Wesley’s Questions: “Am I Honest?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Am I Honest?”

A Message on Colossians 3:8-10

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 17, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Colossians 3:8-10 (NRSV)

 

But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

 

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Years ago in my life prior to going into the ministry I worked in public relations at Kilgore College. One of the instructors there was Bettye Craddock, the journalism instructor.

 

Mrs. Craddock was and is a legend. She’s retired now, but she loved her job, she loved her students, and she did a great job teaching them journalism. They always won the Sweepstakes award at the annual statewide student newspaper competition and The Flare (which was the name of the student newspaper) was much, much better than many newspapers from four-year institutions.

 

Mrs. Craddock was known for her sayings that she would repeat to her students. One of them was “Always take a pencil in case it rains.” This is because a pen won’t write on wet paper, but a pencil will.

 

Another was this: “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” She was instilling into her students to be truthful in their reporting and not to show bias. (Something a lot of the national news reporters need a lesson in nowadays.)

 

“Tell the truth and shame the devil.” That actually is pretty good advice for us as Christians today as well.

 

Today we are going to explore the topic of truth and honesty as we continue our sermon series on the 22 questions the members of John Wesley’s small groups asked themselves daily. Today we focus on question number two: “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?”

 

Now you would think that being a Christian means being honest, right? And it should. But we are also worldly beings and thus are subject to one of the devil’s most effective tools: lying and exaggerating. And it happens to Christians. It happens to us.

 

It’s nothing new. Even Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, the one which Jesus said would be the rock of the church (and thus his name), succumbed to not telling the truth.

 

Remember when Jesus and the disciples were having the last supper in the Upper Room? Jesus was explaining to them what was about to happen, that he would be arrested and killed, and that the disciples would desert him. Peter, full of bravado, proclaimed “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” (Matthew 26:33)

 

Jesus told Peter that yes, he would desert him, and that before the rooster crowed the next morning that Peter would have denied him three times. Again, Peter proclaimed that it would not happen, getting even bolder this time: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matthew 26:35)

 

Such strong words. And yet we know what happened. Peter lied, big time. Peter did in fact, deny Jesus. And he did it three times, just as Jesus said he would.

 

Peter lied. And not just a little bit, either. Later on, in verse 74, when questioned a third time if he knew Jesus, Peter “… began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’”

 

Peter, Peter, Peter. Tell the truth and shame the devil.

 

It’s so easy to lie, to not tell the truth, isn’t it?

 

Income Tax season is upon us. If we haven’t done so already we will be filling out all those forms with figures and calculations to see how much in taxes we need to pay, or, in some cases, how much of our own money we paid in that we will be getting back.

 

We are supposed to be honest on our tax returns, aren’t we? Yes, we take the deductions that we legally qualify for but are we completely honest on our income? Do we “fudge” a little bit? If someone pays us cash for something do we just “forget” to put that on our tax return?

 

One survey found that 86 percent of Americans believe that it is not acceptable to cheat on their taxes. That means 14 percent think it’s okay. Another survey I saw said 24 percent believe it’s okay to cheat on your taxes. That’s almost one in four!

 

What about using someone else’s password to access a Netflix or Amazon Prime account? What about trying to use a coupon that you know is expired but try to pass it off as good anyway?

 

Or what if your spouse asks you, does this outfit make me look fat? (Be very careful how you answer this question, by the way.)

 

Pam and I are fans of the tv show “Lone Star Law.” It’s a show about game wardens in Texas. It always amazes me how people will lie when the Game Warden shows up. If they are falling down drunk they will say they have only had two beers. They’ll say they don’t have any undersize or illegal fish when they do. They will deny shooting at a deer from the roadway even though the deer was a decoy set out by the wardens and they saw the person actually do it! I just want to tell them, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.”

 

Today we have access to more information than at any point in history. We can take our cell phones, push a button, ask a question, and get an answer. It is incredibly amazing.

 

One of those things we can access is history. I love history. Instead of watching television, I get on YouTube and watch history documentaries, among other things.

 

There are programs about past American presidents. President Abraham Lincoln received the nickname “Honest Abe” because of his honesty, in spite of him being a politician. There’s even a meme of Honest Abe out there on the internet today. It’s a photo of Abe with text that reads, “The problem with quotes found on the internet is that they often are not true.” (Show meme)

 

The challenge of the Internet is trying to sift the truth from fiction. This is especially true with social media, and especially true around political posts.

 

It’s hard to be honest today. The temptation to lie, or just to exaggerate, is strong in our world.

 

And yet as Christians, as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, telling the truth is not an option. It is the way we should be. To quote Yoda from the Internet (so you know it’s gotta be true, right?), “Be honest, you will.”

 

I think that is the reason Wesley had it as one of his 22 questions. “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?”

 

I like that Wesley includes exaggeration in with honesty. I really do. Raise your hand if you know someone who exaggerates. Now, raise your hand if you are a person who exaggerates.

 

As a fisherman I know we have a reputation for stretching the truth and exaggerating. We will describe the fish we caught as being “that big” when the reality is that it was only “that big.” (Demonstrate). We will even do it with photos. Here’s a photo of a bass I caught on Lake Jacksonville this past week. If you take it up close it looks bigger than it really is. Here is that same fish that gives you a better idea of just how big–or in this case, small–it is.

 

As Christians we are tempted to exaggerate as well. Even us pastors are not immune. I know one pastor who was serving a small church years ago who kept talking about how many people he had attending worship services since he got there. He was saying they were averaging 80 people in worship. But the truth was it was less than 30.

 

So why did he exaggerate? Why not just tell the truth and shame the devil? In a word, pride. He wanted to be seen by other pastors as a very successful pastor, as better than other pastors. And I’m sure he put the inflated numbers down on the reports we send to the conference office so that he could impress the higher-ups in the church as well.

 

Such exaggeration is sin, plain and simple. And usually people exaggerate because of pride. And such pride is sin.

 

Sometimes the truth hurts. It is the painful one of the two options to tell the truth or to tell a lie.

 

The late comedian Justin Wilson tells about a group of four friends who go duck hunting down in south Louisiana. It was a great day for them and ducks were everywhere. They shot and shot until they ran out of shells. One of them said, “Well, let’s get all these ducks picked up and we’ll head home.”

 

Well, they get all the ducks picked up and counted and there are 250 of them, which is way over the legal limit. About that time two game wardens show up and notice all the ducks. They ask the first hunter, “Well, how many of dem ducks is yours, hah?” The first hunter says, “Oh, I got my limit. So 10 of those are mine.” They ask the second hunter and he says the same thing, “I got my limit. So 10 of those are mine.” The third hunter says the same thing, “I got my limit. So 10 of those are mine.” When they get to the fourth hunter, he looks at the other hunters and says, “Well, I’ll be. I guess the rest of dem is mine, I gar-on-tee!”

 

Years ago the comedian Henny Youngman told about a disagreement he and his wife were having. His wife told him, “I want an explanation and I want the truth.” Henny replied, “Make up your mind.”

 

Mark Twain once said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

 

While those are humorous, honesty is a positive attribute we should strive for. William Shakespeare wrote that “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”

 

Paul, in writing to the church at Colossae, gives us the scripture we read today. He says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

 

The “old self” he speaks of is our lives before we accepted Jesus Christ as our savior. Before Jesus Christ we have a different attitude than what we have after we become Christians.  Our “old self” has a “me first” attitude, a sense that it’s okay to lie, to cheat, to do whatever is necessary in order to get ahead.

 

But when we receive Jesus Christ as our savior, the “old self” passes away. The “new self,” according to Paul, is “renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

 

Eugene Peterson paraphrases verses 9 through 10 this way: “Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it.”

 

Jesus, of course, gives us the best example of honesty. Jesus didn’t lie. Even when it would have benefited him greatly, Jesus didn’t lie. And we should be like Jesus, right? Therefore we, also, should not lie.

 

So my challenge to your this week is to tell the truth. Let us be honest in our work, in our conversations, on our taxes, and in everything we do. Let us be like Jesus, especially when we are tempted to not tell the truth or to exaggerate.

Let us follow Mrs. Bettye Craddock’s advice to “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” Let’s make Abe Lincoln proud. Who knows, he may even post about it on the Internet.

 

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

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Am I A Hypocrite?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Am I A Hypocrite?”

A Message on Matthew 7:1-5

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 10, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Matthew 7:1-5 (NRSV)

 

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

 

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Today we begin a new sermon series titled “Wesley’s Questions” based on the 22 questions that members of John Wesley’s “Holy Club” at Oxford University asked themselves every day.

 

John Wesley never sought to create a denomination. He became a priest in the Church of England (what we know as the Anglican Church today) and became worried that the church wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do in terms of reaching those in the lower strata of society in England.

 

While studying at Christ Church at the University of Oxford he and his brother, Charles, started meeting with other students not only as a way to practice spiritual disciplines but also to hold one another accountable to living a Christian life.

 

They started this group in November 1729 with only four members, but it soon grew. They would spend three or four evenings each week for prayer, Bible study, theological discussion, and accountability. The group grew as time went on.

 

Now it’s important to note that they were ridiculed by the other students at Oxford. They derided them with the term “Holy Club,” because of their pious devotion. They also called them “Methodists” because of their methodological approach to practicing spiritual disciplines. Both names stuck and actually were used by group members to describe themselves.

 

One of the ways they were methodical was by having a list of 22 questions that they reflected on every day during their devotions. Yes, 22. I’ll put a link in my message that I post online where you can access all 22 of them. (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/everyday-disciples-john-wesleys-22-questions)

 

They would ask themselves these questions every day as part of their spiritual disciplines. They didn’t have to, they wanted to. And they did.

 

The first one on the list is this: “Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?”

 

That’s a good one to start with. And that is the one we are starting our sermon series with today.

 

It’s interesting because even though the Holy Club members were asking this question of themselves back in the 1700s it is still a relevant and important question for us to ask ourselves today. As followers of Jesus Christ, do we intentionally or unintentionally create the impression that we are better than we really are? Are we hypocritical in what we say and what we do?

 

First let’s talk about hypocrisy. The word basically means claiming we are living my moral standards or beliefs that our actions prove otherwise. It’s the opposite of honesty and sincerity. But spiritually it goes deeper than that. I think it applies to when we try to live our lives trying to impress others, when we live not for God, but trying to create an impression of something we are not.

 

Facebook is a good example of this. And yes, I am guilty as well. If you notice on my Facebook page I’ll sometimes when I go fishing I’ll post photos of fish that I catch. I’m trying to impress on everyone looking at my page that I am a highly skilled fisherman, that I not only know how to catch fish, but that I can also do it as well.

 

What I don’t post on Facebook is when my lure gets tangled in some brush or on an underwater log. I don’t post when I lose a lure. I don’t post when I get skunked and don’t catch any fish. I don’t post when I get a birdnest on my baitcasting reel that takes me 15 minutes to untangle.

 

We only put the good stuff on Facebook, don’t we. Facebook presents how we want to be perceived, not how we really are.

 

And with the new photo software built into the cameras of our phones the photos we take of ourselves and others are automatically “touched up” and don’t represent reality. Have you ever known someone who takes and posts a bunch of selfies on their page and then when you meet them in real life you kind of go “Yahhhha.” You see that the smooth, unblemished skin is neither smooth nor unblemished. The reality doesn’t match the perceived image.

 

The trouble is when we view these posts that others make it can make us feel inferior, that we don’t have it going on like other people. I think that’s why it’s important to view social media posts with a grain of salt… and sometimes a pinch instead of a grain.

 

What we don’t see on the posts of people we think have it all together are the sinks full of dirty dishes, piles of laundry everywhere, unmade beds, arguments with spouses or children, unpaid bills, and tears of sorrow and frustration. We are shown views of happy faces and happy people, not the frustrations, the sorrows, the betrayals, the struggles of everyday life. No one posts a photo of their kid with a certificate for making a “C” in algebra.

 

I can still remember one of the first lessons I learned in hypocrisy, even though I didn’t even know the word at the time.

 

I was in first grade and my teacher was Mrs. Ethridge. I know this is going to date me, but every morning we would say the Pledge of Allegiance and then Mrs. Ethridge would pray. Yes, prayer. In public school.

 

Well one morning during the prayer I noticed that the boy sitting beside me, Terry Johnson, didn’t have his eyes closed all the way. That wasn’t right. You were supposed to have your eyes closed during the prayer, everybody knew that.

 

So after the prayer I decided to correct this wrong. I raised my hand and Mrs. Etheridge called on me. I said, “Terry didn’t have his eyes closed during the prayer.” I thought I had done so good. Surely Mrs. Etheridge would get on to him and straighten him out, right?

 

Instead Mrs Etheridge said, “Well, Mr. Wintermute, if you would have had your own eyes closed then you wouldn’t have noticed if Terry’s were closed or not.”

 

Boom. We didn’t drop microphones back in the day, but if we did it would have been a mic drop moment.

 

Mrs. Etheridge pointed out my hypocrisy. I had been so worried about Terry doing something wrong that it didn’t even dawn on me that I was doing the same thing. My actions were contrary to what I was claiming as a moral superiority over Terry. And it had a strong impact on me, so much so that I still remember it now decades and decades later.

 

There are many scriptures in the Bible about hypocrisy.

 

“Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” — 1 John 4:20

 

“For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.” — Galatians 6:3

 

“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” — James 1:26

 

“You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”– Matthew 15:7-9

 

“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” –Titus 1:16

 

And then the scripture we read today from Matthew’s gospel about pointing out the speck in our neighbor’s eye while we have a log in our own.

 

This scripture is part of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. It starts off with the beatitudes and then goes on for a couple of chapters with moral instructions. And in the seventh chapter Jesus teaches about judging others, saying that it is hypocritical for us to be judging someone else for something when we may be doing the same thing–only worse–ourselves.

 

It’s easy to do, isn’t it? “Why would you just look at ol’ so-and-so. Can you believe she did that? I swear she doesn’t have any morals, you know?” Or “ “I can’t believe he calls himself a Christian. He never comes to church yet I’m here every Sunday. I bet he doesn’t tithe, either.”

 

Jesus points out to his audience (and us!) that we need to be aware of being hypocritical.

 

He does it again in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the 18th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. There we find a Pharisee, one of the religious leaders of the Jewish people, praying to God and thanking God that he is as holy as he is, unlike some of the other people in the room, including extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even tax collectors.

 

The Pharisee thinks he is much holier, and therefore better, than the other folks. He’s talking about the specks in other people’s eyes. He is so wrapped up in his self-righteousness that he fails to notice the log in his own eye. Jesus points out that the tax collector was praying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” which is a much better and authentic prayer than the so-called religious leader.

 

Now I think it’s important to note here that we all, to some extent, are hypocrites. We strive to be like Jesus but we fall short, and that makes us hypocrites, unfortunately.

 

That being said, some Christians don’t work very hard at not being a hypocrite. Some Christians can open a lumber yard with the size and quantity of the logs in their eyes.

 

It reminds me of the story about a big, burly looking guy that goes to a small town preacher’s house and asks to speak with the minister’s wife. The wife was known to be very charitable and had a reputation for helping those down on their luck.

 

The man starts telling the preacher’s wife about a family that was really in bad shape. The father was dead, the mother was too ill to work, and yet there were nine children she was responsible for feeding and taking care of.

 

The man said, “They are about to be turned into the cold, empty streets unless someone pays their rent, which amounts to $400.”

 

“That’s terrible,” the woman replied. “So, how do you know them?

 

The man looked sadly at the woman, dabbed some tears from his eyes with his handkerchief, and said, “I’m the landlord.” [Source: http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Hypocrites/Trying_to_Help.shtml]

 

As Christians we shouldn’t be like the landlord in that story. We should be authentic, transparent, and humble.

 

When we are not, when we are true hypocrites, not only are we not living into the life of a follower of Jesus Christ but we actually pushing away those who may not have a relationship with Christ. Not only are we not doing good, we’re doing harm.

 

Years ago a guy named Brennan Manning, who himself had some controversy as a hypocrite, wrote something that the group DC Talk used at the beginning of one of their songs. The song starts with Brennan reading these words:

 

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

 

Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us to be hypocrites. God didn’t send his only son to die on the cross and give us everlasting life so that we can pretend to be one thing when deep down inside we are something else. Jesus didn’t suffer the beatings, the ridicule, being spit on and slapped and tortured so that we can say we follow him with our lips but then deny him with the way we live our lives, by our actions that so often speak louder than words.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to NOT be a hypocrite. Let us all check our eyes for logs before we point out the speck in other’s eyes. Do all in your power through spiritual disciplines to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

God wants us to be authentic. Jesus wants us to truthful and humble.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to be able to walk the talk, to truly be disciples of Christ.

 

Then we will make disciples of Jesus Christ, instead of driving them away.

 

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

Short Book, Big Message: 3 John

 

Short Book, Big Message: 3 John

A Message on 3 John 9-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 3, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

3 John 9-12 (NRSV)

 

I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church.

 

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Everyone has testified favorably about Demetrius, and so has the truth itself. We also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true.

 

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I chose this sermon series many weeks ago. I had no intention of this being the scripture to preach on the Sunday after the called General Conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis. I really didn’t.

 

But as the saying goes, “God works in mysterious ways.” (Or, as my roommate at seminary, Tommy Earl Burton, sometimes says “God works in mischievous ways,” which I think is sometimes true as well.)

 

This scripture, which is from the shortest book in the Bible, 3 John, is timely in that it reminds us that even in the very early church there was disagreement between the followers of Christ. And it also gives instruction on how to disagree within the church.

 

First let’s talk about the book of 3 John. As we talked about last week with 2 John there is a pretty good consensus that the author is John the Evangelist, the same person that wrote the Gospel of John. That person is not to be confused with the person named John who wrote Revelation, known as John of Patmos.

 

It really is amazing, if you think about it, that it is included in the canon of the Bible, which was adopted in the 5th century. Part of this surprise is due to its short length (only 219 words in the original Greek) but also because it has another distinction: It is the only book in the New Testament that does not mention Jesus Christ by name. Now in the NRSV translation the word Christ is used: “…for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers.” But in the original Greek the word used is Onomatos, which means “the Name.”

 

3 John is an epistle, or letter. But instead of being written to a specific group of believers or church it is a personal letter, written to a person named Gaius. We don’t know much about Gaius but we do know that the name is Roman. It was a somewhat common Roman name with a few people named Gaius becoming very powerful. The best example of this is was someone named “Gaius Julius Caesar” who is better known just as Julius Caesar. (And for you young folks, no, he is not the person who Caesar salads are named after. “Etu, crouton?”)

 

We need to understand the importance of “Gaius” being a Roman name. In the early church there was quite the debate if Gentiles, which means non-Jewish people, could become Christians. After all, Jesus was a Jew and the 12 disciples were all Jewish. And so the debate came up as to whether Gentiles could become Christians, and also if they had to become Jewish first in order to become Christian. (That’s why there are so many scriptures in the New Testament about circumcision.)

 

When Paul, who was Jewish, became converted and became a Christian instead of persecuting the Christians, he referred himself as the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” Paul also had the unusual distinction of being not only Jewish but also a Roman citizen.

 

In the scripture we read from 3 John today we find John the Evangelist writing to Gaius the Roman a personal letter. First he thanks Gaius for the followers of Christ in his area for “walking in the truth.” (We talked about this last week with 2 John.)

 

But then John the Evangelist makes a turn and starts talking about a controversy in the church. That controversy is named Diotrephes, and apparently he is not “walking in the truth” and is “spreading false charges” against John and the believers.

 

Here is The Message paraphrase of verses 9-10:  “Earlier I wrote something along this line to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves being in charge, denigrates my counsel. If I come, you can be sure I’ll hold him to account for spreading vicious rumors about us.”

 

As if that weren’t bad enough, he not only refuses hospitality to traveling Christians but tries to stop others from welcoming them. Worse yet, instead of inviting them in he throws them out.

 

So we can see that even in the very, very early church there was controversy, there was disagreement. Serious disagreements.

 

There was certainly disagreement in St. Louis this past week at the called General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The conference was scheduled back in 2016 at the General Conference and was supposed to decide one way or the other the issue of same-sex marriage in the UMC as well as sexuality issues relating to ordination.

 

The conference was live streamed on the Internet. I tried watching it several times but honestly I was disgusted with what I saw and I had to turn it off. It actually made me nauseous.

 

The results of that three-day, $3+ million conference is that we’re pretty much right where the church was before the conference began, except we took a public relations beating and now have a poorer image among the unchurched as news stories covered the airing of our denominational dirty laundry.

 

What did happen was that the Traditional Plan was approved by a close margin but was not amended as supporters of it had hoped it would be in order to make it constitutional. The preliminary plan had parts of it already labeled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council so it is expected to have those same parts labeled unconstitutional again by the Judicial Council.

 

Sigh.

 

One pastor, speaking in support of one of the plans, got up and said that those who supported a different plan were like viruses that were infecting the church that would spread worldwide and eventually kill the church. Honest. Tell me how that is Christ-like? Tell me how that is speaking the truth in love?

 

After the traditional plan passed the police were called in to keep demonstrators from storming the floor of the convention center to protest the vote. Yes, you heard that correctly. Police. At a United Methodist Convention!

 

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

 

Friends, I am grieved beyond words. And if I am honest, it made me question if I can serve in ministry alongside people who say such mean, hate-filled, and unloving things. Yes, it was done on both sides, but the majority of the things I saw that appalled me were from one specific side. It’s one thing to disagree, but it’s another thing to be hateful and mean and… well… un-Christlike.

 

This past week I have been tempted many times to write mean, snarky, responses to some of the things posted on social media. But I didn’t. I wanted to. Trust me, I really, really wanted to. The temptation was very real. But I didn’t.

 

John’s words kept coming back to me: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”

 

Don’t sink to their level. Don’t imitate what is evil. Imitate what is good. Seek to be righteous before the Lord and others.

 

Years ago George Bernard Shaw wrote, “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

 

As Christians, I believe we are called to stay out of the mud unless we are helping others get out of it.

 

It’s hard to do, especially with social media today. Someone will post something that really gets to us. We get emotional and we want to strike back. We want revenge. We want to show them. And so we post things in the passion of the moment that are not loving, that are mean, that are not Christ-like.

 

It often sounds like a couple of first-graders on the playground. “Oh yeah, well you are….”

 

And back and forth it goes, wallowing in the mud.

 

Sigh.

 

Now someone might point out that Jesus got angry with the money changers and vendors in the temple and drove them out with a whip. That is true. Jesus did that. But that is righteous indignation. That is being angry but without sinning. It is okay for us to have righteous indignation as well, but it needs to be tempered with love. Everything we do needs to be tempered with love. Don’t let anger lead to sin.

 

Paul, writing in Ephesians 4, quotes from Psalm 4:4 when he says, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. — Ephesians 4:25-27.

 

It’s easy to say but hard to do. So hard to do. It is a human reaction to hit back–harder!. If we let emotions drive our theology (which is not a good thing, by the way) then we will hit back. But if we focus on God and the cross of Jesus Christ we can overcome those emotions.

 

Back in my junior high days in Cooper, TX I played football in 8th grade. One of the things told to us (I don’t remember if it was our coaches or just an “urban legend” among us players) was that if you hit your opponent harder than they hit you then you won’t feel it and it won’t hurt.

 

I was about 80 pounds soaking wet back then, and that is being gracious on the heavy side. One night we were playing Wolfe City for the district championship. I was short and small so I normally played wide receiver. (We never passed, so it was a relatively safe position for me to play.)

 

Wolfe City had a big ol’ boy named Willy Woodberry who, in 8th grade, stood about 6’1” and weighed close to 275. He was making a mess of our offence and we were taking a beating. Our coaches called a timeout and told me to come in and play tight end instead of wide receiver and to block whoever was across from me.

 

We broke the huddle and I did as I was told. I lined up as tight end on the right side and when I looked across to see who I was going to be blocking, guess who it was? That’s right, Willy Woodberry. It was going to be a battle of the Ws, Wintermute at 80 pounds vs. Woodberry at 275 pounds.

 

I remembered the saying about hitting the other player harder than they hit you. That’s what I was going to do. I was going to hit Willy so hard that he would fall backward on the ground. I was going to hit him so hard he would think a train had hit him.

 

We snapped the ball and I launched myself at Willy. I aimed for his thighs, thinking my impact would drive his legs out from under him and he would fall helplessly on the ground. Yeah. Tha’s the ticket.

 

That didn’t happen. I bounced right off of him. I don’t even think I slowed him down as he plowed right over me. Not only that, but those seemingly size 18 cleats (I have no idea what shoe size he wore, but they seemed that big.) stepped on my hand as he drove into the backfield and tackled our quarterback for a loss.

 

It was then that discovered that the saying about hitting others harder than they hit you was not true. It was a lie. A big lie. The laws of physics about displacement of kinetic energy being relative to mass times acceleration were the real truth, and he had a lot more mass than me. And it hurt. Really hurt. Bad.

 

I lasted that one play before the coaches put in a bigger player with more mass to try and block Willy. He didn’t do much better. We still lost. I was just happy to survive. Seriously.

 

Sometimes in our world we act like that “hitting the other person harder” is true. When something offends us (and God help us for being so offended by every little thing today) we think that if we can hit the other person back harder than they hit us then we will feel better about ourselves.

 

But it isn’t true. Revenge is not sweet, but bitter. There is a saying that “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

 

Jesus himself said,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” — Matthew 5:38-42

 

And he doesn’t stop there. He goes even further: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:43-48

 

Which brings us back to 3 John: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”

 

So, my challenge to you this week is to be very conscious not to do evil. Love everyone, even those you disagree with, even your enemies. Consciously imitate what is good, not what is evil.

Remember that Jesus loved even those who crucified him. Remember that Jesus loved us, every person, so much that he was willing to die for us.

 

I do not know what will happen as a result of our General Conference last week. I am afraid we will witness the same thing this next year during our regular General Conference, but I just don’t know. And I’m okay with that.

 

What I do know is that instead of worrying about that I should focus on living my life like Jesus Christ. I should focus on living out the great commandment of loving God and loving others with all that I have and all that I am. I should make sure that if I get angry it is in righteous indignation and not in a false “eye for an eye” motive. Daily I should focus on John’s words to “not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good.”

 

And don’t try to hit others harder than they hit you. It didn’t work for me against Willie Woodberry, and it won’t work for you.

 

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

UMC Prayer Guide

Sunday, March 3

May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.

Revelation 22:21

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What’s Happening:

  • Churches hear updates in worship.

Prayer Focus:

  • Local congregations to love one another and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world

UMC Prayer Guide

Saturday, March 2

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:18

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What’s Happening:

  • Communication in Annual Conferences
  • Communication in Districts
  • Communication in churches

Prayer Focus:

  • Local churches, pastors, and members adapting to a new normal

UMC Prayer Guide

Friday, March 1

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Proverbs 3:5-6

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What’s Happening:

  • Delegate Travel
  • Communication to Annual Conferences

Prayer Focus:

  • Those hurting and processing outcome.
  • Those feeling anxious about their economic future (especially clergy, staff and families).

UMC Prayer Guide

Thursday, February 28

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.

Romans 15:13a

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What’s Happening:

  • Delegates travel home.
  • International delegates visiting mission partners.

Prayer Focus:

  • Future of the church
  • Annual Conferences

UMC Prayer Guide

Wednesday, February 27

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Philippians 1:6

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What’s Happening:

  • Delegates begin journey home.
  • Bishops, Groups, and Staff meeting to evaluate and consider next steps.

Prayer Focus:

  • God’s will as we move forward
  • News media
  • Communication

UMC Prayer Guide

Tuesday, February 26

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

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What’s Happening:

  • Final day—should be moving to final votes in plenary.

Prayer Focus:

  • News media
  • God’s will be done
  • Safety, peace, and no harm by advocates
  • For those feeling the need to leave the UMC
  • For those who are hurting

 

Short Book, Big Message: 2 John

Short Book, Big Message: 2 John

A Message on 2 John 4-6

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Feb. 24, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

2 John 4-6 (NRSV)

 

I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.

 

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Today we continue our sermon series “Short Book, Big Message,” which looks at the shortest books of the Bible, by examining the next-to-the-shortest book of the Bible: 2 John.

 

Now there is some confusion over 2 John simply from the title. The Bible has the Gospel of John but then also three epistles, or letters, that are titled 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John.

 

It’s always a fun time in confirmation class when I have the students look up scriptures from one of the epistles of John. Often they will open to the Gospel of John and if the scripture is in say 2 John they will go to the second chapter of the Gospel of John. It can get confusing!

 

When it comes to who wrote these epistles most scholars agree that it is the same person that wrote the Gospel of John. Sometimes called “John the Evangelist,” there is good scholarship that supports this theory.

 

Ancient tradition has it that this same John wrote the book of Revelation but most scholars today believe it was another person named John. They base this primarily on the time Revelation was written and so call the author of Revelation “John of Patmos.”

 

So, back to 2 John. Like I said it is the second shortest book in the Bible. It consists of only 245 words in the original Greek. Like the other shortest books of the Bible it consists of only one chapter. It is divided into only 13 verses.

 

One of the interesting things about 2 John is that the letter is written to a woman. It beings with “The elder to the elect lady and her children.”

 

Now we don’t know exactly who this lady is but we do know that it is unusual for any of the biblical epistles to be written to a woman. It proves that women had an active role in the early church not only as followers of Jesus Christ but also in leadership roles of the early church.

 

The term “elect” does not mean she was a politician but was a phrase used by the early church to refer to the followers of Jesus Christ.

 

While we know she is a follower of Jesus Christ don’t know her name, where she lives, or why he is writing her.

 

There is a lot of speculation about her identity. One theory says that it is a metaphor for the Church. The “lady” is the church itself and her “children” are the Christians that make up that local congregation.

 

Another theory is that the lady is Mary the mother of Jesus. If you remember when Jesus was on the cross he asked the “disciples whom he loved” to take care of his (Jesus’) mother. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” — John 19:26-27

 

Under this theory the “children” would be the other children that Mary had after Jesus.

 

And yet even another theory posits that the letter was written to a woman named “Kyria.” This comes about from the Greek word that is translated at “lady.” Some scholars think that the use of “kyria” in the Greek is not a descriptive word but a proper noun, the name of the person John is addressing. In other words, a lady named Lady.

 

I don’t ascribe to any of those theories. I believe that John purposefully does not include the woman’s name because of his concerns that if his letter was intercepted or fell into the wrong hands then the woman might be persecuted against. We have to remember that Christians at the time this was written weren’t well-liked by much of society.  The Jews didn’t like them and the Romans didn’t like them. So John could have been cryptic in intentionally not using the woman’s name out of a sense of protection.

 

Regardless of who was on the receiving end we do know that the letter survived and was accepted into the Cannon of Biblical texts and became part of our Bible.

 

So why did John write this letter? Well, one of the reasons had to do with some heretical movements that some of the Christians at the time were following.

 

One of these is called the Docetic heresy. This was the belief that God would never actually physically become human and walk around in the dirt on the earth because God is holy, right? And so Jesus could not have had an actual physical body but by some divine trick only made it look like he had a body. So Jesus only looked like he had a human body but really didn’t. It was an illusion.

 

Now if this sounds like something that is wrong then you would be right. It is heresy, pretty plain and simple. Jesus was fully human and fully divine. And it’s not just me saying it’s a heresy but it was officially condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

 

But at the time John wrote the letter we are exploring today the heresy was beginning to gain some traction and people were leaving the true church to follow it.

 

John writes in verses 7-9 (which follows right after what we read today):

 

“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” — 2 John 7-9

 

Knowing that we can come to a better understanding of the term “truth” that John uses in the scripture we read today: “I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth…”

 

“Truth” is an interesting word. In today’s world it is becoming more and more common for people to have an attitude that there are no absolute truths. There is a belief that truth is relative, that what may be true for you may not be true for me. We hear about “relative truth” as opposed to “absolute truth.”

 

Now I will confess that I am more in the “absolute truth” camp than in the relative truth mindset. I believe that there are absolute truths.

 

Take gravity, for example. I believe it is a truth that on earth we have gravity. It is a force that pull things down (meaning toward the earth). I believe that even though there are minute fluctuations in gravitational forces relative to altitude that gravity is a constant and its force is relative to mass. (And here lately with the way I’ve been eating I’ve been gaining more mass and thus weigh more.)

 

I think there are absolute truths in Christianity as well. Some of the best examples of these truths, I believe, are found in our creeds. That’s why we say a creed every Sunday. It proclaims what we as followers of Christ believe to be true.

 

The Apostles’ Creed starts out with “I believe…” “I believe in God Almighty…” “I believe in Jesus Christ…” “I believe in the Holy Spirit…”

 

The creeds express what I believe to be absolute truths. It proclaims the basis of our faith, the things that I believe a person must believe as truth if they are going to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

If you don’t believe what the creeds proclaim, then you might not be a Christian. For example, if you don’t believe Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, and then on the third day he arose, then you might not be a Christian. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

 

Truth is important. Jesus tells us in the 14th chapter of John that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Jesus is the truth.

 

Another subject that John brings up in the scripture we read today from 2 John is love.

 

Part of the difficulty of us having a clear understanding of love has to do with our language. When I say I love Buffalo wings I am using the word “love” differently than when I say I love my wife or love my children.

 

Depending on who you believe there are 5 to 14 different types of love. The word has such different meanings that people can’t even agree on how many different types of love there are!

 

When John wrote this letter he was pretty focused on what love meant. In another letter he wrote, which we know of as 1 John, we find him writing, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” — 1 John 4:7-8

 

So God is love. That’s pretty heavy. But John doesn’t stop there. “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”

 

Now that’s some seriously heavy stuff! Love is so powerful that God himself sent his Son, Jesus Christ, the only son he had, and allowed him to be crucified and killed as an atoning sacrifice for the sins that we, as humans, committed. Jesus didn’t sin (another of what I believe to be absolute truths) and yet was killed, not for something that he did, but because of the things we did and do.

 

Love means that we don’t earn salvation. It’s not through our actions that we are saved. It is through the love of God, as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that saves us from our sins and gives us eternal life.

 

Listen to the scripture we read today, but this time from The Message paraphrase: “I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed.” — 2 John 4-6.

 

Love each other. Love one another. Pretty simple, huh?

 

Years ago there was a song that was recorded by several people, including the Kingston Trio, Jefferson Airplane, and even David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame. But the song didn’t achieve popularity until a group named the Youngbloods recorded it. Written by a young man named Chet Powers, the song talks about the importance and power of love.

 

The lyrics go something like this:

 

If you hear the song I sing

You will understand, listen

You hold the key to love and fear

All in your trembling hand

Just one key unlocks them both

It’s there at your command

 

Come on, people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another right now

 

I think John the Evangelist would be okay with that song. As Christians we are called to walk in the truth and to love one another… right now.

 

So my challenge for you this week is to to walk in the truth and love one another. Remember John’s words that remind us to live out the great commandment to love God and love each other. And let us not only do this with our words but also with our actions as we walk through this life.

 

May everything we do, everything we say, every action we take, be grounded and rooted in love. May love be the motivating force of all that we do, even when we disagree with others.

 

[Sing]

 

Come on, people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another right now

 

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