would be complete and I would be happy.”

“Why can’t I be as lucky as __? They get all the breaks.”

“I wonder if I can I pay off my Visa bill with my MasterCard?”

You get the idea. How many times in our lives do we turn to God as the last resort instead of the first resort? We try everything in the world to fix it ourselves, but when all that crashes down only then do we take it to God.

It’s kinda like someone having problems with their car, so they get their tools out and tear the engine apart trying to fix it. But they can’t. And so then they have to have the car towed to an auto repair place to have it fixed and everything put back together the way it was supposed to be.

It sure would be more effective to take things to God to begin with. It’s also a lot less stressful.

Think heavenly, not worldly.

Another thing I think we can learn from this scripture is to be willing to give everything to God.

The boy gave all he had to Jesus. He didn’t say, “Hey Jesus, can you make do with just one fish and a couple of barley loaves? How about that? Cause I still need something for myself, you know. I’m hungry. And if you’re going to multiply it anyway it’s just a little bit more of a miracle for you, which is easy for you, being as you’re God and everything, right?”

Here’s a rhetorical question for you: In terms of percentages, how “sold out” are you to Jesus? How willing are you to give him everything, 100 percent?

Do you think about your faith only on Sunday? How often do you read your Bible? Do your actions, the way you live your life, reflect Christian love and charity on Sunday but self-centeredness and meanness the rest of the week?

With regard to your financial giving to the church, do you give God what’s leftover or do you give from your “first fruits”? Do you spend more on “triple, venti, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiatos” than you give to God?

And do you give your time and talents to the Lord?

Is Jesus Lord of all your life or just some of it. Maybe 35 percent? Or 45 percent on a good week?

There is a song by Audrey Assad titled, “Everything Is Yours.” The words of the chorus are:

“If everything is Yours
Everything is Yours
If everything is Yours
I’m letting it go
No it was never mine to hold”

Like the boy with two fish and five loaves we need to give everything to Jesus. He realized it wasn’t his to hold. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, if we are going to be disciples of Jesus Christ serious about the great commission to go and make disciples, then we have to be 100 percent in all the time.

So my challenge for you this week is two fold: 1. Don’t think in worldly terms and 2. Be willing to give all you have to Jesus. Jesus willingly gave his life on the cross for us. Let us willingly give to him.

And if you run across a kid with two fish and five barley loaves, you better pay attention to him.

(Artwork: Attributed to Ambrosius Francken the Elder)

Meeting Jesus: Zacchaeus

“Seek and You will Find”
A Message on Luke 19:1-10
Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
By Amber Jones, Associate Pastor
amberjones293@gmail.com

Luke 19:1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a

son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

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

Do you remember the Nursery rhyme :

Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree
And said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I’m going to your house today.

Jesus, near the end of his journey to Jerusalem, is passing through the border town of Jericho. In that town is a man named Zacchaeus who is not just a tax collector but a chief tax ,he is rich. He wants to see Jesus, but because he is short, he cannot see over the crowds, so he climbs a tree. When Jesus arrives at the place where Zacchaeus rested himself on the tree, he calls him down and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home, which simultaneously brings Zacchaeus joy and shame.

For our time here together this morning I want to speak from the subject :

Seek and you shall find.

What is the first thing we do when we Lose something? We go and search for it.

The reason why we go and search for is because that thing that has been lost serves a purpose. You’re not sure where you had it last or what you need to start to do in order to find it but you do it even if you are the size of Zacchaeus. He we in my opinion to extreme measures to search for what seemed to be lost amongst a crowd of people.

But what do we do when we’ve not only lost something in the natural but in the spiritual aspect of life. What do we do to obtain our relationship, or our spiritual connection?

I believe in my sanctified imagination:

Zacchaeus was searching for HOPE!

A little background concerning Zacchaeus. The text offers up some warning sign pertaining to Zacchaeus, things what would offer a glimpse of some of the obstacles this man would face.

Today when we think of tax collectors, or the IRS, we probably do not have a warm fuzzy feeling come upon us.

If we are told we are about to be audited by the IRS, we probably are not feeling too well inside.

There was a great deal of dishonesty that was associated with this practice.

Zacchaeus was a man who would have been despised by his own people, even if he was honest because Zacchaeus was collecting taxes for Rome.

So red flag one, Zacchaeus probably felt alone and rejected.

Being rich is not a crime, but Jesus spoke a lot being rich and how that could inhibit one coming to God because they do not think they had the need.

God does not condemn wealth, but he wants us to not rely on that wealth rather to rely on God.

Imagine living a life where you are despised and forsaken.

Zacchaeus, a man who had it all, yet had nothing. Do you know people who are in that boat?

So here is a man without hope, yet he finds out Jesus is in town. Maybe he can find what he is looking for in Jesus?

Many came to Jesus to see if He would perform a miracle, others came out of curiosity, why did Zacchaeus seek to see Jesus?

I believe he was looking for hope.

Zacchaeus was searching for hope!

So, he knows the route Jesus would have to take, so Zacchaeus runs ahead of Jesus and he climbs a tree, PROBABLY HOPING to reach a low hanging branch.

This year in JUMY we are studying HOPE. Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

And we are encouraging our kiddos that although you cannot see it our faith in Jesus drives our HOPE.

Zacchaeus may have placed his hope in a number of areas, maybe even his wealth, yet something was missing. There was a hole inside of him. What could fill that empty spot in his heart?

How does a person like Zacchaeus seek after that hope? When he is feeling lost and rejected?

So, here is Zacchaeus, he must have looked a little ridiculous, a grown man, a wealthy man, a tax collector sitting up in a tree, hoping for something to change, hoping that HOPE would finally take note of him!

What is Zacchaeus expecting? I think he simply expects to see Jesus and hear Him teach and maybe get a feel for who He is.

BUT, true hope delivers beyond our expectations!

As Jesus approaches the tree in which Zacchaeus is perched, He looks at Zacchaeus and says ZACCHAEUS, YOU COME DOWN, FOR I AM COMING TO YOUR HOUSE TODAY.

He tells Zacchaeus to hurry down from the tree because Jesus said because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.

The way this statement from Jesus is phrased in the Greek, it means that Jesus considered it part of His mission to go to the home of Zacchaeus!

The word NECESSARY implies that it was mission essential that Jesus does this!

So, Zacchaeus hurries down from the tree and JOYFULLY welcomed Jesus!

My brothers and sisters in Christ I am here to let you know that the Sovereign Lord says in Ezekiel 34:11: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

Why did I read that passage? Because it is very important to know that God will provide and look after you no matter the situation.

We are reminded in Jeremiah 1:5

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.

So why would we doubt that God is not here when we need him the most. Before you we formed in the womb The lord knew that you would be in this opposition.

So where are you lord is the question that is resting on your heart. Know that God is always present. Despite your sin that you were forgiven of on that old rugged cross. Rest in the peace that God loves you and is willing to come and visit with you in the time of need. Hear the good news we are all seeking Jesus rather we have a good view or not. Seeking Christ in our every situation is what God has called us to do. Remember whatever circumstance that you may be facing your Destiny requires pain so that God can fulfill his promise within us, Imagine the pain that Zaccheaus was facing after being put in that position he was pushed to go and seek after God. Lastly, our HOPE in Jesus is all we need! Although we can’t see it!

I love this song by Hillsong worship:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name.

Christ alone, cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord, Lord of all

Zacchaeus climbed in a tree. How far would you go to search for Jesus? If you seek you will find. In the name of the Father , Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Meeting Jesus: The Seven Disciples

“The Miraculous Draft of Fishes” (1444), by Konrad Witz

Meeting Jesus: The Seven Disciples
A Message on John 21:1-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 8, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 21:1-14 (NRSV)
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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

Today we continue our sermon series “Meeting Jesus” by looking not at one single person, but a group of people: the Seven Disciples.

At first glance this seems like a simple, straight-forward story from the Gospel of John, but if we dig into it we find some very interesting and unusual things.

First let’s set a timeline. Today’s reading begins with, “After these things…” So just what were those things?

If we back up a chapter in John to Chapter 20 we find John’s description of Jesus’ resurrection. He appears to Mary Magdalene, then appears to the disciples who are cowering behind locked doors. Thomas was not with them and didn’t believe what the other disciples told him about Jesus. Then Jesus appears to them one more time, this time with Thomas present, and “Doubting Thomas” believes.

That where we find ourselves at the beginning of the scripture we read today.

We don’t know how long it was between Jesus appearing the the disciples the second time and today’s scripture, but I speculate that it was at least a week or so.

If you think about it, the disciples were in a difficult situation. When Jesus was alive he was their leader, and they simply followed him and did–or tried to do–what he said. But when he was crucified that left a leadership void in the group.

They had to have had doubts. This man, who they had given up everything to follow, who they believed to be the Messiah, wasn’t supposed to die. It wasn’t supposed to go that way. Thomas gets the reputation as the doubting one but I think all of them had doubts after the crucifixion.

So what now? What happens next? What are we supposed to do?

They did what many of them did before they met Jesus: fish. Four of the twelve disciples were fishermen, so instead of just sitting around twiddling their thumbs they we back to what they knew how to do: catch fish.

They were fishing at night, which was not an unusual thing. The fish were closer to the surface at night, plus it was cooler. But remember they didn’t have electric lights, they didn’t have trolling motors or even any kind of motor. They might have had some moonlight and perhaps a few lanterns, but that would have been it.

Today some people like to fish at night. Mike Kellogg, our music director, said he likes to fish at night. I don’t. I have tried it before in my canoe and let me tell you, it gets spooky out there. I haven’t tried it in my kayak, and I don’t think I will.

So they are fishing at night and I speculate that it was hot, kind of like the weather we have been having here lately. I think this because Peter was naked. Now maybe he shed his clothes just to keep them from getting fish smell on them, but I kinda doubt it. I think it was more of a temperature thing.

Jesus, who they don’t yet know is Jesus, makes the first verbal contact, asking them if they have caught any fish. But he does it in a way the implies he already knows the answer. “Children, you have no fish, have you?” We might phrase it like, “Kids, you didn’t catch anything, did you?”

It had to be tough for the disciples to answer no. Us fishermen NEVER like to admit when we don’t catch any fish. We even have terms for it, such as getting “skunked” or “blanked” or “struck out.” I like to say that the fish had “lockjaw.” There’s even a saying, “That’s why they call it fishing and not catching.”

So this stranger then responds to their simple “no” with advice to put the nets out on the other side, the right side of the boat. Now I have to admit that if I had been one of the disciples I might have been a little perturbed about that advice. We were professional fishermen. We knew what we were doing because we had done it before. We weren’t dummies out here trying it for the first time. Who is this stranger that thinks he knows more than we do. But… oh, what do we have to lose. Let’s try it anyway.

So they do, and BOOM, the nets are suddenly full to overflowing. A whole night fishing and catching nothing, then all of a sudden it’s the motherload.

The “disciple who Jesus loved,” who most scholars believe to be John, tells Simon Peter, the de facto leader of the seven, that the stranger is Jesus. Peter gives up on the fish at this point. Ironically, he puts his clothes on before jumping out of the boat. Remember that earlier before Jesus was crucified Peter was the one who walked on water toward Jesus. It doesn’t say that he walked on water this time, just that he “jumped into the sea.” Now a lot of artwork depicting this moment shows Peter walking on top of the water toward Jesus, even though the scripture doesn’t specifically say so. I figure he jumped in the water and swam to shore towards Jesus.

So why put clothes on only to get wet? I have a theory, but it’s only that. I think it was because he didn’t want to be naked in front of Jesus. I think it serves as a good metaphor for our spiritual lives as well.

We don’t want to be spiritually naked before Jesus. We don’t want Jesus to know who we really are under the facades of religious clothes that we show the world. We don’t want to admit our sins, our shortcomings, our things we think are secrets that nobody knows.

Which is ridiculous when you think about it because Jesus, being fully God as well as fully human, already knows everything about us. And deep down we know that, but just don’t want to admit it.

So Simon Peter gets to Jesus first but the other six disciples struggle to shore with the boat and towing the nets full of fish. They get on the shore and go over to Jesus and notice that he has some fish roasting over a charcoal fire.

Now I’ve preached before about the symbolism of Jesus’ fire being charcoal. He didn’t just get some sticks of wood and start a fire. He used charcoal. Why?

I think it is again a metaphor. The way you make charcoal is to light wood on fire, and then deprive it of oxygen. In this first century this was done in earthen or brick ovens. Wood is placed in the oven, the fire gets going good, then the openings are closed and, as the oxygen is burned up, the fire goes out. What you have left is wood that is partially burned but that is left intact. It can then be transported and stored to use when you want to get a fire started quickly, like when you are traveling. (It’s also lighter than regular wood.)

This is a metaphor for Jesus’ resurrection. He was killed and buried in a tomb, and the tomb door was closed, much like a charcoal oven. Everyone, including the Jewish leaders, the Romans, and even the disciples, thought his “fire” had gone out. But it hadn’t. He didn’t stay dead. He resurrected. He transformed into something else. The stone was rolled away. I think the charcoal symbolizes that.

Jesus asks them to bring some of the fish they have caught. I find this interesting because Jesus already has fish cooking on the fire. He has fish, why does he need more?

Again, I think it is symbolic. Jesus, in calling the disciples, tells them to leave their nets and follow him, and he will teach them to be fishers of people. When the disciples bring the fish to Jesus, it is symbolic of the disciples bringing people to Jesus. And while Peter is the one that goes and gets the fish (perhaps because the other six disciples say, “Hey, you abandoned us when we were trying to get them to shore. You go get Jesus some fish”), I think it represents all of the disciples fishing for people.

Next Jesus invites them to come have some breakfast, and starts off by taking the bread and giving it to them. This is symbolic of the Last Supper that Jesus had with the disciples. Instead of wine he gives them fish. I think this is symbolic of feeding the multitude (5,000 and 4,000) with a few loaves of bread and a few fish.

So, what can we learn from this scripture that we can apply to our lives today? I want to point out two things.

The first thing we can learn is that Jesus shows up at the most unexpected times and places. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t also show up in the places where he is expected, like in prayer, in worship, in reading the scriptures, in fasting, and even in silence. What I’m talking about are those unexpected moments.

The seven disciples could not have imagined that Jesus would show up after a long night of unsuccessful fishing. They were tired, sweaty, stinky, frustrated and probably a little bit cranky. Hours and hours of work and nothing to show for it. Not a single fish. Not even a dink (which is what bass fishermen call a small fish.) The disciples probably just wanted to go home, get something to eat, and then get some sleep. It was, as a children’s book title points out, a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

And then Jesus shows up. Just like that. No warning, no angel choir to sing prior to his arrival, no light shining down from heaven. Just a guy by a fire on the shoreline.

Like the disciples, Jesus will show up in our lives when we least expect it.

Jesus may show up when you meet someone for the first time and you get a gut feeling that they are struggling with something.

Jesus may show up when you are busy with life and your schedule is full and your house is dirty, the sink is full of dirty dishes, you’re out of clean clothes, you’ve reused the same towel for three days in a row, and you need to go to the grocery store.

Jesus may show up when you read a scripture that you have read many times and yet this time it really touches your soul.

Jesus may show up when you are in your car and you hear a song on a Christian radio station and the music and the lyrics combine with the Holy Spirit to bring you to tears and you have to pull over on the side of the road because you can’t see because of the tears.

Jesus shows up when you least expect it.

The second thing I think we can learn from this scripture is this: life is better with Jesus than it is without him.

Life is better with Jesus, especially when the nets of our life get caught on the rocks and stumps of life, when things get tough, when it seems like we fish all night and catch nothing.

Life is better with Jesus when the medical report comes back as malignant, when an unexpected pregnancy happens, when you are at work and learn that you are being laid off, or when medical expenses wipe out your life savings.

Life is also better with Jesus during the good times, when you find the one person you want to spend the rest of your life with, when a baby is born, when you get your dream job, when you become grandparents, when you get a phone call from a good friend, or you experience a profound and deep sense of peace when you are kneeling at the altar rail receiving communion and you grasp just a little bit of how much Jesus loves you, that he would give his life for the forgiveness of your sins.

You’ll even sleep better with Jesus than you will without him. We had an elderly neighbor in Kilgore who lived all alone and seemed fine with it. I made the mistake of asking her one time if she ever got scared being by herself at night. She responded by saying, “Young man, let me give you some advice. When you go to bed each night, turn all your troubles over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway and there’s no use in both of you losing sleep.”

Life is better with Jesus, both during the bad and the good times.

So my challenge to you this week, brought to you by the Seven Disciples Fish Company, is to live your life with Jesus and get ready to expect the unexpected. Life really is better with Jesus so live fully into his word. Don’t be a part-time Christian (which is an oxymoron, anyway). Be fully committed to being a follower of Jesus Christ. And then be willing to cast your nets on the other side of the boat if he asks you to. You may be surprised at what you catch.

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

Meeting Jesus: Saul

Michelangelo, Conversion of Saul 1542-5.jpg

Meeting Jesus: Saul
A Message on Acts 9:1-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 1, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Acts 9:1-20 (NRSV)

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

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

Today in the continuation of our sermon series “Meeting Jesus” we will examine someone that is very important in the Christian faith: Saul, also known as Paul.

Now let’s start with names first. There is a misconception that this person was named Saul until his conversion experience, and then from that point on took the name Paul. While that makes a good story, it simply isn’t true. He is referred to as Saul several times in the scriptures after his conversion. Which of the two names are used is based primarily on the audience. Saul is his Hebrew name, and Paul is his Greek name. Same person, two names.

Let me give you a modern example. Let’s take the English name “John.” In German it is Johann, in Dutch Jan, in French Jean, and in Spanish Juan. All the same name, but in different languages.

So, Saul/Paul is the same person. Same guy, just two names in two languages.

Saul was a Pharisee. He was a big wig in the religious and civic life of the Jerusalem area in the First Century. Saul was born in Tarsus, which is located in modern day Turkey. It was under Roman Control, so Saul had citizenship rights as a Roman Citizen.

Saul was smart. He attended the best schools and even studied under a famous teacher named Gamaliel. He had moved up the religious ranks to become a Pharisee, a leader of the Jewish people. He was smart, he was powerful, and he was passionate about his faith.

He was so passionate that he hunted down people of “The Way” who were causing trouble by talking about this person named Jesus.

Now it’s interesting to note that in all probability Saul never met Jesus in the flesh while Jesus was on the earth. The timelines just don’t work out right. Saul came along after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In researching the topic I came across one article that speculated on how Saul could have been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, or could have been present at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, or even present as his death. No. While that makes a good story, we have no scriptural support for that theory. Saul met Jesus after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Now Saul knew about Jesus, there’s no doubt about that. And he didn’t like what he heard about this man from Nazareth. He heard that Jesus riled up the Jewish people, that he had been arrested and killed by crucifixion on a cross. And even after his death his followers said he rose from the dead.

Saul made it his quest to hunt down and throw in prison–and even tacitly approve the killing of–those who believed that Jesus was the messiah.

We we think about Saul/Paul it’s important to remember just how huge a difference meeting the resurrected Jesus had on his life. Here is a man who goes from not only opposing Christians but actively persecuting them. (Saul held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen to death.)

And then, on the road to Damascus, where he was going on a mission of persecution, he meets Jesus. Not the bodily Jesus, but a voice from heaven. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Uh-oh. Snap.

Saul faced a dilemma. He could attribute his sudden blindness to some kind of disease or natural phenomenon, or even blame it on the devil and say his blindness was the devil’s way of punishing him for hunting those heathen Christians. Or he could admit that he was wrong. Big time wrong. He could switch sides and become one of the people he had hated.

Admitting that we’re wrong is a very difficult thing to do. We like being right. We hate being wrong. We hate it so much that we will even lie when we are confronted about being wrong.

Saul had to admit that he was wrong. To get a Pharisee to admit he was wrong was a really big deal. But what is even more amazing is that this Pharisee became a follower of Jesus Christ. Not only a follower, but a leader, one that ended up writing about one-four of the New Testament.

Jesus changed who Saul was. Jesus changes the lives of the people he meets. And Jesus changes you and me.

How has meeting Jesus changed you? If someone walked up to you and asked, “How has Jesus changed you?,” what would you say?

Saul/Paul goes on to write about how much Jesus changed him. We find one of his descriptions in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

He also writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

And in Galatians 2:19b-20 he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

One more from Ephesians 4:22-24 “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Here in Texas it’s still summertime, even though schools have started. But several weeks from now we will start getting some cool fronts coming through that will lower the heat and humidity for us.

It’s at that time that we will witness something incredible: a migration of monarch butterflies.

Yep, monarch butterflies migrate. You can see them after cool fronts, flying on the cool north wind outlined against a beautiful dark blue sky. The ones we see migrate to central Mexico for the winter where thousands upon thousands get together.

Now one of the interesting things is that no one butterfly makes the entire migration trip. Their lifecycles are too short. Yet there is something within the insects that is passed down from generation to generation which urges them to migrate onward.

Butterflies go through what is called complete metamorphosis. They start out looking like this. They are caterpillars, rather ugly things that voraciously eat the leaves of plants, primarily milkweed.

But after a while they form a cocoon inside of which they undergo an incredible transformation. They change. They change from an ugly, destructive caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. After leaving their cocoons, these butterflies, instead of being destructive, help plants by pollinating their flowers as they feed on nectar.

As Christians we are sort of like those Monarch butterflies. Before we meet Jesus we are like caterpillars, grounded on the earth and consuming the things of this world, caring only about ourselves, consuming things we want. But when we meet Jesus, we undergo a metamorphosis, we change. We go from self-centeredness to other-centeredness, serving God by serving others, pollinating love as we go. We are driven by the Holy Spirit to live lives of holiness and love.

Years ago a musician by the triune name of Steven Curtis Chapman recorded a song titled, “The Change.” Here are some of its lyrics:

Well I got myself a t shirt that says what I believe
I got letters on my bracelet to serve as my ID
I got the necklace and the key chain
And almost everything a good christian needs yeah

I got the little bible magnets on my refrigerator door
And a welcome mat to bless you before you walk across my floor
I got a jesus bumper sticker
And the outline of a fish stuck on my car

And even though this stuff’s all well and good yeah
I cannot help but ask myself

What about the change
What about the difference
What about the grace
What about forgiveness

What about a life that’s showing
I’m undergoing the change yeah
I’m undergoing the change

Like Saul, like the Monarch butterfly, we are called by God to change.

Has meeting Jesus changed you? Are you a different person now than when you met Jesus?

My challenge to you this week is this: every time you see a butterfly reflect on the ways you have changed since meeting Jesus. If you haven’t changed, then make it happen. Leave the cocoon of your worldly life and soar on the winds of change, sharing love everywhere you go.

That’s a lot better than munching on milkweed.

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

Meeting Jesus: Barnabus

Meeting Jesus: Barnabas 
A message on Acts 13:1-3; Romans 10:13-15
By Amber Jones Associate Pastor
Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 25, 2019

“Commissioned!”

Acts 13:1-3 
Barnabas and Saul Commissioned
13 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

This is the word of God for us the people of God, Thanks be to God!

God had a plan for Barnabas and Saul thus the reason he called them and they were blessed to go out. That same plan is what God has in store for us as a church.

A little history on Barnabas and Saul(Paul) He was a man that was received in the New Testament but wasn’t known that well.You could learn a lot from Barnabas when it came to faith. He played a big role in spreading the Gospel , but still wasn’t well-known like Paul. Barnabas was introduced to us in Acts 4:36-37. We find out about Barnabas’ character. We find out that Barnabas is a nickname given by the apostles. Barnabas name meant the “Son of Encouragement”, (That’s a Pretty cool name. I have a nickname but its not as cool as Barnabas (Mine is just Amber Alert). Barnabas loved to encourage others as well as help others. He sold his land and gave the money away to those that needed it. We find that in Acts 4:35.

Barnabas was a man greatly used by the Lord to reach many people for Christ. Acts 11:24 says, “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and many people were added unto the Lord.” Barnabas was mightily used to reach and disciple new believers for the Lord. Barnabas was known for encouraging Saul known as Paul. In doing so, God used Saul (Paul) in unbelievable ways to impact the world for God.

God had a plan for Barnabas and Paul! God has a plan for us a church today as well. Isn’t it good to hear that as followers of Christ that God has a plan for you, only not know the next step. Bummer! Right!? So, Barnabas and Paul and those around did something very special.They couldn’t just sit around and wait for the answers. They fasted and prayed for the direction of the Lord concerning their new direction. Then the holy spirit spoke to them.

Now I want to have a transparency moment for a second well just call this a commercial break . In my preparation for this sermon I struggled with the voice of the holy spirit and God’s direction that he wanted to take us as we examined Barnabas. It was not the character of Barnabas that God wanted us to focus on this morning however its important for us to know. But it’s about the work that Barnabas and Paul did in the cities for the glory of God.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program we see that after prayer and fasting,

The Holy Spirit selected these two men, Paul and Barnabas, to serve as that first missionary team. We heard, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:3).

When I think of Barnabas, he strikes me as one of those people who really understood the blessings of being with and serving along-side-of fellow Christians.

Encouragement is good when it comes from someone else. My grandmother once told me that you have to encourage even the ones that are strong because they sometimes are the weakest among you. You can receive encouragement from yourself,but I wouldn’t be the same as getting it from someone else that would be you talking to yourself. (Hey i do it a lot no one here to judge you. However, God knows that we need each other, fellow Colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ , to be with you and work with you. We need each other to achieve The Great Commission of Christ “To go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world this is GREAT for two reasons. It is great because it is a PRIVILEGE to think that God would ever select us,(Commissioned us) with all of our failures and faults for such an important job as taking his saving message to people. But it’s also great because it is a really BIG job! I mean “all nations” is a whole lot of people. Thank God that he doesn’t send us out alone, but that he gives us each other, fellow Christians to carry out that work together, to receive and to give encouragement.

This morning there are actually a few things that we could learn from “The man of encouragement” and the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul(Paul).

1. Be Willing to Take Risk “Be an Encouragement to one another”
When nobody wanted to extend the right hand of fellowship to this new believer, Barnabas responded in faith and embraced Paul as a new person in Christ. The impact that Paul had on the early church is overwhelming! However, if Barnabas had not been willing to mentor Paul he may not have made as much of an impact. It is a risk to reach out to people and love them, invest in them, care for them, and mentor them and most importantly to encourage them. However, if we fail in these areas, the church’s mission will be highly impacted in a negative way.

Barnabas’ life was cool and his ministry of encouragement was great but beyond that. It’s about the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit that moved through him when he moved to take the task of encouraging. So many people are discouraged, It is necessary and vital for ministry to be an encouragement for one another. Begin to pray and Ask God to make you a true and effective ‘encourage’ in His Church from this very day to push those that have the gifts and graces to enhance the kingdom of God.

Romans 10:13-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Those are some really challenging thought provoking questions to think about.

When I was in high school I couldn’t wait for the day that I would get an invitation to be someone’s date to the homecoming and winter ball dance. It was one thing I looked forward to but you know what didn’t happen. I didn’t get asked to dance now anyone that knows me knows I love to dance.

At the global leadership summit I attended a few weeks ago one of the speakers mentioned that too often we invite but we don’t ask them to dance.

2.Go Beyond The Invitation, Ask Someone to Dance!

I pray that as we are inviting and disciplining that we not only extending the invitation but we are being inclusive. Now i just want to brag on Miss Abby she literally invited me to dance last Friday and i had a blast. I then felt comfortable and invited my best friend to come along with me. Its that first step that makes a difference and it opens the doors for more ministry opportunities. Now am I saying join a dance group and invite them to a class no. I’m saying allow God to speak to you to encourage and invite and included them in your bible study, small groups, and be intentional about making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Barnabas and Paul were commissioned to go out and witness to those that needed a risen savior.

Here the good news we have been called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world don’t be afraid to take risk God is with you and most importantly God has placed someone alongside you to encourage you and remember it’s more than just an invitation, ask someone to dance.

We are like a chain we are as strong as the person next to us working together to transform the lives of those that need to know that God loves them. In the name of the father son and Holy spirit. AMEN

Meeting Jesus: The Syrophoenician Woman

 

Meeting Jesus: The Syrophoenician Woman
A Message on Mark 7:24-30
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 18, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 7:24-30 (NRSV)

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

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

As many of you know I am one of six kids. Whenever we would go to family get-togethers or even dinners with other families there wouldn’t be a table large enough to hold everybody so there would be multiple tables. There were the “kiddie tables” and the “adult tables.”

I can remember being at those kiddie tables and thinking that I would never be old enough to sit at the adult table. And then I eventually did get old enough to sit at the adult table and guess what: it wasn’t as much fun as the kiddie table and I wanted to go back to the kiddie table.

One of the great things about being a kid was being one of the first ones to go through the line and get our food. It’s a cultural thing and, for the most part, the kids got to go first.

It wasn’t always the case. I remember talking to several “old timers” who would talk about how the adult men went first, then the women, and then the children.

There’s an old song by the late country singer Little Jimmie Dickins called “Take An Ol’ Cold Tater and Wait.” In it he talks about as a child having to wait until the grown ups ate before he could. His mom would tell him to “take an ol’ cold tater and wait.” Here are some of the verses:

Well i thought that I would starve to death
Before my time would come
All that chicken they would eat
And just leave me the butt
The feet and neck were all that was left
Upon the china plate
It makes ya pretty darn weak
To take an old cold tater and wait

In the scripture we read today Jesus uses metaphorical language of eating and the order of eating to make a theological point.

Jesus is up in the region of Tyre. That city is located in what is now Lebanon. It was a seaport, and as such was a crossroads of trade and business in the first century. There were actually two cities: one on an island in the Mediterranean and then one on shore.

It was certainly not a Jewish-only kind of town. While technically within the borders of the land promised to the Jewish people, it was right on the border. It still is, actually, as it is just 12 miles north of the border between modern day Israel and Lebanon.

Many different religions were practiced there during Jesus time, including the worship of all the Greek gods the Roman Empire borrowed from the Greeks.

So why is Jesus there? I think it was because he was “Tyred.” (Groan. I know.) Jesus was tired. Word of his teachings and his healings had spread throughout Judea and Galilee and he had trouble going anywhere in those areas without being recognized.

The scripture today says he “went away” to the region of Tyre. He needed a break. Although he was completely God he was also completely human, and I think the human part of him was just flat worn out. He had to be exhausted.

Our scripture today even says, “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.”

Jesus was trying to go on vacation. He needed rest.

But it was not to be. Even people 300 miles north of Jerusalem had heard about Jesus. So the people came to him anyway.

One of these was what we call the “Syrophoenician Woman.” The big long fancy name is simply a description of where the woman was from. She was from the region of Phoenicia in the Roman province of Syria.

She was a Gentile, meaning not Jewish. Jesus and his disciples, remember, were Jewish, and Jesus was the Jewish messiah, who came to save the Jewish people. The Jews believed that Jesus came ONLY for the Jewish people, no one else. They thought they had the trademark and the copyright to Jesus.

And yet… here in Mark’s gospel is a Gentile woman, a heathen, who approaches Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter who had an unclean spirit.

This would have been a very serious social faux pas. First of all women just didn’t walk up to men, especially men they didn’t know, and especially men of a different religion from them.

But she does. I imagine she is desperate. Her daughter is ill. She has probably already tried everything she knows how to make her better, but none of them have worked. Maybe this Jesus she has heard about can heal her daughter.

So she asks him. The scripture says that she “begged” him. Please. Pretty please.

Jesus’ response is… well… a surprise. It’s unexpected. It seems like he almost… well… insults her!

“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Did Jesus just call her a dog? Did he just do that?

Now there is a wide variety of theological views Jesus response. I have read many of them in preparing for this message today. And some of them are way out there. WAAAAAAYY out there.

One of them even suggested that the Syrophoenician Woman was the one that taught Jesus a lesson. Sorry. I can’t go for that.

I don’t think there’s anyway of getting around the fact that Jesus gives her a biting commentary as an answer. The symbolism is that the “children” are the Jews, the children of Israel, and the “dogs” are everyone else. God favors the Jews. It’s tough luck for everyone else. The Jews get to sit at the “adult” table, while the Gentiles have to sit at the “kiddie” table and eat what’s leftover, the crumbs. If your not a “child” of Israel then you are a “dog.”

Now in our society we like dogs. We think of dogs like this. (Show photo.) This is Annie, our new dog. She’s a sweetie.

But in the first century dogs were perceived differently. They were thought of more like this. (Show photo.) The Bible is not friendly with dogs. Just the opposite. Dogs roamed the streets and ate dead things, carried diseases, and were not perceived as the furry, loveable pets that we think of today.

So to compare this woman’s people with dogs was truly an insult.

So why did Jesus do this? This isn’t the “happy-clappy” version of Jesus that we like to think of. His comment is biting, acerbic, almost smart-alec. It’s almost like telling her to “take an ol’ cold tater and wait.” But why?

I think we find the answer if we keep reading. The woman pushes back. She’s witty. She takes Jesus’ analogy and takes it even one step further. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Ouch! Tou·ché!

Jesus may be the messiah for the Jewish people, but even the Gentiles, the “dogs,” benefit from the presence of the messiah.

The woman is very shrewd. She doesn’t respond to an insult with another insult. Instead she plays out the metaphorical language. No, she isn’t Jewish. She doesn’t lie to make Jesus think she is. (He would know, anyway.) But in spite of that she is bold enough to ask Jesus to heal her daughter. It’s just one young girl, just a “crumb” of all the work that Jesus, the “bread of life,” is doing.

Jesus is impressed. He responds to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” By the time she gets home her daughter is indeed healed.

Now a lot of times when Jesus heals people he points out their their faith has made them well. The hemorrhaging woman, the 10 lepers, the blind beggar, the woman who washes his feet with her hair, all of these were told that their faith made them well.

But in the case of the scripture we read today, Jesus credits what the woman said with being the catalyst for the healing, not her faith. Was it the woman’s tenacity? Her boldness for bucking the social norms and walking right up to Jesus and asking–begging–him to heal her daughter? Was it her sharp witted answer? Or was it really her faith, even though Jesus didn’t say so?

I think it is probably a combination of all of those things.

So what can we get from this scripture that we can apply to our lives today?

I think one good lesson for us is that Jesus chooses who inherits the kingdom, we don’t. It’s easy for us as Christians, and even as United Methodists, to fall into a thought process that we are the “chosen ones.” We become like the Jewish people of the first century who thought they had an exclusive contract with the messiah.

There is a saying that we will be surprised who all we see in heaven. I think there is some truth to that. No, I don’t believe in universal salvation, the belief that everyone goes to heaven and nobody goes to hell. But I do think it’s important for us to remember that Jesus saves, we don’t. Our job as disciples is to make the introductions and let the Holy Spirit do its work.

Another thing I think we can learn from this scripture is to be bold in our faith. The Syrophoenician woman wasn’t Jewish, but that didn’t stop her. She wasn’t supposed to approach Jesus, but that didn’t stop her. She wasn’t supposed to initiate a conversation with Jesus, but that didn’t stop her. She crashed through all those societal walls to bow down at the feet of Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter.

What are we willing to do to bow down at the feet of Jesus? How bold are our prayers? Do we fail to pray bold prayers because we don’t want the disappointment we will feel if those prayers aren’t answered in a way we want them to?

School is starting soon, and in some districts it has already started. What would happen if the students and teachers at the schools in our area were bold in their faith. Not breaking any laws about separation of church and state, mind you, but being bold in living out what it means to be a Christian. How about having lunch with the classmate no one likes, not participating in gossip or rumors about others, putting others’ needs before our own, etc. What a huge difference we could make in our community.

As Christians that is what we are supposed to do. Listen to this scripture from 1 John 5:14-15: “And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.”

What if we prayed boldly, having the faith that nothing is impossible for God? And then what if we are willing to live out that faith boldly? It’s one thing to pray it, and it’s another to live it out. But just think how we could change the world!

So my challenge to you this week is to live boldly and be careful not to judge. Every time you see a dog this week remember the scripture we read from Mark’s Gospel and how Jesus came for all of humanity, not just a chosen few. And let us be bold in our prayers and in our faith so that we may be true disciples of Jesus Christ, making disciples and changing the world.

That’s a lot better than having to take an ol’ cold tater and wait.

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

 

Meeting Jesus: Nicodemus

 

Meeting Jesus: Nicodemus
A Message on John 3:1-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 11, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 3:1-17 (NRSV)

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

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

I want to let you know that I’m uncomfortable today. See this shirt and this tie? I’m uncomfortable about them. I’m not really sure that they match. And I’m not wearing a blazer or a jacket, so I’m uncomfortable in that way as well, even though it’s August in Texas and hot enough that I shouldn’t be worried about it.

Now I want to make you uncomfortable. So what I want you to do is to sit somewhere other than where you normally sit. I’m serious. Get up and move to someplace else in the sanctuary. It can’t be the same pew, and it can’t be the pew in front of you or the pew behind you. It has to be a significantly different spot from where you normally sit. Go on, I’ll wait.

(Pause)

How many of you are mad at me? Like really, really mad? How many of your feel uncomfortable sitting somewhere different? If so, good. That’s the idea.

Today as we continue our sermon series “Meeting Jesus,” we are going to talk about being uncomfortable and examine someone who felt very uncomfortable in meeting Jesus: Nicodemus.

As you sit there uncomfortably I want to tell you about a situation I found myself in that made me uncomfortable.

It happened in 1984. I had just graduated from East Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree double-majoring in journalism and photography and was looking for a good job in that field. I had several prospects, including a job as a photographer for the Plainview Daily Herald waaaaaay up in the panhandle of Texas. (If you’ve ever been to Plainview you know that it is appropriately named.)

The called me (there was no Internet back then) and made travel arrangements for me to fly out to Plainview and interview for the job. So early one morning I packed up my photography portfolio and newspaper clippings and got on a Southwest Airlines flight in Dallas bound for Lubbock.

The newspaper office told me they would have someone meet me at the airport to give me a ride to the newspaper office. The plane lands, I walk off the plane with my suit and tie on and carrying my portfolio.

A man walks up to me, shakes hands, and says, “How was your flight?”

“Fine,” I reply. “So are you the person that is going to give me a ride to the office?”

“Yes,” he said. “My car is right outside.”

Well, I was kinda liking this. We get in his car, which is a nice car, by the way, and start driving west from the airport. I notice that we pass under I-27. While we didn’t have Google Maps back in the day we did have Rand McNally Road Atlases and I was pretty sure that to get to Plainview I-27 was the road you took. So I asked him, “Uh, didn’t we just pass the road that goes to the office?”

The man replies, “Yes, but we’re going to the job site first and then to the office.”

This puzzles me. Job site? What’s he talking about? So after a while I get up the nerve to ask. “What job site are you talking about?”

“The job site for the new building you are designing.”

“Uh, I’m not designing a building.”

“Aren’t you an architect?”

“No! I’m a newspaper reporter and photographer and am here for a job interview with the Plainview newspaper!”

Awwwwwwkkkkkkkwwwwwwaaaaarrrrrrddddddd.

Yep, you guessed it. He picked up the wrong guy from the airport. And I got in a car with the wrong guy.

I don’t know who was more embarrassed, him or me, but it was very, very uncomfortable. He turned the car around and drove back to the airport. Even though it was only a few miles, it seemed like forever.

When we got there a reporter from the Plainview newspaper was on the phone saying, “He didn’t get off the plane,” and an architect, who was dressed much nicer than I was, was looking around for someone who was supposed to pick him up.

Things got straightened out and the interview went well (I turned down the job and took one in Stephenville) but it was a very, very uncomfortable situation.

The scripture we read today from the Gospel of John tells of another uncomfortable situation. Nicodemus goes to see Jesus at night and is confused by Jesus metaphorical language.

Now it may not seem to be that uncomfortable to us but we have to remember who–and what–Nicodemus was.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and also a member of the Sanhedrien. The Pharisees were the top religious experts in the Jewish community and as such were the top strata of society at the time. Like the other religious leaders, the Sadducees, they wore the best clothes, ate the best food, lived in the nicest houses, etc. People moved out of the way when they walked down the street.

The Sanhedrien were a group of religious leaders that served as a tribunal to hear not only religious but also legal cases (the religion and law were the same back then, with the exception of Roman laws forced onto the people from the Romans who ruled the area.).

So Nicodemus, to use East Texas terminology, was a “big wig.” He was SOMEBODY!

Much is made of the fact that Nicodemus went to see Jesus at night, painting him as somewhat cowardly that he didn’t do so during the daytime. I believe that is somewhat justified, but I also think that ol’ Nicky needs to be given credit just for going, period. As far as we know none of the other Pharisees sought out Jesus to try to understand who he was and what he was teaching.

It really was remarkable that Nicodemus sought out Jesus. Most of the Pharisees had their heels dug in the Mosaic law and the status quo. They knew the law, what was right and what was wrong, and didn’t need some 33-year-old nobody from Nazareth, who was not a Pharisee, a Sadducee, or even a scribe, walking around and stirring up the people with all sorts of nonsense.

But Nicodemus was different. He knew there was something special about Jesus. I credit to the Holy Spirit giving him a “gut feeling” that Jesus was indeed holy and sent from God.

So for Nicodemus to even make the effort to talk to Jesus, even if it was a night, was proof that Nicodemus was stepping way out of his comfort zone into a situation in which he had to be very uncomfortable.

And when he meets with Jesus he fails to pick up on Jesus metaphorical language. Jesus tells him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus responds in a very literal way, which is to be expected from a Pharisee: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Then Jesus explains: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

This had to be uncharted territory for Nicodemus the Pharisee. There was nothing like this in the Mosaic laws. It was way out of his comfort zone.

Now it is important to note in reading this scripture about Jesus and Nicodemus that this isn’t the end of the story. Nicodemus appears two more times in the Gospel of John. One happens in the seventh chapter where he comes to Jesus defense by pointing out to his fellow members of the Sanhedrin that they can’t rush to judge Jesus because the law requires that a person be given the opportunity to be heard before being judged. That had to be uncomfortable for him.

The second time occurs after the crucifixion of Jesus where Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea hastily prepare Jesus’ body for burial. His contact with a dead body would have made him “unclean” meaning he couldn’t go to the temple the next day, the Sabbath, and would have to go through extensive steps to once again be declared “clean.” It would have been uncomfortable and publicly humiliating for a Pharisee to be “unclean.”

Meeting Jesus has quite an impact on Nicodemus, moving him out of his comfort zone and into the world of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

The same is true for us today. Following Jesus pretty much guarantees that we will experience situations that make us uncomfortable.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to us, but often times we are reluctant to leave our comfort zone to follow Jesus. We proclaim that we are Christian, but there is an asterisk with a footnote attached to our name. We are willing to follow Jesus as long as it doesn’t threaten our comfort level.

I know about that because that is the way I used to be. I felt a calling to ministry but refused to answer because it would require me to get out of my comfort zone. I grew up in the Methodist church and knew that Methodist preachers didn’t make very much money and got moved a lot. Besides that they lived life like they were in a fishbowl where the whole world could see that they were doing and were all up in their business.

I was comfortable. I had a job I loved with good benefits and making okay money, a nice house that overlooked a park in a nice neighborhood. I had a good family, good friends, and good health. Life was good. Life was comfortable. I didn’t want any of that to change.

There is a word used primarily in science that describes my life at that time: homeostasis. An article in Scientific American describes it this way: “Homeostasis, from the Greek words for “same” and “steady,” refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival.”

As humans we like our lives to be that way. We like comfortable. We like things being the same and find comfort in routine and sameness.

As Andew Peterson points out in one of his songs, “I’m shackled by the comfort of my couch.”

But is that the way we are to live a Christians? Are we to be Pharisees that worship the status quo and resist Jesus’ call to uncomfortable places? Are we shackled by the comfort of our pew?

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book before he was executed by the Nazis in World War II. The book, The Cost of Discipleship, talks of cheap grace and costly grace. Bonhoeffer points out

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

He goes on to say, “Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.”

If you are following Jesus and in doing so do not find yourself in uncomfortable situations, then maybe you really aren’t following Jesus after all.

Jesus calls us to the uncomfortable places, but that’s alright! That’s how our faith grows. It’s not in the safety and comfort inside our homes, offices, and churches, but Jesus calls us outside our comfort zones to share the gospel with those who haven’t heard it or haven’t experienced it. He wants us to leave the 99 sheep who already know him and go in search of the one sheep that is lost.

So my challenge to you this week is to be uncomfortable. Be like Nicodemus, willing to go outside of his comfort zone in order to follow Jesus.

Talk to people you normally wouldn’t talk to. Take some faith chances, knowing that some of them might fail but also knowing that some of them might not! Step out in faith not knowing what the result will be, but trusting in Jesus that you will be planting seeds that will germinate, grow, and bear fruit.

Now it won’t be easy. It will make you feel uncomfortable, but that’s okay? It’s supposed to be! It’s not on the mountain tops, the times were everything is great, that our faith grows, but it’s in the valleys, those times of challenge and uncomfortableness, that it grows.

Oh, and if you ever have someone pick you up at the airport, make sure they are the right person before getting in the car with them.

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

Meeting Jesus: The Man Born Blind

 

Meeting Jesus: The Man Blind from Birth
A Message on John 9:1-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 28, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 9:1-12 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

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

Today we continue our sermon series “Meeting Jesus,” about people whose lives were changed by meeting Jesus, by looking at a scripture from the gospel of John about Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth.

It’s an unusual scripture and unique in a couple of ways. The Bible tells us Jesus heals quite a few people who were blind, but to my knowledge (and I reserve the right to be wrong) this is the only instance where we are told that the person was born blind.

Now the reason for this becomes evident when we look at the overall message that Jesus is making in the scripture we read today.

One of the beliefs that was common back then was that if a baby was born with some sort of deformity or mental or physical challenge, then the parents must have sinned and this was God’s way of punishing them.

Now we don’t believe that today, and indeed it is not true at all, but back then it was a different story. So if a baby was born blind, for example, then the parents must have committed some horrible sin.

Part of the reasoning for that thought pattern came from the scriptures. For example, in Exodus 20 we find this scripture:

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” –Exodus 20:5-6

Now that sounds pretty harsh, and with a quick reading of that you could see why people might think that if a baby is born blind that the parents must have sinned.

But let’s back up and read the sentence before that. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

That’s one of the 10 commandments. Number two, as a matter of fact. It’s about idol worship. So if you read it in that context, you can see that when it says, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them,” it’s talking about idols.

Ironically there are other scriptures in the Old Testament that deal with children being punished because of the sins of the parents, and these paint a different picture.

For example: “Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death.” — Deuteronomy 24:16

Or how about this one: “The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own.” — Ezekiel 18:20

As humans there is a dark part of us that somehow revels in the suffering of others. That’s why we slow down to rubberneck when we pass by an auto accident. That’s why murders, riots, and scandals make the news headlines. And that’s why some people enjoy watching The Bachelorette. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

Deep down a part of us likes to feel like we’re better than others, that when others fall it somehow lifts us up higher. When others sin, we feel more superior than the sinners. (Even though we are also sinners.)

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Hmmmmmm.

Have you ever been going through something difficult in you life and wondered if it was a punishment from God for something you did?

I know I have. I still do, sometimes. We even go so far as to blame God for what is happening. We think that God caused our struggle in order to teach us some sort of lesson or to punish us for some sin we committed.

But is that true? Does God cause bad things to happen? Did God cause the man in the scripture we read today to be blind from birth?

The answer is no.

God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. Now he has the power, there’s no doubt about that. God has the power and the ability to do anything and everything. We should always remember that.

But God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. He just doesn’t.

In 1 John we read, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” — 1 John 1:5

And in James we read, “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.” — James 1:13

Even in the book of Job we see that God does not cause the bad things that happen to Job. He allows it to happen, but he doesn’t cause it. Satan does.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

Max Lucado, in his book It’s Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy (which is a great book) shares a story of a friend of his who was in the hospital battling cancer. His friends told him he needed more faith to be healed. Max told him this:

“‘It’s not about you… Your hospital room is a showcase for your Maker. Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.’ …Seeing his sickness in the scope of God’s sovereign plan gave his condition a sense of dignity. He accepted his cancer as an assignment from heaven: a missionary to the cancer ward. A week later I saw him again. ‘I reflected God,’ he said, smiling through a thin face, ‘to the nurses, the doctors, my friends. Who knows who needed to see God, but I did my best to make him seen.’

Psalm 50:15 tells us about the glorification of\ God as well: “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

Like the blind man, we are to glorify God through our suffering.

Another thing I think is important to remember about today’s scripture of Jesus healing a man blind from birth: the man had to do something to receive the miracle.

Jesus tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Now this was a freshwater pool that was semi-retangular in shape and about 225 feet wide. The water came from the Gihon spring via an underground aqueduct system created to bring water to it. It was the closest pool to the Temple.

But the coolest thing about this public pool is it’s name. The scriptures tell us Siloam it means “sent.” Jesus “sent” the blind man to the pool called “Sent.” Jesus is “sent” by God, and as his disciples we are “sent” out into the world to make disciples.

The blind man was sent on a mission: go wash in the pool. He had to do something in order to complete the miracle and glorify God. It required action on his part.

Another interesting thing about the scripture today. Why in the world did Jesus use spit to make mud? Why not just a little water?

The theories are all over the place. One I read theorized that Jesus did so as a representation of “spitting in the eye” of the religious leaders who wanted to kill him. Hmmmm. I don’t know about that.

Others say that spit was considered by the Jewish culture considered spit to have healing properties.

One time Pam and I went on vacation and Pam got stung several times by a red wasp. I had an old, small tin of Garrett snuff that I kept in the pickup truck for just such emergencies. I put some of that powdered snuff in my hand, bent over it and spit. And snuff went all over the place! I choked and coughed and sputtered and wiped my eyes. (By the way, I eventually got the task done and it did help Pam’s stings.)

While the healing properties of spit is a popular theory for why Jesus used it to make mud to heal the blind man, I kind of question it. I read an interesting article that was based on a thesis written in 1999 by Sarah Bourgeois that pretty much blows this theory clear out of the water, pointing out that it was NOT a first century belief that saliva had healing properties. The evidence this article gives is pretty convincing. I’ll put the link in the sermon on Facebook and on our web site so you can peruse it at your leisure. [https://faithalone.org/journal-articles/jesus-use-of-spittle-in-mark-822-26/

I have my own theory. I believe it has to do more with the saliva being a metaphor.

In Matthew 4:4 when Jesus is being tempted in the desert by Satan and Satan encourages a starving Jesus to turn rocks into bread, Jesus replies with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The third chapter of James utilizes the tongue as a metaphor for how powerful our speech is, that if we can control our speech then we can control our actions.

In Matthew 15 we read where Jesus points out that holiness is more about what we say than what foods we eat, saying, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. — Matthew 15: 17-18 (NIV)

And of course in Revelation the Son of Man is described like this: “…coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.” — Revelation 1:16

I think that Jesus’ words contain all the healing the world needs.

Regardless of the literal or figurative meaning of the spittle in the scripture from John’s gospel, we do know that Jesus performed a miracle and that a man who had never been able to see was healed and was given his sight.

So what can we learn from this that we can apply to our lives today?

First I think is that God works in unusual ways. There is an old poem that says God works in mysterious ways. (No, that’s not scripture.) God does indeed work in mysterious ways, in ways that we are not creative enough to come up with and which our minds may have trouble comprehending. What human could would have thought to bring life to all humankind through the death of one innocent person/God?

We need to trust in God because he knows what he is doing. Now that’s hard for us to do because we want to know and understand everything. We want the details. We want to know ahead of time how things are going to work out. Instead, we need to, as the old hymn says, “trust and obey.” Trust God, especially in those difficult times. He’s got this. And he doesn’t cause bad things to happen. Ever.

Another thing I think we can learn is that what comes out of Jesus’ mouth is pretty important. Now I’m not talking about saliva, but his words. It is a double edged sword at times, but it is holy and we should treat it as such.

Another thing I think we can apply to our lives is that just as the blind man we are sent. Following Christ is about reaching others. John Wesley once said that “You have one business on earth–to save souls.” In loving God it is a requirement that we love others. It’s not an option. Christianity is not about securing our own salvation and then selfishly ignoring everyone else. It’s about being so filled with love that we can’t help but share it with others, so that others can come to know the peace and comfort we have. As Max Lucado’s book points out, “It’s not about me.”

So my challenge to you this week is threefold: 1. Trust in God. 2. Trust the Bible (and READ the Bible). 3. Share with others what God has done in your life.

This world can blind us to the truth. Thankfully Jesus can restore our vision.

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

 

Note:
This message was written and preached by Andrew Thompson, a participant in the Texas Annual Conference’s College Pastoral Intern Project (CPIP). Andrew will be starting his senior year this fall at Abilene Christian University and is discerning a call to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. He has served here at Jacksonville First United Methodist Church this summer and has been working hard experiencing the many facets of ministry. He is a great young man!

Doug

Meeting Jesus: The Bleeding Woman
A message on Luke 8:43-48
By Andrew Thompson, CPIP Intern
Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 21, 2019

Luke 8:43-48
43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Good morning!!! Isn’t it so great to be here in the presence of our Lord!?!! Today I have the pleasure of speaking to you on the First United Methodist Church’s birthday. Aren’t we so blessed with the opportunity to praise and worship God together in this holy place!!?!

Another thing that is so great about our time here is that we all get to gather here, coming from different backgrounds and circumstances, praising God, all on the same grounds.

However one mistake we often make is believing that ‘the places where we come from’ makes us unworthy to be in the presence of God. It’s easy to think that our personal holiness can make us more or less worthy in approaching God. However, that’s not really the case. We know that when Jesus died on the cross He made it possible for all to receive God’s salvation, no matter how spiritually dirty you might initially feel. God saves all. That’s something that most of us know.

But for the sake of our story, I’d like to encourage you, to have a blank mind. Try to imagine yourself watching this miracle unfold. Imagine that Jesus has not yet died on the cross for all people.

When we read from the Old Testament, we see that cleanliness was very much a topic of concern for the Israelites. They very closely associated physical health and spiritual health. For them, they were nearly one in the same. If one was physically ill everyone else would assume that they had spiritual problems going on in their lives as well.

When I was in 5th grade I went to a summer camp in the hill country called “Camp Stewart.” And at this camp there was a policy saying that, in order for you to enter the mess hall you must have a shirt and shoes on. They were not going to have shirtless boys come in all dirty to the hall because it was just disrespectful to the cooks and those that cleaned the mess hall. One day I lost my shirt at the waterfront and when I tried to go to lunch right after they turned me down at the door because I wasn’t presentable. I had to hike (what felt like a half mile) back to the cabin, grab a shirt and walk all the way back. And when I got back to the mess hall everyone had finished eating and I missed out.

It’s kind of the same way for the ancient Israel. It was important and respectful to keep yourself clean when coming into the presence of God or others. There were laws you had to follow, and if you can’t follow these laws (just like how the woman could not stop her bleeding) you were out of luck and were kept on the outside. It was very important to keep themselves clean, holy, and worthy in before coming to God.

This all sets the stage for our passage. The laws in Leviticus mandated that the sick woman be set apart from the rest of the people because she was seen as being physically and spiritually tainted. It would have been bad for her to “contaminate” those things that are clean.

We have all heard the term “outcaste” before, right? The origin of that word comes from Hindu culture. It referrers to a class of people who are the lowest of the low. The outcasted people, in early hindu society, held the super nasty and unclean jobs. They were mud hut builders, pig farmers, they even practiced ritually unclean practices. The term outcaste means “untouchable” or “one who should not be touched.”

That is exactly what we are dealing with here in our story. The woman was deemed as “one who should not be touched.” She was looked down upon and stigmatized by everyone. It was the law that was telling her that she should not touch anything and that everyone should stay clear of her. The law even told the community to stay clear of her shadow because that might contaminate them too. It’s also likely that she was told that she wasn’t clean enough to worship God in the synagogues with everyone else. Do you know what that tells the woman?? The law communicated that she wasn’t even worthy enough to go and fulfill her role as a Jew woman by worshiping God. That is what is so tragic about her situation.

Fortunately, we know that when Christ died on the cross that the curtain in the temple was torn in two, meaning that nothing in this world should obstruct us from praising God. Not even our own spiritual cleanliness can get in the way of that if we believe in the resurrected king.

Romans 8:38-39 says,

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Moving on, after the woman was sick for a looooong 12 years she still had not found a doctor who was able to heal her. 12 years! That is a really long time, right? We should also be reminded that 12 is a biblical number. It’s symbolic. What is it symbolic of? Here it is symbolic of a really long time. It represented all the time in the world, and that no one else was able to help her except for God.. So she was in a desperate situation by the time Jesus rolled into town.

As Christians who struggle in following God with our full hearts, this should resonate with us a little. We tend to turn to God only after we have tried to solve our problems first. The lady had seen many doctors before she sought Jesus’s help. When we have personal and spiritual problems we want to solve them ourselves before coming to God in prayer. Don’t mishear me on this, if you’re sick or ill you need to go see a doctor. This passage isn’t telling you to boycott doctors or mental health specialist or anything like that. But it’s highlighting that we often turn to God last when dealing with our problems. For those that struggle with depression and grief, they may want to fix their problems with alcoholism. For those that struggle with loneliness may try to fix things by falling to lustful desires. For those that have personal problems they may want to try to fix their situation on their own accord or act out of anger. However, our passage reveals to us that faith in God is the solution to struggles in our lives. It is God who makes us perfect, not the world.. Many of us know that when sitting in Sunday school and we’re asked a question we don’t know the answer to that one answer that is never wrong is “Jesus.” We face all sorts of problems, but the only sufficient answer to all of them is Jesus.. Faith in Christ is the only way we can find complete fulfillment in our lives. We can try to fill the holes in by other means, but the only way we will truly be made perfect is by coming to our creator.

Consequently, the sick woman’s faith compelled her to touch the cloak of Jesus. She demonstrated her faith because we know that Jesus had not healed in this exact way before. And as she touched Jesus’s cloak, the language in the Bible reflects that she had BARELY grazed the tip of it with her finger.. In the midst of that loud, pressing, and obnoxious crowd, the smallest touch of a fiber of his clothes caused a complete 180 degree turn in the woman’s life. Just think about how incredible that is. What happens in our story represents how powerful our Lord is. Even the smallest encounters with God can have the most profound effects on our lives, which is why we are encouraged to seek after Him in our faith.

Moreover, there is just so much irony in this story. If you think about it, by Jewish law, our character was not supposed to be in a crowd of clean people. By Jewish law, she was defined as being unworthy to approach God. By Jewish law and reason, when she touched the cloak of Jesus, it was supposed to make Him unclean and not the other way around like it actually happened. In the woman’s encounter with Jesus, we see just how powerful God is. His power didn’t “break the law”, His power overcame the law. His power overcame a law which subjected this woman to feelings of despair and helplessness.

What’s also interesting to think about is the aftermath of the healing. When Jesus questions who touched him, everyone immediately steps back and says, `It wasn’t me! Don’t look at me!’ And Peter says ‘well Jesus… you see… everyone was kind of touching you just now’. But when Jesus then identifies the woman as the culprit, she falls on her knees and trembles. She was so terrified at this moment, she had no idea how He would react. She probably felt that she still wasn’t worthy to be anywhere close to Jesus. And she definitely didn’t want to be the center of attention.

We can all at least relate to this in church. I can tell that not many of you are just dying to sit in the front rows of church today. For those of us who are self-conscious, we are comfortable sitting in church unless it’s the very front and center. Our self consciousness makes us want to keep our distance. The woman probably would have felt way more comfortable and safe if she had kept her distance from all the action. Yet, she stepped out in faith. And what she heard afterwards from Jesus was even more puzzling. Jesus didn’t react harshly, He praised her and told her to go in peace. What would have been the custom for someone being healed is that they would have had to go before the priest and have them declare a person healed before they could be readmitted into society. Christ didn’t have to command her to go see the priest afterwards to proclaim that she is healed. He healed her on the spot and restored her life right then and there. He truly freed hear from physical illness as well as a social disgrace. Which is a great thing!! The woman’s life was looking downward. The place where her life was heading was not a good place. The healing power of Jesus intercepted that and turned her life around.

A beautiful Bible verse comes from Hebrews 10:11-14, which does our topic justice. It reads

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest {Jesus Christ} had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

When we read our passage, it’s easy to take a simple message that says ‘Jesus heals us.’ But that’s not everything that happens here. It was the woman’s faith which compelled her to seek the healer. Jesus didn’t initially seek her out. But she was compelled by faith to step out into an uncomfortable spot. That is what we are encouraged to do. For us, it is essential to being a disciple of Christ to have a faith that pushes us forward and seek God in our lives, even if that means we have to seek Him into uncomfortable situations.

This past weekend our church sent about 14 youth and 7 chaperons to a national youth conference in Kansas City. There was lots of time for worship as well as several workshops which they choose from. During our time, there was a speaker who talked about the power of storytelling and testimonies. One thing that was said when discussing God’s plan was that, “God orchestrates our pathways and journeys. But you, {“emphasis on ‘you’”}, you have to choose what story you will follow.”

God very much had a role in this healing miracle. However, it was the woman who had a faith that caused her to move. She saw Jesus in the moment, opened the door, and took a huge leap of faith. And the result to her opening that door was reclaiming her identity, the person she was meant to be.

As you go out from here I’d like to encourage you to do two things. The first is to reflect on what’s currently happening in your life. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if there is anything that concerns you. Maybe there’s a family member in the hospital, or you might be struggling with an addiction of some kind. Maybe you’re stressed with something else.. Identify any concerns you are currently having. The second thing I’d like to ask you is, once you’ve identified those concerns, pray to God. Ask God to help you to open that door to Him, so that you can be made whole and glorify Him with your life.

As people who are created by God, our sole-purpose in life is to worship and glorify the creator with our entire being. And when we fall short, we may feel less worthy in fulfilling those roles. However, our circumstances do not hinder us in seeking God. Jesus is still very much in your life. You are not abandoned! The Holy Spirit is still right in front of you, regardless if you can see Him or not. And it’s your job now, to open that door and seek after Him with your full heart and being.

Blessings

Meeting Jesus: The Prodigal Son’s Father

 

Meeting Jesus: The Prodigal Son’s Father
A Message on Luke 15:11-32
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 16, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 15:11-32 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 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. 13 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. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 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. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 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! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 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. 21 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.’ 22 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. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[d] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 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.’”

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

Today we continue our sermon series “Meeting Jesus” while also celebrating Father’s Day by looking at Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Well, to be more specific, the Prodigal Son’s father.

Now I know this scripture is stretching it as far a fitting into the sermon series about people whose lives were changed by meeting Jesus Christ. The father in this scripture, which is what we are going to focus on today, is a fictional character in a parable told by Jesus. He wasn’t an actual, real, live, breathing person. However, I think there are still some great lessons we can learn from him so we are including him in this series.

So, the parable of the prodigal son. I think an important first step is to look at the context of this scripture. It occurs only in the Gospel of Luke and happens in the 15th chapter.. If we back up to the beginning of the 15th chapter we discover the audience to whom Jesus was telling this parable. Luke 15 begins with “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.’”

Now this is significant. The Pharisees were the top religious leaders of the day, along with the Sadducees and the scribes. The Pharisees were the experts in living out the Jewish laws. Everything one did should be a reflection of living out the 600 to 700-something laws. They were all about the law and were quick to criticize and condemn those who didn’t live out the law in the way they (the Pharisees) saw it.

The scribes, as the name implies, copied documents and wrote letters. But they were also legal scholars, kind of like lawyers are today. They wrote out legal documents and contracts and things like that.

As far as their social standings in the community the Pharisees and scribes were up at the top. Many of them developed a sense of superiority over the other people in society. They wore the fanciest clothes, lived in the nicest houses, ate the best food, and expected people to move to the side as they walked down the street. They were the social elite of the time.

So, this is the audience that Jesus is speaking to. These are the ones griping and complaining about who Jesus is hanging out with. These are the people who Jesus is addressing, although I think other people were present as well. (Luke had to be present, for example, because he ended up writing it down in his gospel!)

Jesus, in response to the Pharisees and scribes grumbling and griping, tells a series of parables. Now a parable is a fictional story that, through symbolism and metaphorical use, it told to teach religious or moral lessons.

A good example that most of us are familiar with are Aesop’s Fables. For example, there is the tale of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf.” As you remember the boy, watching sheep, kept crying out that wolves were attacking the sheep when, in fact, they were not. The people got tired of hearing it so that when a wolf actually did attack the sheep, they didn’t respond. This gives us the moral lesson of not calling everything an emergency when it is not.

So parables are ways of teaching moral and religious truths without just hitting the audience over the head with them. In terms of communication parables are also much easier to remember.

So Jesus is telling parables. He starts with the parable of the lost sheep, followed by the parable of the lost coin, and then the parable of the prodigal son.

So just exactly what is a “prodigal,” anyway? Well in this sense it means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.”

The “prodigal” son does like that old Steve Miller song: “Take the money and run.” He blew it all until he was so poor that pigs–which remember are unclean animals according to the Jewish laws–were eating better than he was.

Now it’s important to note that this is the younger son, not the oldest. In those days it was really a big deal. The oldest son got most of the inheritance. The younger siblings (well, sons, pretty much) still got some property or wealth, but not as much as the oldest son. The right of primogeniture, which is what it is called, greatly favored the oldest male child.

This could create a situation in which the younger brother (or sister) might have hard feelings toward the oldest brother. We don’t know if this is the case with the prodigal son but it could be. What we do know is that for whatever reason the son gets his inheritance and leaves. I think it’s safe to say that emotions were running high and that it wasn’t an amicable departure.

But let’s focus on the father. He has two sons. He loves them both. One is dutiful and stays home and works hard and gives his dad honor and respect. The younger son, the prodigal son, leaves and moves far away. He lives the wild life and blows all of his inheritance. Then, when he becomes impoverished, he brings dishonor to the family name. His father’s name. He brings public humiliation and embarrassment to his father.

Now for us being humans viewing this situation from a distance, it’s easy to be angry at the prodigal son. How could he do this to his father? He had to be crushed. You can almost overhear people talking about it behind his back, can’t you?

“Did you hear about that prodigal boy? Yep, talked his poor dad into giving him his inheritance–even though he is in great health and Lord knows it will be decades before he dies–but then he moved off. Just left. I heard he blew all his money on booze and women. He never was responsible, you know, not like his older brother. Why, if he were my boy he would never get away with that. I would give him a piece of my mind… and a knock up the side of his head! Uh uh, he wouldn’t pull that on me.”

It’s easy to fall into that kind of thinking, isn’t it. The prodigal son is disrespectful, thinking only of himself, taking the scripture in Ecclesiastes to “eat, drink, and be merry” way beyond its original intent.

And it’s easy for us to think that when he falls into poverty that he is getting what he deserves. He’s reaping what he sowed. And if we are honest, we kind of want the father to reject him because of what he has done. We want to see him punished for being so reckless and disrespectful. Let him suffer. He deserves it.

And yet in the parable Jesus throws us a curveball. The father isn’t that way. He doesn’t condemn. He doesn’t say “I told you so.” He doesn’t shun the prodigal son. He doesn’t tell him, “You’re dead to me.” Instead, he welcomes the prodigal son joyfully, ignoring social standards by running to him, which was a social faux-pas, embracing him, and throwing a huge party.

Ok, now tell the truth and shame the devil: how many of you would react like the older son? After all, he worked hard, did what was right, didn’t embarrass this father or drag the family name through the mud. And then all of a sudden dad throws a gigantic party for his good-for-nothing son. It’s not fair, right?

I think that’s a normal reaction.

But the father’s response to the older son is beautiful. Here’s The Message paraphrase of it: “Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!”

Now remember, this parable of the prodigal son is part of a series of parables Jesus was telling, and they all had to do with things of value that were lost but now are found.

And all of this is just fine and dandy until we realize the symbolism in these parables. Then the truth of them can drive us to our knees.

The father represents God.

The sons are humans, people on earth, me and you. The older son, the one that stays home and works and doesn’t cause any trouble, are those of us who attend church regularly, who read our Bibles, who try to live moral and ethical lives, who try to live our lives the way the Bible tells us to.

The prodigal son represents those who don’t. They are the ones in our community–and in the world–who don’t go to church, who don’t pray, who don’t read the Bible, who drink, who cuss, who party, who are selfish, self-centered, and care only about themselves. To them Sunday is just another day in the week, a day off, a day to have fun and do what they want. They are the people that maybe even do drugs or have addictions, who steal from others, maybe even are in jail or prison.

Yet those are the people God celebrates when they “come home” and find the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The angels celebrate mightily when one of the “lost” becomes “found.”

One of the things we as humans do is to think that there is a finite amount of love. In the case of the prodigal son, the older son thought that by his father expressing love for the younger son it would take away and diminish the love his father had for him.

We forget that love is infinite. There is not a limit. The father loved his sons equally. Expressing extravagant love for one son does not take away love from the other son. Love is not like a well with a limited amount of water in it. Ironically, the more you love the more love you have to give.

I want us to do a little thought exercise now. How would you react if one of those “prodigal people” walked into our sanctuary right now and and sat down right next to you, one of those “lost” people the father, the Heavenly Father, loves? What if it was a homeless person who hadn’t bathed in a while. What if they reeked with alcohol on their breath? What if they were another skin color or spoke a different language? What if they were a prostitute? Would you welcome them, REALLY welcome them, and celebrate their presence in the Lord’s house?

It’s not easy. But then God doesn’t call us to do the easy things or go to the easy places.

It’s like the story of an old farmer that wanders into a church service at a small country church. He is dressed in overalls and work boots. The overalls have stains on them, and the boots have dried mud on them.

He sits through the service with people giving him glances of disgust. At the end of the service as he’s leaving a congregation member pulls him aside and says, “You know this is the Lord’s house, and he expects us to dress properly when we come to worship. Why don’t you pray this week to God and see if he doesn’t give you insight into how to dress to come to this church.”

The farmer says he will do so and leaves. The next week he shows up again in the stained overalls and work boots. After the service the same congregation member pulls him aside and says, “I thought I told you to pray about how God wants you to dress for worship services here.”

“I did,” said the farmer.

“So didn’t he answer you?”

“Oh no, he answered me, all right. He said he really didn’t know because he had never been here.”

The parable of the prodigal son teaches us to not only be mindful of the “lost sheep,” but to celebrate when one of them comes home.

It’s easy to judge. It’s harder to love, especially love like our Heavenly Father.

So my challenge for you, on this Father’s Day, is to remember the love the Heavenly Father has for all his children. Not just the nice, clean, well behaved children, but ALL of his children, even those who might be rejecting him now, that are squandering their lives, that are incarcerated. His love for them is as great as his love for us.

Love others completely and genuinely, like God our Father loves us. And let’s throw a party to celebrate when they come home.

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