“Love is not…”

“Love is not…”
A Message on Philippians 2:1-5
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 8, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Corinthians 13:4c-6 (NRSV)
…love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

Philippians 2:1-5 (NRSV)

If, then, there is any comfort in Christ, any consolation from love, any partnership in the Spirit, any tender affection and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

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As we continue our sermon series on the “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 we come to a part of the chapter where the author, the Apostle Paul, does sort of a switch-a-roo.

The previous two weeks we have explored, “love is patient,” and “love is kind.” The scripture this week changes from describing what love “is,” to what love “is not.”

“…love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

While the writer part of me wonders why Paul would switch from listing the positive attributes of love to listing things that love is not, the theologian in me really appreciates it. As I explained to the kids during Mini Methodist Bible study on Wednesday, if you are doing any of these things listed, you are not being loving.

For example, if you are envious, you are not loving. If you are boastful, you are not loving. If you are arrogant (had to explain that one to the kids) or rude (they knew that one), you are not loving. If you insist on things being your way, you are not loving.

You can’t be irritable and loving at the same time. The same with being resentful. And if you rejoice when someone does something wrong, you are not loving.

If you think about it, love is kind of an exclusive characteristic. To love means to have certain characteristics. To love, there are certain things you cannot be.

Now don’t get me wrong. As humans we experience a wide range of emotions, including negative ones. But it’s how we react to those emotions that is important. That is the big thing that matters.

I was struck with a very ironic moment during Mini Methodists this past week when I was explaining to them what the word “irritable” meant. Being elementary students they weren’t paying attention, especially in the way that I wanted them to. They were talking with the people next to them, fidgeting, asking questions way off the subject… just being kids, you know.

And then it dawned on me, as I was attempting to explain to them what the word “irritable” meant, that I was becoming… well… irritable! Yep. And I realized that when I felt that way, I did feel very loving. Love is not irritable. Oops!

Today is Mother’s Day, and I thought about that this past week as I read through the book of Ruth in the readings in The One Year Bible. Naomi, a Jew, moves with her husband to the foreign country of Moab because of a famine. While there the couple’s two sons marry Moabite women and life is good… for a while.

Then Naomi’s husband dies. And then her two sons die. Being a widow in those days was life threatening as there were very few ways for women to have any income to support themselves.

So Naomi heard the famine was over in Judah, so she decided to go back home. One of her daughters-in-law, with Naomi’s urging, stayed in Moab. The other, named Ruth, dedicated herself to staying with Naomi and traveled back to Judah with her, in spite of Naomi’s pleadings that she stay in Moab.

The two women travel to Judah, and Ruth works tirelessly gleaning barley for the two of them to eat, following behind the workers and picking up what little they had missed or left. She finds out the field where she is gleaning is owned by a man named Boaz. Boaz finds out who Ruth is and that she is working so hard to get food for Naomi and herself. Boaz befriends her and they end up being man and wife.

Not only that, but they have a son named Obed, who then has a son named Jesse, who then has a son that we come to know as King David. Ruth goes on and is listed as one of the few women in the lineage of Jesus given in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. And Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, counts Ruth as one of his relatives.

I bring this up on Mother’s Day to emphasize a couple of things: first, blood doesn’t make family, love does. Ruth was Naomi’s daughter-in-law, not daughter. And yet Ruth cared for Naomi as if she were her own mother, moving to a land that was foreign to her (Ruth), staying by her side, and working very hard physically to support her. Ruth didn’t have to. She chose to. Not because she was related to Naomi by blood, but out of love for her.

In today’s world there are a lot of blended families. There are step-parents, step-grandparents, adoptive parents, and even folks that we feel so close to that we consider them family. Moms often find themselves in those situations. They can kick and fight against that, which I don’t recommend, or extend grace and love, which I do recommend. Blood doesn’t make family, love does. It’s not easy, it has many challenges, but we must remember that love is the most powerful force in the universe.

The second point I want to make about Ruth is to talk about how she exhibited love. If we compare her to the list of things about love that Paul gives us in 1 Cornithians 13 that we have studied so far we find out that she fares very well.

Ruth certainly had patience, and she undoubtedly was kind. In reading the scriptures about Ruth, she didn’t display any of the things that Paul tells us love is “not.” She is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. She didn’t insist on her own way. She wasn’t irritable or resentful and she didn’t rejoice in wrongdoing.

Ruth exhibited many of the characteristics we read in Paul’s letter to the Philippians today. Listen again to Paul’s words: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.”

That’s what good mothers do. And they do so because of love.

My mother had six kids. I can remember her cooking us fried chicken for supper. First she would cut up three chickens (an art that is being lost in today’s world of pre-cut-up chicken), lay the pieces out on wax paper and salt them and then begin frying them. With eight mouths to feed it took several chickens.

She would first cook the giblets (which I still pronounce as “JIB-lets,” even though that’s not correct.) first so that us kids would have some “snitchings” to quell our appetites until supper time. And when we ate she alway chose the “boney back” pieces to eat. She said she liked them and preferred them, but as I got older I realized that she was just choosing those pieces so her children could have the meatier pieces of chicken. She was making a sacrifice for her children, one of many she made.

My mother did nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regarded others as better than herself. She looked not to her own interests, but to the interests of others.

So my challenge to you today, on this Mother’s Day, is to remember what love is not.

“…love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

Let us also remember Paul’s words from his letter to the Philippians: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”

And today, Mother’s Day, make sure your mom doesn’t get the “boney back” piece of chicken.

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

Love is kind…

“Love is… kind.”
A Message on 1 Corinthians 13:4b, and Colossians 3:12-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 1, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Corinthians 13:4b (NRSV)

… love is kind…

Colossians 3:12-14

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

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Today we continue our sermon series on the “love chapter” of the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13.

Last Week we explored “love is patient,” and this week we will explore “love is kind.”

I think the “love chapter” kind of gets a bad reputation. About the only time we hear it is at weddings, and so it gets associated with that exclusively. We think it only applies to couples getting married.

I think it’s good that it is used at weddings, but I think when Paul wrote it he wasn’t thinking of it applying to weddings only. Our world can certainly use more love right now with all that’s going on. Love is something we should seek and also give every day.

As I mentioned in my column for the newsletter this past week, God is love. We should seek to be like God. We should love more.

So we know that love is patient, and this week we are going to explore how love is kind.

Love is kind. Kindness is being friendly, generous, considerate of others.

Now when we think of kindness we think of how we feel and act toward others, but it can also apply to how we feel and act toward ourselves.

I really admire Andrew Peterson for not only his music but also the profound lyrics that he writes. Several years ago he wrote a song for his then teenaged daughter who was struggling with self-worth the way many teenagers–and adults–struggle with it. Here are some of the lyrics:

I know it’s hard to hear it when that anger in your spirit
Is pointed like an arrow at your chest
When the voices in your mind are anything but kind
And you can’t believe your Father knows best
I love you just the way that you are
I love the way He’s shaping your heart
Be kind to yourself
Be kind to yourself

We are to be kind to ourselves.

We are also to be kind towards others.

This last weekend at the confirmation retreat I have to admit I was not kind on Friday night. The boys stayed in a cabin with me, and even though I had asked them to be quiet and go to sleep, they didn’t. The third time I got up to tell them to go to sleep was at 2:30 in the morning.

Now to to be fair, Carlin was asleep. I don’t know how, but he was asleep. The other two were not.

It was not pretty. I was not kind. I even did what I swore as a child I would never do: I became my dad. “DON’T MAKE ME HAVE TO GET UP AND COME IN HERE AGAIN!!!!”

I felt bad after I said it… a little bit. I feel worse about it now than I did then.

To contrast, Dean and Julie Harvey were kind to the kids all weekend. This couple opened up their ranch free of charge to host our confirmation retreat. They fed us, they worked hard to give the kids a great time, cooking meals, saddling horses, providing fishing equipment and even real worms, and playing games.

Julie did get firm when one of the boys, after flipping over a kayak in the lake (on purpose, I believe), decided to take his life jacket off while in the middle of the lake. But even then she was kind. (Well, a lot more kind than I was as I was yelling at him.)

Jesus was kind, but he also was firm when he needed to be. (When he turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple, for example.) Jesus was kind toward and loved those who society refused to love, people like lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Jesus was kind to these folks, and also to those who were rich and well off. (Nicodemus being one example.)

We should be like Jesus.

Listen again to these words we read today written by Paul to the people of Colossae, a city in what is now the country of Turkey, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

Clothes are what we put on our body to protect us. If it’s cold, we put on jackets or coats. If it is warm, as it is becoming now, we wear lighter clothing that breathes to keep us cool.

Clothes are also what other people see on us. It changes our appearance. Law enforcement officers can be identified by their clothing. So can most medical workers. And in our society we go to great lengths to find and spend great sums of money on specific brand name clothes so we can belong to the “in” crowd, so we can belong to a certain tribe or group of people, even if it is just by appearances.

But when we follow Jesus, as these young people in the confirmation class decided to do today, our perception changes. We no longer seek to prove to others that we are better than them. No, just the opposite. Our focus turns to others, not ourselves.

As Paul says, we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. None of those focus on ourselves. All of those focus on others.

Kindness is one of those. Kindness is being like Jesus, putting others’ needs first. And kindness can open a lot of doors for the Gospel.

Years and years ago, back in 1969, musician Glen Campbell recorded a song written by Curt Sapaugh and Bobby Austin titled, “Try A Little Kindness.” He even titled his album after the song.

The Lykins Family played and sang that song this morning for our offertory. The words of the chorus are:

You’ve got to try a little kindness
Yes, show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

At a concert in 2002 in South Dakota, Glen Campbell’s last song was “Try A Little Kindness.” He introduced the song by saying this: “When you are kind, and treat people kind, you get treated in kind.”

That’s my challenge today for the confirmands who have publicly declared that they are followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, and for the entire congregation: be kind. Be kind, one to another. Be kind to those who disagree with you. Be kind to those who belong to a different political party than you. Be kind on social media (no matter how hard it is).

Be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Be kind. Be loving.

Don’t make me be like my dad again.

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

He is risen!

He Is Risen!
A Message on John 20:1-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 17, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 20:1-18 (NRSV)

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

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] 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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Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s Easter!

Jesus being resurrected from the dead and the tomb being empty on Easter morning is at the very center, the very foundation, of our faith. It is a non-negotiable. It is to me, without doubt, the most important event ever in the history of all time. Period.

One of the primary sources that informs our faith is the Bible. We have the Holy Scriptures, inspired by God, written by people through the Holy Spirit, that is the very word of God.

We have the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, that provides us not only with a history of the Jewish people, God’s chosen ones, but informs our faith with prophecies and wisdom that gives us such great insights into God’s love for his people.

We have the New Testament, including the four gospels written by those who knew Jesus, who heard him teach, watched him heal and perform miracles, and traveled with him, giving first-hand accounts of the events of his life and his teachings.

We have the epistles, letters written by disciples and apostles, to provide guidance and encouragement to those who were Christ followers, those establishing and worshiping in new churches trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Christ.

We have the book of Revelation, written by John, describing his vision of things to come, of the last times, informing our faith that Jesus will indeed come again and that heaven will come on earth.

But it all revolves around Easter. Easter is the sun of our spiritual solar system, the nucleus of our faith atom.

So why is Easter so important?

First of all it is the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy, proving that Jesus was the Messiah, the long awaited savior of Israel. For example, Isaiah 53, which tells us about the “suffering servant,” especially verses 5-6: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Second, it proves the divinity of Jesus, that Jesus was/is truly God. Humans are born, new lives that come into the world. And humans die, they cease to live. Our bodies cease to function. We no longer breathe. Our hearts no longer beat. The blood that constantly flows through our circulatory system stops. Life is no more.

But Jesus says in John 10:30, “The Father and I are one.”

If Jesus were only human, if he were only a nice guy that was a prophet, one who had great insights but was still only human, then the tomb wouldn’t be empty. Jesus was 100 percent human, and one hundred percent God. And while our human minds may find that difficult to comprehend, we have to remember that what is impossible for humans is possible for God.

Dead people stay dead. There are people who come near death, who have what are called “near death experiences,” but not for three days. Jesus was dead, there was no doubt about that. Roman soldiers at the time were very proficient with crucifixions. They had plenty of practice and knew what they were doing. And they were good at it. The spear in Jesus’ side while he was still on the cross left no doubt as to his physical state.

If Jesus were only human, his body would have still been in that grave on that Sunday morning. The women would have found someone to roll away the stone sealing the tomb, treated the corpse with spices, wrapped it in more linen, and then the tomb would have been resealed.

But praise God that’s not what happened. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave proved that he really was/is the Son of God. It’s not some magic trick or slight-of-hand, merely the impression that Jesus’ dead body came back to life. No. Mortals can’t do that. But God can. And only God can. That proves that Jesus is God.

And one more thing I think the resurrection of Jesus informs our faith with is that it gives us hope. It fills us with hope. Easter is about hope.

It does so because through Jesus’ resurrection we are given something that is much bigger and powerful than a promise. We are given a covenant, a binding and lasting agreement between humans and God.

As humans we like to think pretty highly of ourselves. We’re at the top of the food chain. We have knowledge and understanding of even abstract concepts. Some of us even understanding calculus and trigonometry and weird math that mixes letters with numbers. (I am not one of those people, by the way.)

As humans we are confident in our abilities to be self-sufficient. We can take care of ourselves. To use bad grammar, “We don’t need nothin’ from nobody.” We are in control of our own destinies.

And we think that until something comes along that metaphorically hits us in the solar plexus and knocks the breath out of us and brings us to our knees. Things like losing a job. Things like the death of a loved one. Things like a heart attack, a diagnosis of cancer or dementia or some other disease. Things like war. It’s at those moments that we realize that as humans, although we may be at the top of the food chain, we are not as strong as we think we are.

We need a savior. We need hope.

Jesus gives us that hope. Jesus IS that hope.

Jesus is that hope, and we know that because of the love he showed for us. Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross and suffer a cruel and horrible death, one that we as sinners deserve but one which he took on himself so that our sins could be forgiven and then we, being pure, can be reconciled to God.

Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

When we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, when we make that covenant pledge through baptism of water and the Spirit and through the affirmation of our faith, we share in Jesus’ resurrection. And are given the promise that no matter what happens to us in this world, something better is coming.

If you read about prisoners of war and some of the gruesome things they experienced, one of the key factors in determining if an individual survived or not was whether or not they had hope. Hope was the thing that kept them going.

As followers of Christ we have hope. The empty grave on Easter morning fills us with hope, a hope that is not only assured, but given to us through a covenant oath of blood. And God keeps his promises.

We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people. Let us live not in a state of fear or cowardice, but boldly living and loving the way Jesus did. Let us face the future not with anxiety and timidness, but with a spirit of joy and exuberance knowing that even though we may not know what the future holds, we can rest assured that we know who holds the future. God will be there with us.

In the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John we find Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb and getting the shock of her life. Jesus was no longer dead. He was risen.

Mary didn’t know what it meant. Mary didn’t know the details of how it happened, or why it happened. She didn’t know what it meant for her future. There were so many unknowns, so many things she didn’t know.

But one thing she did know. “I have seen the Lord.” And that gave her hope.

My challenge to you this Easter Sunday is to “see the Lord.” To live like Mary Magdalene as an Easter believer, full of boldness and courage knowing that God’s promises are kept. We don’t have to know the details. Our faith bridges that gap. The empty tomb, the greatest event the world has ever known, gives us hope to do things not humanly possible.

The tomb is empty. He is alive. We have hope. Praise God.

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

“Lost and Found”

Lost and Found
A Message on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 27, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (NRSV)

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he [Jesus] told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with[b] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

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As we continue to follow the Lectionary this Lenten season we come to the 15th chapter of Luke and the parable of the prodigal son.

Now the word “prodigal” is not one we use in our everyday language. The word comes from an old Latin word meaning “wasteful, to squander.” And the prodigal son is named that because that is what he does with the inheritance that his father has given him. The translation we read from today calls it “dissolute living.”

For Mini Methodists Bible Study this past week we acted out the parable, and I told the young folks that the prodigal son blew all his money on soft drinks, candy, and video games. (I really didn’t want to go into detail about what “dissolute living” meant. Call me a chicken.)

So we know the son disgraces his father by asking for his inheritance early, and by leaving and blowing through all the money in “dissolute living.” It is not until he hits absolute rock bottom that he figures out just how damaging his selfishness has been.

He takes a job feeding pigs, but the pigs are eating better food than what he has. Now this is significant because for the Jewish people pigs were unclean animals. The Jewish laws in Leviticus clearly state that the swine are unclean. The people are not only not to eat them, but not to touch them or have anything to do with them.

And yet the prodigal son finds himself in the situation where he is not only feeding and taking care of hogs, but is even one step lower than they are in terms of food that is available.

In our Bible study last week one of the questions we answered was which character do we personally identify the most with? Are we the prodigal son? The loyal older brother? The Father?

I think that’s helpful because it forces us to view the parable from different perspectives. But what I want to do today is zoom out and look at the parable from a bird’s eye view and how it fits into Jesus’ teachings on “lost and found” in the 15th chapter of Luke.

Now you probably noticed that today’s scripture reading jumped around a bit. This sometimes happens in the lectionary. I think they did it today because they want to give us the setting and audience of where Jesus is and who he is speaking to. But it skips over two other parables that I think are important and need to be considered to be parts of a broader view of the parable of the prodigal son.

The first parable is about leaving the 99 sheep to go look for the one lost sheep. That one sheep is lost, and when it is found there is great rejoicing.

The second is the parable of the lost coin. A woman has 10 silver coins and somehow loses one of them. So she lights a lamp and starts sweeping the house until she finds the lost coin. And when she finds it she calls her neighbors and friends to rejoice with her over finding the coin.

The parable of the sheep ends with this sentence: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

The parable of the lost coin ends with this sentence: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Now let’s contrast those endings with the one we read today in the parable of the prodigal son: “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” Luke 15:32

So you see, while the parable of the prodigal son can stand on its own, when we back up and view it with the other parables in chapter 15 it gives us a broader picture of the importance of the “lost and found” that Jesus teaches about.

Lost and found. Usually the first thing that comes to mind is a cardboard box at a school or a church that contains things that people have lost. People are encouraged to go by and look at those items to see if any of them belong to them, and if so they then take that item. It goes from being lost to being found.

Most of the time those articles that are lost aren’t looked on as having much value. Sometimes people won’t even claim articles that are theirs because they don’t want the embarrassment of retrieving something from the lost and found.

Jesus takes the lost and found metaphor and applies it to people. And he teaches us very important lessons in doing so.

Our human logic works a lot differently than how God works. We are very works-oriented. If you want to have money, you need to work for it. If you want a promotion, work for it. If you want others to view you with esteem, you work for it.

Unfortunately that mindset also seeps into our religious views as well. If we want to go to heaven, we need to work for it. If we want God to love us, we work for it by keeping the 10 commandments and following a list of rules. We even turn being a Christian into a competition, trying to out-do others in practicing our Christianity with a subconscious (and unfortunately in some cases, conscious) desire to elevate our status above others. “I’m a better Christian than they are.”

And yet Jesus teaches us, over and over and over, that such thinking is not correct. That kind of thinking is earthly thinking, not Godly thinking. Jesus specifically has a passion for the lost. And he tells us this over and over and over.

We talked in Bible study this past week about what we would do if a homeless person walked into our sanctuary on a Sunday morning during worship. Say it was a man who hadn’t bathed in a long, long time. His clothing is filthy and ragged, his hair is dirty and frazzled, and he has a stubble beard and mustache from not having shaved in weeks. His breath has the sour smell of alcohol and cigarettes.

And say you come in the sanctuary and lo and behold he has committed the most horrible, unforgivable sin imaginable: He is sitting in your “spot.”

Would he be greeted warmly? Would he be welcomed with loving arms? Would you sit down right beside him and strike up a conversation with him, introducing yourself to him and telling him how glad you are that he is with us for worship today?

We might say, “Yes, I would do that!” But be honest. Would we? Really?

Years ago a musician named Todd Agnew wrote a song titled, “My Jesus.” In it he asks the question of which Jesus do you follow, the Jesus of the Bible, or the Jesus of the world?

The words of one of the choruses is this:

‘Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the rich
So which one do you want to be?

He goes on to say:

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet

Would that Jesus be accepted in this church?

There are many people in our community who are spiritually lost. As a church we are not to cloister ourselves off from the lost and consider us to be God’s chosen ones, but just the opposite: we are to go to them and share with them the love and grace of Jesus Christ. We are to take the gospel, which means “good news,” to them. We are to be outwardly focused, not inwardly focused.

Church is not a shrine for saints, but a hospital for sinners.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was very adamant about this. One of his famous sayings is, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most.”

In Luke 19 when people start grumbling about Jesus going to Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus replies, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Jesus came not for the found, but the lost. We should also reach out to the lost, like Jesus, and help them be found.

So my challenge to you this week is to remember lost and found. Make a conscious effort to reach out to one person who is “lost” this week and invite them to church. I can tell you it will push you out of your comfort zone. It will be uncomfortable. It will be awkward. It might even be unpleasant. But do it anyway. Do it for Jesus. Do it for God’s kingdom.

After all, we’ve nothing to do but save souls.

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

Under the Wings

Under the Wings
A Message on Luke 13:31-35
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 13, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

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Today’s text from the lectionary reading in Luke transports us to a time when Jesus is coming to the end of his ministry and has slowly been traveling toward Jerusalem. We find it in the 13th chapter of Luke in the midst of a series of parables and teachings that Jesus is sharing with his disciples and the crowds that followed him.

This passage starts off with “some Pharisees” coming to Jesus and telling him that Herod is out to kill him. Now if you remember the Pharisees are the religious leaders of the Jews and most of them don’t like Jesus because they perceive him as a threat to the way they have always done things. Plus he calls them out for some of the things they do like being all about the letter of the law but not the intent. All rules, no love.

But this scripture indicates that not all the Pharisees were opposed to Jesus and his teachings. We even find out about a Pharisee named Nicodemus in the Gospel of John who comes to Jesus to learn more of his teachings and even makes himself “unclean” by assisting with the burial of Jesus’ body, which is a shocking thing for a Pharisee to do.

The Pharisees in the scripture today, which we hope are helpful ones, warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. But they have to be taken aback by his response in which he calls Herod a “fox.” Here is The Message paraphrase of what Jesus tells them:

“Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick; the third day I’m wrapping things up. Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside Jerusalem.”

Now it was probably not good for one’s physical health or longevity to refer to the leader of that part of the country at the time as a fox. It was not a compliment. But Jesus said it anyway. And we know from other scriptures that Herod was confused by Jesus and really didn’t know what to do with him. We know he had John the Baptist beheaded but that experience made him leery about having Jesus arrested or executed. And once word got back to him about what Jesus said about him it probably would have confused him even more.

But Jesus uses this statement as a segue into talking about Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was, and had been for a long, long time, the center of the religious world for the Jewish people. The main reason was that the temple was there, built to exacting specifications, and it was there the Jewish people of the day believed that God dwelled on earth.

It was also the place where people brought their sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. Bulls, sheep, goats, and even birds were sacrificed at the temple, some every day, and on specific holidays thousands of animals would have been sacrificially slaughtered.

As the center of religious life it was also the location that prophets came to share their words with the people. This includes true prophets and false prophets. At the time the way to determine a true prophet from a false prophet was if their prophecies came true. If they did, they were a true prophet. If they didn’t, then they were stoned to death.

That being said, there were many true prophets that were killed simply because the religious leaders didn’t like what they were saying. John the Baptist is just one example.

So Jerusalem was the religious center and, because of that, a place where prophets came to prophecy and many were killed for doing so. And it had developed a reputation for doing so. That’s why Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”

But then Jesus uses a metaphor. Jesus, being a country boy, knew a lot about agriculture and livestock. That’s why there are so many parables and metaphors in the New Testament that talk about agricultural things.

One of those things Jesus knew about were chickens. Experts don’t agree but contend that chickens were first domesticated as early as 6,000 BC, which is way before Jesus walked the earth. Chickens are a good source of protein, not only from their meat, but also from their eggs. Most communities had chickens and it would have been common to see them in almost every town and city, and around dwellings out in the country.

One of the characteristics chickens have is to protect their young. Roosters can be very aggressive and have spurs on their feet which are sharp and are used to attack any threats, including people if the rooster perceives them as so. (My father-in-law had one that was real aggressive that kept coming after me even though I had a stick and would hit it upside his head every time. He’d just shake it off and come back for more.)

Most varieties of hens, though, don’t have spurs. But they are still very protective of their baby chicks.

One of the ways they protect their chicks from rain, hail, and threats is to spread out their wings over their chicks.. Here is a photo showing how they do that.

Here’s the theological twist of this metaphor, though. Although the mother hen offers protection to the chicks under her wings, the chicks have to be smart enough to know to get under those wings. Under those wings they are protected. Outside of them, they are at much greater risk and pretty much on their own.

That’s what Jesus is saying in the scriptures today when he says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.”

As humans God has given us free will. We make choices. We are not animals in which instincts instruct them what to do. No. We have minds and free will that allows us to make choices in our lives.

Jesus, in talking about the Jewish religious leaders of Jerusalem, refers to himself as a mother hen who wants to gather all her chicks under her wings to protect them. He wants to gather the “children” of Jerusalem under him, to understand that indeed he was the messiah, and that in his coming God does come to earth and dwells among the people, not just at the temple.

Jesus comes not to abolish the 600-something laws that the Jewish people had, but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17) He is the new covenant between God and humans, sent by God himself to provide for humans of all time something they could not achieve by their own works: salvation.

The disciples understood this and thought Jesus was the messiah, even though they didn’t understand the details of how it all worked, especially the salvation part. But they had faith and believed that Jesus was the long-awaited messiah. We see that in the words of Peter in Matthew 16:16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus wants to gather the children of Jerusalem under his wings, under his Lordship, not for personal gain or to boost his ego, but so that they could better understand God and just how much God loves them. He wants them to have a closer relationship to God, to understand God better, and to, as Paul writes in Ephesians 3:18-19, “comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Have you ever tried to convince someone that you are telling them something that is true but yet they won’t believe you? It’s frustrating, isn’t it.

That had to be what Jesus was feeling as most of the religious leaders again and again refuted that he was the messiah. They wouldn’t believe him. He did miracles like walking on water, turning water into wine, healing the sick and lame, giving sight to people who had been blind their entire lives, curing people of leprosy, and even bringing the dead back to life. But it wasn’t enough. Their hearts were hardened and they would not believe.

They chose to use their free will to ignore the love and protection under the wings of the mother hen and instead insisted on staying out on their own, being pelted by the rain and sleet, and making them vulnerable to the evil ones like the carnivorous animals looking to have a meal of baby chicken.

As Christians today we are often like those baby chicks that use our free will to choose not to come under the protective wings of Jesus. We think we can do everything on our own.

Our world whispers into our ear that we are more powerful than we really are, that we don’t need a savior, that we don’t need God because we have full control and power over our own lives. We make it all about us, about what we want, about how we can impress others. We chase after and peck at the elusive grasshoppers and bugs of fame and power and wealth, not knowing that in doing so we are out in the open without protection, making our souls vulnerable to the evil one.

We forget the words of Jesus in Matthew 26, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”

My challenge to you this Lent is to be the young chicks that seek shelter under the wings of Jesus. Let us use this time before Easter to draw closer to Jesus. Let us cast off those things that separate us from the love of God, those seductive sins that whisper into our ear that we don’t need Jesus, that we don’t need a savior.

Let us not be like the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Let us be like the disciples, who even though we may not know all the details and how it all works knew that Jesus was indeed the messiah, the son of God, who comes to pay the price we as sinful humans are unable to pay ourselves.

Let us seek shelter under the wings of Jesus.

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

Temptation: A Message on Luke 4:1-13

(Artwork: Christ in the Wilderness by Briton Riviere.)

Temptation
A Message on Luke 4:1-13
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 6, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’

and

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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Today we switch liturgical focus as this is the first Sunday in the season of Lent.

Lent is 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) and historically it has been a season of preparation, of repentance, and of practicing spiritual practices.

One way some Christians observe Lent is to “give up something” for Lent. The reason for this goes back to the scripture we read today where Jesus fasts in the desert for 40 days and nights. As a spiritual practice, people will fast during the season of Lent in remembrance of Jesus’ fasting in the desert.

Here’s the deal, though. Whatever you give up has to be important to you. For example, if you don’t like coffee and don’t drink coffee, then it wouldn’t make sense for you to say, “I’m giving up coffee for Lent.” Nope. It needs to be something that is important to you. It needs to have an aspect of sacrifice associated with it.

The scripture we read today from Luke’s gospel tells us of Jesus going into the desert to fast for 40 days and nights.

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness occurs in all three of the “synoptic” gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In all three accounts Jesus goes into the desert right after being baptized by John in the Jordan river. In Matthew and Luke Jesus is “led” by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, whereas Mark is more forceful, saying the Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness.

So why does this happen?

Well if we explore the Old Testament scriptures we can find out. There we find that before anyone begins a profound religious experience they first fast.

In 1 Kings 19 we find the prophet Elijah running for his life from Jezebel. He heads out into the wilderness toward Mt. Horeb, and in making that journey he fasts for 40 days and 40 nights. (1 Kings 19:8)

Moses fasted as well. In Exodus he climbs Mt. Sinai (which is also Mt. Horeb) and fasts for 40 days and nights while getting the 10 commandments and the laws from God. He does this not only one time, but three times!

So fasting is historically a way for God’s people to prepare for a great religious experience.

Jesus is at the start of his ministry, so he gets baptized and then fasts in the desert in preparation of that.

But why the temptation? Why does the devil show up to tempt Jesus?

I think we can find some answers in the temptations themselves. The first temptation the devil tries on Jesus deals with something that humans experience: hunger. The devil says, “Hey, with all that fasting I bet you’re hungry. You’re the son of God. Use some of that power to turn these rocks into some nice, warm, freshly baked loaves of bread that you can eat. Come on, you can do it!”

But Jesus doesn’t do that, does he? He tells the devil no but in a creative–and effective–way. He quotes scripture to the devil. Scripture out of the book of Deuteronomy, to be specific.

“One does not live by bread alone.” This comes from Deuteronomy 8:3, which reads, “He [God] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 8:3

Luke shortens that passage, but Matthew’s gospel contains the entire last part of the verse.

Seeing that Jesus has resisted the temptation of hunger, the devil then changes tactics. Here in Luke’s gospel he next resorts to the human temptation for power. Here is The Message paraphrase:

“For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, ‘They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.’”

Again Jesus resists the temptation and quotes Deuteronomy to the devil, this time paraphrasing from 6:13 and 10:20: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

The devil, being persistent, tempts Jesus one more time. And this time he uses scripture to do it. He takes Jesus up to the top of the Temple and tells Jesus to throw himself off of it so that angels can catch him and keep him from falling. And the scriptures he quotes Psalm 91:11-12, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” – Psalm 91:11-12

(See, even the devil knows the scriptures.)

But for the third time Jesus resists the temptation, once again turning to the good ol’ book of Deuteronomy where he quotes the first part of 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test…”

Now that’s the order of the temptations here in Luke. In Matthew the last two are reversed, and there are theological reasons for that, but I don’t want to go into that today. That’s another sermon for another time.

Today I want to focus on temptation.

The beginning of Lent is a good time to focus on temptations.

Several years ago I gave up fried foods for Lent. Things were going real good until I went to Kiwanis Club that Thursday. At the time we were meeting at a Mexican food place, and when I sat down I saw in front of me chips and salsa. It was at that point that I knew I had messed up. I suddenly became aware that those lovely, crisp, delicious, salty tortilla chips were, sadly, fried.

I usually sat near Janis Adams, who works at Austin Bank, and we always teased each other about how many tortilla chips we ate. Janis and I could empty that basket in no time, and the poor people that worked at the restaurant were always having to bring us more.

But that first Thursday in Lent years ago I sat down, looked at those chips, and realized I was facing temptation. I knew I had given up fried food for Lent, and I knew that those tortilla chips were fried, but I also thought, “Man, I didn’t think about tortilla chips when I gave up fried food for Lent. I should have picked something easier.”

I was tempted to eat the chips anyway. Who would know? Didn’t Jesus say to keep your fasting secret anyway? No one would know but me. Well, and Jesus.

So even though I was tempted, and to paraphrase Yoda, the temptation was strong with this one, I didn’t give in to it. I didn’t eat the chips.

Janis noticed immediately. “You’re not eating chips? Are you okay?”

I explained to her that I gave up fried foods for Lent.

Janis, being Janis, was really supportive of me. She said, “Huh,” then picked out the biggest chip, dipped it in the salsa, looked me straight in the eye and took a big ol’ bite, going “Mmmmmm. Oh these chips taste so good! Mmmmmmmm!”

Because we are human we will be tempted, and most of the time it will be by something much bigger and more important than tortilla chips.

The devil will tempt you where you are weakest, whatever that may be. And none of us are exempt from temptation.

Being a Christian doesn’t shield you from temptation. If anything it puts more of a target on you. The devil seeks to get a foothold wherever he can.

Jesus being tempted illustrates his human-ness. He was tempted but also showed us how to overcome temptation.

The Apostle Paul knew about overcoming temptation as well. He wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

And Jesus’ half brother, James, knew about temptation as well: “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. – James 1:12-15

Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 14:38 (which is also in Matthew 26:41), “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:38 (NIV)

And here’s what the author of Hebrews says: “Because he [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:18 (NIV)

And again from Hebrews: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” – Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

So yes, we will be tempted. And yes, our faith in Jesus, who was also tempted, can give us the strength to overcome temptation.

So my challenge to you this week is to resist temptation. As we enter into this season of Lent remember Jesus being tempted in the desert. Take the words of James to heart: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Temptations will come, but we can overcome them. Even if they are tortilla chips.

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

Beatitudes: Blessed are those who are persecuted

The Beatitudes: Those Who Are Persecuted
A Message on Matthew 5:10-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 27, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 5:10-11 (NRSV)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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Today we conclude our sermon series on the Beatitudes by looking at the last one: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Now remember that Jesus gives us the beatitudes as part of what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus goes to the top of a mountain and begins to teach his disciples.

As part of those teachings, he gives what are known as beatitudes, so named because of the Latin name for the beginning of each teaching that starts as “blessed.” The word can also mean “happy” or even “rich.”

Let’s review all eight beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

And then we get to the one we are exploring today: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This one, the last one, breaks the pattern. All the other beatitudes follow the simple format of “Blessed are,” followed by “for…” But with the eighth one, we get an additional paragraph that we know as verse 11: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Now some scholars believe that verse 11 is a beatitude in itself, but I don’t ascribe to that. I think it is a continuation of the “persecuted” beatitude, and I believe that because of the language. The words “revile,” “persecution,” and “utter all kinds of evil against you” are forms of persecution if you ask me.

So why is this one different from the others? I believe it is because Jesus is wanting to emphasize the importance of this beatitude. And this beatitude about being persecuted is very important.

If you look at the beatitudes they seem to become more impactful as they go from beginning to end. And unlike many of the Old Testament laws, which give a rule and then a punishment if that rule is violated, the beatitudes are more positive, more encouraging, more about giving hope during the tough times and choosing to do the right thing even when it’s the tougher thing to do.

The beatitudes are more about love than condemnation.

The one we are focusing on today, about persecution, does that as well.

So what is persecution? Well, it’s when people are mistreated by other people, often with hostility and even physical violence.

A good example is Hitler’s treatment of the Jews in World War II. Hitler persecuted the Jewish people horribly, sending millions to their death just because of their religion.

And in our country we remember those who were persecuted by the color of their skin. The Civil Rights movement sought to correct that by protecting the rights of people regardless of their skin color.

We may mistakenly think that persecution is something that happened in the past and that it is not something that happens in the modern world. But we would be wrong.

I think part of the challenge of being Christian in the United States is that we develop a very narrow world view in which we assume that other parts of the world work the same way our country does. But that is not true. Not at all.

There are many places in the world where it is dangerous to be a Christian. We don’t hear about it much, but that is very much the truth.

There are web sites that have information about things like this. Christianity Today has an annual ranking of the countries in the world that are the most dangerous for Christians. And that data is not very encouraging.

According to their statistics, 1,000 more Christians were killed because of their faith last year than in 2020. One thousand more were detained than the year before. Six hundred more churches were either attacked or destroyed than the previous year.

Those aren’t totals, folks. Those are just the increases.

Based on data from September 2020 to October 2021 compiled by a group named Open Doors, Afghanistan overtook North Korea in the list of countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian. Here is the list.

  1. Afghanistan
  2. North Korea
  3. Somalia
  4. Libya
  5. Yemen
  6. Eritrea
  7. Nigeria
  8. Pakistan
  9. Iran
  10. India

Here is the list of places where Christians face the most violence:

  1. Nigeria
  2. Pakistan
  3. India
  4. Central African Republic
  5. Democratic Republic of Congo
  6. Mozambique
  7. Cameroon
  8. Afghanistan
  9. Mali
  10. South Sudan

And here’s a list of the countries where the most Christians were martyred last year with the estimated number of Christians killed:

  1. Nigeria: 4,650
  2. Pakistan: 620
  3. Name withheld: 100*
  4. Burkina Faso 100*
  5. Democratic Republic of Congo: 100*
  6. Mozambique: 100*
  7. Central African Republic: 29
  8. Cameroon: 27
  9. Tanzania: 25
  10. Indonesia: 15
    *estimated

Source: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2022/january/christian-persecution-2022-countries-killed-world-list.html

So as you can see, there are places in the world where Christians are being persecuted.

We have a church member here who really knows about persecution, because she is from one of those Countries. Okwa Inyamuwa is from Nigeria and is a student at the Baptist seminary here in Jacksonville. I had a good conversation with her about this, and she says that it is true that Christians are indeed being persecuted in Nigeria, especially in the northern part of the country. There are kidnappings, killings, attacks on churches during services, and even job descrimination based on being a Christian.

I asked her if she was planning to go back to Nigeria after her studies, and she said she is willing to go wherever the Lord leads her. And if the Lord leads her to Nigeria or some other dangerous place, she will be obedient and go. Wow.

Here’s the ironic thing: In many of the areas of the world where Christians are being persecuted, like Nigeria, the church is growing.

One of those places we heard about this past week as the news covered Russia invading the country of Ukraine. Lord, in your mercy…

Do you know what the major religion is in Ukraine? It’s Christianity. Statistics show 71 percent of the people living in Ukraine are Christian. That’s pretty impressive. To put that in perspective, here in the US 65 percent claim to be Christian. Yeah. Ukraine has a higher percentage of Christians than the United States.

But unlike the US, the percentage of believers in Ukraine has been increasing. In 2000, the percentage of believers was 57.8 percent. Today it is 71 percent.

And now the Christians living in Ukraine fear that if Russia takes over their country, they will be persecuted. I pray they are wrong, but I fear they may be right.

And in the midst of this, we read the words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Like the rest of the beatitudes, it just doesn’t seem to make sense to us. Such thinking seems to fly in the face of logic. It seems contrary to wisdom.

But is it? Let’s look at what the Bible has to say about it.

In 2 Timothy 3:12 the Apostle Paul writes, “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Notice that it doesn’t say “might be persecuted” or “perhaps may be persecuted.” No. “…all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Romans 12:14 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

Here is John 15:18, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.”

And listen to these words that Peter, the rock of the church, wrote in 1 Peter 4:12-14, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.”

And once again the words of Paul, from 2 Corinthians 12:10: “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Being a Christian doesn’t work like a vaccination designed to protect us and keep bad things from happening to us. If anything it is just the opposite. Being a Christian is about making hard choices to do the right thing even if–and especially when–it hurts. It is putting the needs of others before our own, it is about sacrifice, it is about fulfilling the oath we make when we join the church to support it with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

When we live our lives as Christ, when we become the hands and feet of Jesus to our world, we will get ridiculed. We will get picked on. We will be persecuted.

But there are positive things about it as well, even though it’s hard to believe. One positive is knowing that what we are doing really matters. It may not seem to if we evaluate it based on what the world says is important, but it does matter to Jesus.

In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

As Christians we are to respond to a higher calling. We are to do the righteous things, the right things. Because we have free will we can choose to do the right things or not. The easier path is to not. Choosing to live as Christ is always the more difficult path, and in choosing Jesus we will be persecuted.

But even so we will be blessed. We will be blessed so that we can be a blessing to others, knowing that no matter how horribly we are persecuted in this world, we have the hope, the promise, that something better is coming. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection our lives are not limited by this world or by the seeming finality of death. We are a resurrection people. This world is not our home, we’re only passing through.

So my challenge to you this week is to live your life like Jesus, knowing that in doing so you will be persecuted. It goes with the territory. But you will also be blessed, blessed by the grace of God that is given to us through the love of Jesus Christ.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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

Beatitudes: “Blessed are the Merciful”

The Beatitudes: The Merciful
A Message on Matthew 5:7
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 6, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 5:7 (NRSV)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

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When I was in junior high we used to play one of those games that junior high kids love and parents and teachers hated. We called the game “mercy.”

It was a very simple game. Two people would interlock fingers like this [show], and then attempt to bend the other person’s fingers back, creating pain until the person said, “Mercy.”

Here, I’ll demonstrate it. I need a junior high student to help me out, though. [Get junior high student, illustrate the game, and make sure they win.]

Yeah. It was junior high, remember? I didn’t say it was a brilliant game or intellectually stimulating. Junior high things often aren’t.

But it does illustrate a very important point that I want to explore today. As we continue our sermon series on the Beatitudes we come to the fifth one: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

Mercy is about power. One person has power over another person. In this game the stronger person, who can bend the other person’s fingers back, has power while the other person, whose fingers are being bent back does not. The person hurting has to rely on the other person to stop. In the game, saying the word “mercy” signals to the victor “I relinquish. You win.”

The person who asks for mercy is completely dependent on the person who is winning to give them mercy and to stop bending their fingers back. If the one winning doesn’t want to show mercy, then they are in a position to continue to cause pain.

One of the unwritten rules of the game, though, was that it wasn’t cool if somebody asked for mercy and you didn’t give it to them. Yeah, that was a big no-no that got you berated by your peers who loudly voiced how that was “uncool.” And in junior high nobody wants to be “uncool.”

As Christians we are to show mercy during those times we might have some power over others. Matthew tells us that if we show mercy to others, then we will receive mercy when those times come where we are in need of it.

I think one the best illustrations of how God wants us to be merciful happens in Matthew 18:23-35 with the parable of the unforgiving servant.

Jesus tells the parable of a king who calls in the people that owe him money. One of his servants owes him 10,000 talents, and a talent was about the working wage for a year. So we are talking about a big chunk of money!

Well the servant cannot pay the king, so the king plans to have the servant be sold, along with all his family and all of his possessions. The servant pleaded with the king, begging for mercy, saying that if the king would only have patience he would pay all the money back.

The king was merciful toward the servant, but he also forgave all his debt. Yep. All 10,000 talents, forgiven.

So the servant leaves the presence of the king, and on the way out of the building he runs into a fellow servant who owes him 100 denari, and a denari was about the amount of a day’s worth of labor. Well the servant who was forgiven 10,000 talents grabs his fellow servant by the throat and says, “Pay me what you owe me!” The fellow servant pleads to give him more time to repay him, but the first servant was having none of it. He had his fellow servant thrown in prison until he could pay his debt.

Well some other servants witnessed this and went and told the King, who was outraged, and justifiably so. He called the servant who had the debt forgiven back in front of him, and basically chewed him out and had him locked in prison.

The reason I think this is a good example of mercy is because I believe that Jesus is telling us that we, those who because of our sin owe a debt to God that we can never repay, having received great mercy, should show mercy to others.

Jesus forgave us the debt of our sins when he took them upon himself at the cross, and because of that our debts were forgiven. That’s why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to remind ourselves in a very physical and real way just how great God’s love is for us, and how much mercy he has bestowed upon us.

So my challenge to you this week is to remember just how much mercy we have been given. And because we have received such mercy, we should also show mercy to others.

If we don’t do that, well… we would be “uncool,” wouldn’t we?

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

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

The Beatitudes: Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
A Message on Matthew 5:6
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 29, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 5:6 (NRSV)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

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As we continue our sermon series journey through the Beatitudes we come to one today that is easy to misunderstand. This is the fourth Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

At first glance it may appear that in this verse Jesus is teaching about the importance of offering food to those who are hungry and clean water to those who are thirsty. And as Christians, we are called to help out those who are in need of these things. After all, in Matthew 25:35 Jesus says, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”

But, I don’t think that’s what this means.

We talked about this during Bible Study in Mini Methodists this past Wednesday. I did something that… well… some of the kids said was mean and cruel.

Before Mini Methodists began I went and bought a hamburger and an iced tea, but put them here behind the communion rail where the kids couldn’t see them. We reviewed what the beatitudes were, why they are called that, and read the scripture. Then I told the kids I was hungry, sat down right there, reached around behind the communion rail, and brought out that hamburger and drink. And then I started eating the hamburger, right in front of them.

I played it up real good, telling them just how wonderful it tasted. And then I would take a drink of the good ol’ slightly sweetened iced tea and talk about how delicious and refreshing it was.

Well as you can imagine that didn’t go over very well. The kids started asking questions: “Do we get hamburgers? Did you bring some for us? (With my mouth full: “No.”) Can we have the fries? Did you get french fries? (“No. I didn’t get fries. I’m on a diet.”) Oh man, you’re making me hungry! That is cruel! That’s rude to eat that in front of us when we don’t have any!”

Now it was a junior burger. And I only ate about half of it per class. But it really did taste good!

I then asked them if seeing me eat that burger made them hungry for one. Almost every hand went up.

I then tried to explain to them that what Jesus is saying in this particular beatitude is that those who hunger and thirst for God the way they were hungry for my hamburger and thirsty for my drink will be blessed and will be filled.

Food and drink is used as a metaphor quite a bit in the Bible.

For example, here is Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.” – Psalm 42:1-2

And what about this from Isaiah 55:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food. – Isaiah 55:1-2

And remember when Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert after fasting 40 days? Satan tries to convince him to turn rocks into bread.

And then when Jesus meets the “woman at the well” in John 4, he tells her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14

And what about when Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – John 6:35

And when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, what do we do in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice? We eat bread, “my body, broken for you,” and drink wine (grape juice, really), “my blood, shed for you.”

So eating and drinking are strongly linked with the scriptures.

It’s important to remember, though, that Jesus is using hunger and thirst as metaphors. Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst,” and just leave it there. No. He adds three very important words: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake.”

So what does this mean? What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness sake?

I think a good place to start is with the root word of “righteousness”: “right.”

The word “righteous” has a good meaning. It means morally right, justifiable, virtuous, ethical. Those are all good things, right?

I use an online Bible study called Bible Gateway (biblegateway.com) and one of the things you can do is have it show you a Bible verse in all English-language translations. In case you didn’t know it, they list 62 English language translations of the Bible. (I know because I counted them.) Of those 62 English language translations, 46 of them use the word “righteousness.

The ones that don’t use “righteousness” use words like “justice,” or “goodness,” “God’s approval,” or “what God requires.”

Unfortunately the word “righteous” has somewhat of a negative connotation in our world today due to it being combined with another word to form the phrase, “self-righteous.” Being “self-righteous” means a person feels morally superior to someone, that they are better than others.

Christianity gets a negative reputation as a religion in which the adherents feel morally superior to those who aren’t Christian, and are therefore labeled–sometimes correctly–as self-righteous. And unfortunately, there are individuals (and institutions) that behave that way and further that negative reputation.

But I contend that we shouldn’t throw away the word “righteous” just because of the phrase “self-righteous.” “Righteous” is a good word, one that is… well… righteous!

When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake,” he is talking about those who want to do the right thing, who want to live their lives serving God and others.

Let me give you an example of one of those people. George Griffin died this past Monday at the age of 94. Most of you know him, and if you didn’t I wish you could have. George to me epitomized someone who hungered and was thirsty for righteousness.

George did a lot of things here at the church but to my knowledge never called attention to himself in doing so. He was an integral part of our prayer team and would come and pray not only for church members, but also for me as the pastor of this church.

George was a regular member of our “Tuesday Lunch Bunch” that used to meet at Whataburger every week. He attended Sunday school and worship every week, and if wasn’t here there had to be a real good reason.

But probably the thing that impressed me the most about George was his working with the Mini Methodist kids.

Back when we Mini Methodist included up to 6th grade we would have about 150 kids arrive at the church every Wednesday afternoon. When they arrived, they dropped their backpacks off here in the sanctuary and then went to Waller Hall where they got snacks, sometimes corny dogs, sometimes nachos, pizza, etc.

When they got their food they picked up an empty cup and took it with them to a table. Then they would raise their hand and someone would come and fill their cup with either water or pink lemonade.

George was one of the volunteers that poured the drinks for the kids. Now remember, there are over a hundred kids in Waller Hall and being kids, they weren’t quiet. They talked with their friends and laughed and it got real loud and noisy in there. It still does!

And in the midst of the chaos, the noise, and the lovely aroma of elementary kids wafting through the atmosphere, there was George, a pitcher of water in one hand, and a pitcher of pink lemonade in the other, going from table to table with a smile on his face, blessing those who were thirsty. All this from a 90+ year old man!

Now I know that there are people in the church who, when their kids are grown and gone, adopt the attitude, “I did my time volunteering for children’s and youth programs when my kids were young. I’m not doing it anymore. The parents of the kids can step up and do it like I did.”

Theologically there are so many things wrong about that kind of attitude, but I didn’t have to worry about that with George. He had suffered through the death of his son and his wife, he was retired, and he could have done whatever he wanted to do on Wednesday afternoons. But what he chose to do was to serve drinks to noisy, sometimes odiferous children.

One Wednesday George was sick and didn’t come. One of the kids was sitting at a table and motioned me over. When I got there he asked, “Where’s that guy?”

“What guy?” I asked.

“You know, that tall guy, that pours our drinks?”

“Oh, you mean Mr. George! He’s sick today and can’t be here.”

The little boy looked up to me and said, “Oh no. I miss him. Well, tell him I will be praying for him.”

That experience reminds me of Jesus’ words in Mark 9:37, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

George hungered and was thirsty for righteousness sake. He not only read the scriptures, but he lived them out in his life as well.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, for they will be filled.”

George is no longer here to ask him, but if he were I am confident that he would say that indeed he was filled. Not in a monetary way, not in terms of attention or having the spotlight on him, but in the way of a humble servant hungering and thirsting for righteousness sake.

We should all be more like George. And that’s my challenge to you today, to hunger and thirst for righteousness like George Griffin did. Seek to live a life in the right way, seek righteousness, not for personal gain but as a servant and disciple of Jesus Christ.

If you do, George–and Jesus–will be proud of you. And I might even buy you a hamburger.

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

“Blessed Are Those Who Mourn”

The Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn
A Message on Matthew 5:4
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 16, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 5:4 (NRSV)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

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This past September I really missed my dad.

It was my birthday and it was one of the big ones, one of the ones that ends in “0.” That in itself kinda hurt as I realized, “I’m getting old!” But another thing that hurt was that I didn’t get a phone call from my dad.

Dad had a tradition that he followed every year. On my birthday, usually early in the morning (my Dad was always an “early riser”), the phone would ring and I would answer. Dad would be on the other end and, without saying “hello,” or “good morning,” or anything, would immediately launch into song:

In the boarding house I live in, Everything was growing old;
Silver threads among the butter, And the cheese was green with mold.”

I had never heard that song other than from my dad. I had know idea how he knew it, and I still don’t. After he died I looked it up on the internet and discovered that it is an Irish folk tune titled “Mrs. Crandall’s Boarding House.” My dad had a wide variety of musical tastes, but I don’t ever remember him being into Irish folk music. Weird.

But somehow or somewhere he not only heard that song, he also memorized the lyrics and the melody. And every year, early in the morning on September 3, he would sing it to me and wish me a happy birthday.

I miss my dad. He died Feb. 17, 2018, but I still mourn for him. I still miss him. It still hurts. I think it always will.

Today I want to explore the topic of grief and mourning as we continue our journey through the beatitudes by looking at the second beatitude that Jesus gave: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

As we discussed last week, the term “beatitude” comes from the Latin word for “blessed,” “happy,” or even “rich.” Found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the beatitudes are a group of teachings that Jesus told his followers. Last week we explored what it means to be “poor in spirit,” and this week we turn our attention to “those who mourn.”

Like most of the beatitudes the words of Jesus seem to be opposite of what we expect. How in the world can someone be blessed, happy, or even rich when they mourn? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

But in the upside down and backwards world of being a follower of Christ we find it to be the case.

To mourn means to have sorrow or hurt for the loss of someone or something. Mourning is one of the emotions we have as humans, and unless you are very young, everyone experiences it.

Let’s be honest here: mourning is not a pleasant experience. It hurts, not physically, but emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.

As a pastor not only do I mourn personally, but I also have a front row seat to witnessing mourning pretty regularly. As I look out over your faces I see so many of you who have lost loved ones and who have mourned and are still mourning. As a pastor it’s challenging to mourn with you and yet not mourn to the point where I am incapable of doing ministry. And I can assure you, that is a difficult thing to do.

Why is mourning so painful? I believe the answer to that question is love. It sounds weird, but hear me out. We mourn because we love.

Think about it. When someone passes away we miss them because we love them. If we didn’t love anyone, we would never mourn. Someone could pass away and, because we didn’t love, our response would be something like, “So what”?

So our grief, our mourning, our sorrow, is proportionate to how much we love. If we love a lot, we mourn a lot. If we don’t love much (or, heaven forbid, none at all), then we don’t mourn much.

Mourning is painful. It really hurts. So why in the world does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”? That doesn’t seem to make sense.

I think it is because even in our grief, in those moments when we mourn so much that we have no more tears, when the pain seems unbearable, in those depths of darkness God provides us with a tiny sliver of light, a miniscule bit of comfort in our faith.

Now it may not be a whole bunch of comfort, but it is just enough to remind us of the hope we have through our faith in Jesus Christ.

In 1961 a book was published titled A Grief Observed. To me it is one of the best books on grief and I highly recommend it. The author was listed as N.W. Clerk, and the book chronicled his struggle through the illness and death of his wife to cancer.

What wasn’t known at the time was that N.W. Clerk was a pseudonym. The book was actually written by C.S. Lewis, who is famous even in our time for writing The Chronicles of Narnia.

C.S. married Helen Joy Davidman when he was in his 60s and she was in her 40s. At first they married so that Joy, who was American, could stay in England. Though they were friends, it was a marriage for immigration purposes. They even lived in separate houses. But then in 1957 came Joy’s diagnosis of cancer. C.S. and Joy were married in the hospital, and began living as man and wife.

Joy’s cancer went into remission, and the two passionately fell in love. For three joyful, wonderful years they lived life to the fullest with each other. And then suddenly Joy’s cancer returned and this time the doctors couldn’t stop it. She died in 1960.

In his grief, Lewis wrote this: “The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”

In another book, titled The Problem of Pain, he points out the important role that faith plays in pain. I believe it is applicable to mourning as well.

“…when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

The reason “the least tincture of the love of God” helps is because it is in our pain, in our mourning, that we realize our need for God. Similar to being poor in spirit like we talked about last week, grief can bring us to our knees and to the point where we realize that we can’t do this on our own, but that we need God. We need a savior.

Now it’s important to remember that our savior, Jesus, knows about the pain of grief. He knows how much it hurts to mourn.

In the 11th chapter of John we find Jesus being told that his good friend Lazarus became ill and died. The Bible records Jesus’ response as the shortest verse in the Bible, consisting of only two words: “Jesus wept.”

Although that verse is only two words, they are very important words. Jesus responded that way all of us respond to grief: he cried.

Jesus was/is fully God and fully human. This means he has experienced all the emotions that we ourselves experience, including grief.

God is not some existentially-distanced deity observing humanity from afar, but through Jesus Christ God himself came to earth, walked among us, and experienced everything we experience, including every emotion. Jesus was like us. Jesus wept, because Jesus grieved. Jesus mourned.

And yet Jesus tells us that we are blessed when we mourn because we will be comforted. How can that be true?

I think one way we can find comfort is in the scriptures. It is through the words of God revealed in scripture that we realize that while death may separate us from our loved ones, for those that believe in Jesus Christ that separation is only temporary.

Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection not only provides a way for our sins to be forgiven and for us to be reconciled to God, but it provides victory over death itself.

Too often we quote John 3:16 without realizing the full extent of the meaning of the words. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Now this doesn’t mean that we won’t mourn at all. And it doesn’t mean that it will make the pain go away. But these words do give us hope for the future, knowing that no matter what happens in this world, even when those we love die, we can be comforted by knowing that death is not the end.

The Apostle Paul writes in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

Jesus is our comfort when we mourn. We are comforted not by what we ourselves can do, but what Jesus has already done for us. Jesus has defeated death.

So my challenge for you is to remember that Jesus promised that when we mourn we will be comforted. We will still hurt, we will still feel the pain of loss, but within that pain and hurt will be hope. We will still miss our loved ones, but we know that one day we will be reunited with those in a place where there is no more pain and no more sorrow.

And when that happens for me personally, I intend to ask my dad where he learned that silly Irish folk song.

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