Wesleyan Roots: “The Trouble and Rest of All Men”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Trouble and Rest of Good Men” #127

A Message on Job 3:17-19

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 4, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Job 3:17-19 (NRSV)

 

There the wicked cease from troubling,

   and there the weary are at rest.

There the prisoners are at ease together;

   they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.

The small and the great are there,

   and the slaves are free from their masters.

 

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The book of Job is one of the more unusual books in the Bible. In it we find God almost wagering with the devil, allowing bad things to happen to Job in order to prove a couple of points.

 

There’s more to it, though. It is a very deep and theologically complex book dealing with suffering and faith.

 

Here’s the beginning of the story. Job is an upright, honest, and righteous man. He has many blessings: wealth, children, livestock, etc. Then the devil shows up and begins a conversation with God and says that the only reason Job is righteous is because God protects all of his property and his family. Take away that protection and Job will curse God.

 

So God takes all that protection away from Job and Satan goes to work. All Job’s children are killed. All his livestock are stolen or killed. Everything goes bad for Job, but Job takes it all in stride, lamenting but saying “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” He doesn’t curse God.

 

So the Devil returns for phase two. He tells God that if he takes away Job’s health that Job will turn against God and curse him. So God allows it and Job gets afflicted with all kinds of physical problems. Job actually sits in a pile of ashes and scrapes at the sores on his skin with broken pieces of pottery. Even his wife tells him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” (Gee, thanks honey…)

 

Then Job’s friends show up and are shocked by the shape he is in. They just sit with him for seven days.

 

Job is suffering so badly that he wishes he had never been born. He wishes he wasn’t alive. He is doing some serious lamenting.

 

And that’s where we find the scripture we read today. Here is The Message paraphrase of it:

 

Where the wicked no longer trouble anyone

   and bone-weary people get a long-deserved rest?

Prisoners sleep undisturbed,

   never again to wake up to the bark of the guards.

The small and the great are equals in that place,

   and slaves are free from their masters.

 

Job is talking about heaven. In his suffering he is looking ahead to something better that will come along.

 

Now this is significant because the concept of heaven and hell didn’t really exist among the Jewish people of Job’s time. Their philosophy and theology was pretty much “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” That’s why children were so important. It was their one link with immortality.

 

So for Job to be saying this is unusual to say the least.

 

We learn a lot more about heaven and hell in the New Testament. In the book of Revelation John gives us metaphors to describe heaven as a beautiful, awesome, perfect place. That’s where we get the “streets of gold” and “pearly gates” images.

 

As Christians we can take comfort in knowing heaven exists, especially when our loved ones die. I experienced that consolation this past February when my dad died. His last few days were not pleasant at all. I watched his condition deteriorate and I was there when his breathing got more and more shallow and then he took his last breath.

 

I knew my dad didn’t want to live in the condition he was in. Being a physician it was something he had experienced with his patients, and because of that it was something he feared. He didn’t fear death, but he did fear dying. I think that is just part of human nature.

 

But as Christians we have hope because we know that no matter how much we suffer, no matter how much our health deteriorates death is not the end. Jesus death and resurrection gives us the promise that we also, will be resurrected. Death doesn’t win. God does.

 

As that old hymn says, “The world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”

 

John Wesley talked about this in his sermon “The Trouble and Rest of Good Men.” The “trouble” he speaks of is the trouble we have here in this world. The “rest” is the rest we will receive in heaven.

 

Here is how he describes heaven: “There then ‘the weary be at rest.’ The blood of the Lamb hath healed all their sickness, hath washed them throughly from their wickedness, and cleansed them from their sin. The disease of their nature is cured; they are at length made whole; they are restored to perfect soundness.”

 

Today is All Saints Sunday, the day every year that we stop to remember those who have died since the last All Saints Sunday. Earlier we rang a bell as each name was read. We mourn, because those beloved ones are no longer with us, but we also are comforted by knowing that because they believed in Jesus Christ as their savior they are in a place so great and wonderful our minds aren’t capable of imagining it.

 

And we can take comfort in knowing that heaven awaits us as well. Like Job we long for a place where “the wicked cease from troubling,

   and there the weary are at rest.

There the prisoners are at ease together;

   they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.

The small and the great are there,

   and the slaves are free from their masters.”

 

The Lord’s Supper, partaking of the bread and wine in recalling Jesus sacrifice for us, reminds us that heaven awaits as well. As Paul says in Romans 6:3-5, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

 

So my challenge to you this week is to remember the saints, those who have gone before us, and remember that one day that those of us who believe will also be saints as well. Knowing that gives us courage for today and hope for tomorrow.

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Good Steward”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Good Steward”

A Message on 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 28, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NRSV)

 

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

 

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Today is Commitment Sunday, the one Sunday a year that we ask you as congregation members to make a pledge of your financial commitment to this church for the coming year. It’s the Sunday we ask you to turn in your “Pledge Cards” so that we can create a budget for the operation of the church for the 2019 year.

 

But I want to start out today by talking about something that happened this past Monday. It didn’t make the news much and I only found out about it through some posts on Facebook, but the Rev. Eugene Peterson died Monday at the age of 85.

 

Peterson is up near the top of my list of theological heroes. I have read many of his books (but not all 35 plus of them that he wrote). His writing has challenged me while at the same time comforted me. In his autobiography, The Pastor, I have found good, sound advice as I navigate my role as a pastor. I often turn to his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, while working on my sermons. And as you know, I often include those paraphrases in my sermons.

 

My favorite story about Peterson comes from a video he did years ago with Dean Nelson at Point Loma Nazarene University. (https://youtu.be/FaaIui7cESs)

 

In the interview Nelson asks Peterson if it is true that he (Peterson) turned down the opportunity to “hang out” with Bono, the lead singer for the Irish rock band U2, when they were on tour in the states. It seems that Bono is a big fan of Eugene Peterson and his writings.

 

Peterson confirms that indeed, it was true. The reason for turning it down? “I was pushing a deadline on The Message. I was finishing up the Old Testament at the time… I really couldn’t do it.”

 

Nelson responded by saying, “You may be the only person alive who would turn down the opportunity just to make a deadline. I mean, come on, it’s Bono for crying out loud!”

 

Peterson, without missing a beat and matching Nelson’s enthusiasm, replied, “Dean, it was Isaiah!” [Article: https://bibleandmission.org.uk/2011/07/11/isaiah-eugene-peterson-and-turning-down-bono/]

 

Knowing that I was going to be talking about money today, I was curious about Peterson’s take on the subject. I found an article written by Daniel Grothe, a friend of Peterson and his wife, Jan. In the article Grothe points out something that I had never thought about: Peterson must have made a lot of money with his books.

 

Peterson grew up in a modest home during the great depression in a small town in Montana. He became a religion professor and a Presbyterian pastor, founding a small church in Bel Air, Maryland, and served that same congregation and wrote books.

 

He never served a megachurch. He never asked his congregation to buy him a new airplane. For most of his life he and his wife lived simply, existing paycheck to paycheck. Then his books started to sell. And boy, did they ever. The Message alone has sold more than 17 million copies.

 

After retirement he and his wife moved back to Montana to the small house that as a kid he helped his dad build on weekends. It was a small, wood-framed cabin up in the mountains, certainly not luxurious.

 

Here’s how Grothe describes the Petersons: “There is not an ostentatious bone in their bodies. These are people who have turned down opportunity after opportunity in order to preserve a life of simplicity and quiet faithfulness. A long obedience in the same direction. I have long said that it only took Eugene Peterson 65 years to become an overnight success, and the success came when he had gotten over his need to be successful. God must have known he could trust this old couple with that kind of money, that kind of acclaim.”

 

It turns out that the Petersons followed John Wesley’s advice that we talked about last week: Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Grothe says that the Petersons provided the funds for scores of students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees, paying for the entire cost of seminary out of their pockets.

 

Grothe finishes the article with this: “Of all that I have learned from Eugene and Jan Peterson over the years, maybe that’s the thing that will stick with me the most: that true life is found as we become like Jesus, as we spend our lives giving it all away.” [https://relevantmagazine.com/article/the-hidden-legacy-of-eugene-peterson/]

 

Michael W. Smith recorded a song years ago titled, “Give It Away.”  One of the verses and lyrics is:

 

We can entertain compassion

For a world in need of care

But the road of good intentions

Doesn’t lead to anywhere

‘Cause love isn’t love

Till you give it away, yeah

You gotta give it away

 

As we live

Moving side by side

May we learn to give

(May we learn to give)

Learn to sacrifice

 

For this stewardship month of October we have provided copies of the book, Giving It All Away and Getting It Back Again: The Way of Living Generously  by David Green and Bill High.

 

At the end of the book, the authors provide this summary of the basic ideas of the book:

 

  • We are not owners of anything. God owns everything.
  • God wants us to be good stewards of everything he’s put into our hands.
  • We all have weath–our intellectual capital, our social capital, our emotional capital, our spiritual capital, and our financial capital.
  • Stewardship produces responsibility: as stewards, we need to be found faithful.
  • The great joy of stewardship is generosity: giving it away because we get it all back again in the form of joy.

 

John Wesley certainly practiced those principles.  In his sermon #51, “The Good Steward,” he says, “Once more: in what manner didst thou employ that comprehensive talent, money? — not in gratifying the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life; not squandering it away in vain expenses — the same as throwing it into the sea; not hoarding it up to leave behind thee — the same as burying it in the earth…”

 

He goes on later to ask, “Wast thou accordingly a general benefactor to mankind? Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the sick, assisting the stranger, relieving the afflicted, according to their various necessities? Wast thou eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame, a father to the fatherless, and an husband to the widow? And didst thou labour to improve all outward works of mercy, as means of saving souls from death?”

 

Now I am not going to preach to you what is known as the “Prosperity Gospel.” You know what I’m talking about, don’t you, the idea that the more money you give to God the more money you will have?

 

God is not an investment machine where you put money in and expect to get more money back. To me that is faulty theology. We give to God and in return receive things that are more heavenly than worldly: the grace in giving, the sacrificial aspect of giving, the return of a portion of our blessings God has given us, doing so as praise and thanksgiving. The simple joy of giving.

 

Remember just how much Jesus gave. He gave and gave and gave and gave. And he gave his life on the cross, the most perfect form of giving ever.

 

In a moment I am going to ask you to come down to the altar rail and place your pledge card in the baskets sitting there. If you didn’t bring your pledge card from home raise your hand and the ushers will bring you one.

 

But first I want to tell you about something that happened here at the church this morning. George Griffin is always the first one to the church on Sunday mornings. He volunteers to open the church up and unlock the doors. This morning he was standing at the table where the donuts are cutting the top off of the donut boxes when he passed out. He fell down, hitting the back of his head on the floor, and slightly cutting two fingers on his left hand.

 

I was standing nearby when it happened. Abby Lykins was standing next to George and helped ease his fall. The box of donuts went all over George and the floor.

 

Abby goes and calls 911 while I kneeled beside George. He comes to pretty quick, knows where he is and what’s going on.

 

While we are waiting for the ambulance, George says “Wait a minute, I need to give you something.” He reaches into his coat pocket and hands me his pledge card that he had filled out.

 

Folks, if a 90-plus-year-old gentleman laying on the floor waiting on an ambulance to take him to the hospital can still turn in his pledge card, then our excuses look pretty pale, don’t they?

 

As you contemplate your giving for the coming year I am going to leave you with the scripture we read today from 2 Corinthians, but this is the way that Eugene Peterson, a humble saint who believed in and practiced “giving it away,” paraphrases that scripture:

 

“Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be a good steward! Sow bountifully! Give with a joyful heart. Remember that “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Use of Money”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Use of Money”

A Message on Luke 16:1-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 21, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 16:1-13 (NRSV)

 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

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In the scripture today from the Gospel of Luke we hear Jesus telling the parable of the “Unjust Steward,” also known as the parable of the “Shrewd Manager.”

 

It’s an unusual parable in that it almost seems that Jesus is justifying bad behavior. The unjust steward gets fired for being crooked, and then he goes around and gives cut-rate prices to those that owe his boss money just so he can suck up to them to give a job later.

 

But then Jesus gets to the gist of the matter: “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)

 

Here’s The Message paraphrase: “If you’re honest in small things, you’ll be honest in big things; If you’re a crook in small things, you’ll be a crook in big things. If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?”

 

Jesus sums up the the parable with a bold statement: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

Money. You can’t serve God and money. You have to choose, one or the other. You can’t do 50/50 or even 80/20, it is all or nothing.

 

Today we are continuing our sermon series “Wesleyan Roots” by looking at John Wesley’s sermon #50, “The Use of Money.”

 

One of the things Wesley does in his sermon is to dispel a myth, one that is still around today. Some people think the scripture in 1 Timothy 6:10 says that money is the root of all evil. But that’s not what that scripture says. What it actually says is that the love of money is a root of all evil.

 

As I have said before,money itself is not evil. Money can be used to do a lot of great things. Money isn’t evil, but the love of money is the root of all evil.

 

Here’s how Wesley phrases it: “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it. It may be used ill: and what may not? But it may likewise be used well: It is full as applicable to the best, as to the worst uses. It is of unspeakable service to all civilized nations, in all the common affairs of life: It is a most compendious instrument of transacting all manner of business, and (if we use it according to Christian wisdom) of doing all manner of good.”

 

He then goes on to give some examples of how money can be used for good: “In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment [clothing] for the naked: It gives to the traveller and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We maybe a defence for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death!”

 

So you see, money itself is not evil. It is a person’s attitude about money that makes a difference.

 

Wesley, being a methodical man (and thus maybe why the nickname “Methodist” stuck) proposes three points of advice in his sermon on money.

 

He starts off with this: “The first of these is (he that heareth, let him understand!) ‘Gain all you can.’”

 

Yep, you heard correctly. Gain all you can. Earn all the money you can.

 

Now that might sound a little strange, but hear me out. What Wesley is NOT saying is, to quote the character Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street,” “Greed…is good.”

 

No, not at all.  What he was talking about is to earn all you can but with some caveats. Wesley was very adamant that the money one earned should come from legal and ethical means. He had very specific points about the types of ways to earn money.

 

The first is that people should only work jobs that don’t cost them their physical health. This was especially poignant in Wesley’s time. There were no workplace safety laws, no English equivalent of OSHA or even the EPA. As a result some jobs were deadly.

 

Wesley mentions a few of them: “Some employments are absolutely and totally unhealthy; as those which imply the dealing much with arsenic, or other equally hurtful minerals, or the breathing an air tainted with steams of melting lead, which must at length destroy the firmest constitution.”

 

In the book, “Alice in Wonderland” we are introduced to the “Mad Hatter,” but the term actually came from a description of those that worked in the hat industry that really and truly did lose their minds. Part of the process of manufacturing hats at the time included the use of mercurous nitrate. Prolonged breathing of the mercury fumes resulted in hatters “going mad,” or suffering greatly from mental illness due to the physical damage to the brain.

 

So Wesley believed that a person’s job should cause them mental or physical harm.

 

Point two that Wesley makes about occupations is that one’s work should be be legal and moral. “Therefore we may not engage or continue in any sinful trade, any that is contrary to the law of God, or of our country.”

 

Now you would think that would be a given but then as now there are ways to make money that are… well… illegal and/or immoral. Wesley believed that was not an appropriate way to make money. I agree with him.

 

Point three Wesley makes is that our occupations should not cause harm to others. He was very passionate about this point. One of the things he points out, which still exist today, which he calls “pawn-broking.” Today we call them Pawn Shops. (I hope we don’t have any pawn shop owners here today. If so, sorry!)

 

I was curious so I got online and looked up the maximum annual percentage rate (APR) allowed in Texas for Pawn Shops. I found out that rates vary by the amount of the loan all the way down to 12 percent for borrowing $2,100.01 to $17,500. The rate goes up for smaller amounts, though, with the rate for loans up to $210 for one month being 240 percent. [https://occc.texas.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/interest/pawn-rate-chart-july_1_2017-to-june_30_2018.pdf]

 

Wesley cautioned against hurting others monetarily but also causing harm to their bodies. The first example of this, which should come as no surprise if you know just a little bit about John Wesley, is liquor. “Such is, eminently, all that liquid fire, commonly called drams or spirituous liquors.”

 

Now he thought that liquor for medicinal purposes was okay, but was very, very much against liquor for recreational purposes. “But all who sell them in the common way, to any that will buy, are poisoners general. They murder His Majesty’s subjects by wholesale, neither does their eye pity or spare. They drive them to hell like sheep. And what is their gain? Is it not the blood of these men?”

 

Wow, easy John.

 

In addition to those who sell liquor, he speaks out against “Surgeons, Apothecaries, or Physicians, who play with the lives or health of men, to enlarge their own gain? Who purposely lengthen the pain or disease which they are able to remove speedily? who protract the cure of their patient’s body in order to plunder his substance?”

 

Back in Wesley’s day there was no FDA or AMA or any regulation of the medical industry. Some doctors, pharmacists and surgeons would, unethically and in my opinion, immorally, try to make money off their patients by prolonging their condition or illness rather than curing them in the quickest way possible.

 

As a matter of fact, Wesley was so concerned about this that he wrote a book titled, “Primitive Physic” which contained home remedies for various ailments. It was one of his best sellers and even though he sold the copies at low prices he still made a lot of money off of the book… which he promptly gave away, by the way.

 

So point number one of Wesley’s three point plan with regard to money is to make all you can, honestly, morally, and without causing harm to others.

 

He says, “the second rule of Christian prudence is,’Save all you can.’”

 

Ahhhhh. Saving. John Wesley had some real strong opinions on this subject. “Do not throw the precious talent into the sea: Leave that folly to heathen philosophers. Do not throw it away in idle expenses, which is just the same as throwing it into the sea. Expend no part of it merely to gratify the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life.”

 

In his sermon he lists several ways that people “throw away” money, including fancy food. He also cautions against spending money on fancy clothes and accessories (later in his life he lamented not setting up a dress code for Methodists because of members wearing fancy clothes), on “superfluous or expensive furniture” (See, Pam, that’s why I don’t want to buy a new couch. I’m just trying to be Wesleyan…) , on things that feed our vanity that we use to try to impress our neighbors.

 

He even talks about what things to buy, and not buy, for children. And kids, you’re not gonna like this. “And why should you throw away money upon your children, any more than upon yourself, in delicate food, in gay or costly apparel, in superfluities of any kind? Why should you purchase for them more pride or lust, more vanity, or foolish and hurtful desires? They do not want any more; they have enough already; nature has made ample provision for them: Why should you be at farther expense to increase their temptations and snares, and to pierce them through with more sorrows?”

 

Of course, I think it’s important to point out that Wesley himself never had any children.

 

And at the bottom of all these things NOT to buy is the desire to save the money, instead. Live simply, eat simply, dress simply, and then save the money that you would have spent on these things.

 

As modern-day Americans many of us are not good at saving money. One article pointed out that 40 percent of Americans say they don’t have enough in savings to cover a $400 expense. Others wonder if they can make the minimum payment on their VISA card with their MasterCard.

 

Dave Ramsey has made quite a nice living giving the advice that he admits our grandparents knew and practiced: If you want something, save up your money until you can pay cash for it. If you don’t have the money, then don’t buy it. The result is realizing the difference between purchasing our “wants” and our “needs.” And when we save, we are better stewards of what God has granted us and can, therefore, give to God more generously.

 

So, earn all you can and then save all you can. But Wesley doesn’t stop there. He then comes to the third point about the use of money. “Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then ‘give all you can.’”

 

“First, provide things needful for yourself; food to eat, raiment to put on, whatever nature moderately requires for preserving the body in health and strength. Secondly, provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If when this is done there be an overplus left, then ‘do good to them that are of the household of faith.’ If there be an overplus still, ‘as you have opportunity, do good unto all men.’ In so doing, you give all you can; nay, in a sound sense, all you have: For all that is laid out in this manner is really given to God.”

 

Now John Wesley didn’t just talk about giving as much as you can, he lived it out as well. John made quite a bit of money in his day, mainly from books he wrote and published. He would have been considered upper middle income. And yet he didn’t live like it. He basically gave everything he had away.

 

He believed in eating only 6 ounces of meat per day. Not per meal, but per day. He took cold baths, purportedly for health reasons, but I strongly suspect there was another reason. In England at that time water was heated by burning coal. If John took cold baths, then he didn’t have to spend money on coal to heat the water and therefore he would have more to give to the poor.

 

As Wesley’s income grew from year to year his standard of living did not. One year he recorded in his journal that he made 30 pounds. His living expenses were 28 pounds, so he gave away two pounds. The next year his income doubled to 60 pounds. He lived on 28 and gave away 32. The next year, he made 90 pounds, lived on 28, and gave away 62. The next year he made 120 pounds, lived on –you guessed it–28 pounds, and gave away 92 pounds! It is estimated that he gave away around 30,000 pounds during his lifetime. When he died the only money he had were a few coins in his pockets and dresser.

 

Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. It’s pretty simple when you think about it, and very biblical as well.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to take a look at your finances and follow John Wesley’s advice: Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”

 

Everything we have is given to us by God, anyway. And Jesus gave his life for us. We are to be good stewards, not unjust stewards. Yes, money can be used for negative purposes, but it can also be used for good. Make the choice to be like John Wesley and use it for good.

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “On Pleasing All Men”

Wesleyan Roots: “On Pleasing All Men”

A Message on Romans 15:1-6

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 14, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 15:1-6 (NRSV)

 

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3 For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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This past Thursday I attended a funeral in Mt. Pleasant. The person’s life we were celebrating was named Billy Wayne Flanagan, and indeed it was a life worth celebrating.

 

I got to know Billy Wayne a couple of different ways. First, he was the cousin of Tommy Earl Burton, my roommate for four years at seminary in the “Commuter Dorm.” Tommy Earl and Billy Wayne (yes, their families have a thing for middle names…) both grew up in St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Mt. Pleasant.

 

Billy Wayne and his wife Kristi have attended that church since he returned home to Mt. Pleasant after earning his law degree something like 40 years ago. Not only that, but Billy Wayne played the piano for the church. And when I say “play the piano,” I mean REALLY play the piano! Wow, he was good.

 

Billy Wayne and Kristi were the lay representatives for St. Andrew UMC at Annual Conference every year. Many times the Flanagans and the Burtons and me (and Pam if she was attending) would go out to eat together during Annual Conference.This photo is from one of those times.

 

I also knew Billy Wayne through the Northeast Texas Emmaus Community. He was very active in the community and played piano at more events that I can count. And one time at one of the Emmaus events I played guitar while he played piano. I count that as one of the highlights of my life.

 

To know Billy Wayne was to know an extraordinary person, although being the person he was, he would never admit to being extraordinary.

 

He was extraordinary, though. He always had a smile. It never was about him, but about others. He lived out his faith by putting others before himself.

 

Tommy Earl gave the message at the funeral. He told about something Billy Wayne’s mother said happened when Billy Wayne was just a young boy.

 

Here’s how I remember it. Billy Wayne was about four years old. One hot day the whole family was out working in the yard. After a while Billy Wayne walked from the yard into the house. He was gone for quite a while, so his mother started walking to the house to go check on him.

 

When she got to the door she was met by little Billy Wayne, doing his best to balance a tray with several tall glasses of ice-cold milk on it, one for every person working in the yard.

 

Even from a young age Billy Wayne put others before himself. The huge number of people attending the funeral service, including myself, testified to the fact that Billy Wayne Flanagan lived his faith by living his entire life in the service of others.

 

At first glance the title of John Wesley’s sermon that we’re looking at today, “On Pleasing All Men,” might be perceived as being a message on the tension between serving God and serving what others expect of us, a Godly worldview versus a human worldview.

 

But that is not the case. The scripture that Wesley’s sermon is based on comes from Romans 15:2. The NRSV translates it as, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”

 

Or the translation Wesley would have been more familiar with: “Let every man please his neighbour for his good to edification.”

 

It doesn’t take long in reading Wesley’s sermon to find out this sermon is about serving others. Here’s what he says.

 

“We are directed to please them for their good; not barely for the sake of pleasing them, or pleasing ourselves; much less of pleasing them to their hurt; which is so frequently done, indeed continually done, by those who do not love their neighbour as themselves. Nor is it only their temporal good, which we are to aim at in pleasing our neighbour; but what is of infinitely greater consequence, we are to do it for their edification; in such a manner as may conduce to their spiritual and eternal good. We are so to please them, that the pleasure may not perish in the using, but may redound to their lasting advantage; may make them wiser and better, holier and happier, both in time and in eternity.”

 

So, if I understand Wesley correctly, in order to live out this scripture we have to do more than just be nice to others. We have to do things for others that will benefit them not only physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well.

 

One of the traps for us as Christians is doing good for all the wrong reasons. We can’t do good things for others for publicity or recognition. We can’t do good things for others to create a warm fuzzy feeling within ourselves on how good or righteous we are. We can’t do good things for others for a tax write-off. We have to genuinely care for others, for their well being, to have compassion and…well…love for them.

 

In his day Wesley was critical of the writings of others at the time who failed to include the main point of helping others: love.

 

“Many are the treatises and discourses which have been published on this important subject. But all of them that I have either seen or heard were miserably defective. Hardly one of them proposed the right end: One and all had some lower design in pleasing men than to save their souls, — to build them up in love and holiness.”

 

As Paul says, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”

 

Wesley even made three points, which he called “directions,” on how to do this.

 

Point 1: “Let love not visit you as a transient guest, but be the constant ruling temper of your soul.” In other words, you can’t just turn love on and off. True love, the kind of love Jesus has, and teaches us to have, is constant. As Christians we should keep practicing love and focusing on Jesus that it becomes the “main thing” in all aspects of our lives.

 

Point 2: “…study to be lowly in heart. Be little and vile in your own eyes, in honour preferring others before yourself.” Now I have to admit that the part about being “vile in your own eyes” is a little disturbing, but I think what Wesley is saying is to not put your own needs and preferences before others. Curb your ego. Less of me, more of thee.

 

Point 3: “…labour and pray that you may be meek as well as lowly in heart.” Be meek. We just don’t hear that much in the world today. Meekness is considered to be a weakness, not a strength. But if we want to love others the way God loves us, we must be meek. It’s actually  strength. And it’s not an option.

 

At the end of the sermon, Wesley gives us a nice summation of what he is saying: “To sum up all in one word-if you would please men, please God!”

 

Now I’m not going to point to ol’ John that he used more than one word, but his point is spot on. To please God we think of others. To please others we live the way God wants us to, there by pleasing God.

 

Listen to Paul’s words as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message: “Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’”

 

If ever there was a great example of selfless service it is Jesus Christ. Talk about putting others before himself! Jesus came to earth and was fully God and fully human. He could have given up on trying to teach the disciples, especially when they got things wrong, but he didn’t. He could have smited down the Pharisees and Sadducees who were upset with him because he was rocking the boat and challenging the status quo, but he didn’t. He could have stopped his arrest, beating and execution on the cross, but he didn’t.

 

He went to the cross because he was thinking of others. He went to cross because he was thinking of me and you. He went to the cross because of love.

 

So my challenge to you this week, brought to you by the Apostle Paul and John Wesley, is to live a life of service to others. Live your life like my friend Billy Wayne Flanagan did, a life of service to others. Live your life like Jesus Christ did, a life of love of God and a love of others.

 

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

Wesleyan Roots: “Temptation”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Temptation”

A Message on 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 7, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Corinthians 10:6-13 (NRSV)

 

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

 

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Today we are continuing our sermon series on “Wesleyan Roots” by exploring 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 and John Wesley’s sermon on that scripture titled simply, “Temptation.”

 

Now I’m sure most of us are aware of what temptation is, right? It’s a desire someone has to do something, usually something that is not good.

 

Now in the scripture we read today the author, the Apostle Paul, is talking about people that caved in to temptation. He’s talking about the Israelites from back in the old Testament.

 

If you remember back in Exodus Moses goes to the Pharaoh of Egypt and says, [sing] “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, ohhhh baby, let my people go. Ugh! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

 

Pharaoh finally lets them go, the people travel to the Red Sea,  Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his army after them to annihilate them, but then God parts the waters and the people walked through the sea to the other side. And when Pharaoh’s army tried to follow them the waters covered them and they drowned.

 

So they go to the base of Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Saini, and the people get freaked out by fire and smoky clouds and trumpet blasts and so Moses goes up on the mountain to speak with God and he gets the 10 commandments.

 

Now prior to this the people say that they will listen to God and do whatever God says. “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do,” they promised. (Exodus 19:8)

 

And yet, when Moses is not as quick about coming back down the mountain as they expected, what do they do? They give in to temptation. They convince Aaron, who is Moses’ brother that he leaves in charge of the people while he’s gone, to make a golden calf for them to worship.

 

And Aaron does.

 

Now here’s what I think is the interesting part. The Israelites demand a golden calf, so where does Aaron get the gold? From the Israelites. He has them give him their earrings that they had. And where did the Israelites get the gold earrings? After all, they were slaves in Egypt, right, and slaves don’t have gold.

 

They got them from the Egyptians as they left. Yep. They plundered the Egyptians for gold and silver and the Egyptians gave it to them because they were happy to see them go. The 10 plagues more than convinced them to let them go.

 

So the Israelites, who finally obtain freedom from the Egyptians, take the gold they had plundered from the Egyptians, made a golden calf like the Egyptians, and worshipped it like the Egyptians.

 

They became like the Egyptians. Even though they had been held as slaves by the Egyptians, even though they had been mistreated by the Egyptians, and even though the Egyptians did things like making a law to kill all male Israelite babies, they still became like the Egyptians.

 

They gave in to temptation and became like the very people that had oppressed them.

 

That’s what Paul is talking about in the scripture today. He is talking about how the Israelites kept giving in to temptation instead of following God’s laws and trusting in God.

 

And then he adds some words of advice: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

 

In other words, don’t get too comfortable thinking you are winning the war against temptation, because when you become complacent and don’t focus on resisting temptation, those are the times that you are most vulnerable.

 

In his sermon on temptation, John Wesley expounds on this: “Do not Satan and his angels continually go about seeking whom they may devour? Who is out of reach of their malice and subtlety? Not the wisest or the best of the children of men.”

 

We all get tempted. It’s just part of human nature. And Satan is very good at tempting us with those things that we are most susceptible to. Whatever happens to be your achilles heel, that’s where Satan will aim his arrows.

 

If you have a weakness for food, that’s where Satan will aim his temptations. If it is an attraction to persons other than your spouse, Satan will put some gorgeous individuals in your path. If it is buying new things, you will find some things on sale that will be extremely hard to resist. If it’s alcohol or drugs, you will find those things popping up and available to you. If it’s money, you will face situations that might be a little shady, illegal, or even maybe immoral but that could earn you some money.

 

You get the idea. And don’t think it doesn’t happen to you. It does, and it will.

 

I gave into temptation this week. Many of you may not know that I used to play trombone. I paid for most of my first two years of college at Henderson County Junior College with a music scholarship playing trombone.

 

Well Mike Kellogg, our music director, found an old trombone at a garage sale. It wasn’t very shiny and pretty but it was a brand-name trombone and it had a trigger, which means you can play notes easier and deeper than a trombone without a trigger.

 

Anyway, Mike and I got to talking about trombones this past week and started talking about this trombone. I was tempted to buy it. Really tempted. We talked some more and ended up agreeing on a deal for me to buy the trombone. I was excited! I got it home, put a mouthpiece on it, and started playing it. Or start trying to play it. It was pretty awful. Well, that’s not exactly true. It was REALLY awful!

 

I couldn’t resist the temptation to buy that trombone. Pam wasn’t too happy when she got home and I had to confess to her what I had done. (She’s STILL not happy…)

 

We will always have temptations. That’s the bad news. The good news is that God gives us the power to overcome those temptations. But there is a catch: you have to work at it. You have to try. You have to consciously decide to resist temptations.

 

Paul writes about this in his letter to the church at Corinth that we read from today.

 

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

 

Here’s how Wesley describes it. “He [God] sees exactly how much we can endure with our present degree of strength. And if this is not sufficient, he can increase it to whatever degree it pleases him. Nothing, therefore, is more certain, than that, in consequence of his wisdom, as well as his justice, mercy, and faithfulness, he never will, he never can, suffer us to be tempted above that we are able: Above the strength which he either hath given already, or will give as soon as we need it.”

 

Now I want to offer something here that I think is important with regard to temptation. I don’t believe God tempts us, but that God allows us to be tempted. For me this is a big differentiation. Now God has the power to cause us to be tempted, that I believe, but I don’t believe it’s in God’s nature to use that power to purposefully tempt us.

 

One of the reasons I believe this is because of what is written in the first chapter of James: “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.”

 

So God doesn’t do the tempting. No. But, God does provide us with the strength to overcome those temptations.

 

Wesley summarizes it this way: “Let us then receive every trial with calm resignation, and with humble confidence that He who hath all power, all wisdom, all mercy, and all faithfulness, will first support us in every temptation, and then deliver us out of all: So that in the end all things shall work together for good, and we shall happily experience, that all these things were for our profit, that we ‘might be partakers of his holiness.’”

 

It is important for us to remember that Jesus was tempted. Prior to beginning his ministry, right after he was baptized, he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness where Satan appears and tempts him three times. He tempts Jesus with food, with ego, and with power. Each time Jesus responds with quotes from Deuteronomy, successfully resisting the temptations.

 

Why does it matter than Jesus was tempted? Because Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine. Jesus experienced everything that we experience as humans. That includes temptations.

 

Jesus resisted temptation, and so can we. It’s not easy, and it requires us to lean upon the power of God to be successful, but it can be done. And it should be done.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to resist temptation. Acknowledge that you don’t have the power to be successful resisting temptation by yourself, but utilize the power God provides to overcome temptation.

 

And if you want to get together to help me practice my trombone, let me know. (But don’t tell Pam.)

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Patience”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Patience”

A Message on James 1:2-4

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 30, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

 

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.

 

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Today I’m excited to start our new sermon series that I have titled “Wesleyan Roots” because we are using John Wesley’s sermons as a guide to the scriptures.

 

Most of you know that John Wesley was the founder of Methodism. He lived in England in the 1700s and was a priest in the Anglican Church (Church of England at the time). He and his brother Charles started a student group while in college at Oxford. This group met to pray, read the scriptures, ministered to the poor and those in prison, and hold each other accountable to following Christ. They became known as “The Holy Club” and later “Methodists” because they were so methodical in their efforts. (It was not a term of endearment, by the way, but was a term making fun of the group. Nevertheless it stuck…)

 

John Wesley never left the Church of England but saw the Methodist movement as a reform group within the Church of England.

 

Here’s the way I read the history from that time. The Church of England had gotten kind of high-falutin and snobbish. They were very class oriented and didn’t want the lower classes to be a part of the church. It was pretty much a middle-class-and-up church.

 

Well John Wesley, as well as others like John’s brother Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, couldn’t find in the Bible where the church was only supposed to be for the middle class and up, so they made it their mission to minister to everyone.

 

At that time in England there were a lot of coal miners who worked as manual laborers in the mine. They didn’t get paid much and were among the lower classes of society. And they were dirty. (Mining coal will do that to you.)

 

Well the fine, (self-)uprighteous people of the Church of England didn’t want those dirty, stinky coal miners and their families in their church. Horrors!

 

But the Wesleys and company thought that those people needed to know Jesus and so they did something very controversial at the time: they preached outdoors. They went to where the people were and didn’t wait for the people to come to the church buildings. They would go to the coal mines at the end of a shift find a small hill, and preach the Gospel to the miners, sometimes thousands at at time.

 

John Wesley was very meticulous about keeping written copies of his sermons. He also kept a journal which talked quite a bit about the places where he was run off by an angry crowd or where he was banned from preaching again.

 

He was a prolific preacher and writer. Those who research such things say that he traveled more than 250,000 miles on horseback (not in a car, but on horseback, mind you!) and preached about 40,000 sermons!

 

We have many of those sermons and you can find most of them online for free.

 

The one we are exploring today is based on the scripture we read earlier: James 1:2-4, and is titled simply “Patience.”

 

Now in the NRSV translation of the Bible we don’t find the word “patience” in those scriptures, but the word “endurance.” In the NIV the word used is perseverance. In Wesley’s time, however, the King James Version of the Bible was what was available, being printed in 1611. And this is how James 1:2-4 reads in the KJV:

 

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

 

So we have three words, but the same concept. Endurance. Perseverance. Patience.

 

Now here’s something I find interesting: the King James Bible uses feminine language to refer to patience. Does that mean women have more patience than men? Hmmmmmm. But that’s another sermon for another time.

 

I preached on patience earlier this year during the sermon series on the fruit of the spirit. If you remember “patience” is number four in the list.  “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”

 

It was on Father’s Day and the scripture was Psalm 37:7-11. Here is verse 7: “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.”

 

As I said at the time, the problem with praying to God to give you patience is that instead of patience, he gives you the opportunity to practice it. When we pray, “Dear God, give me patience… and give it to me now,” God’s response might be to allow you to be in situations that give you the opportunity to practice being patient.

 

John Wesley took an interesting approach to patience in his sermon by that name. He describes patience as being a virtue of Christians:

 

“We do not now speak of a heathen virtue; neither of a natural indolence; but of a gracious temper, wrought in the heart of a believer, by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is a disposition to suffer whatever pleases God, in the manner and for the time that pleases him.”

 

Wesley kind of runs up and down on patience as you read through his sermon. Here’s an example of what I would classify as down: “We may observe, the proper object of patience is suffering, either in body or mind.”

 

Well, he has a point. If you think of the times when your patience is tested the most it usually involves a bit of suffering.

 

If you are a Texas Ranger fan you probably experienced this year. I’m not saying the Rangers are bad this year… well, actually I am. I checked last night and the Rangers’ record is 67 wins and 93 losses. They are dead last in the American League West standings. Their fellow Texas team, the Astros, are leading the division with 102 wins and 58 losses. The Rangers are only 35 games back of first place. Ouch. I don’t think they are going to make the playoffs.

 

While we talk about being a Ranger fan and suffering it really isn’t. There is some real suffering in the world.

 

One of the things I see in my line of work that combines patience in suffering are medical patients. Someone will be having problems and go in for a test (or several tests). Then they have to go home and wait several days or even a week or more to find out the results of the tests.

 

Those days of waiting are hard, folks. People suffer mentally during that time, some more than others, as they practice patience and wait. I know some tests take time, but often it is a CAT scan for MRI that could re read instantly, but no, patients have to wait for days for the result. (I’ll get off my soapbox now…)

 

But Wesley doesn’t just give the down side to patience, he gives an “up” perspective as well. “One immediate fruit of patience is peace: A sweet tranquillity of mind; a serenity of spirit, which can never be found, unless where patience reigns. And this peace often rises into joy.”

 

Now what’s my kind of patience!

 

That’s the kind I experience when I go fishing. It is said that it takes patience to fish, and I guess that is probably right, but I don’t think of it that way. I met up with Jack Evans this past Friday and we launched our kayaks from his dock on Lake Jacksonville. I only landed one fish, but that was okay. Just being on the water, paddling around, and the weather was cooler… it was just all a “sweet tranquillity of mind; a serenity of spirit,” a “peace” that “rises into joy.”

 

So you see patience is kind of a fickle thing.

 

One of the things that Wesley points out about the patience that involves suffering is that it is tied in close to courage. “And as peace, hope, joy, and love are the fruits of patience, both springing from, and confirmed by it, so is also rational, genuine courage, which indeed cannot subsist without patience.”

 

And Wesley even quotes from 1 Peter to drive the point home.  “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 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.” (1 Peter 1: 6-7)

 

But the think I find most interesting that Wesley does in this sermon on patience is to connect it to sanctifying grace.

 

Now if you remember in Wesleyan theology there are three expressions of God’s grace. It’s not three different types of grace, but one grace in three expressions.

 

The first is “prevenient grace,” or the grace that goes before. This is where God’s grace is working in a person’s life even before he/she is aware of it. It’s sometimes referred to as the “wooing” grace where God “woos” us.

 

The second is “justify grace.” This grace is when you accept Jesus as your savior. Some people refer to is as being “saved” or “born again.”

 

And then the third expression of grace, the one that Wesley refers to in his sermon on patience, is “sanctifying grace.” This is the grace that happens after you receive Jesus as your savior. It’s what you do after you are “saved.” Being “saved” isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning of living towards what Wesley called “Christian perfection.”

 

Now it’s kind of hard to grasp what that term means. I don’t believe it means “perfection” that means we will never make any mistakes and live perfect lives. I don’t think Wesley means it that way. I think it means being totally focused on God so that everything else in life is seen in God’s reflection. I think that’s what Wesley means by “entire sanctification.”

 

Here is how he ties in patience with sanctification: “But what is the perfect work of patience? Is it anything less than the ‘perfect love of God,’ constraining us to love every soul of man, ‘even as Christ loved us?’ Is it not the whole of religion, the whole ‘mind which was also in Christ Jesus?’ Is it not ‘the renewal of our soul in the image of God, after the likeness of him that created us?’ And is not the fruit of this, the constant resignation of ourselves, body and spirit, to God; entirely giving up all we are, all we have, and all we love, as a holy sacrifice, acceptable unto God through the Son of his love? It seems this is ‘the perfect work of patience,’ consequent upon the trial of our faith.”

 

So, here’s my summation of that: Patience is a virtue that is required as we seek to become more like Christ, as we grow in our faith, and as we seek to do God’s will on earth as children of God. Patience is an integral part of us maturing in the faith. We get better at having patience by practicing it as we develop our faith, especially during those times when we suffer. When our faith is tested it produces patience.

 

Our goal as Christians is to live like Christ as we fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Patience is the catalyst that develops us from where we are today to where we will be deeper in the faith and more like Christ in the future.

 

So my challenge to you this week, brought to you by John Wesley and the apostle James, is to look at patience as a way to deepen your faith. Sometimes patience includes suffering, but it also contains joy. The testing of our faith produces patience.

 

And if you want to practice patience by going fishing with me, just let me know.

 

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

 

Faithbook: “Sharing”

 

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Sharing”
A Message on Matthew 9:35-38

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 23, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 9:35-38 (NRSV)

 

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

 

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Jesus didn’t speak English and didn’t take English classes in school. If he had, however, I have no doubt that his English teachers would have given him high marks for his use of metaphors.

 

Now I’m sure all of you were excellent students in English class and remember that metaphor is  “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.”

 

Jesus uses a metaphor in the scripture we read today from the Gospel of Matthew. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

 

Part of the challenge for us to understand this metaphor in our current time is to remember what it meant to the people who heard Jesus speak it in the 1st Century.

 

If we want bread, we just go to the store and buy it. If we are really adventurous we might even make bread ourselves, but we do so with flour and yeast that we get at the store.

 

In the 1st Century it was a much different story. Grain was planted, grown, harvested, and then processed into forms in which it could be eaten.  In most cases, it all happened where people lived. There was shipment of grains by ship and donkey and other means but for the most part it was “Farm to Table” well before it was cool.

 

When the grain was ripe it was harvested by hand, tied into “sheaves” (thus the song, “Bringing in the Sheaves”), taken to a nearby threshing floor where it was “threshed” (where the grain was separated from the rest of the plant). It was then “winnowed” where the covering of the grain, called the chaff, is removed from the grain.

 

Remember that 1st Century farmers didn’t have combines. Harvest was labor intensive. Very labor intensive, with almost all of it done by hand.

 

When the grain was ripe it was all hands on deck to harvest it. The longer it stayed in the fields the more grain was lost to animals, weather, and even susceptible to fire.

 

And unlike us today, a crop failure for whatever reason could be catastrophic to the community. Starvation was always around the corner.

 

So when it came harvest time everybody helped out. Everybody worked. Everybody shared in the work of the harvest, and everyone shared in the fruit of the harvest.

 

Today we are finishing up our sermon series on “Faithbook: Biblical Truths for the Digital” age by looking at “sharing.”

 

Now there is a difference between “liking” and “sharing.” Liking something means… well, that you like it. But “sharing” is more.

 

According to social media expert, Brian Carter, “[W]hen we click share, we’re obviously saying ‘I like this so much, I wish I had created it myself. I want everyone I’ve connected with on Facebook to see it. I’m ok with my family, coworkers, supervisors, bosses – and anybody else I’ve friended, knowing that I like it.’” [https://neilpatel.com/blog/shared-the-most-on-facebook/]

 

So to paraphrase using my own words, sharing is like a turbo-charged version of liking.

 

So what kinds of things do people share on social media? Well I’m glad you asked.

 

Here are the results of research done on a global scale of the things people share on social media. The top 10 are:

 

“Photos” (43%)

“My opinion’ (39%)

“Status update of what/how I’m doing” (26%)

“Links to articles” (26%)

“Something I like or recommend, such as a product, service, movie, book, etc.” (25%)

“News items” (22%)

“Links to other websites” (21%)

“Reposts from other people’s social media posts” (21%)

“Status update of what I’m feeling” (19%)

“Video clips” (17%)

“Plans for future activities, trips” (9%)

 

So, what do the top items shared on social media have to do with Jesus words about the harvest being plentiful but the workers are few?

 

I think it has a lot.

 

Somewhere in the history of the last 50 years or so a myth was developed that as Christians we are not to share our faith. The myth says that faith is a personal thing and that we should keep our faith to ourselves, that it would be rude and inconsiderate of us to share our faith with others.

 

I think there were some things that probably contributed to that myth. People standing on street corners telling passersby that they are going to burn in hell if they don’t repent probably contributed to it. Increasing societal emphasis on the individual over the group probably contributed to it as well.

 

Whatever the reason, it happened. Anyone who shared their faith was considered a “religious fanatic” or a “Bible thumper.” It wasn’t “cool” to share one’s faith.

 

But is that the way Christians are supposed to be?

 

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 28, the disciples gather at the mountain on which Jesus told them to gather after his death and resurrection. Jesus appears to them and gives tell them what they are to do. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

 

This is what is called “The Great Commission.”  Go into the world and make disciples. Simple. This is what you are to do. Disciples of Jesus Christ are to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

If you ask me, this flies directly in the face of the “don’t share your faith” myth. As followers of Jesus Christ, as disciples, we are called–actually commanded–by Jesus to make disciples. This means sharing our faith, not keeping it to ourselves.

 

When I talk to people about this one of the reactions I get is “Well, I’m just not comfortable sharing my faith.”

 

Which brings me back to social media.  How is it that we are perfectly comfortable sharing so many things on social media and have no problem doing that, but yet are uncomfortable sharing our faith?

 

We will share a photo of the meal we are eating, but won’t share about the bread of life.

 

We will share a great deal with got on some new fixtures for our house, but won’t share the light of the world.

 

We will share photos of fish we catch but don’t want to be fishers of people.

 

We will share an inspirational quote from a movie but won’t share the Word of God.

 

We will share about where we are going and what we are doing on the weekend but won’t share about being in church and worshiping with other believers.

 

We will share our political views but won’t share about the King of Kings and Lord of Lords that surpasses all governments and earthly rulers.

 

Hmmmmmm.

 

What if we were as eager to share Jesus as we were the things we share on social media? What if the definition we read about “sharing” applied to being a Christian: “I like this so much… I want everyone I’ve connected with on Facebook to see it. I’m ok with my family, coworkers, supervisors, bosses – and anybody else I’ve friended, knowing that I like it.”

 

You get the idea.

 

And the need is great. In the scripture we read from Matthew today we find Jesus talking about the crowds and how so many people in those crowds had needs.  “…he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

 

The same is true today. People have so many voices screaming at them that they are lost. They are looking for love and often in the wrong places. People are in need of the Good News, and we are called to share the Good News with them.

 

So my challenge for you to you this week is to share Jesus. Not in a “turn or burn” kind of way, but share how Jesus has made a difference in your life. (And if he hasn’t made in a difference in your life, come see me.) Share Jesus as much as you share other things on social media. After all, isn’t Jesus more important? (If you think the answer is no, then again, come see me.)

 

The harvest is plenty but the workers are few. Won’t you be a worker and share the love of Christ?

 

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

 

Faithbook: “Comments”

 

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Comments”
A Message on James 3:2-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 16, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 3:2-12 (NRSV)

 

For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

 

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One of the great things about Facebook is the ability to comment on the posts that other people make. It’s a great way to be able to participate in someone’s life without actually being there physically.

 

But comments are a double-edged sword. While comments can celebrate an accomplishment or comfort someone who is hurting, comments can also be used negatively and can cause pain and harm others.

 

We talked earlier in this series on “Messages” how cyber-bullying has become so common and is having devastating consequences. Cyber-bullying is common among the “comments” made on social media.

 

In the modern technological nomenclature we find the term “troll” being used to describe people who leave particular kinds of comments. Now when I was growing up a “troll” was a mythical fairy-tale-type person who lived under bridge. And then there came along some little doll things with long hair and even cartoons. But nowadays it’s a lot different. The word has new meaning.

 

Here’s a definition I found on the Internet by a guy at the University of Nebraska that apparently studies social media: “Trolling is defined as creating discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people by posting inflammatory or off-topic messages in an online community. Basically, a social media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users.” [https://unlcms.unl.edu/engineering/james-hanson/trolls-and-their-impact-social-media]

 

Unfortunately there are a lot of “trolls” out there in social media land. There are a lot of very inflammatory comments made about just about everything. Some of them are mean. And some of them are just downright evil. It’s sad. Very sad.

 

I think one of the reason there are so many negative messages on social media is because we can respond instantaneously. If someone posts something that you disagree with or that angers you, the technology allows us to respond immediately from the emotional part of our brains, not the logical and contemplative part of our brains. We don’t think before we write.

 

Can you imagine if we commented on posts with handwritten letters that went through the mail instead of through the instantaneous aether of the Internet? I think the time it would take to write it down on a piece of paper, find an envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail it would give us time to cool off and not be so reactionary.

 

I think another reason things have gotten so bad is that people can hide behind a cloak of anonymity when they post comments. Some of the worst “trolls” have fake accounts or accounts with very limited information about the person writing it. Technology allows us to fudge the truth about ourselves and to be able to write things without having to stand up to the consequences of and be responsible for saying them. It gives us the ability to write things that we would never say to a person if we were standing face to face with them.

 

Years ago Brad Paisley wrote a cute song called “Online” that is about a guy that lives a double life. In real life he’s 5’3”, overweight, works at a pizza place, lives with his parents, and drives an old, beat up Hyundai. But the image he presents on the Internet is much different. Here are some of the lyrics:

 

‘Cause online I’m down in Hollywood
I’m 6’5 and I look real good [Note: Yes, I know he uses a word other than “real,” but hey, we’re in church…]
I drive a Maserati
I’m a black belt in Karate
And I love a good glass of wine”

 

The end of the chorus is:

 

“I’m so much cooler online
So much cooler online”

 

Like we discussed last week, social media is a very powerful communication tool. How we behave “online” can make it good, or it can make it bad.

 

The book of James in the New Testament is direct and straightforward. Written by the half brother of Jesus, one of the early church leaders, James tells truths that were perhaps uncomfortable for the early church members to hear, just as they can be uncomfortable for us to hear as well.

 

In the scripture we read today, James talks about the power of the tongue. Now when we think about the tongue we think about speaking, but James is using the tongue as a metaphor for our words.

 

While in Jesus time in the first century most communication was by the spoken word, James’ scriptures still apply to us today when technology provides us with a wide variety of almost instantaneous communications. Some of it is still speaking words, but a lot of it is by, to paraphrase an old Yellow Pages ad, letting our fingers do the talking through the keyboards of our phones and computers.

 

Listen to verse 6 again: “And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

 

Gee, James. Why don’t you tell us what you think?

 

Words matter. Comments matter.

 

I am amazed by some of the comments I read on social media. And I am even more amazed by some of the comments I read on social media posted by fellow clergy members.

 

We have forgotten James’ advice on how we use words and the power those words have.

 

James points out that with the same tongue we bless God and curse others. And he also points out that it shouldn’t be that way.

 

As I have said before, one of the reasons the “unchurched” say they don’t want anything to do with church (or religion, for that matter) is because of what they perceive as hypocrisy. The people that attend church act one way on Sundays and then act the complete opposite the rest of the days of the week. They praise God with their comments on Sunday and then treat others in ways that are anything but godly the rest of the week.

 

Their “comments” keep the Kingdom of God from growing. Instead of using words to bring others to Christ, they drive them away. Instead of planting good seeds that will grow and bear fruit they are planting weed seeds that will grow and choke out the good seeds.

 

Technology today gives us great power to communicate with others. But with great power comes great responsibility. We may want to be “cooler online,” but what the world really craves is authentic and truthful “comments” spoken in love.

 

I use a modified version of Psalm 19:14 before I begin the message every Sunday. The un-modified version is this:

 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
   be acceptable to you,
   O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

 

The words of our mouths, the “comments” we make, both verbally and on social media, should be acceptable to God.

 

There is a song by a group called Hawk Nelson titled, “Words.” The song was written based primarily on the scripture we read today from James. The words of the chorus are:

 

Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or
Put it out

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

 

My challenge to you this week is to remember those words as we “comment” both verbally, in writing, and on social media. Let our comments be life, let our comments be truth, let us not post a comment unless it points the world back to God.

 

Instead of singing “I’m so much cooler online,” let us sing, “I want to be like Jesus online.” I don’t think Brad Paisley will mind.

 

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

 

Faithbook: “Photos”

 

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Photos”
A Message on Luke 10:38-42

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 9, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)

 

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

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I’m excited today because we get to continue our sermon series on Faithbook: Biblical Truths for the Digital Age, by exploring one of my favorite topics: photography.

 

One of the really neat things about Facebook is that you can share photos with family and friends.

 

My brother and his wife were on vacation in Jamaica this past week and he posted some photos that are just stunning. Here’s one of them (show photo). Just look at that beautiful, clear, blue water! Man, I would love to go there… and fish!

 

Now I’ve never been to Jamaica. In fact, I’ve never been anywhere with water that clear and that blue. But I got to experience it on my computer thousands of miles away thanks to my brother posting photos of his trip.

 

I love photos. My maternal grandfather was quite a photographer and I have some of his cameras that were passed down to me. I even studied photography in college at East Texas State University (back when it was called that) and my bachelor’s degree from that institution is actually a double major in photography and journalism.

 

The word “photography” actually means writing with light. In the “old” days, when we had something called “film,” the lens of the camera focused the rays of light onto the film when the shutter was opened. The light striking the film caused a chemical change in the film which became permanent once the film was developed using chemicals.

 

Nowadays our cameras have little electronic sensors that react when light hits them, and onboard computers turn that into a digital image that we can then print out or save electronically. We can even post them to Facebook.

 

And the quality of photographs today is extraordinary! The camera in my phone actually takes higher resolution photos than my Digital SLR camera does. And the phones even have built in software to make the images look even better than real life. So all those selfies you see of women with beautiful, flawless faces are automatically, digitally enhanced, so don’t be jealous if you think they have better skin than you do.

 

I see a lot of theology in photography. Jesus described himself, and his followers, as the light of the world, right? So what if we metaphorically used Jesus as light to create images that reflect the awesomeness and lovingness of God? What if share these theological “photos” with the world, showing the way Jesus is working in our lives, and what if we share these the way we share photos on Facebook?

 

Now at first glance the scripture we read today from the Gospel of Luke looks like it has nothing in the world to do with photography. After all, photography wasn’t around in the first century. But I contend we can learn some important things from this scripture when viewed through the lens of photography.

 

In the scripture we find Jesus visiting the house of Mary and Martha. Martha goes about doing all the things that need to be done, probably preparing a meal, cleaning things up, etc. In contrast, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to him and just being near him.

 

Now Martha gets frustrated with this. There is just so much to do, and she is on her feet trying to get it all done. And there sits her sister Mary, not helping out at all, but instead just listening to Jesus.

 

That’s not right. That’s not fair. Mary should be up working just like Martha, right? Right?

 

Martha gets so frustrated that she tells Jesus about it. “Hey, I’m working my fingers to the bone here trying to fix us something to eat and all Mary is doing is sitting there listening to you. That’s not right. Tell her to get up and help me.”

 

Here is Jesus’ response from The Message paraphrase: “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”

 

And this is where I want to tie in photography with the scripture.

 

Light is composed of photons, tiny energetic little particles that travel around really fast (at the speed of light since they are… well… light…). They bounce off of things and scatter around, kind of like 1st grade students on a playground or Walmart shoppers at a Black Friday sale.

 

Through the incredible divine engineering of the human body we have eyes that use these photons to allow us to see things. And the physics of sight is fascinating to me because when we “see” something what we are actually seeing the photons that have bounced off that object, then those photos are focused by the lenses of our eyes to the retinas which then take the image, convert them to an electrical signal and then sent through the optic nerve to our brains where it is interpreted and our brain tells us what we are looking at. Yeah. I find that fascinating!

 

Okay, there are two things I want us to reflect on theologically with regards to the scripture about Mary and Martha and photography.

 

The first has to do with things being upside down and backwards.

 

When we see something with our eyes the image that is projected on the back of our eyes is upside down and backwards. Yep. Now we don’t “see” things that way because our brains read the signals and in doing so correct for that so that we see things as they should be. But the reality is that the image focused on the retina is, in fact, upside down and backwards.

 

When I was taking photography courses at ETSU we were required to learn how to use large format view cameras. These cameras made incredibly sharp photos because the film was huge. Instead of a little 35mm sized film they used 4×5 inch film, and some of them even used 8×10 inch film.

 

One of the challenges of using this type of camera is that when you focused the image you did so on a piece of frosted glass on the back of the camera. The the image you saw was upside down and backwards. This photo shows you what it looks like.

 

So when taking photos with this type of camera I had to use a dark cloth and compose the photo knowing that the final image would be upside down and backwards from what I was looking at. It took a while to get used to this way of thinking, but after a while it became almost second nature.

 

Theologically speaking, as Christians we are called to remember that the Christian view is upside down and backwards from the worldly view.

 

The world tells us that our self worth is based on popularity or how much money or fancy things that we have.  Jesus, however, says that world view is upside down and backwards. Jesus tells us that our self worth should come from the fact that we are children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, and that God is crazy in love with us, not because of what we have or what we do, but just because he has pure, unconditional love for us.  

 

Look at the beatitudes that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount found in the fifth chapter of Matthew:

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the meek…

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are the pure in heart…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…

 

See what I mean? These are all things that are upside down and backwards from a worldly perspective. But the Bible acts as our theological optic nerve and helps us to perceive them as actually being right side up, showing that it is the worldly view, in fact, that is upside down and backwards.

 

With Mary and Martha it was Martha who was perceiving things from a worldly viewpoint, which was upside down and backwards. She was all about getting things ready and cooking and cleaning, thinking that was most important. Yet her sister, Mary, perceived things from a point of view upside down and backwards from that of Martha. She thought the best thing was to sit at Jesus’ feet. That was what was important. Everything else could wait. And Jesus points out that Mary, not Martha, was right.

 

The second thing I want to explore about this topic is focus.

 

In photography focus is an important thing. Focus means that the subject appears sharp and with good detail. Here’s a photo I took where the subject is purposefully out of focus. Doesn’t look too good, does it?

 

There’s term in photography called “selective focus.”  It’s when one part of the photo is in focus and the rest of the photo is intentionally out of focus. This is done to place more visual emphasis on the subject. Ironically if you have a modern cell phone you probably have this capability even though you may not know it. It’s called “Portrait Mode.” In the old days we used to accomplish this with a longer focal length lens and by using a larger aperture that resulted in a narrower depth of field. Now you just push a button and it does it digitally. You can even do it with editing software after the photo has been taken.

 

I went out and took some photos that hopefully illustrate this. Here is a photo without selective focus. And here is a photo using selective focus. See the difference? And here is the same photo that I edited with software to through the background even more out of focus. The subject takes more prominence in the photo with selective focus.

 

Mary had selective focus while Martha did not. Martha was focused on the many tasks required of first century living. Jesus was in the picture but was not the center of attention. Martha focused on her worldly tasks as well as Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, focused on Jesus only, intentionally throwing the rest of the world, which was not as important as Jesus, out of focus.

 

As Christians today if we try focusing on everything, the world as well as Jesus, then nothing stands out. Everything is the same. But that’s not what the Bible teaches us. The Bible teaches that we cannot serve the world and Jesus. We must choose, one or the other. And as Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, our focus should be primarily on Jesus. We should choose to selectively and actively focus on Jesus, throwing the rest of the world out of focus as a result.

 

So my challenge to you this week is that whenever you post or see a photograph on Facebook, Instagram, or any other type of photo, remember that as a follower of Christ we are to be upside and backwards from the world. Our life photos should be selectively focused on Jesus, not the rest of the world.

 

We should be more like Mary and less like Martha. We should focus more on sitting at the Master’s feet and learning his ways than getting caught up in the busyness of the world like Martha.

 

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

 

Faithbook: “Messages”

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Messages”
A Message on 1 Corinthians 13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 2, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV)

 

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

 

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Today we are continuing our sermon series on “Faithbook: Biblical Truths for the Digital Age” by looking at “Messages.”

 

Now if you use Facebook you know that you can send messages to people. There’s even a separate software called “Messenger” that works within Facebook and allows you to send private messages to a particular person or group of people. It’s a great way to communicate.

 

Today we are going to look at “messages” that we send and receive as Christians.

 

One of the things I like to do with our daughters is to “FaceTime” them. This is an instant video communication system where they can use their cell phones to interact with me or Pam through video. There is just something about seeing their face while you are hearing their voice that is better than just talking to them on the phone.

 

Back when I was in college if you would have told me that in my lifetime I would be able to video chat with someone on a small, handheld “phone” I would have laughed at you. I would not have even been able to imagine it.

 

I went to Henderson County Junior College in Athens, TX my first two years of college. I was on a band scholarship playing trombone and all I had to pay for was meals and books.

 

I lived in a dorm, West Hall, for the two years I attended there. There were no computers, no cell phones. As a matter of fact if I wanted to call home on the telephone I had to go to the lobby, where there was a single pay phone (some of you young folks may not even know what one of those is), dial up the operator, and make a collect call. (You young folks may not know what those are, either.)

 

If my mom wanted to call me she had to dial the number of the pay phone, hope that someone was there to answer it, hope that the person understood English enough to understand her (there were a lot of students from the Middle East that attended HCJC at the time), and hope they would be willing to climb the stairs to the second floor and knock on my door to let me know I had a phone call.

 

I could also write her a letter and send it through the mail, and she would get it three days later… Maybe.

 

It was a different world and a different time. And yet we somehow survived okay. (Although some today may question that when it comes to me.)

 

My mind is still boggled at the technology today that allows us to communicate instantly from pretty much anywhere in the world. And there are people here in this room that probably remember “ringing” up someone on the telephone by turning a hand crank that generated electricity to make the call. (And there are probably some people here that used those telephone generators to “ring up” some fish, which wasn’t legal but was pretty effective. At least, that’s what I’ve been told…)

 

We have the ability to communicate with others exponentially more now than ever in the history of the world. It really is amazing.

 

And yet with such great ability comes great responsibility. Many people today, especially young folks, have to deal with cyber bullying.

 

Back in my day if we did something foolhardy then word of it might travel by the local grapevine to our parents (which was very effective, by the way). Nowadays if a teenager does something foolhardy there is the possibility that it will be captured through photos or videos from cell phones and then quickly posted on social media sites which make it go “viral,” spreading all over the world electronically.

 

Unfortunately there are many stories of young people (and also adults) choosing to take their life after they are cyber-bullied by having some embarrassing photos, videos, or stories about them posted to the Internet.

 

The Internet and social media make it possible for people to be connected to others in remarkable ways today. Unfortunately it also provides opportunities for people to be extraordinarily mean and cruel to others while hiding behind and electronic cloak of anonymity.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to live in this world but not be of it. We are called to spread the gospel of love, not hate.

 

The scripture we read today is one of the more “famous” scriptures of the Bible. We use it a lot at weddings and it is known as the “love chapter” of the Bible. Found in the letter Paul wrote to the followers of Christ in Corinth, a coastal city in what is now Greece. It was an important city in regards to trade and the site of many cultures.

 

So what does Paul’s “love chapter” have to do with messages? In my opinion, everything!

 

What if we, as Christians, communicated messages wrapped in love? Even when we have to be corrective or engaged in a controversial subject, what does it look like to communicate messages that are loving?

 

Let’s try something. I’m going to read to you from The Message paraphrase of today’s scripture from 1 Corinthians 13. As I read it, think about how these words could be applied to the messages sent and received on social media.

 

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

 

My late mother used to have a saying that she not only espoused but lived by. I am familiar with it because I can’t count the times she said it me when I would start complaining about someone or something.

 

The saying was this: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

 

It really is good advice, especially when illuminated in the light of 1 Corinthians 13.

 

In 1 John 4:8 we read that “God is love.” Jesus came to earth and gave his life on the cross because of his great love. And God loves us so much that he allowed his only son to be treated cruelly and then executed like a common criminal without intervening, even though he had the power to do so.

 

That is why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper like we did today. It reminds us of just how much we are loved, regardless of our past, regardless of any of the things that the world says are important like wealth or power or looks or popularity. When we kneel on our knees to receive the bread and the wine we humble ourselves after confessing our sins and acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves. We need a savior. And, thanks be to God, we have one in Jesus Christ.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to wrap all your messages in love. Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 about what love is and what love is not. Even if you have to communicate something uncomfortable or corrective, do so in love.

 

And that’s a lot better than calling your mom collect from a pay phone.

 

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