Change: Peter, Part I

Here is this week’s message written and given by Alex Howell, our College Pastoral Internship Program intern that we have had this summer.

Today is Alex’s last day with us. Blessings to you, Alex, and you continue to explore God’s call on your life!

Change: “Peter, Part I”
A Message for Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
By Alex Howell, College Pastoral Internship Program Intern
July 25, 2021

Matthew 16:13-20

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Matthew‬ ‭16:13-20‬ ‭NRSV‬‬

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Well good morning everyone! If you have not yet met me, my name is Alex Howell. I am the summer intern here at Jacksonville First United Church. And I would like to once again welcome you here to our church! I am so glad you’re here, and I too am glad to be here with all of you this lovely morning.

If you’ve been with us during the last few weeks, you might have noticed that we are in a new series that is completely focused on change and how we respond to it. And the way that we have planned is that each week, we look at a new person in the Bible whose life went through a lot of change, and see how they responded to that change.

Well, this week we are going to be looking into the life of Simon Peter. Now, I will say that every once in a while, we may take an extra week to look through a given person’s life. Such as last week when we looked at the later part of Mose’s life. When it comes to the life of Peter, this will also be the case. This week we will look at one part of Peter’s life, and next week we will look at another part of it.

So, the first time we see Simon in the Bible is where we had our first scripture reading this morning. We read that as Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, He came across two brothers, that being Simon and Andrew his brother. And as the story goes, Jesus looks at them and says to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Well, Immediately they both left everything they had and started following Jesus. So Jesus continued walking along the Sea of Galilee along with His new followers Simon and Andrew. And they came across two other brothers named James and John. And the Bible says that they immediately began to follow Jesus. Anyways, as the story goes, from there they begin traveling all throughout the land of Galilee, teaching in synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel.

Now, this story can be found within the Gospel of Matthew, but if you were to look at Luke chapter 5, you would get a little bit more detail about the story that we just heard. Well, it turns out that as Jesus was one the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He was actually preaching to a crowd of people. And as He was speaking to them, they began to press in around Him. Luckily there were two boats behind Him which belonged to the two sets of brothers we just heard about, Simon and Andrew as well as James and John, who were out washing their nets. To give Himself some space from the crowd, Jesus stepped into one of the boats and continued to preach from there.

After Jesus had finished preaching, He began talking with Simon and asked him if they could go out on the water to fish. And so, Simon responds to Jesus quite reluctantly saying that they had fished all night the night before with no luck. The story continues with the very next scene being that of them out on the water fishing. Which I think is actually quite funny. We see Simon basically complaining to Jesus saying he doesn’t want to go back out in the water. And the very next thing we read is, of course, them out on the water fishing.

Anyways, as we continue with the story, Simon lets down his net, and all of a sudden he catches a huge load of fish. So much so that it says that his net begins to break. They had to call over some James and John, who were also fishing with them in the other boat, just to help them get their catch back to shore. And the Bible says that as they were coming back to the shore, their boats were starting to sink because of the weight of the fish that they had caught. Finally, they get back onto the shore, and Simon was so amazed by what had just happened that he falls before Jesus saying, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinner.” The Bible says that of course James and John were also amazed at what had happened. And so, Jesus said to them, “Follow me, for you will be fishers of men.”

Well, between our first scripture reading this morning and our second, a lot of things happen within Jesus’ earthly ministry. Just to name a few, we have the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Healing lots of people and cast out demons, the disciple Matthew is Called, Jesus begins teaching parables, John the Baptist is beheaded, Jesus walks on water, and the feeding of the four thousand. A lot happens within Jesus’ ministry. But now, our story picks back up with a conversation between Jesus and his disciples.

You see, they had come to a certain city called Caesarea Philippi. And within that city, people were asking who Jesus really was? Some were saying that he was Elijah. Others, John the Baptist. Some even said Jeremiah or one of the other Old Testament prophets. And so, Jesus gathered His disciples and asked them a question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Well, you could imagine that it might have been a bit quiet for a while. Then, Simon answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “Blessed are you Simon, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in Heaven” replied Jesus. And then Jesus continues saying, “I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hell will not overpower it.”

We see here that at this point in the story, Simon is given a new name by none other than God Himself. Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God. Peter or Petros, is a Greek word meaning “a stone.” Jesus continues saying to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” And here we see how Jesus makes Simon, now called Peter, a very important leader within the church. One thing is clear, Peter’s life will never be the same.

Well, Jesus continues in this important conversation with His disciples by telling them not to tell anyone what Peter had said about Jesus, that He was the Messiah and the Son of God. At that time Jesus still had a lot to do in His earthly ministry and one reason that might have told His disciples not to tell anyone is because He was not yet ready to reveal Himself as the Christ and the Son of God. Humility may also have played a role in this as well. But, Jesus nevertheless tells them not tell anyone.

And so, the conversation continues with Jesus foretelling His death and His resurrection. He Tells them that He must go to Jerusalem so that He can suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes. And that He will be killed, but that He will also raise again from the dead on the third day.

Peter did not like hearing this at all! Peter pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus saying that, “this will never happen to You.” But then, Jesus looked at Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”

You can imagine how harsh this must have sounded when Peter heard Jesus call Him Satan. And remember, Peter had just gotten his new name, and then to be suddenly called Satan by Jesus had to have been hard for him to hear. Peter, who had just been given a revelation from God, now rebuked by Jesus.

Well, if you think about it. Christ’s death and resurrection upon the cross is the cornerstone of our salvation. So, if Christ never went to Calvary, where is our salvation? This is why I think Jesus rebuked Peter so heavily. Because His death and resurrection on the cross was key to God’s redemption plan of salvation for the world. But the story does not end here.

The story continues and picks back up six days after this conversation that Jesus had with His disciples. And the Bible says that Jesus gathered up Peter, James, and John. And led them up high on top of a nearby mountain. When they had reached the top, they saw Jesus. But He was not alone. He had been transfigured in divine glory, talking with Moses and Elijah. The Bible says that Jesus’ face shone like the sun and that His garments had become like a very white light.

Then, Peter looked at the three standing there talking and asked them, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But as Peter was talking, a bright cloud began to overshadow them and they heard a voice from heaven saying to them, “this is My beloved Son, whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!”

After hearing the voice from heaven, the three disciples became terrified and fell down to the ground. Then, Jesus came to them saying to get up and not be afraid. But as they looked toward Jesus, He was alone. The other two figures had disappeared. So after this, the four of them. Jesus, Peter, James, and John, began to head back down the mountain. And as they were walking, Jesus commanded them not to tell what had just happened to anyone, until He had died and risen back to life again.

So just think about everything that has now happened in Peter’s life so far. It all started one day as Jesus, the Son of the Living God, came to Peter and called him to follow Himself Many others were called also, and Jesus’ earthly ministry began. Peter witnessedJesus going around all of Judaea, preaching the gospel and teaching parables to people. He witnessed people being healed by the hands of Jesus as well as demons cast out of people. He sees all of the miracles and wonderful things that Jesus does during His time here on earth. He sees the glorified Christ. And Peter gets a new name from God Himself and is called to be a leader within His new church. As we know, Peter accepts this new call on his life and continues to follow Jesus.

Well, it may be an understatement to say that Peter’s life drastically changed when Jesus came into the picture. Before Jesus came along and changed everything, Peter was but a simple fisherman. And now, he is called to be a leader in the church. Think back for a moment to when we first met Peter. He could have said no to Jesus’ call. But he instead chose to follow Him. And so, his life completely changed from that moment on.

The same also happens to us when we allow God to come into our own life. After this happens, everything changes. As we begin to follow God and learn how to love Him and be more like Christ. we find ourselves changed. And changed for the better. And we see how even Peter was not perfect. Remember back to that conversation where Jesus foretold His death and resurrection, and Peter told Jesus that that will never happen. Jesus rebuked Peter calling him Satan. So we too, often make mistakes and follow our own interests instead of Gods’.

So my challenge to you this week is this; God is calling you to follow Him. That may mean finding new ways to serve Him with your time or money, that may mean making a meaningful effort to get involved more with a small group or Bible study. That may even mean doing something as simple as calling and checking in with a friend or family member who you know isn’t doing well, whatever it is that you feel God is calling you to do.

My challenge for you is that you step out in faith, just as Peter did, and follow God wherever He may lead you. Let us turn to the Lord in prayer…

Change: Moses, Part II

Change: Moses, Part II
A Message on Numbers 11:1-15
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 18, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

Numbers 11:1-15 (NRSV)

1 Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, the Lord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the Lord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2 But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. 3 So that place was called Taberah,[a] because the fire of the Lord burned against them.

4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. 8 The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.

10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

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Last week Pastor Sarah explored how God called Moses through the burning bush to go to Egypt and face down Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go. Today as we continue our sermon series on change we will jump ahead in the life of Moses and look at a part of his life that was not all smiles and roses, but instead was very difficult for him.

Both of the scriptures we read today are kind of… well… depressing. They’re not the happy clappy scriptures about God loving us no matter what we do. No, they are about a man being called by God to do things that are way, WAY beyond his comfort zone and that, instead of bringing peace that passes understanding, creates more angst and anxiety in his life.

You probably know the story. The Hebrew people, God’s people, are slaves in Egypt and a treated horribly. Like kill-the-babies-if-they-are-boys bad.

This is the world that Moses is born into. And things don’t get better during his lifetime, even though Moses, being adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, grew up in the lap of luxury. Moses ends up killing a man and has to skedaddle when his nefarious deed comes to light.

The scripture we read today from the book of Numbers takes place after God has called Moses from tending sheep in the desert and after God goes before Pharaoh numerous times, telling, (sing) “Let my people go, UGH!” (If you know the song, “Pharaoh, Pharaoh,” then you’ll understand.)

The scripture we read today is after Moses leads them through the Red Sea to escape from Egypt. The Hebrews, numbering around 600,000, stopped at Mt. Sinai where Moses was given the 10 Commandments as well as other laws that we find in Exodus 20 and 21. They stay there for a little over 2 years and then, when the cloud over the tabernacle lifted, started following it.

And sure enough it’s not long into the trip before the “whiners” start complaining about things.

Many years ago Saturday Night Live (back when it was good) had a series of skits featuring a couple known as “Doug and Wendy Whiner.” As their name implies, they whined about everything. (In whining voice, “Hi, we’re Doug and Wendy Whiner…”) The skits, while funny, are also very irritating and annoying.

Well Moses had to deal with a whole bunch of whiners back when they were traveling in the desert. (A scholar with more time and brains that I have says that the Bible records 14 times the people formally came to Moses and whined about things after they left Egypt.)

Here is The Message paraphrase of one section of the scripture we read today: “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.”

Manna, which comes from the Hebrew word for “what is it?,” was the food that God provided every morning for the Hebrew people to eat. They wanted food, and God gave them food. They wanted water, and God gave them water.

You’d think they would be thankful, right? They would say something like, “Wow, this is awesome! This manna stuff is great, and God even delivers it. And unlike Walmart pickup grocery orders there are never any substitutions. It’s so great to be free and able to be our own people without being beaten and forced to work like we were in Egypt. Man, I hated being a slave!”

That’s what you would think, but no. They whined. They complained. They griped.

Well guess what? God heard it. (God hears everything, of course, but still…) And when God heard it he got mad. Like extremely mad. Here’s what it says in verse 10: “Then the Lord became very angry…”

Back at the beginning of this reading we find God getting mad and sending fires to burn up people and possessions on the outskirts of the camps. What stops it? Moses prays to God to stop the fire, and God responds to Moses’ prayers and stops the fire.

You would think that the people would remember that, don’t you? You’d think they would be thankful to Moses. “Hey, quit your mouthing! Don’t you remember what God did a while back to all those folks who were complaining? So shut up, eat your manna, and be grateful for what you have.”

But no, they started whining again. And God got mad again. And at this Moses kinda loses it.

I think Moses by this point is physically and emotionally tired. He’s tired of trying to help people who do nothing but complain to him, people who don’t appreciate all the times he has interceded for them with God and saved them from destruction. He’s through. He’s done. No mas. He’s had it.

We discover this in verses 11-15 of the scripture we read today when Moses responds to God. Here is The Message paraphrase of his conversation with God: “Why are you treating me this way? What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? So why dump the responsibility of this people on me? Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother, carry them all the way to the land you promised to their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people who are whining to me, ‘Give us meat; we want meat.’ I can’t do this by myself—it’s too much, all these people. If this is how you intend to treat me, do me a favor and kill me. I’ve seen enough; I’ve had enough. Let me out of here.”

Wow! Pretty strong words, right? I think it shows just how exasperated Moses is at this point. He’s at the end of his rope and just can’t take it anymore. The pressure, the stress, has driven him to a breaking point.

Have you ever felt that way? Be honest, now. Maybe instead of asking you if you ever felt that way I should rephrase the question, “How long has it been since you felt that way”?

I think it’s safe to say if you haven’t felt that way at least once in the past year then consider yourself to be among a group of very few people. Stress happens to all of us. And yes, sometimes our imaginations can make things seem worse than they really are which causes even more stress.

But here’s the point I want to make: God is with us in our stress, during those “end-of-the-rope” times. God can help us tie a knot in the end of that rope and hang on. God is with us when we feel like we are, as my young nephew Mason Stegall once said years ago, “gonna have a come-apart.”

There is a myth about Christianity that goes something like this: If you accept Jesus as your savior then everything will go right for you all the time. You’ll be pretty or handsome, have plenty of money, your kids will behave, it will never rain on your day off, you will never have bad breath, your feet will never stink, and will have the perfect life.

While it is true that an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ will change your perspective and attitude, it will not make your life easy and perfect. As a matter of fact, it’s just the opposite.

Jesus tells the disciples (and us) in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” (NIV)

Not “You might have trouble,” or “You sometimes will have trouble,” or “Every now and then you will have trouble.” No. “In this world you will have trouble.” It’s not an option. It’s not avoidable. You will have trouble.

And yet in that same verse Jesus adds another sentence following that statement: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)

Following Jesus doesn’t mean a trouble-free life. Doing what God calls us to do shouldn’t be done in a quid pro quo mindset: “If I do this for God then all my troubles will go away.” No. In fact, just the opposite will happen.

God doesn’t call us to our comfortable places. And why should he? Doing something you are comfortable with doesn’t require faith, but doing those things that are out of your comfort zone, sometimes way, WAY out of our comfort zone, now that does require faith.

We see that in the life of Moses that we read about today. You would think that after all the miracles that the people had personally experienced in gaining their freedom from the Egyptians that they would be very grateful and thankful to Moses, who led them through some tough times. But instead we find that they gripe and whine and are ready to turn on Moses.

How quickly we forget all the bad things when we get nostalgic about the past. Psychologically our minds filter out the bad things and accentuate the good things, making the past seem much better than it actually was. We remember the pots of meat cooking, all-you-can-eat fish frys, cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic, but we forget about the labor involved in being slaves. We forget about the bad when we whine for the good ol’ days.

I think there are a couple of things we should take away from this scripture we read today.

First, and I’m going to be very blunt: quit whining so much. It’s much easier to whine than it is to work to fix whatever it is you are whining about.

This age of social media has caused so many of us to turn into (whiny voice) Doug and Wendy Whiner. If something happens that we don’t like in even the littlest bit, we can post on social media how outraged we are, inviting others to join in our outrage. And if we are honest (which we should be) it has gotten to where we are competitive in how outraged we are. We try to achieve a status symbol of being more outraged than anyone else. It’s called “comparative virtue signalling.” I call it whining. No matter what you want to call it, we need to stop it, or at least give an equal amount of effort toward correcting the problem as we do whining about it.

Second point I want us to remember is that you can’t please everyone, so try to please God instead.

Moses did what God had told him to do, and even had to climb up Mt. Sinai twice because he got so mad at the people for making the golden calf while he was gone that he broke the original set of 10 Commandments tablets. He went to Pharaoh over and over and over trying to convince him to let the people go, only to be rebuked all but the last time. And as hard as Moses tried, as much preaching and talking as he did, the people still grumbled and griped about him.

Years ago there was a song called “Garden Party” that had the lyrics in the chorus, “You know you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” As Christians I think we should say, “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please the Lord.”

Do what God says is right, knowing that there will be people who gripe and whine. Do it anyway. (Some of them are going to gripe and whine no matter what you do, anyway.)

So that is my challenge to you this week: Quit whining and do the right thing. Quit being a Doug or Wendy Whiner, putting so much energy and time into complaining about what is wrong. Instead work to make things better.

And do the right (Godly) thing, even when it isn’t popular and you know people will whine about it.

Remember that Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God, had to deal with whiners. Jesus came to earth in human form, walked and taught among us, and willingly went to the cross so that we could be reconciled to God. And people whined about it.

Do the right thing. Don’t be a whiner.

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

Change: Moses, Part I

Finding God in the Wilderness (Yes, even at church camp)
A Message on Exodus 3:1-12
By Rev. Sarah Odom, Associate Pastor
Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Exodus 1:1-12 (NRSV)

1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

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Prayer: Giver of Life, allow our time and this message to be pleasing and accepting to you. Amen.

As I prepared for this Sunday… I have found it to be exciting and nerve-wracking. Matthew and I are excited to begin ministry at Jacksonville First. We have been very grateful to receive many blessings from members at our church. Thank you all for making this transition exceptionally smooth for us.

Today, I want to talk a little bit about myself and where I have met Christ at the cross. Next, I want to talk about the awesome week that we had at church camp. Lastly, I want to respect our sermon series on Change and discuss Moses as he encountered God in Exodus 3:1-12. At the end of the message, I hope that all of these topics tie in together and we aren’t here for too long.

I want to start off by giving y’all a brief introduction about myself. I grew up outside of Gilmer, TX in a small community named Bettie. I attended Soules Chapel UMC before heading off to college at Texas A&M University-Commerce. After two years at Commerce, I had an internship called the College Pastoral Intern Program. You might be familiar with this internship because our brother in Christ, Alex, is also a part of this intern program. Soon after my internship, I was offered a job at Center First UMC as their Youth Director.

I continued my undergraduate studies at Stephen F. Austin State University. In the Spring of 2018, I graduated with a degree in Political Science and History. I know, I know…. extremely exciting topics, right? Throughout my degree, I focused solely on international politics and history in South America. I am currently a student at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, TX. In the next couple of years, I hope to graduate with my Masters of Divinity.

I have been a practicing United Methodist for as long as I have been a Christian. I have served on many committees from Pumpkin Patch Committees to Building Committee. I have also held several hired positions in the church. Altogether, I have spent 13 years serving in the United Methodist Church. As I discern my call into ministry, I have been able to realize that God has called me to focus on youth ministry, hospital visits, nursing home and assisted living ministry, and death and dying ministries. These areas are often forgotten and I think that we ought to serve God’s people through every season of their lives. I think that’s all I want to mention about my resume for now.

Throughout my Christian journey, I have found that there has been a time that I refer to as the before and after. As Christians, when we choose to follow Christ, we choose to be changed. As Christians, we are supposed to change and grow. We are not called to remain complacent or stagnant. God will take us to wonderful places and to the unknown. If God is going to take you where He wants you to go, you can’t be bound to where you have been. We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. We might even find ourselves outside of our comfort zone as we discern God’s call in our lives.

Every once in a while, we might find ourselves shrouded by the mystery of faith. We don’t always understand God’s entire plan for our life, but we know that God is always present. I don’t fully understand the mystery of grace, but I do know that it does not leave us where it found us. We must be reminded that it is God’s timing, God’s will, God’s plan, and God’s glory…not our own…

This morning, we are going to look at Moses’ encounter with God. Moses was doing his own thing and living life as best he could. All of a sudden, God shows up and it becomes a God thing. I wonder…. Did anyone of y’all come to church expecting a God thing? Or maybe, we came to church wanting to experience God in a new and fresh way
Most people are in a rut, and what I mean by that is they live day to day fighting to get out of life trials. Few live in the moment of experiencing God and the ones that do are accused of being holy rollers, fanatics, out of touch, or even hypocrites because when they see things displeasing to God, they actually bring them into the light of God and want to make a change.

Moses’ life was not easy. He was born a Hebrew child and raised as an Egyptian prince. He floated down a river at birth by his mother and didn’t even realize the sacrifice made for his life until he was older. As a young adult he fought for the life of a Hebrew, and became on the run of the Egyptians and not trusted by the Hebrews.

That’s the quick version- most of us have a story to tell and a story to share with those we encounter every day. We pick up with Moses’ life in Exodus 3:1-12 as Moses works as sheep herder for his father-in-law Jethro. We know from scripture that God’s plan was to punish Egypt, deliver the Israelites, and bring His people to the promised land. God tells Moses that he knows about Israel’s afflictions. He calls the Hebrews his Children and he acknowledges that they belong to the group to whom he has made covenant promises.

So, God initiates the special relationship with Moses. Moses’ call at the burning bush marks the beginning of his role as mediator between the Lord and His people. Moses was commissioned to lead God’s people from the wilderness of sin to the mountain of God. He is minding his business and the angel of the Lord gets his attention through the burning of the bush. Moses goes to investigate- (see why it does not burn up) God gets his attention. God speaks to him from the bush (Initiates the relationship) God calls him by name- Moses, Moses- twice to get his attention (Urgency) Here I am- (Response) readiness to answer the person that called.

God sends Moses to Pharaoh to bring his people the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses responds, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you…” Although Moses story doesn’t always end up following God’s plan, I admire this conversation between God and Moses.

In times of trial and tribulation, we know that God is present. Comfort and reassurance from God is a consistent theme throughout the Bible. In Jeremiah 1:6, Jeremiah responds to the call of God by saying, “I don’t know how to speak; I am only a youth.” But the Lord responded, “Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Another scripture that focuses on our trials is from Isaiah 43:2. It reads, “When you pass through the water, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

When the Bible says in Proverbs 3:5-6, “do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight,” the Bible is being serious. Your heart is deceitful, your emotions fluctuate, your understanding does not see the overall, big picture. God never lies, God never changes, God knows all. Trust Him.

We all want that Aha moment when it comes to God- Am I right? We want to experience God and we want to know that what we experience is truly him. Sometimes I think about how easy it would have been a Christian during the time of Jesus’ life on earth. These folks in the Bible lived and served and saw Jesus and experienced God in a way that is overwhelming. God sent Moses an Aha moment through a burning bush
It may not be as dramatic as a literal burning bush but we have these encounters with God where we cannot deny that God has spoken a word to us and we need to respond. When we are going through hard times is not the time to start looking for the Lord. It is before so that He can help us through the tough times and walk us through with His Presence.

At some point, it’s got to go from being highlighted in our Bible to being written on our heart.

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

Change: David

Change: David
A Message on 2 Samuel 7:8-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 4, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

2 Samuel 7:8-17 (NRSV)

8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 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. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15 But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. 17 In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

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Today as we continue our sermon series on change we are going to take a look at the life of King David and how he experienced change.

David was the youngest of seven or eight sons of Jesse. (1 Samuel 16 says he had eight sons, while 1 Chronicles 2 lists the names of seven. Either way it was a bunch.)

David becomes famous as a young man who went from being a shepherd to being the one that killed Goliath, a giant of a man, using only a sling. That took a lot of bravery.

But David is also the one God chooses to be king over Israel. This happens while Saul was still serving as king, and we read about how Saul got jealous of David and tried to kill him with a javelin. David has to run and hide. David has a couple of great opportunities to kill Saul, but each time he refuses to do so.

In the scripture we read today from 2 Samuel we find the prophet Nathan speaking to David, with Nathan telling him what God has revealed to him (Nathan).

If we read earlier in the chapter we find that David wants to build a temple for God, and at first Nathan gives him that go-ahead and that it’s a good idea. But then that night God tells Nathan that David isn’t the one to build the temple, but that David’s son is the one who will do it.

In our reading today we find kind of a synopsis of David’s life, but we also find a promise: “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. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.”

And this does come to pass, as Solomon, David’s son (but not his oldest son, ironically) does become king and does build the temple. But God also says, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

This is one of the really neat things about scripture, for at the time it talks about Solomon, David’s son, being king, but it also is a prophecy about someone else who is referred to as the Son of David: Jesus!

Matthew’s gospel includes the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Abraham, and David is listed in that. And Matthew includes that as further proof that Jesus is the messiah, the promised one of Israel.

David certainly saw change in his life. From obscure shepherd to hero against Goliath, from trusty confidant to King Saul (David used to play the lyre, or harp, to settle Saul down when we had what we would call panic attacks or depression) to fleeing for his life from the king himself.

David’s life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Even after he is king he has to flee from his own son who tries to overthrow him. And then there’s the whole Bathsheba affair (literally) where lust causes him to have one of his own soldiers killed.

David wasn’t perfect, and he admitted it. And yet he is still known as a “man after God’s own heart.”

None of us are perfect. We all sin because we are all human. And yet too often we let the guilt of our sin keep us from serving God. We say things like, “God can’t use me after the things I’ve done.”

That simply isn’t true. God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. God used David, a simple shepherd who wasn’t perfect, to be king of Israel and to establish a throne that would last forever many generations later through Jesus Christ.

What matters is the heart. David was a man after God’s own heart, and we should be a people after God’s own heart. Yes, our lives will be like a roller coaster ride with its ups and downs, good times and bad, but through it all we should be faithful to God and his son, Jesus Christ, who went to the cross for us.

As Christians, we are called to be followers of Jesus Christ, the messiah, who came to earth and did establish a throne that will last forever. Human governments come and go, but God’s love for us as expressed through Jesus Christ is forever.

So my challenge for you this week, as we celebrate the birth of our nation today, is to remember that while it’s great to be an American and have patriotic pride in our country and to celebrate its founding, it is more important to be a Christian and to work towards God’s kingdom on earth. We are called to be like David and be a people after God’s own heart, knowing that even in our imperfections we are made right with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

And that is something that is really worth celebrating.

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

Change: Abraham

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

Genesis 15:1-6 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can we learn about change from Abraham?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change: Naomi and Ruth

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

Ruth 1:6-18 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is so much that is unknown for Ruth.

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

We fear the unknown. We really do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Message on Deuteronomy 28:1-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 6, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greatness of a Child

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

Matthew 18:1-7 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus was teaching the disciples a lesson!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is Risen!

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

John 20:1-18 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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