Change: Abraham

Change: Abraham
A Message on Genesis 15:1-6
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 20, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Genesis 15:1-6 (NRSV)

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

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

Today, on Father’s Day, we will be continuing our sermon series on “Change” by exploring a man who became the father to many, many people and who experienced some massive changes in his life: Abraham.

Now in the scripture we just read you’ll notice that the person is referred to as “Abram,” not “Abraham.” Well, don’t worry, they are both the same person. The name change, just one of many changes that Abraham experienced, happens in Chapter 17 where God makes a covenant with Abram and tells him his name is no longer Abram (which means “exalted ancestor”) but Abraham (which means “ancestor of a multitude”).

So, Abram and Abraham are the same person. Abraham’s wife got a name change as well, from Sarai to Sarah. Both of those names mean “princess,” by the way.

Now the story of Abraham and Sarah is a very interesting one. In the scripture we read today we find that God promises Abraham that he will have more descendents than the stars in the sky. Now that’s a really good metaphor, and if you’ve ever gone out into a dark night out in the country and looked up into the sky and saw how many stars there are it is enough to drive you to your knees.

Pam’s dad lives out in rural Eastland County, about a mile from the nearest paved road. On cold, moonless nights you can easily see the Milky Way, the galaxy that our solar system is a tiny part of.

This photo was taken by a friend of mine, Robert Miller. He is into night sky photography and took this image down at the Big Bend that clearly shows the milky way. What a great photo. Just look at all those stars!

Just for grins I looked up on the Interwebs how many stars in the sky. Scientists don’t know an exact number (I guess they are still counting them…), but the seemingly agreed upon guesstimate is about 10 to the 12th power. That means a 1 with 12 zeros behind it. I have no idea what a number that big is called, but it’s a lot.

So God promises Abraham he will have that many descendents. Now that is pretty cool, you must admit. But there’s only one problem: Abraham and Sarah didn’t have any kids. Like, none.

Not only that, they were getting on up there in age. And as we as humans age, our chances of having children diminish as the years pass by.

Sarah is frustrated that she hasn’t had any children, so she does something that we find very bizarre today but that was somewhat common at the time: she gives her handmaid to Abraham as a wife so that he can have children through her.

As we talked about last week, children were so important in the Old Testament world. There were no social agencies to take care of the aged. Children were important because that’s who took care of you when you got old. No kids meant a very dire situation for someone as they aged.

So Sarah, frustrated that she can’t conceive children with Abraham, approaches him with the idea of giving him her handmaiden, Hagar, as a wife. But there’s a problem here: Hagar is Egyptian.

One of the big things for the Hebrew people in the Old Testament is that the Israelites are God’s chosen people, selected out of all the people on earth to have a special–and exclusive–relationship with God.

All throughout the Old Testament writings you will see warning after warning about the Hebrew people marrying people who weren’t Hebrews. It was a really big deal. The warnings pointed out that doing so would lead to the Hebrew people worshipping the false Gods of these other people, and sure enough, these warnings proved to be true when they were ignored.

So Hagar, even though she is Egyptian and not one of God’s promised people, is given to Abraham as a wife. As sure enough, soon after she becomes pregnant. There’s a lot of drama that then happens between Sarah and Hagar that you can read about in Genesis 16, but the bottom line is that Hagar does give Abraham a son named Ishmael, which means “God hears.”

As we have talked about in the past, having male children was super important at the time. The family name and almost all of the property passed from the father to the first born son, a right known as “primogeniture.” It’s sexist (hey, what about the daughters!), and not fair, but that’s unfortunately the way it was back then.

So Hagar has Ishmael, giving Abraham a male heir. Problem solved, right? Uh, no. While Ismael is a male, he doesn’t count because his mother is an Egyptian. Abraham’s true heir will have to be Hebrew.

Abraham was 86 when Hagar had Ishmael, so you can tell he’s getting on up there in age.

And yet God promises Abraham will have more descendents than the stars in the sky. How?

Readers Digest version: Sarah does conceive, and she gives birth to a boy that they name Isaac. The name means “he will laugh,” and he was named that because Abraham and Sarah both laughed when God told them they would have a child. I love it when God does that!

Having a child will change your life. It changed Abraham’s and Sarah’s, no doubt about that. And having two wives that don’t like each other is a big change as well. But there are other changes that Abraham faced that challenged him.

One of those changes happens in Chapter 22 of Genesis. In that chapter God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac, go to Mount Moriah, and then to sacrifice him as an offering to God.

Now it’s important to remember that child sacrifice to gods was a pretty common pagan practice at the time, especially for the false god Molech. Remember, Isaac is the son that Abraham and Sarah prayed so long for and which they were so happy to have. And now God was calling Abraham to purposefully kill that son?

Abraham is torn. He wants to remain faithful and loyal to God, but Isaac is the son that he and Sarah finally had after years of waiting. I’m pretty sure he didn’t get much sleep the night before the journey. But he is loyal and does what God asks, only to be stopped at the last second by an angel from God.

So, here are the changes in Abraham’s life: got married to Sarah, but couldn’t have kids. Married his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar, and had a son, but this caused mondo trouble between Sarah and Hagar. Finally has a son with Sarah named Isaac, but then is asked by God to sacrifice that son. Is going to be loyal and do so but is stopped at the last minute by an angel. Whew, that’s a lot of changes!

But wait, there’s more! What we haven’t looked at yet is geography. Not only does all this happen to Abraham, but it does so while he is traveling around.

Abraham grew up in Ur, an ancient city located in what is now the southern part of Iraq. When Abraham is a young adult God calls to him and tells him to go to the land of Canaan. God tells him that the land of Canaan will belong to his relatives and that God will give it to them. So Abraham and some other relatives, being faithful to God, pack everything up and head to Canaan, which we know now as the Holy Land.

Their first stop on the trip was the city of Haran, located in what is today the country of Turkey. They stay there a while and then God tells Abraham to go to Canaan, so they do and settle in a town called Shechem. They stay there for a while, but then comes a famine in Canaan and they head to Egypt to find food.

They get to Egypt and through some conniving and semi-deceit (more on that later) Abraham becomes pretty prosperous. But then they get kicked out of Egypt (again, more on that later) and head back and settle at the Negev, but Abraham’s and his cousin Lot’s herds were too numerous to be supported at the same spot. So Lot went toward Sodom and Abraham went the other way.

But then there is a war and Lot gets captured and taken as a prisoner, but Abraham puts some men together and they go and rescue Lot and the others that had been taken.

Then Abraham settled down near Hebron, located on the plain of Mamre. And that’s when all the drama with Sarah and Hagar happens.

While Abraham is lifted up as one of the great leaders not only of our faith, but also that of Jews and Muslims (The Muslims come from the line of Ischmael, by the way.). But he wasn’t a perfect person. No.

When they are going to Egypt to find food, he becomes worried that because his wife Sarah is so beautiful that the leaders in Egypt will kill him and take Sarah as their wife. So he comes up with a plan. He will tell the leaders that Sarah is his sister, not his wife, and then he will be safe. He convinces Sarah to go along with the ruse and that’s what they do.

Pharaoh’s people do take notice of Sarah, and thinking she is Abraham’s sister, take her to Pharaoh. But then a plague breaks out with Pharaoh’s people and they figure out that Sarah is Abraham’s wife, so they basically give a lot of livestock to Abraham to make him go away. So he takes the sheep and goes.

So even with his relationship with Sarah Abraham goes through some pretty stressful changes!

So what can we learn about change from Abraham?

I think the first is to always believe in God, even when things don’t make sense.

Abraham believed God that he would have more descendents than stars in the sky. Even though he was getting old and didn’t have any children at all, he believed God. In verse 6 of the scripture we read today, we read, “And he [Abraham] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

Notice that first Abraham believed God, and it was in doing so that he received righteousness.

Now the term righteous gets a bad rap in our world. One of the reasons it does is because so many times it is used with another word: self righteous. Self righteousness is a bad thing, where you believe yourself to be superior or better than others. But righteousness just means being right or correct. Synonyms include: goodness, virtue, moral, justice, and honest. Those are all good things!

So we can learn from Abraham that even in the midst of change, even massive changes in our lives, our belief in God will result in our righteousness. Not “self righteousness,” and we need to be on guard against that evil, but we should seek to be righteous. Humble righteousness is a good thing.

Another thing I think we can learn from Abraham about change is that relationships change over time. Look at Sarah and Hagar. Talk about change! But even in the midst of all our relationships God is still faithful. God will get us through. Even if we try to convince a pharaoh that our wife is really our sister (and please, please don’t try that), God can cause good things to come out of difficult situations.

The third thing I think we can learn about change from Abraham is that God’s timing is different from our timing. Abraham and Sarah didn’t think they would ever have children, but in their old age God granted them their wish of a child. And that one child then leads to more children, and more children, until now, thousands and thousands of years later, we teach our kids to sing, “Father Abraham, had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you. So let’s all praise the Lord.” (Which is a great song to sing for Father’s day, if you ask me.)

God didn’tanswer Abraham’s and Sarah’s prayers then they wanted him to, when they were younger, but it happened when God needed it to happen.

As humans we are often so impatient with God. We expect God to answer our prayers with two-day delivery, just like the stuff we order from Amazon. We are an impatient people, seeking instant gratification in so many areas of our lives.

That’s why I like gardening. Gardening teaches you patience. You can’t just plant a tomato plant and expect to receive red, ripe tomatoes in a couple of days. You have to be patient, but the result in doing so is so delicious that it is worth the wait.

God hears our prayers, and God answers our prayers. But God, the creator of time, gets to choose the time to answer our prayers. We don’t get to pick the delivery date. God does.

So my challenge to you this father’s day is to believe in God. Be righteous (but not self-righteous). Trust that God has a plan, that it’s a good plan, and that his plan will come about in his time, now ours.

After all, God’s plan for Jesus Christ was perfect. It didn’t happen the way humans thought it should have happened, and it didn’t happen at the time people thought it would happen, but it did happen and was good. Jesus ended up defeating death, and giving us victory over death as well, by himself dying and then rising from the grave three days later. What a great way to save the world!

Trust in God in the midst of change. God knows what he’s doing. Just ask Abraham.

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

Change: Naomi and Ruth

Change: “Naomi and Ruth”
A Message on Ruth 1:6-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 13, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Ruth 1:6-18 (NRSV)

6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” 14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”

18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

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

Today we begin a new sermon series that we will follow all the way to Advent, which is the season leading up to Christmas. The title of this series is “Change,” and during this series we will be looking at people of the Bible that experience some great changes in their lives.

We have all gone through a lot of change this past year, and it looks like we will continue to experience change in the future.

Change is constant. Always has been, always will be. Time marches on and things change, even when we don’t want them to. But as Christians, the important thing is how we respond to change.

Today we kick off this sermon series by exploring two women who experienced some major changes in their lives.

The story of Naomi and Ruth is found in the book in the Bible named after Ruth. It is a true story of tragedy, of hope, and of faithfulness.

The story begins with our first scripture that we read today. It starts in a city that is familiar to our ears but that we usually only hear at Christmas: Bethlehem. There was a man named Elimelech (try saying that 10 times real fast) who lived in Bethlehem who had a wife named Naomi and two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Life is good in Bethlehem for the Elimelech family. Well, it was, until a famine hit.

It’s hard for us to imagine the difficulties of a subsistence living. If the crops grew, you ate. If they didn’t, well you went hungry. And hunger will make you do some pretty dramatic things. In the case of Elimelech it meant uprooting the whole family and traveling, by walking, of course, to a place where they heard the crops were better and there was food to eat: Moab.

The distance from Bethlehem to Moab is somewhere between 30-50 miles, depending on which scholar you want to believe. One of the challenges in determining that distance is that Moab is an area, not a city, so depending on where in Moab they went they could have gone 30 mile or they could have gone 50.

Now for us today that doesn’t seem like a very long journey. Hop in the car and we can be 30 miles away in Tyler in about 45 minutes, depending on what part of Tyler you are going to and what the traffic is light. But back in the time of Elimelech a day’s journey on foot was about 10 miles per day. So it would have taken three to five days to make the trip.

As the crow flies it’s not that long of a distance, but the problem is that Bethlehem is on the west side of the Dead Sea, and Moab is on the east side. So they had to basically walk around the Dead Sea to get to Moab.

There were no Uhauls, so everything the family had they would have taken with them. Perhaps they had a donkey or two, but still that’s traveling light if you ask me.

So they get to Moab and sure enough, there is food there. So they are in Moab for about 10 years before tragedy strikes: Elimelech dies. We aren’t told how he dies, whether it was in a war or of disease or what, but he dies. That leaves Naomi a widow, which is bad, but she has her two sons, which is good.

In those times children were so important because there were no security programs for people as they got older. As people aged they lived with their adult children, who took care of them.

It was especially important for women at the time because they were very limited in the ways they could make a living. If they had no husband and no children to support them, they were often left with no choice but to beg or engage in prostitution just to live.

Well after Elimelech dies, that’s the situation Naomi finds herself. Both her sons die. Like Elimelech, we don’t know how they die, but just know that they did.

So Naomi is really in a pickle. She has no husband. She has no children. She has lost all forms of financial support, not to mention the emotional heartbreak of going through the death of her husband AND her sons.

Can you imagine the stress and anxiety Naomi is going through at this moment? One of the things people often think to themselves when major tragedy strikes is “Is God punishing me for something I’ve done wrong?”

It’s something we don’t really want to say out loud to anyone else, but if you’re like me, you’ve thought it. I think it’s a common human emotional question.

The times I have been visiting with people who are brave enough to share this thought with me I have tried to respond something like this: God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. Bad things exist because we live in a fallen world, and while God allows bad things to happen, I don’t believe God causes them to happen. So no, I don’t think God is punishing you for some wrong you have committed. I think bad stuff just happens. But God gives us the strength to get through those tough times.

Naomi, with very few options available to her, gets word that the famine condition in Bethlehem has improved. Rain has come, crops are growing, people have enough to eat. So she gets ready to travel back to her hometown from Moab. After all, she has relatives there. Maybe one of them will take pity on her and help her out.

So she tells her daughters-in-law, Orpah (not Oprah, by the way) and Ruth of her plans. She encourages them to go back to their fathers’ homes where they will not only have a support system, but also the possibility that a man may someday marry them.

There is some back and forth discussion between Naomi and here daughters-in-law as well as some weeping moments. Finally Orpah agrees to go back to her father’s home. Now we need to be careful and not be judgemental of Orpah because of her decision. It was certainly justifiable, and the odds of her security at her father’s house are much better than if she had accompanied Naomi or worse, heading out on her own. Orpah’s decision is an honorable one, and just.

So while Orpah makes the choice to return to her father’s home, Ruth is adamant that she will go with Naomi.

Now let’s think about Ruth’s perspective for a moment. She is from Moab. It’s home to her. She knows the land and knows the people. If she goes with Naomi she is trading what little “known” things she has in her life for a lot of unknown things. She will be traveling to a different country that speaks a different language. (The residents of Moab spoke Moabite, which is similar to Hebrew, which Naomi spoke, being from Bethlehem. While similar it is different.)

There is so much that is unknown for Ruth.

As humans the things we fear the most often have to do with the unknown. We fear what our health will be like as we get older and age because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We worry and fear about finances because we don’t know how much we will need when we retire, or if we will have extreme medical costs that will take everything we have saved. We worry about relationships because we don’t know how it will turn out or if we will grow closer or further apart over time.

We fear the unknown. We really do.

But even with all the unknowns ahead of her, Ruth makes the decision to stay with Naomi. She not only decides to go with Naomi, but to change her life in order to support Naomi. Listen to what Ruth tells Naomi:

Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried. Ruth 1:16:17

Ruth ends up going with Naomi to Bethlehem. And the story has a happy ending. Ruth ends up marrying Boaz, a relative of Naomi.

Not only that but Ruth and Boaz have a son named Obed, who in turn has a son named Jesse, who just happened to be the father of a guy named David. (As in King David.)

Ruth, even though she wasn’t an Israelite but a foreigner, (and remember the Israelites were not supposed to marry foreigners), ends up being listed in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Only five women are listed in that genealogy of Jesus, and Ruth is one of them!

So what can we learn about change from Naomi and Ruth?

I think the first thing we can learn is to overcome our fear of the unknown with a trust in God. When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, when we start worrying about the “unknowns,” we can trust God that he will get us through it. In Ruth’s case, she overcame her fear of the unknown by being willing to go to another country with another language with a woman who was not a blood relation (which was a really big deal back then). God then blesses Ruth with not only a husband, but with being in the lineage of the Savior of the World: Jesus Christ.

Another thing I think we can learn from Naomi is to never give up no matter how bleak things look. And you have to admit that things that for Naomi thing looked very, very bleak for a while.

Psychologists tell us that there are certain things that, when we experience them, cause us anxiety and stress. They even have a list, called the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, or The Social Readjustment Rating Scale. You can find it online and take it yourself if you want to see where you fit in.

I went to a site on the interwebs and did just that, but instead of doing it for myself I did it for Naomi. I checked the boxes that Naomi would have checked if the inventory had been around back then. For example, death of a spouse, death of a close family member (her sons), change in financial status, etc. I added up the scores and came up with a total of 333.

So what does that mean? Well the scoring guide says that 150 points or less means a low susceptibility to stress-induced health breakdown, 150-300 points means about a 50 percent chance of a major health breakdown within two years, and 300 points or higher means an 80 percent chance of a major health breakdown within two years.

Naomi’s score was 333. That’s a lot of stress!

And yet Naomi came through all that stress. She trusted in God to take care of her, and God did. God worked in ways Naomi could not imagine, but in ways that worked for her good. Like Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

Trust in God during those difficult, stressful times. God doesn’t abandon us, but in fact is “near to the brokenhearted.” Psalm 34:18

My challenge to you this week is to trust in God when you experience changes in your life. God promises to never leave us or forsake us. During those dark nights cling to the light of Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection give us power to overcome anything the world can throw at us.

Change happens. Change will come. But God doesn’t change. God’s love for us is constant, regardless of our circumstances. God’s love is much, much more powerful than change.

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

History

“History”
A Message on Deuteronomy 28:1-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 6, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (NRSV)

1If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; 2 all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God:
3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
7 The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. 8 The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. 10 All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. 11 The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you. 12 The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. 13 The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom—if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today, by diligently observing them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I am commanding you today, either to the right or to the left, following other gods to serve them.

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

Today we are celebrating something pretty special. Today we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the founding of this church.

Now to put this in perspective, this church was founded in 1846. Texas became a state in 1845 and was all of one year old when this church was founded.

Since then it has gone through some changes. The name of the denomination has changed several times, from the Methodist Episopal Church, to the Methodist Episcopal Church South, to Methodist Church, and then in 1968 it became the United Methodist Church.

I don’t know about you, but 175 years is a long time if you ask me. A long, long time.

Like many organizations, who we are as a church today has been shaped by the roots of our past. And our roots go very, very deep in the red dirt of the Cherokee County soil. I think I can confidently say that this church has made a difference in the lives of people not only in Jacksonville and Cherokee County, but also all over the world.

In the scripture we read today from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we find Moses, who is credited with writing not only the book of Deuteronomy, but the first five books of the Bible, reminding the Hebrew people of the promises God has made for the Jewish people. We find that their roots go very, very deep as well.

Here’s a quick history. (Take deep breath, then read quickly.) If you go back several generations we find God promising Abram (later to become Abraham) that his relatives will live in what is called the Promised Land, and that he will have more descendents than the stars in the night sky or the grains of sand on the beaches.

Abraham and Sarah have Isaac, then Isaach and Rebekah have Jacob, and then Jacob has 12 sons with four different women. One of those sons, Joseph, is Jacob’s favorite (thus the coat of many colors), causing his brothers to be jealous enough to sell him into slavery. Joseph ends up in Egypt where he works his way through the ranks twice to become the second most powerful person in the land. When a widespread famine hits the Holy Land the brothers go to Egypt looking for food, and after some deception Joseph reveals who he is to his brothers, who go back and bring all their families and their father Jacob to Egypt.

But then Egypt gets a different pharaoh, one who turns the Hebrew people into slaves and mistreats them. The Hebrews are in Egypt for 430 years until God calls a guy named Moses to lead them out to the promised land. The then-pharaoh is stubborn and it takes 10 plagues to convince him to finally let the people go, but he finally does. Moses leads them through the Red Sea and then out into the desert. Then, at Mount Sinai, God gives Moses the 10 commandments and the rest of the laws we find in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus.

Today’s scripture is where Moses is telling the people, these people who have just come out of slavery, what God promises them. Good things are coming. Lots of good things.

But… yes, there’s a but. Over and over Moses tells them that these things will happen only if they follow God’s commandments and laws. “If you will only obey the Lord your God…”

While Moses lived thousands and thousands of years ago, I believe that same holds true with us today. Good things–great things!–will happen not only to this church but to Jacksonville and Cherokee County “if we will only obey the Lord our God.”

As Christians we have the benefit of our history having the Holy Bible that tells us about Jesus Christ, the messiah, who came to earth in human form, taught and performed miracles, and then willingly went to the cross so that the chasm between God and humans could be bridged. We have his teachings, his words, available to us through the Bible, forming not only our history but also our future.

But, to quote Moses, “If you will only obey the Lord your God.” God will not bless sin. He forgives it, that is true, but

You see, our history is really “His Story,” the story of Jesus. His Story is one of compassion and grace, yet firmly standing for what is right and holy. “His Story” is about putting others before ourselves, about loving God with all that we have and loving others. It is about living for God rather than living for ourselves. “His Story” is our story.

So my challenge for you today is to remember “His Story.” Live knowing our history as a church, and our history as Christians. And always remember that our history is “His Story.”

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

The Trinity

“The Trinity”
A Message on Romans 8:12-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 30, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 8:12-17 (NRSV)

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

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

Last week was Pentecost, where we celebrated the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday when we celebrate the triune, three-in-one God.

Now at first the Trinity seems kinda simple: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But there is a lot more to it than that. A whole lot more.

Bible trivia question: Where in the Bible is the Trinity mentioned? Do you know? Well, it’s a trick question. The word “trinity” is never mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. Nope. Not one time.

The closest that I know of is at the end of Matthew’s gospel when Jesus is giving the disciples the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20a

You may be thinking, “Well now hold on a minute! How can we have a “Trinity Sunday” if the word is not in the Bible?” Well, that’s a very good question, and here’s an answer. While the word itself is not in the Bible, the concept of the Trinity certainly is contained in the scriptures.

So, then where did we get the word “Trinity”?

We get the word “Trinity” from a couple of Latin words. The first part of the word comes from the Latin trias, which means (as you probably guessed) “three.” The last part of the word comes from the Latin unitas, which means “unity.” So the word “Trinity” means “three unity” or “three united,” the three persons of God united in one.

Okay, so we have the word, we have the concept, we have the Sunday. Good enough, right?

Well, not really.

Here is the challenge of the Trinity: How can three be one? And why is it important that three be one?

Well it goes back to the 10 Commandments. What is the first commandment? “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:1-3

There it is. One God. To use a big word, God commands his people to be “monotheistic.” We are to have one God, and only one God. Not two, not three, but one. Single. Uno.

Among the world religions, many are polytheistic, meaning they have multiple gods. Take the Greek religion that was present in the known world at the time of Jesus. Remember Greek mythology from your high school days? (Do they teach that anymore?) The Greeks had lots of gods. They had a god for everything: Zeus was the god of lightning and thunder; Poseidon, as we know from the movie “The Little Mermaid,” was the god of the seas and water. Apollo was the God of the sun, and of course, Aphrodite was the goddess of love.

The three major religions of the world, though, share a monotheistic theology. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all belive in one God. One, singular God.

In Christianity, unlike Judaism or Islam, we believe in the Trinity, three persons who are one.

Now the simple thing would be to consider Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three equal but separate Gods. But… that violates Commandment #1, the one about having one God, and only one God.

So the Trinity is three persons in unity as one God. Three in one.

One of the big challenges of the Trinity is explaining it.

There are several attempts to explain the Trinity using analogies. For example, a three-leaf clover. Each person of the Trinity is like a leaf on a three leaf clover, separate but part of a whole. Another example is how a person can be a daughter, a sister, and a mother, and yet be one person. Another common one is how you can have ice, water, and steam, and yet it is the same H2O.

But the trouble with those analogies is that theologically speaking, they are lacking. They don’t convey the entire reality of the Trinity.

When we explore the Trinity in confirmation class I share a resource that I did not discover in seminary or in any of my theology books, but a cartoon video on YouTube. Yep. And it is the best explanation of the challenge in explaining the Trinity in analogies.

The video is a low-budget video produced by a company called “Lutheran Satire” and is called “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies.” In the video St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is asked to explain the Trinity to Donall and Conall, two Irish peasants.

Now I thought of showing the video this morning, but we stream our services and I’m pretty sure showing the video would violate some copyright thing, so here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to tell you about the video, and then post a link to it on the church’s Facebook page where you can watch it later. (Here is the link to the video: https://youtu.be/KQLfgaUoQCw )

So Donall or Conall (I don’t know who is who) ask Patrick to tell them about this Trinity thing, but “remember that we’re simple people, without your education, and books and learning, but we’re hearing about all of this for the first time. So try to keep it simple, okay, Patrick?”

Patrick then tells them there are three persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, yet there is only one God. They give him a blank stare and say, “Don’t get what you’re saying, Patrick.” Then the other says, “We’re not picking up what you’re laying down, Patrick.” Then the first says, “Could you use an analogy, Patrick?”

Patrick then tells them that the Trinity is like water, where you can find it in three different forms: liquid, ice, and vapor.

Donall (I think) looks at Patrick and says, “That’s modalism, Patrick!… An ancient heresy confessed by teachers such as Noetus and Sabellius that espouses that God is not three distinct persons, but that he merely reveals himself in three different forms. This heresy was clearly condemned in canon one at the first council of Constantinople in 381 AD and those who confess it cannot be considered a part of church catholic.”

Patrick then says the Trinity is like the sun in the sky where you have the star, and the light, and the heat.

The two peasants respond with, “Oh Patrick! Come on, Patrick, that’s Arianism!”

“Arianism”?

“Yes, Arianism, Patrick. A theology which states that Christ and the Holy Spirit are creations of the Father and not one in nature with him, exactly how heat and light are not the star itself but are merely creations of the star.”

A flustered Patrick then starts to use an analogy of a three leaf clover, but is stopped by Donnel who points out that Patrick is about to commit partialism, “… a heresy that asserts that the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit are not distinct persons of the Godhead but are different parts of God, each composing one-third of the divine.”

Patrick tries a couple of more times before finally blurting out real fast, “Fine! The Trinity is a mystery that cannot be comprehended by human reason but is understood only through faith and is best confessed in the words of the Athanasian Creed, which states that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, not confusing the persons or dividing the substance, that we are compelled by the Christian truth to confess that each distinct person is God and Lord, and that the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, co-equal in majesty.”

The two peasants look at Patrick before one of them says, “Then why didn’t you just say that, Patrick?” The other says, “Yeah, quit beating around the bush, Patrick.”

So you see the challenge in coming up with a good explanation of the Trinity? It’s a pretty steep hill to climb.

And while we don’t see the word Trinity in the scriptures, we do find the concept of the Trinity there. Today’s scripture that we read from the 8th chapter of Romans is an example of that. Let’s look at it closer.

Paul is writing this in a letter to the church of believers in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. As such, polytheistic religions were the common spiritual beliefs in the city. And a small but growing group of Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, were trying to figure out how to believe in one God and how to live that faith out amongst all the polytheistic folks living around them.

Paul starts out in the selection we read today by differentiating between the flesh, which is the world, and those who are led by the Spirit, meaning the Holy Spirit. We have to choose one of those. We can’t serve the true God and the world both. It’s an all or nothing proposition, and we have to choose. “…for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Romans 8:13-14

Thus Paul talks about the Holy Spirit, one person of the Trinity, and how by its power we can become “children of God.” We are adopted in the family of God. And because we are adopted into God’s family, and are his children, then we have a special relationship to God in which we can consider him to be our father. God the father, another person of the Trinity.

Paul writes in verst 15 and 16, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Romans 8:15-16

So we have the Holy Spirit, and we have God. Then Paul brings in the third person of the Trinity: Jesus. “…and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Romans 8:17

So there we have the three persons of the Trinity, all in one short passage of scripture: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three in one. Now notice that Paul doesn’t use the term “Trinity,” but the concepts of the Trinity are certainly there.

So my challenge to you, on this Trinity Sunday, is to worship the triune God. Remember that we believe in one God expressed in Trinity with three persons, all “equal in glory, co-equal in majesty.”

As Christians we believe in God, the creator of the universe, all powerful, all knowing, and eternal.

We also believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God, the Messiah, who came to earth and lived as a human, but was 100 percent God and 100 percent human; that Jesus was arrested, beaten, and crucified on a cross until he was dead. He was buried in a tomb, but on the third day he rose again, defeating death and, as the perfect sacrifice, removing the sins of those who believe in him.

And at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, empowering them to do the work that Jesus called them (and calls us) to do. And because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit we are adopted as Children of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ.

It’s kinda complicated. It’s a Holy Mystery, but it works. Thank God!

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

“Joy,” A Message on 1 Peter 1:1-9

“Joy”
A Message on 1 Peter 1:3-9
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 16, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV)

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

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

As Christians we should be joyful. We should be filled with joy. Not just when things are going our way, but even when–and perhaps especially when–things are tough for us. We are to be joyful in all situations.

Yeah, easier said than done, right.

I’m going to be honest here. This past week was a tough one for me. I’m not going into details but there were many things that happened that got me down. It’s just part of being a pastor, I know. It seems like 80 percent of my time is taken up by issues and challenges that are administrative more so than religious. Lots of problems, not much Jesus.

It seemed like it was all adding up. It was really getting me down. I didn’t have much joy.

At the first of every week I look to see what I will be preaching on the next Sunday. I then think and pray on that throughout the week before writing my message.

I knew the topic this week was going to be “joy.” But to be honest, I didn’t feel much joy in my heart. To use a Winnie the Pooh comparison, I wanted to be joyous like Tigger but felt much more like Eeyore.

But I kept returning to the scripture we read today from Peter, Simon Peter, the man that Jesus said would be the “rock” of the church.

In this scripture Peter doesn’t claim that followers of Christ will have easy, problem-free lives. Just the opposite.

In verse 6 he says, “even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials.”

But what is important is what he says right before then: “In this you rejoice…”

Put together, it reads, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials.”

We find this theme of “joy in the midst of trials” in other places in the Bible. James, the half brother of Jesus, writes in the first chapter of the book that bears his name: “2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

In the Old Testament book of Habakkuk we find these wise words written:

“Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19

When we are followers of Jesus Christ we are to be joyous, especially when times are tough.

Let’s try an experiment. Clear your minds. Now think of one friend that you like to be around. Not your spouse or significant other, but a friend. Someone who you enjoy spending time with. Okay, do you have someone in mind?

Now, let me ask you a question: Would you describe that person as joyful? I’ll go out on a limb and say that the odds are that the answer would be yes.

Joyful people are contagious people. (In a good way, not like COVID.) People enjoy being around joyful people.

Nobody wants to be around an old grumpy sour-faced person. People prefer Tiggers to Eeyores.

As Christians we are called to spread the “Good News.” We are to tell others about the incredible love God has for each one of us, a love that is so incredible that he allowed his own son to die a horrible, painful, and cruel death on a cross. Our joy comes from the fact that Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave, defeating death and giving every human the opportunity not only to have their sins forgiven (which is impossible for us to do by ourselves), but to be promised an eternal life in a perfect place.

Peter sums that up this way in the scripture we read today: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9

Faith can give us joy. Faith in Jesus Christ gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to not only persevere during tough times, but to even be joyous. And as Christians, we are called to support other Christians when they are down, to help them reach a turning point.

My turning point came this week when I met with five of my fellow clergy brothers and sisters on our weekly small group Zoom meeting. I shared with them that I was feeling down and having a tough time. You know what they did? They made me laugh. Yep. Yes, they supported me, they lifted me up and spoke words of encouragement as well, but the best thing they did was to make me laugh. They helped restore my joy.

Years ago a man named Norman Cousins was the editor of the magazine the Saturday Evening Post. Cousins suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, a very painful disease of the spine. His doctors were trying everything possible, but to no avail. Then he took things into his own hand. He locked himself in a room and watched Marx brothers movies. [Imitate Groucho and say, “Some of you will remember those…”] He sought to fill his life with as much laughter and joy as he could. As a result his condition improved.

Joy begets joy. A joyful Christian results in more joyful Christians. A grumpy Christian does not result in more grumpy Christians. It results in fewer Christians.

So my challenge to you today is to ask yourself: Am I a joyful Christian? Do I rejoice in the Lord regardless of my circumstances, and especially if I’m going through something difficult? Am I joyful because I have Jesus in my heart?

Joyful Christians result in more joyful Christians. Be joyful and make a friend. Be a joyful friend. And then be joyful as you lead a friend to Christ.

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

Good Workers

“Good Workers”
A Message on 2 Timothy 2:14-17A, 20-26
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 2, 2021, Methodist Readiness School Sunday
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

2 Timothy 2:14-17A, 20-26 (NRSV)

14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene.

20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. 22 Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, 26 and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

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

Today is one of my favorite Sundays of the year: Confirmation Sunday!

The confirmation process for these eight young women and men began in January when we started confirmation classes. Between now and then they have met weekly with me for an hour, and also met with their adult mentors an hour each week.

They have read scriptures and engaged in deep theological discussions on such subjects as the nature of God, the Trinity, creation, why there is evil in the world, and the incarnation of Jesus. They have studied and explored the topic of salvation, answering such questions as “What is salvation?,” “What is required for salvation?,” “What are the benefits of salvation?,” and “How does one live out salvation?” They have discovered more about the Holy Spirit, the church, and what happens after we die.

In other words, this has not been a small, easy task for these young folks. They have worked hard, studied hard, and when appropriate played hard. And I am very proud of them.

Today they take the next step in their spiritual journey. Today they make the conscious decision to proclaim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, affirming their faith, and in the case of three of them, also being baptized.

In the scripture we read today we find the apostle Paul writing to his young protege Timothy and giving him advice on how those who follow Jesus should conduct themselves.

In the early church that Paul is referring to, disagreements that had broken out between the followers of Christ. These disagreements had turned in to quarrels, sometimes over the smallest of things. And when that happens people tend to focus on those issues and lose sight of the big picture of what it means to follow Jesus.

In Mini Methodist Bible Study Wednesday I asked the kids what were some things that people disagree on. Turner Wade came up with a good one: what brand of pickup truck is best?

Now I don’t know how smart these kids are in school. I don’t know what their grades are in math, or science, or even English or Spanish, but if you could have been present Wednesday you would find out that they know a lot about trucks. Not only that, but they are very passionate about the topic as well.

Good natured quarrels broke out among them, each one proclaiming the superiority of the brand they preferred and loudly expounding supportive arguments for their choice.

And in doing so they lost focus on what we were there for: Bible study. It was a great example of what Paul is talking about in the scripture we read today.

The confirmands that came forward today stayed focused on the main thing these past few weeks. They asked deep, probing theological questions, and great follow-up questions, and sometimes even great follow-up questions to the follow-up questions.

They were well aware of the seriousness and the ramifications of the decisions they made today. I am confident of that. And I am proud of them for that.

In the scripture we read today Paul writes to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”

I believe that is what these confirmands did today. They presented themselves to God, either through a proclamation of faith and/or baptism to be a follower of Jesus Christ, a worker for the kingdom. They have presented themselves as workers who have no need to be ashamed, able to rightly explain the word of truth to those they come in contact with.

I also believe that they will fulfill Paul’s words in verses 24-25: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.”

Today is a great day for all of us to remember our own baptisms and affirmations of faith. No matter our age it is good to remember that we are workers for Jesus Christ, called by him to help bring God’s kingdom to earth through the things we say and the way we act. We are not to be “quarrelsome,” but “kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.”

That is what the world needs now. The world is dying (sometimes literally) to hear the Good News, and it’s our job to share it with them.

So my challenge to you today is to be like these confirmation students: present yourself as a worker who has no need to be ashamed. Be able to rightly explain the word or truth. Avoid being quarrelsome (boy, do we need that now), and instead with kindness, grace, and above all love, tell others about the great things God has done, not only with words, but by actions, too.

That is certainly more important than which brand of pickup truck is best.

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

The Greatness of a Child

“The Greatness of a Child”
A Message on Matthew 18:1-7
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 18, 2021, Methodist Readiness School Sunday
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 18:1-7 (NRSV)

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

6 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

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

Okay, y’all gather around and put your listening ears on cause today we’re going to explore something that happened in the Bible with Jesus! Since this is Methodist Readiness School Sunday we are going to focus on children and something Jesus says about children.

Okay, so the disciples have been following Jesus around and learning all kinds of things from him.

But then they ask him a kinda weird question: “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?” They want to know which one of them is the most important, which one Jesus and God like the best.

I think it’s a weird question to ask Jesus, but that’s what they did. Instead of just answering the question, Jesus does something different.

He calls a kid to come stand near him, and he puts the kid in the middle of all the disciples. Then he tells them that unless they change and become like that little kid, they aren’t going to heaven. Yep.

Then he tells them whoever is humble like a little kid is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. So they have to change their attitudes, become humble, and then they go to heaven.

But Jesus still wasn’t through. He says that whoever welcomes a kid in his name welcomes Jesus himself! Wow!

Jesus was teaching the disciples a lesson!

The disciples were getting the big head. Some of them were thinking they were better than the other disciples. They were competing against each other. They wanted to be at the top of Jesus’s list of the best disciples.

There’s something within each of us as humans that wants recognition and to be the best at something.

When I was a kid I wanted to be in the Guinness Book of World Records. I had bought a paperback copy of the book through those programs at school that send home a little catalog and then you check the books you want to buy and turn in your money at the school. I was fascinated reading it and wanted to be in it.

The only trouble was that I wasn’t good at anything. So I thought I would come up with something really weird and obscure, something so strange that other people hadn’t thought about it and therefore there wouldn’t be much competition. And that would increase my chances of getting my name in the book!

So this is what I came up with. I would stack up a bunch of quarters on my elbow like this (demonstrate), and then catch them in my hand (demonstrate).

I didn’t know it at the time but it’s called coin snatching. I know that now because I looked it up. And I found out that the record for this event is held by a guy named Dean Gould from England who balanced — and caught– 328 coins. He also holds the record for the most caught without dropping any at 100. I think the most I ever got was 20 something.

There is something within our brains that wants us to be the best at something, to prove we are better than others. Some want this for fame, others for money, some for both.

But that’s not the way of Jesus. Jesus wants us to be humble, like a child.

That’s just one of the things they teach at our Methodist Readiness School. The MRS started 50 years ago. That’s 50 years of planting seeds, like humbleness, into the hearts, souls, and minds of children. We even have grandkids of some of the members of the first class now attending the school.

I get the honor and privilege to lead chapel with the MRS kids on Wednesdays at 10:30. I have to tell you it’s one of the highlights of my week! Seriously. There was even a time when the kids thought my name was “Chapel Day.” The teachers would tell them on Wednesday, “Come on kids, it’s chapel day.” I would be walking across the parking lot when they were on the playground, and they would run to the fence and call out, “Chapel Day! Chapel Day!”

One of the reasons I like leading chapel for them is that they are authentic. They don’t pretend to be something they are not. There’s one boy that just doesn’t like chapel. He cries every Wednesday, no matter what. He is being authentic.

If I start playing music you can see the rhythm coming out in them. They’ll start hopping or dancing (sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference) and clapping and praising God. They don’t worry about what someone else says. They are filled with joy, and that joy is contagious.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were all that way as Christians? Wouldn’t it be great if all the “grown up” Christians lived with the greatness of a child? If we were humble, yet full of curiosity, questions, and awe? If we didn’t judge people by the color of their skin or how much money they had or where they lived, but instead on how they act and how they treat others?

That’s my challenge to you today as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Methodist Readiness School. Do as Jesus asks and become like a child. Be humble. Be curious. Be willing to believe things that you can’t see. Be willing to trust your heavenly father as a child trusts his/her earthly father and mother.

That’s much better than coin snatching, I can assure you.

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

“Doubt”

“Doubt”
A Message on John 20:19-29
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 11, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 20:19-29 (NRSV)

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

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

Today we continue in the Gospel of John where we ended last week. If you remember (and it was Easter, so I hope you remember), Jesus, who was crucified and dead and buried, didn’t stay dead. The tomb was empty on that first Easter morning. (Praise God!)

The scripture we read today picks up right after Mary Magdalene tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

So Mary encounters the risen Jesus outside the empty tomb on the first day of the week, which is Sunday. That same day, in the evening, the disciples are gathered together trying to figure out what in the world is going on. They are confused, and they are scared. Real scared.

The scripture we read says they had the doors locked “for fear of the Jews.” Now at first this might seem kind of strange since all the disciples were Jewish. Jesus was Jewish as well. But the Jewish religious leaders had a lot of power, even though the Romans were the occupying force in that part of the world at the time.

Those Jewish leaders exhibited that power when they had Jesus arrested and then convinced the Romans to crucify him. Ironically, they didn’t want to do it themselves because it violated their religious laws, but it was perfectly okay for the Romans to do it on their behalf. Yeah.

So the disciples are gathered behind locked doors on that evening of the resurrection. They are scared, and worried, because they are afraid that the Jewish leaders will do the same thing to them as they did to Jesus. They were afraid they would be killed as well. So they locked the doors.

Even though the doors are locked, Jesus shows up among them. Poof, he’s there. I don’t know about you, but if I had been in that room I would have been going through a whole lot of emotions. Fear, because people don’t just appear out of nowhere. Joy, because Jesus was alive. Scepticism, because dead people don’t come back to life. Confusion, because how can you figure out what all this means?

So Jesus shows up and what is the first thing he says to them? “Peace be with you.” (Being United Methodist, there’s a part of me that wonders if they responded back to Jesus, “And also with you.” Probably not, though.)

“Peace be with you” was a common greeting phrase in the first century. In Luke 10 and Matthew 10 we find Jesus giving instructions to the 70 followers that he is sending out to tell others about him. In Luke 10:5-6 he says, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”

And there are Jesus’ words in John 14:27 as well: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

Jesus gives a similar greeting to the disciples, “Peace be with you.” And he does it not only once, but twice at the first meeting without Thomas, but then again with the meeting with Thomas present.

In the first meeting after the greeting he shows them the scars on his hands and side. Why did he do that? If you think about it, being God he could have had the skin grow back over the scars where they were not visible at all.

But Jesus didn’t do that. Why? I think it was to prove to the disciples that he was who he said he was. But I think it was also for Thomas’ benefit.

Now Thomas kinda gets a bad rap, if you ask me. He is one of the original 12 disciples that Jesus calls to follow him. He follows Jesus, hears his teachings, sees the miracles, and is a passionate follower and believer.

If we back up to the 11th chapter of John we find Jesus finding out that his friend, Lazarus, was sick. Instead of leaving immediately, he stayed two more days where he was, and then said, “Okay, let’s go to Judea to see Lazarus.”

The disciples pointed out, rightly so, that it might not be a good idea to do that. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, lived in Bethany, which was right outside of Jerusalem in Judea. The disciples tell Jesus they don’t think it’s a good idea to go there because the last time they were there the people tried to stone Jesus.

But Jesus tells them he’s going anyway, and he’s going there to wake Lazarus up from his sleep. Well the disciples took this literally, so much so that Jesus has to tell them that Lazarus is, indeed, already dead. He tells them, “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

At that point Thomas, the very same person we call “Doubting Thomas,” makes a bold statement to his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Now that’s a pretty bold statement, if you ask me. I don’t see much doubt there, do you?

Later, in the 14th chapter of John, Thomas makes another statement in response to something Jesus says that we use a lot at funerals. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas speaks up once again, asking Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” John 14:5

It is then that Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

So we have two instances of Thomas speaking up, once saying that he and the other disciples are willing to risk their lives to follow Jesus, and then a question of clarification about where Jesus is going and how they can follow him if they don’t know where is going.

And yet Thomas gets stuck with the nickname, “Doubting Thomas,” all because of the scripture we read today.

Now there are some interesting things about this scripture. One question I have is this: when Jesus showed up and Thomas was present, did Thomas actually place his finger in the nail holes on Jesus hands and did he actually stick his hand in Jesus’ side?

The scripture doesn’t say that he did. Now there are faith traditions that insist that he did, but the scriptures that we read today don’t say that he did. After Jesus shows up and asks Thomas to do touch and feel his wounds, we find Thomas responding verbally.

“My Lord and my God!”

At Mini Methodists Bible study this past Wednesday we talked about this. My interpretation of this event is that Thomas did this: he dropped to his knees, bowed down before Jesus, and said, “My Lord and my God!”

Even though he had bragged to the disciples that he wouldn’t believe unless he could physically touch Jesus’ wounds with his own hands, when it came down to it he believed without touching. Seeing was enough for him. His response: “My Lord and my God,” tells me he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus responds by saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now the beauty of scripture is that more times than not when Jesus is speaking to a particular person he is also speaking to us. What Jesus says to Thomas is a great example of that.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I find this very applicable to us today as Christians in the 21st Century.

We are a people of science, aren’t we? The scientific method is taught to us in school at a young age and is reinforced to us as adults.

Here are the principles of the Scientific Method, as stated in that source that teachers hate and everyone else loves: Wikipedia. “[The Scientific Method] involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement (or elimination) of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings.”

Pretty fancy language there, huh? And yet those principles over time not only affect the way we see the world, but spiritual matters as well.

Many atheists say they don’t believe in God because God cannot be seen or proven. They apply the scientific method to Christianity and find that it comes up short. They want specific, scientific, irrefutable proof before they will believe in God or Jesus. They doubt, and won’t believe until those doubts are scientifically proven wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like the scientific method. I like that it is applied to so many things. The vaccinations that are available now to combat the COVID-19 virus are the result of the scientific method, and I sure am glad of that.

But when it comes to religious matters I apply something other than the scientific method to battle my doubts: faith.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” NRSV. The NIV translates it as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” The King James translations refers to it as the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And The Message paraphrases it this way “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”

Faith is our weapon against doubt. And we do doubt. We have doubts. It’s part of our human nature. And we shouldn’t feel bad or guilty about it. Seriously, if Thomas, a disciple who knew Jesus in the flesh, who personally witnessed his miracles and heard his teachings; if Thomas had doubts, what makes us think that we won’t?

I worry much more about people who say that when it comes to their faith they have no doubts, than those who admit that they do.

To doubt is human, but to have faith is divine. Faith is believing without seeing, trusting without knowing. And it’s an important part of being a Christian.

If you think about it, if we knew everything, if we had factual data on everything in our lives, we would BE God and have no need for God. The fact that we don’t know — can’t know — everything, provides a nice fertile field for our faith to grow.

So my challenge to you today is to trust faith and don’t doubt. Don’t be a Doubting Thomas. Believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead without actually seeing the wounds on his hands and his side. Rely on your faith, and deepen your faith by practicing the spiritual disciplines, that Jesus Christ, the son of God, went to the cross voluntarily so that our sins can be forgiven and that we can be reconciled to God and are offered an eternity with him.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

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

He is Risen!

Easter Sunday: He is Risen!
A Message on John 20:1-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 4, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 20:1-18 (NRSV)

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

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

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

Several months ago Pam and I got a takeout meal from our Panda Express. We brought it home and ate it and then opened our fortune cookies to eat them. Pam read her “fortune” to me and then I opened mine. There was no fortune. Nope. It was empty.

I was disappointed… and a little worried. Not that I believe in the validity of fortune cookies, mind you, but it did make me worry that the absence of that little slip of paper indicated a very bleak future, or worse: non existent. It was not what I expected.

Today we heard John’s holy words describing that first Easter Morning. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb with a saddened heart. The task she faces is not a pleasant one. She plans to tend to the body of Jesus, who has been in the tomb for three days, wrapping the body with cloth and using spices and fragrances used at the time to not only preserve the body, but to cover up the smell of rotting flesh.

In Mark’s gospel we read that Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome had bought spices to the tomb on Easter morning. We have to remember that Jesus died on Friday afternoon and that his body was hurriedly prepared and buried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:39). They had to hurry because the Sabbath began on that day, Friday, at sundown. There were strict rules about doing no work on the Sabbath, including preparing bodies for burial. Not only that, but because they were working on Jesus’ body, they were considered “unclean” under the Jewish purity laws.

So Mary came to finish properly what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had started on Friday.

But when she gets there she finds that the tomb, like my fortune cookie, was empty. It was unexpected, it was unsettling, and it worried her.

God has a way of doing things that is so completely different from the way we humans would do them that it is sometimes hard for us to comprehend. The empty tomb is a great example.

What a strange way to save the world. The human concept of beginning a new kingdom is through military might, using armies to overwhelm the occupying forces. But God chooses one man, fully God and fully man, born of humble beginnings, to bring in a new kingdom using the power of… love. The people in charge don’t like it so they kill him and everybody–including the disciples–think that’s the end of the story.

And yet on Easter morning God shows that he has a better way. (Which is usually the way God does things, you know?) The tomb is empty. God uses death to bring life. It’s a weird-to-us way of the Messiah establishing God’s kingdom, but God’s ways are higher than our ways… and much, much better.

The empty tomb gives us victory over any challenge we may face in this world. This morning there are people living in other parts of the world who are putting their lives at risk just to meet together to celebrate Easter. If caught they face not only prison terms but also execution. And yet they know in their hearts that not even the threat of death, or even death itself, can separate them from the love of God given to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

To quote a song about Easter, “The empty tomb is there to prove my Savior lives.”

So unlike an empty fortune cookie, let us celebrate with joy the empty tomb. Jesus’ death and resurrection atones for our sins, reconciles us to God, and offers us eternal life free of pain, sorrows, and worry.

Easter is a great day. It is a wonderful day. It is a happy day.

And that is so, SO much better than a silly ol’ fortune cookie.

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

Palm Sunday: Start Spreading the News!

Palm Sunday: Start Spreading the News!
A Message on Mark 11:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 28, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 11:1-11 (NRSV)

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

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

If you haven’t figured it out by now, today is Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

This event is recorded in all four of the gospels. We find it also in Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:28-40, and in John 12:12-19. And I’ll give you a little theological inside information: If it’s in all four gospels, it’s important.

Jesus has been in ministry for about three years. He’s about 33 years old. He has traveled, taught, healed, performed other miracles (such as raising people from the dead), and stumped and stymied the smartest religious of the time. He had pretty much turned the religious world upside down. He has people who believe he is the long awaited messiah, while other people, especially the religious leaders, not only hate him but want to kill him.

If there had been social media in the first century Jesus would have been trending. Talk of him had gotten around and people were very curious about him. Was he the messiah? But how could he be? He was from little ol’ Nazareth, after all. But he was impressive with the miracles and healing all those that were ill. But word was that he healed lepers by touching them. Surely the messiah wouldn’t be touching “unclean” people, because that would make him “unclean.”

And then you have that whole “walking on water” thing! And calming storms just by talking to them. And bringing dead people back to life. Wow!

So excitement was building about Jesus of Nazareth. There was quite the buzz going on about him.

In the previous chapter of Mark we find Jesus telling the disciples, for the third time, that he will be arrested, beaten, and crucified. And that three days after he is dead, he will rise from the dead.

Now this had to have puzzled the disciples. If this guy really was the messiah, surely he wouldn’t let that happen, right? What’s all this talk of death and rising from the dead?

The disciples just didn’t get it. Immediately after Jesus tells them, again for the third time, that he is going to die and then rise from the dead, two of the disciples, James and John, ask Jesus to name them as his favorites. Really? Did you not hear that death part?

Then Jesus heals Blind Bartamaeus, who immediately becomes a follower of Jesus.

And that’s where the scripture we read today comes in. Jesus knows his time is limited. He knows what awaits him. And he knows that the time has come. It’s time. It’s time to enter Jerusalem.

Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem becomes what we know as Palm Sunday. We call it that because people were so excited Jesus was entering Jerusalem that they tore branches off of the trees along the road and laid them down for the donkey to walk on.

Now that kind of sounds weird to us. But for first century folks it was a way of showing that someone important was coming down the road.

During Bible Study this past week at Mini Methodists we were talking about this with the kids. I asked them why they thought people were laying palm branches in the road for Jesus’ donkey to walk on. They came up with some great and creative answers. Close, but not quite.

Then I asked them if they knew what a red carpet was. They knew that. It was for famous people to walk on, people like movie stars and pop music stars. (Ariana Grande was mentioned by name, by the way. Not sure how I feel about that…)

I told them that the palm branches were the red carpet of the day in first century Jerusalem. It was the way people set certain people above others. It was their way of saying “This person is someone important!”

But Jesus’ ride at the time was not a big, shiny limousine with a well dressed chauffeur. Nope. It was more like an old Super-C Farmall tractor.

One of the expectations of the messiah was that he would restore the kingdom of Israel. At the time the people were living under the rule of the Roman Empire. Rome had an excellent army, and through military might they conquered not only the Holy Land, but much of the known world at the time. They were the big dog of the world at the time.

The thought among the Jewish people was that the messiah would come in and overthrow the Romans. And how was the messiah to do that? Human reasoning said that the way to overthrow a military power was with an even bigger and more powerful military power. They were hoping the messiah would come in with an army of angels armed with swords that would brutally attack the Roman army and devastate them.

Because of this, most thought the messiah would come riding a stallion, a large, muscular, fearless horse. That is what military leaders at the time rode, either that or a big, fancy chariot.

But Jesus doesn’t roll into town in a Hummer or even an M1A1 Abrams tank. He doesn’t ride a huge, fearless stallion. Instead he arrives on a donkey.

Now the scripture we read today from Mark simply says “colt,” as does Luke. But in the gospel of Matthew, we find that it says, “a donkey tied, and a colt with her.” And in John we find Jesus’ steed described as “a young donkey.”

Just to make sure what I learned from my upbringing in Delta County was right, I Googled what the correct terminology was for a young, male donkey. Any guesses as to what it is? Yep, it’s called a “colt.” Specifically it said that “A colt is a young male donkey which is less than four years of age.”

So even though the writers of the different gospels may have used different terms, they are all referring to the same animal: a young donkey.

So Jesus gets on a young donkey that has never been ridden. Now this is significant for a couple of reasons. One has to do with the purity laws of the time. I won’t go into specific details, but you can look them up in Leviticus 15 if you so desire.

Another reason is that it is symbolic that something new is about to happen. Brand new. It’s similar to a VIP rolling up to the red carpet in a brand new limousine compared to a used one. This colt still had that new donkey smell.

Another reason, and the one that impresses me the most, is that the donkey was not “broke.” Being the farm boy that I am, I am familiar with “breaking” horses. This means training them to have a rider on their back.

My dad had a firm belief in breaking horses while they were young. Being the compassionate man that he was, he didn’t want to hurt the young horses by climbing up there on them himself, especially when he had a son that was small and light. Yep. He delegated it to me to break the horses. (Wasn’t that nice and thoughtful of him?)

I faced a choice: crawl on the horse, knowing it would be rodeo time when I did, or face a beating from Dad if I didn’t. (Wasn’t really much of a choice, was it?) I still vividly remember the feeling of flying through the air like a ragdoll knowing that the impact with the ground was coming and knowing that it wouldn’t be pleasant when it did.

Breaking horses takes time, persistence, and a willingness to get back up on that horse again and again. Some horses broke quicker than others. Some horses convinced me that they were the spawn of Satan. But I never had one that didn’t buck any at all.

But Jesus does. He gets on the young donkey and it doesn’t try to throw him off. Instead he humbly carries the Messiah into Jerusalem. (I thought about that a lot as a kid. I always wished Jesus was there to help me break the horses without them bucking.)

So Jesus starts into the city on a donkey. Again, it would be like him riding a Farmall tractor instead of a large military vehicle.

So why a donkey?

A donkey is a beast of burden. It was, and still is in many parts of the world, used to carry things or to pull things. It was an animal used for work.

A tractor is similar. Although we do live in East Texas and will occasionally see people driving the tractors to town as their primary mode of transportation, for the most part tractors are work vehicles. They are used to cultivate fields, to feed livestock, to make hay, and those kinds of things. And while today some of them are super fancy with air conditioning and heat and even GPS computers in them, for the most part they are still humble machinery.

Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem is an expression of humbleness. Just as a donkey works for others, not itself, Jesus also humbly gives himself for others. I think it’s important to remember that just a few days after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus celebrates the passover meal with his disciples, which has become known as the Last Supper. And in John’s gospel Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, a very humbling act, especially when you consider that he washed the feet of his betrayer, Judas.

As Jesus says in Matthew 23:11-12, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

That is why Jesus rode victoriously into Jerusalem on a donkey. And on Palm Sunday it is a good time to remember that.

The voices that cry “Hosanna!” (which means, “Save us,” by the way), will in a few days time will be the same voices yelling “Crucify him!”

Our mission, as disciples of Jesus Christ, is to share the Good News with others. To quote that old Frank Sinatra song, we are to, “Start spreading the news…” We are to tell others about the difference Jesus Christ has made in our lives so that others may experience it for themselves.

So my challenge to you this week (and every week, actually), is to “Start spreading the news.” Invite someone to attend Easter services with you next week. Invite them to attend Sunday school with you, to become a part of one of the many ministries we have here at the church, to basically become a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ rides into Jerusalem victoriously, humbly riding on a beast of burden. He knows what is coming, what will happen that week, how he will be betrayed and killed. But he rides into town anyway, out of love for you. Out of love for me. Out of love for all of humankind.

Start spreading the news.

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