Methodist Vows: Prayers

Methodist Vows: “Prayers”
A Message on Ephesians 6:18-20

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

January 6, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Ephesians 6:18-20  (NRSV)

 

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

 

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Today we begin a 5-week sermon series on the membership vows we take as United Methodists, pledging to support the church with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.”

 

This is something we ask of people when they join the United Methodist Church, and when someone joins everyone responds by renewing our own vow to support the church in these five ways. “Will you faithfully participate in its ministries with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness?”

 

Today, on this Epiphany Sunday, we will begin the series–and the new year–by exploring the first of those five things we say in our vows: prayers.

 

When we join the church we vow before God and the congregation to support the church with our prayers. But what exactly is prayer?

 

Prayer is simply a conversation with God.

 

I remember as a kid I thought prayer was somehow this fancy, complicated thing that I didn’t understand. I didn’t think I could pray because I didn’t know the big words that preachers used like firmament or cherubim and seraphim. I thought it was like a special language filled with religious words and that if I didn’t use those fancy words then not only would God not hear your prayers, but he would be angry with me and might “smite” me. And while I wasn’t for sure what it meant to be “smited” (or is it “smote”?) I was pretty confident I didn’t want any part of it.

 

Now I don’t know where I got that idea from but I later found out that it was wrong. Prayer is simply communicating the God.

 

Now if you have ever had a communication or maybe a speech class you are probably familiar with a diagram like this. Communication needs someone to send a message, whether it’s verbal or not, and someone to receive the message. In between there can be some noise or interference that can affect how the message is received, but still the message is sent and received. And then there is feedback. Often the person receiving the message communicates back to the sender, and the cycle repeats itself.

 

I think this applies to our prayer life as well, with some differences. We are the sender of the message, the person praying, and God receives the message and sends us feedback. He responds to our prayers. Now there can be interference with our prayers, but they all come from us or our world, not from God. We can let things like busy-ness, pride, or even a feeling of unworthiness interfere with us praying to God. But these things differ from the communication model in that the interference often comes before we pray and prevents us from praying.

 

The cool thing about prayer is that God always hears them. There really is no interference between your prayers and God receiving them. It’s a straight shot and the network is never down. It is always available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 

Now all that being said, God responds in his own time and way, not necessarily the way we want him to. And not necessarily with the answer we are wanting.

 

God generally responds in one of several ways: 1. Yes, 2. No, 3. Not yet, or 4. I have something better in mind…

 

Say we are experiencing difficulty in our life and we pray to God to give us patience. We may even pray something like, “Dear Lord, give me patience, and give it to me NOW!” More often than not God will not necessarily give you patience, but will provide opportunities for you to experience practicing patience.

 

And sometimes we pray for the wrong things. God is not a spiritual Amazon.com where your prayers to God are things you want. Jesus half-brother James writes about this in the fourth chapter of his book: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

 

It is very easy for us as humans to focus our prayers on ourselves. Let me ask you a question: how many times are your prayers focused on yourself and how many times are they focused on others? Yes, it’s okay for us to pray to God for ourselves, but I think we have a responsibility as Christians to pray for others as much as we pray for ourselves.

 

And while it’s great to have prayer before meals and at bedtime we should work on developing the habit of praying continually.

 

Now this is not going to be easy, but I think it is something each one of us should strive for. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

 

He says something similar in the scripture we read today from Ephesians 6: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)

 

We have to remember that Paul wrote this epistle (letter) while in a prison. Most scholars think he wrote this and the epistle to the Colossians while sitting in a prison in Rome, which was the very center of the Roman Empire. So times were not good for Paul when he wrote these scriptures, and yet, in spite of being in prison and his life hanging in the balance, he still proclaims “…I must speak.”

 

He asks for prayers, not just for himself, but for “all the saints.” And he asks the Ephesians to pray “in the Spirit.”

 

We understand that phrase to pray “in the Spirit” more if we look at Paul’s writings in my favorite chapter of the Bible, Romans 8:26-27. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

 

So in Paul’s terms the “saints” aren’t those who have believed in Christ and died, it is for those who are believers and still alive.

 

So praying “in the Spirit” means having faith that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us if we can’t come up with the right words to say. Have the prayer in your heart, and the Spirit will take care of the rest.

 

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased Ephesians 6 in his The Message paraphrase: “Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

 

And last but certainly not least, we should remember that Jesus did a lot of praying. And we should be more like Jesus, right? So we also should do a lot of praying.

 

So my challenge for you on this first Sunday of the new year is to remember your vow to pray for the church. Pray for us as a church to focus on reaching the lost. Pray for me as your pastor. Pray for the staff. Pray for the volunteers. Pray for those who are ill and frail.

 

And pray for each one of us to be like Paul and have the boldness to speak the redeeming message of Jesus Christ not only with our words, but also with our actions. Having received the elements of the Lord’s Supper today and remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for each one of us, let us be his hands in feet in our world.

 

And let us pray long and hard.

 

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



He Is Born!

“He Is Born!”
A Message on Luke 2:8-20

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Luke 2:8-20  (NRSV)

 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

 

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

 

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 

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Babies are great, aren’t they? And if you ask me, miraculous, too.

 

It still boggles my mind to think that Pam and I created life. Two lives! Yes, I know the biology and the science behind it (of which I will not go into detail here, if that’s what you are wondering), but it still boggles my mind to come to the realization that new life was created, living, breathing, sentient, new human beings with souls. Wow!

 

And to be present at the birth of a baby I think is a holy thing.

 

The birth of our daughters was a holy thing. I remember someone telling me before the birth of our first daughter, Sarah, about the incredible love that parents feel when they hold their baby for the very first time.

 

It’s not that I didn’t believe them, but when it finally happened I had not anticipated just how powerful–and–holy it would be.

 

Babies are celebrated. People come to the hospital bringing gifts and balloons and flowers, and they all line up outside the widows of the nursery to see the newborn babies, searching the nameplates for “their” baby.

 

Having a baby really is a big deal. A really, really big deal. It is a life changing event. Nothing is ever the same afterwards.

 

It was a big deal back in the first century as well.

 

As you can imagine the infant mortality rate at the time was much higher than it is now. According to some scholarly estimates, about 1 in 3 babies died before their first birthday. That is a startling statistic but that was reality of life in the first century.

 

Children were important for several reasons: security (especially if the children were male), labor (there were no child labor laws), and to take care of their parents in old age.

 

So when a child was born it was a big deal. It was great event. It was a celebration.

 

Mary and Joseph were in a peculiar situation, however, with the birth of Jesus. As we talked about last week, they had gone back to Bethlehem so that Joseph could be counted in the census and pay the census tax. He had to go to Bethlehem because he descended from the House of David, who was from Bethlehem.

 

It also fulfilled scripture. We don’t know if Mary and Joseph were aware at the time of what was written in the 5th chapter of the book of the prophet Micah: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

 

So Mary and Joseph get to Bethlehem and as they get there Jesus is born. Not in a nice house, not in a palace, not even in a house at all, but a stable, a place where livestock is housed.

 

We are not told in the scriptures but Mary probably did not have anyone to help her during her labor and childbirth of Jesus. Joseph may have been the only one present, with little to no training with regards to childbirth.

 

There were no relatives showing up with balloons or flowers. No friends visiting and bringing casseroles. It couldn’t have seemed like much of a celebration.

 

But then we read the scripture we read from Luke. Shepherds were outside Bethlehem, taking care of their sheep as they always did. Night time was a dangerous time for sheep. Sheep really don’t have any defense mechanisms to fight back against predators. As my grandfather, who used to raise sheep, used to say, “Sheep don’t need a reason to die.” They were easy pickins’ for coyotes, wolves, bears, and especially lions. As a result the shepherd had to keep a lookout all through the night for nocturnal carnivores looking for something to eat.

 

Because they spent their time outdoors with their animals the shepherds couldn’t have been very clean. They probably didn’t smell very good, either. They weren’t high in the social order, either. It was an honorable occupation, but certainly not a prestigious one. And not an easy one, either.

 

And yet… And yet…

 

These are the very people that God chooses as the first ones (besides Mary and Joseph, of course) to hear the news that the Messiah had come. It wasn’t the rich and mighty people of the time, it wasn’t the Jewish religious leaders, it wasn’t the Roman rulers. Nope. It was shepherds. Just plain, dirty, stinky, Shepherds. Proof once again that God doesn’t call the equipped, but he equips the called.

 

But let’s take a closer look at what the Shepherds do after they visit the baby Jesus. The scripture from Luke tells us “they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.”

 

They didn’t keep it to themselves. They shared the good news of the birth of Jesus. They “made known.” The NIV translation says they “spread the word.” The King James version says they “made known abroad.” The Message says they “told everyone they met.”

 

The baby Jesus was–and still is–big news. It was a life changing event. Things will never be the same. That is why we celebrate it today.

 

You see the baby Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem is a big deal because it needs to be viewed through the cross of Calvary.

 

This is a cross that my wife, Pam, bought several years ago. She doesn’t even remember where she bought it, but we bring it out with all our other Christmas decorations every year.

 

I like the theology of it. It illustrates the story of Jesus birth but does so in the shape of a cross. For the baby born in Bethlehem goes on to die on the cross of Calvary. And he does so in order that we may be offered salvation. THAT is a big deal, a story worth telling.

 

But who are we telling? Or are we telling at all? Are we like the shepherds, telling everyone we meet?

 

Is Christmas more about what we get, or is it more about what we give?

 

So my challenge to you this Christmas Eve is to, to quote the old hymn, “go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”

 

Remember that Christmas is the celebration of when God comes to earth. This baby is a big thing. This baby changes everything. Things will never be the same, because this baby is the salvation of the world, the one who gives his life for every human being. This baby is God’s grace given to us, not because we deserve it or earn it, but because he loves us.

 

So let’s go, and tell it on the mountain.

 

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



Road Trip

“Road Trip”
A Message on Luke 2:1-7

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Dec. 16, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Luke 2:1-7  (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

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When I was a teenager one of the fun things to do was to go on a “road trip.” A group of people would load into a car  or vehicle and drive somewhere.

 

Our science club even took a road trip when I was in high school. After a football game one Friday night the club members and a couple of our teachers loaded up in a school bus and left in the middle of the night to head to NASA in Houston and then also Galveston. We drove all night (it is about a 5 and a half hour trip) and got to Houston the next morning.

 

We went to NASA and saw lots of things there, then drove on down to Galveston and explored the beach for a few hours. After just a couple of hours, we loaded up the bus and drove back home. It was a short but great road trip. I just remember being so tired when I got home, but I still had to get up the next morning, do my chores, and then go to Sunday School and church.

 

It was a big deal for our little school. It was such a big deal that a photo of our group at the beach in Galveston was featured on the cover of our high school yearbook, The Growl, that year.

 

In the scripture we read today Luke tells us of a first century road trip. This road trip was a lot different from the one I just described.

 

I got on Google maps and looked to see how far Bethlehem was from Nazareth. Turns out that if you are driving it’s about 157 kilometers, which is about 97.5 miles. Now as the crow flies it’s only about 70 miles but there are no roads straight there. So 97.5 miles it is driving, taking a little over two hours.

 

The distance was the same in the first century, but there was a difference. You see Samaria was between Nazareth, up in Galilee, and Bethlehem, which is south of Jerusalem. There was bad blood at the time between the Jewish people and the Samaritans, so much so that the Jews would travel on routes that added extra miles to the trip just to keep from going through Samaria. (That’s why Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is so powerful.)

 

Now it wasn’t a pleasure trip for Mary and Joseph. The Romans, who ruled the area with a fierce military presence, sent out notices that they were going to take a census. When we think of a census we think of counting people and demographic information and that’s pretty much it. But at the time a census meant no only did you have to get counted, but you had to pay money similar to a tax as well.

 

So even though it was a Roman tax, they let the Jewish people conduct it in a Jewish way. That meant that all adult males were expected to travel to their tribal ancestral home (remember the 12 tribes of Israel?) in order to be counted and pay the census tax.

 

So word comes to the town of Nazareth that this census is coming down. Joseph had to make a big ol’ sigh when he heard it because he knew it meant going on a long road trip. Not only that but his wife-to-be was with child.

 

Now we often think of Mary as riding on a donkey on the trip to Bethlehem but we really don’t know. There is no mention of it in the scriptures, just that they made the trip. Donkeys were used as beasts of burden in that day so it is certainly possible. Whether she walked or whether she rode on a donkey, either way it could not have been easy for a pregnant Mary to make the trip.

 

The 70-mile straight-line distance probably ended up being closer to 80 or 90 miles by the route Mary and Joseph used which, as mentioned, went around Samaria.

 

Historians and scholars speculate about how long it took the couple to make it to Bethlehem. One article I read said that the longest documented trip in one day during that era was about 20 miles under good conditions. Mary and Joseph’s route wasn’t flat, but through part of a desert and up and down hills. They probably only made about 10 miles a day.

 

There were hazards along the trip as well. The part of the route went along the Jordan River, which had forests that had lions, bears, and even wild boars. Plus there were two-legged animals to fear as well. Bandits often struck travelers along the route, robbing them (remember that Joseph had money on him to pay the census tax) and even beating or killing them.

 

So 10 miles a day, along a dangerous 90-mile route, meant that the couple would be traveling for about nine days. And there were no Motel 6s to leave the light on for them. I’m sure there were nights when they found shelter wherever they could, kind of the equivalent of camping out.

 

So you can imagine how tired they must have been when they finally got to Bethlehem. And then to find out that there was no place for them to stay must have really been disappointing. Extremely disappointing. And then Mary goes into labor. Oh boy…

 

Now we don’t know exactly what was going through the minds of Mary and Joseph but if it was me I’d probably be having some stern conversations with God. “Really, God? Seriously? Can’t you cut us a break? I mean we’re doing this for you, you know. How about at least a decent place to stay?”

 

Sometimes during this time of year it’s not unusual for us to have some bumps in our lives. Our “Road to Bethlehem” looks a lot different than Mary and Joseph’s, yet the the pressure to buy Christmas presents for others creates financial angst in our lives. There are also decorations to put up and parties to attend. And then there is the scheduling, figuring out how we are going to able to go visit relatives in such a way that nobody feels like they aren’t loved..

 

When I do premarital counseling with couples one of the things I strongly encourage them to do is to establish and publish a holiday schedule. I suggest that they have Thanksgiving day with one family, say the groom’s family, and then Christmas day with the other family, say the bride’s. And then I try to convince them to create a specific calendar for that on Google Calendar and then share that will all the family members involved. That way everyone knows when the couple will spend the holidays where and can see that everyone is treated equitably.

 

Our road to Bethlehem may not have the physical challenges but it does have challenges. All of the advertisements make it easy to fall into the sin of covetousness, wishing we had what others have or what we see advertised. Last year shoppers in the US racked up an average of $1,054 in debt during last year’s Christmas holiday.

 

The sin of gluttony also rears its head during this time of year. (Santa is big for a reason, you know.)

 

We sin in many other ways. When families get together personalities can sometimes clash. I think we all have a family member that loves to get into debates about politics during the holidays. Add alcohol to the mix and people can often say mean and hateful things they normally wouldn’t. The police will tell you that it’s not unusual for them to be called to homes during family gatherings when disagreements turn physical. Not exactly peace on earth and goodwill toward others.

 

Sometimes the obstacles in the road to Bethlehem may something other than sins. Grief is an example as we miss loved ones who have passed, and the season brings backs memories that are painful.

 

The season of Advent is about the journey to Bethlehem. Like the season of Lent, it is a season of preparation, of getting our hearts and souls ready for the event that changes everything: the birth of Jesus the Christ Child.

 

How are you preparing? As we travel the road to Bethlehem is there anything different about you, about your spiritual practices, about your faith life, that is different from how you normally are? Are you traveling to Bethlehem or just staying in the same place?

 

After all, this isn’t just a holiday special we are preparing for, is it? Christmas is when God puts on flesh and comes to earth in the form of a baby, a baby that will grow up to save the world through his sacrifice on the cross.

 

Unfortunately the true meaning of Christmas gets covered over by the commercial glitter and tinsel.

 

The world tells us to view Jesus like the character Ricky Bobby, the racecar driver in the movie, “Talladega Nights.” (Which is NOT a family friendly movie, by the way.)

 

“Dear Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent. We’d just like to thank you for all the races ‘ve won and the $21.2 million, LOVE THAT MONEY! That I have accrued over this past season. Also due to a binding endorsement contract that stipulates I mention PowerAde at each grace, I just wanna say that PowerAde is delicious and it cools you off on a hot summer day and we look forward to Powerade’s release of mystic mountain blueberry. Thank you, for all your power and your grace, Dear Baby God, Amen.”

 

No. The road to Bethlehem is not a racetrack filled with who can go the fastest to purchase or receive the most presents. It is a slow, unpaved path with obstacles to overcome, keeping us humble and keeping our focus on the real reason for the season.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to take the correct road to Bethlehem. During this season of Advent as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus let us journey the ancient path that Mary and Joseph travelled, one of humble obedience. Let us repent of our sins and turn to the one who saves us from our sins. Let us focus on the Christ in Christmas.

 

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



Family Tree

Family Tree

A Message on Matthew 1:1-17

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Dec. 9, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Matthew 1:1-17  (NRSV)

 

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

 

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.

 

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

 

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

 

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

 

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This scripture strikes fear into many pastors, including me. A lot of pastors just avoid it and don’t preach on it, which usually includes me. And the main reason it is avoided is not a theological one, but a simple one: there are so many hard-to-pronounce names included in it!

 

Nonetheless I have selected to explore it today because I think it gives us some important information that we need to know as Christians as we travel through the season of Advent in preparation for the birth of the Christ Child.

 

Musician Andrew Peterson completed the awesome challenge of including all the names listed in “Matthew’s Begots” into a song that’s really cute. I started to do it today but decided against it. But come to the worship service on Dec. 23 for our children’s program where a couple of our young folks will be singing it.

 

So why are they there? Those names matter. What Matthew does at the very beginning of his gospel is to give the genealogy of Jesus. He gives his family tree.

 

Now back in the first century they didn’t have “23AndMe” or “Ancestry DNA” testing kits to determine a person’s background. I have to tell you I’m sort of fascinated by those things but I haven’t shelled out the money to do one yet. I’m one of six kids and I think all of us are hoping one of us will spend the money to do it but we are all so cheap that none of us wants to be the one. Besides, I wonder about the reliability of those tests. I mean, they could just make that stuff up and who would know, right?

 

Some of my relatives on the Wintermute side researched our genealogy extensively. There’s actually a hard-bound two-volume set of books on it. And in going through it you can see that us Wintermutes pretty much married anyone who would have us. If we were dogs, we would be mutts.

 

Anyway, back to Jesus’ family tree. For the Jewish people genealogy was a big deal. There were no social service agencies to take care of the elderly, adult children did that. Property was passed down from generation to generation, and even businesses and occupations.

 

The first-born male was one who inherited most of the wealth and property and who became the head of the family. There is a fancy name for that: primogeniture. Unfortunately it was nearly always the male lineage that mattered, but what is impressive is that Matthew breaks that trend somewhat by naming some of the women in Jesus’ genealogy.

 

There are five women listed in Jesus’ genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.

 

Tamar was a very shrewd woman, seducing her father-in-law, Judah, after becoming widowed from two of Judah’s sons. Judah refused to give his third son, Shelah, to her so she does what she has to do to survive and seduces Judah anonymously. As a result she has twins, Perez and Zerah, and Perez is listed as the line belonging to Jesus.

 

Rahab is also listed. Remember that she was a prostitute living in Jericho who helps save the Israelite spies to come to spy out Jericho prior to invading it.

 

Ruth, as we remember, left her family and culture behind in Moab to go with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who had lost not only her husband but both sons as well. Ruth travels with Naomi back to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem (coincidence?) and there is married to Boaz.

 

Bathsheba is not mentioned by name in Matthew’s “begats” but when it talks about Uriah’s wife, that is Bathsheba. Remember how King David saw her bathing and lost his mind with lust and had an affair with her. When she became pregnant David had her husband, Uriah, killed in battle so he could marry her. David and Bathsheba’s first baby died, but the two had another child, Solomon, who we know as wise King Solomon.

 

And then we come to Mary, mother of Jesus. We don’t know much about her. She was young, she was a virgin (or as I heard tale of one child who said she was “Virgil.”), and she was betrothed to Joseph but not yet married to him.

 

So the fact that Matthew mentions women at all is a large break from the social norms of the time. And those women weren’t the top-of-the-social-order women, either. Some had rather dubious reputations. (And when the Bible says Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet… just know that is a euphemism. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.)

 

To me the fact that these women played integral roles in the family tree of Jesus, and the fact they are mentioned by Matthew, is proof to me that God doesn’t call the equipped, but equips the called.

 

Now Matthew is not the only gospel to contain Jesus’ genealogy. We also find it in Luke’s gospel, but it is listed after Jesus birth, not before. Another difference is that while Matthew lists Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham, Luke goes one step further and traces it all the way back to Adam.

 

I don’t believe it is an accident that the two gospels that tell us about Jesus birth also include his lineage.

 

While not as important, it still is important today. Our lineage tells us who and where we came from. It helps form our identity.

 

Growing up in Cooper, TX people would often say to me, “Oh, you’re one of those Wintermutes.” There were six of us kids, so we got around. The teachers in the school had a lot of us as students. My oldest sister was salutatorian of her class, my next oldest sister made straight As, and then I came along. I could tell that the teachers that had my sisters had expectations of me, expectations that unfortunately I didn’t live up to. It all worked out, though. Of the six of us all of us earned bachelor’s degrees and half of us earned graduate degrees. (I think I was the only one, however, of having the distinction of being on “Scholastic Probation” in college. Sigh.)

 

We have examples right here this church. What do you think of when you hear the name “Lykins.” If you are like me you think of super talented musicians, super smart people on a broad range of subjects, and some great followers of Christ.

 

How about when you hear the name “Hamilton.” (Not the musical, by the way.) I think of good, hard working successful business people who are humble and have hearts of gold.

 

There are so many other examples I could give.

 

Jesus lineage was important to Matthew and Luke because it helped prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the one that the prophets of old had prophesied about.  Isaiah 11:1 says “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

 

In 2 Samuel 7:12 David is told, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.”

 

So there is a specific lineage that the messiah was to come from and both Luke and Matthew made sure to show that connection with the baby Jesus.

 

Now Matthew does something really interesting in the scripture we read today. As I said, lineages were tracked through the males. But if Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph, but of the Holy Spirit, how would that work?

 

Matthew does it this way: “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.” He mentions Joseph not as the father of Jesus, but as the husband of Mary. Now Joseph had the important lineage required of the Messiah, but it was important to Matthew that Joseph not be confused as the father of Jesus. Thus he lists him as the husband of Mary, not the father of Jesus. That way Jesus can have the genealogy of Joseph but still have the Holy Spirit as his father.

 

So how does this affect us as followers of Christ in the 21st Century?

 

I think it reminds us that while knowing our lineage is okay, our true lineage resides in our faith, not our biology. As followers of Christ we are children of God.

 

Paul writes in Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” He goes on to say in verse 17, “…and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

 

So my challenge to you this second Sunday of Advent is to remember that Jesus is our brother. While our lineage does inform us as to where we come from and who our relatives are, it is our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior that makes him our brother. It is through his death and resurrection that we have been reconciled to God, a royal lineage we could never attain on our own.

 

And if you could talk one of my siblings into doing one of those DNA heritage tests I would really appreciate it.

 

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



UMC Prayer Guide

Monday, February 25

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.

Proverbs 16:9

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What’s Happening:

  • Debate/Amendments in Legislative Group

Prayer Focus:

  • Delegates to have peace and stamina
  • Delegates to know and do God’s will
  • For those who are anxious, hurting or discouraged

UMC Prayer Guide

Sunday, February 24

Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp.

Numbers 9:17

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What’s Happening:

  • Opening Worship
  • Presentations by Committees and Commissions
  • Prioritization of Plans/Petitions
  • Election of Officers to Preside in Legislative Group
  • Debate may begin

Prayer Focus:

  • Good faith by all participating
  • Pray against any impasse or breakdown of system
  • For UMC to find settlement in this issue

UMC Prayer Guide

Saturday, February 23

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him.

1 Chronicles 16:11

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What’s Happening:

  • Praying for United Methodist Church

Prayer Focus:

  • God’s will be done
  • Spirit of charity reigns in all

UMC Prayer Guide

Friday, February 22

I have called you by name; you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1b

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What’s Happening:

  • Final Delegates arrive (especially USA)
  • Registration
  • Caucus Meetings

Prayer Focus:

  • Committee on Presiding Officers
  • Presiding Delegates
  • People in the Pool to be elected Chair, Vice Chair, or Secretary of Legislative Group
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Prayer Vigil

Prayer Vigil

Saturday, February 23, 2019

9:00 am – 3:30 pm

First United Methodist Church – Jacksonville

Sanctuary

The Called General Conference for the United Methodist Church begins Saturday, February 23. The opening day of the General Conference is devoted to prayer with a two-fold focus: Prayer for the Special Called General Conference and for increased effectiveness in the mission of the United Methodist Church.

As a means of supporting the ministry of the General Conference in St. Louis, the Sanctuary of FUMC-Jacksonville will be open for prayer during the same hours the delegates and leaders of the General Conference are praying.

Come and go as you are led by the Spirit. Prayer guides will be available.

[Feature Image Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash]

UMC Prayer Guide

86E7E3AC-5386-4C66-87DC-C6BEA483EA0BThursday, February 21

Well then, what shall I do? I will pray in the spirit, and I will also pray in words I understand. I will sing in the spirit, and I will also sing in words I understand.

1Corinthians 14:15

 

What’s Happening:

  • Delegate Travel
  • Africa Initiative

Prayer Focus:

  • Worship teams
  • Audio/Visual teams
  • Workers at venue
  • Volunteers from Local Annual Conferences