Meeting Jesus: The Gerasene Demoniac

Meeting Jesus: The Gerasene Demoniac
A Message on Mark 5:1-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 17, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 5:1-20 (NRSV)

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

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Today’s scripture from the Gospel of Mark is somewhat troubling. It portrays a man in a very bad state: mental illness and/or demon possession.

Now in the United Methodist Church we don’t talk about demonic possession very much. And there are some United Methodists that don’t believe that it is real, that it’s only mental illness.

I’m not one of those. I believe that though it is rare, there is such a thing as being demon possessed. I believe that there is evil in this world, and I believe evil forces such as demons exist as well.

Part of the problem is how we define evil and demons. Just yesterday I read an article on Facebook about surgeons performing a double lung transplant on a 17-year-old young man whose lungs were destroyed by vaping. In the article Dr. Hassan Nemeh, the surgeon who led the team of doctors, said this: “What I saw in his lungs is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’ve been doing lung transplants for 20 years. This is an evil I haven’t faced before.”

So is vaping an evil, a demon? Maybe. Is mental illness an evil, a demon? Maybe.

My personal opinion is that I think that mental illness and demonic possession are two different things. Demonic possession can disguise itself as mental illness, but certainly not all mental illness is demonic in origin.

Sometimes what we think are demons really are not. Back when we were in seminary there was one time when my roommate, the esteemed theologian and all around great guy Tommy Earl Burton, thought demons were after him. Here’s what happened.

One of our other roommates, Wade Lindstrom, had bought an electronic whoopee cushion. This was a modern electronic device, complete with a remote control, that… well… made flatulence noises, if you know what I mean. (If you don’t know what I mean, talk to me later and I’ll explain it.)

One night Wade, being the trickster he is, hid the sound-producing part of the machine under Tommy Earl’s bed. The idea was to wait awhile and then, when Tommy was lying on his bed, hit to remote to make it sound like Tommy Earl was… well… you know…

Well as it turned out Tommy stayed up late working on a paper. Wade forgot about the devise and went to bed and fell asleep. That was all fine and good except this electronic whoopee cushion had a program to remind you that it was on. After a certain amount of time it would make a sound, BRRRRRRP, to remind the owner that it was still on. It did this every 15 to 20 minutes.

Well Tommy Earl finally went to bed. He would just barely be asleep when the electronic whoopee cushion would go off with the reminder that it was on, “BRRRRRP.”

Tommy Earl, in a half-asleep and half-awake state, thought the sound was the sound of demons coming after him. He would wake up and start praying fervently, “Dear Lord Jesus, protect me from evil and remove these demons from my presence…” Then he would fall asleep and then, 15 to 20 minutes later, “BRRRRRRP,” the machine would go off again and the same thing would happen.

Apparently after about the fourth or fifth time this happened Tommy was praying out loud enough to awaken me. “OH DEAR LORD JESUS PLEASE RESCUE ME FROM THESE DEMONS TORMENTING ME!” I realized what was going on and told him, “It’s Wade’s electronic whoopee cushion making that noise. He put it under your bed.”

Tommy Earl got up, found the electronic whoopee cushion, picked it up, opened the door to Wade’s bedroom, and then threw it at Wade, who was asleep.

In the scripture we read today we find Jesus coming face to face with a man who wasn’t dealing with a pesky electronic whoopee cushion, but who was truly demon possessed. I have no doubt about this. The man didn’t live a normal life, but wandered among the tombs and exhibited bizarre behavior.

Now we need to remember that from a 1st Century Jewish perspective the man would have certainly been someone to stay away from. He was considered to be “unclean.” Simply coming in contact with a dead body made one unclean, and so you can see that living and sleeping among the tombs would make him very, VERY unclean, both physically and spiritually.

And the fact that he couldn’t be restrained by shackles and chains indicates that they had actually tried to do that, without success. And it also tells us that in that society, that’s how troubled people were treated: they were chained up.

So this unclean, crazy (literally), semi-naked man comes running up to Jesus as soon as Jesus gets out of the boat. If Jesus touches him, then Jesus will be unclean. And in reality, just being around him could make Jesus unclean. And besides, no self-respecting Jewish person of the day would in any way be associated with someone like the crazy, possessed man.

To quote a Monty Python movie, “Run away! Run away!”

But Jesus doesn’t. Instead Jesus heals the man, sending the demons to a herd of pigs that are nearby.

Now I find great theological significance in what happens here. The fact that there is a herd of pigs shows that in that area was a significant population of Gentiles. As you probably know, pigs are listed among the “unclean” animals in Leviticus and practicing Jews, and also Muslims, still today do not eat pork as a result. As Christians, we have the New Testament, specifically where Peter is told in Acts 10 to get up, kill, and eat. (And thank goodness for that, because I really love bacon!)

If the people in the area were all Jewish, then it would have been useless to raise pigs. It would be kind of like being an organist at a Church of Christ.

So there is a herd of pigs, considered by the Jews to be nasty, unclean, unreligious animals, and Jesus sends the demons into the pigs. But then something interesting happens.

The pigs, about 2,000 or them, rush down a “steep bank” and into the sea, where they drowned.

Here’s the deal: pigs are actually pretty good swimmers. They really are. There’s even a place in the Bahamas known for its swimming pigs. People go there just so they can swim with the pigs. Honestly. Here’s a photo to show you I’m not making this up.

So if pigs can swim then why did they drown? I think it is because of the demons. I think the demons tormented the pigs so much that they drowned themselves in an attempt to get rid of them.

Here’s something else that is significant. Verse 14, “The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country.” The people watching the pigs, which would have been Gentiles, of course, were witnesses to the miracle that Jesus performs. And they go and tell everyone about it, which would mean both Gentile and Jewish people. Gentiles start spreading the Good News about Jesus, and people came to see Jesus, and were astonished to see the demon-possessed man sitting calmly, fully clothed, and in his right mind.

It also brings to mind the parable of the Prodigal Son mentioned in Luke’s gospel. Do you remember what the son was doing after he left home and blew all his money and became destitute? He worked feeding pigs, and the pigs were eating better than he was.

We find that Jesus often pushes against the norms of society at the time. Well, he does more than push against. He often blows them away.

Humans are good at putting people in categories. It happened in the first century and still happens in our world today. We see it in the debates about immigration. One side sees peaceful, loving families trying to enter our country to escape poverty and political oppression. The other side sees criminals and drug cartel members coming and taking advantage of our country. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, but good luck convincing either side of that.

In Jesus’ time there was a lot of “chosen ones” and “unchosen ones” in society. The Jewish people were the “chosen ones,” as God’s people selected to live in the land of milk and honey promised to Abraham and his relatives. Anyone not Jewish, in other words, Gentile, were not chosen by God. In the view of the Jews, the Gentiles were a lower form of human life. After all, they weren’t the “chosen ones.”

We saw a similar attitude in World War II with the German view of Jewish people. The Nazis considered the Jews to be sub-human, and we know that attitude lead to the deaths of 6 million plus people.

In the 1st Century Middle East, people with mental illness were also considered to be subhuman. They were certainly ostracized. Like those with leprosy, they were shunned, pushed to the edge of society, rejected, and physically and mentally abused. The Gerasene Demoniac was one of those people. And yet when he encountered Jesus, everything changed. He was given value, a purpose.

It’s interesting to note what happens after he meets Jesus. He wants to go with Jesus, to follow him, to become one of his disciples. Jesus tells him no. Instead, Jesus has something different in mind. Jesus tells him: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

Why would Jesus do this? I think it’s because that’s where they man’s testimony would be the most effective. The people in his hometown will know and remember how he used to be. They know his history, how he has lived all these years. And, in knowing that, when they see him as “normal” it will have a greater impact for the kingdom that it would have with people who had NOT known him.

Sometimes in our lives as Christians we get fired up and want to to great big incredible things for Jesus Christ. We have in our minds what we want to do for Jesus and, if we are truthful with ourselves, sometimes our egos sneak their way into those plans. We want to do great things for the Kingdom, but we want the spotlight to shine on us as we do it. We want others to see just how good of a Christian we are. We are proclaiming, “Look at Jesus, but look at me, too!”

Ironically, the most effective things we can do for the Kingdom are usually the small, ordinary, everyday things we do. Instead of being in the spotlight and proclaiming the Kingdom as a narrative to satisfy our egos, the best thing we can do is to walk humbly with our God. We can, and should, do as Jesus tells the Gerasene Demoniac: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

I have used this illustration before but I’m going to repeat it today because it really applies to this message. There is a young boy walking along the seashore at low tide. Every now and then he comes across a starfish that got stranded on the beach by the receding tide. When he did, he would stop, pick up the starfish, and gently toss it back into the water.

A older man saw this and, after observing the young boy for several minutes, approached him. “Why are you tossing the starfish back into the ocean? There are thousands of them stranded on the beach. There’s no way you can help all of them. You can’t expect to make a difference with so many of them.”

The young boy didn’t say anything, but reached down and picked up a starfish, tossed it gently back in the water, then looked at the man and said, “I made a difference for that one.”

That’s the way we should be as Christians. We should bring the Kingdom of God to the earth one person at a time. We don’t have to have demons cast out of us or do big dramatic things in order to have an impact on this world, we simply need to bloom where we are planted.

This is a photo I took a while back. I don’t even remember where it was. I was fascinated by the scene, however, as these flowers were growing and blooming in the midst of hard pavement. The flowers bloomed where they were planted.

Likewise we should “bloom” where we are planted. We should show and share the love of Jesus Christ with the people we come into contact with on a daily or weekly basis. Little things for the Kingdom add up over time to become big things.

There is a challenge called the 365 day money challenge. It’s pretty simple. The first day you deopist a nickel, 5 cents, into your savings account. Then, you add $0.05 to your deposit on day two, making that deposit worth $0.10, bringing your total savings to $0.15.

On each subsequent day, you add a nickel to the previous day’s deposit. That means, on day 10, you deposit $0.50. On day 100, your deposit is $5.00. On the last day, number 365, your deposit is $18.40.

So $18.40 is the largest amount you will deposit. That’s as big as it gets. But all those small amounts add up at the end of the year. Any guesses how much you save if you start out with a nickel a day? The answer is $3,339.75. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of money to me!

Work for the Kingdom has the same kind of exponential multiplying affect. Little things we do for Jesus add up over time, building up lives one person at a time but having a profound effect on the Kingdom over time.

So my challenge to you this week is to do like Jesus commanded the Gerasene Demoniac: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

Create an everlasting impact on the Kingdom not by the big things you do, but by the small, everyday things. Let people cut in front of you in traffic. Hold the door open for someone. Bite your tongue instead of saying negative comments about someone. Delete that snarky social media comment instead of posting it. Tip waitstaff the way you think Jesus would tip them. Live the way Jesus lived, and love the way Jesus loved.

And if you ever buy an electronic whoopee cushion and put it under your roommate’s bed, be sure and turn it off.

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

All Saints Sunday Meeting Jesus: Martha

Meeting Jesus: Martha
A Message on John 11:17-27
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 3, 2019 (All Saints Sunday)
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 11:17-27 (NRSV)

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

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Today is All Saints Sunday, the first Sunday after All Saints Day, which is Nov. 1.

As a matter of fact, the holiday we just had, normally associated with candy and costumes, gets its name, “Halloween,” from a contraction of “All Hallows Eve,” the day before All Saints Day

In Mexico, especially the central and southern areas, there is a cultural celebration of Día de Muertos, or “Day of the Dead.” According to the always helpful resource Wikipedia, “The multi-day holiday involves family and friends gathering to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and helping support their spiritual journey. In Mexican culture, death is viewed as a natural part of the human cycle. Mexicans view it not as a day of sadness but as a day of celebration because their loved ones awake and celebrate with them.”

As Christians we don’t necessarily believe that our deceased loved ones awake and celebrate with us, but we do have something that we do celebrate: resurrection.

Resurrection means raising from the dead, the restoration of life. Someone died, and yet they are brought back to life through their faith in Jesus Christ.

In preparing for this message I realized something: us preachers, particularly myself, don’t preach on resurrection as much as we should. I think I know why. We preach it at funerals, which is important, but that leads us into a false belief that we have covered the topic pretty well. The problem with that is than many of you in our congregation can’t or don’t attend funerals.

So today, All Saints Sunday, we are going to talk about resurrection.

Resurrection is at the heart of Christianity. I will go so far as to question whether you are a Christian if you don’t believe in resurrection. As we say in the Apostle’s creed,

“I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.”

In the scripture we read today we find that Jesus shows up at Bethany after being informed that his friend, Lazarus, has died. Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary, who Jesus also considered as friends.

We usually look at this section of scripture and focus on the fact that Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, even though Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. Today, however, I want to focus on something Jesus says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Lazarus being resurrected from the dead foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection. But he proclaims to Martha what will happen after his own death, except he says it in present tense, which means he already has the power of resurrection.

Listen to this paraphrase from The Message: “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.”

Did you catch that last sentence? “And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.”

This All Saints Sunday we recognize those of our congregation who have died since the last All Saints Sunday. It’s a pretty long list, and there are so many long-time, faithful, members’ names on that list. We miss them. We mourn their passing.

And yet we are comforted because we know that’s not the end of the story. We know about the resurrection of the dead, and that not only comforts us, but it gives us hope and courage for the future. Death does not win. Love does.

So my challenge to you this week is to remember and celebrate that we are a resurrection people! That gives us hope! That gives us joy, not only for ourselves but for all the saints that have gone on before us.

And that gift, that grace, is given to us by Jesus Christ, God’s only son, who willingly went to his death on a cross so that we might have that grace and hope.

So as we mourn those who have joined the church triumphant, we remember the words of the old hymn: “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus we’ll sing and shout the victory!”

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

Meeting Jesus: The Widow’s Offering

Meeting Jesus: The Widow’s Offering
A Message on Luke 21:1-4
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 27, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 21:1-4 (NRSV)

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

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Today as we continue our sermon series, “Meeting Jesus,” we are going to turn to the 21st chapter of the Gospel of Luke and look at a poor widow who gave two “mites,” or two small copper coins, at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now this is also found in the 12th chapter of Mark, but today we’re going to focus on Luke’s account.

Now I am aware that technically the widow doesn’t specifically “meet” Jesus. But Jesus does see her and remarks about her to those around him, so I say that’s close enough.

We need some context, though, as to why Jesus is saying this, and perhaps more importantly, who he is saying it to. If we back up one chapter in Luke we find that Jesus is dealing with the religious leaders of the day who are upset with him because he is bucking the status quo. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes were very much “this is the way we’ve always done it” kind of people, and Jesus was upsetting the religious apple cart.

Chapter 20 begins with Jesus in Jerusalem where he is teaching in the temple. The chief priests, scribes, and elders come to Jesus and try to trap him with questions. They ask him by whose authority he is doing all the things he is doing. He responds by asking them a question about the baptisms John was doing, whether it was of heavenly or human origin. They were afraid to answer, so they didn’t.

Then he tells the parable of the wicked tenants, about how they not only wouldn’t pay the appropriate share to the landowner, but beat and even killed those sent to collect it.

Then the religious leaders send spies to ask Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. Jesus asks for a coin, asks them whose image is on the coin, and then tells them to give to the emperor those things that belong to him, and to give to God the things that belong to God.

Then some Sadducees come and asked Jesus about resurrection. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection, so they had all their arguments lined up to counter him. But he answers them in such a way they are afraid to ask him any more questions.

Then Jesus asks them how David’s son can be the messiah, before completing the chapter with this charge against the religious leaders:

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:46-47

It is then that Jesus witnesses the widow placing her two coins in the treasury and commends her for it within hearing of the religious leaders.

Now the scribes were the ones that interpreted the scriptures for the people. We have to remember that printing presses were not available in the 1st Century Holy Land, and the scriptures of the Old Testament were written on scrolls. So the scribes not only kept these scrolls but also interpreted them for the people.

Now some people today, especially the TV preachers, have interpreted the passage of the widow giving her last two coins to mean that people should give all they have to their ministry. They say that if you give everything to them then God will bless you financially, as if God is an investment firm that will provide a great and generous return on your investment.

No. If the love of money is the root of all evil, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy, then why would God try to give us more? Now don’t get me wrong, I think there are blessings received when we give to God, but it is extremely rare that those blessings turn out to be financial.

I think that what Jesus is saying in observing the widow giving her two coins, her last two coins, is the hypocrisy of the scribes who guilted the widows into giving everything they had to the treasury.

Now today is Commitment Sunday, and you may be thinking, “That’s a weird thing to say on Commitment Sunday.” And in all probability our financial secretary, Sarah Hugghins, is probably having a spell of high blood pressure right now, wondering where I’m going with this, but I want to make something perfectly clear: If you are down to your last two cents, don’t give it to the church. Instead come to our food pantry on Thursday (actually see me after worship) and the church will give you some food.

I don’t want to guilt you into giving to the church. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t give to the church. What I am saying is if you only have two pennies then don’t give them to the church.

If, however, you are not impoverished, and I mean truly impoverished, then I am asking you to give to the church. I am asking you to pray to God and then complete an estimate of giving card and drop it in one of the baskets on the altar rail in just a few minutes.

Why am I asking you to do this? It’s simple, really. We are working on the budget for the church for the coming year. In order to do that we need to have an estimate of giving so we can estimate what the income for the church will be. We then base the expenses of the budget on that estimate.

I think it’s more important this year than in years past. We have lost a lot of faithful saints this past year, either through death or from moving away from Jacksonville. Sarah as estimated how much those people gave, and it comes up to about $23,000. That’s a lot.

To quote that ol’ country song, “Who’s going to fill their shoes?”

Statistics show that for every long term church member lost, it takes five new church members to match that financial level.

The reality is that ministry takes money. The electric bill has to be paid every month. The water bill has to be paid. We have to have insurance on this wonderful facility. We have arguably the best children’s and youth programs in the area, but they aren’t free. Our Adopt-a-School program is making a difference in the lives of West Side Elementary Students as well as teachers and staff. Our food pantry feeds between 50 and 75 families every week.

We have an excellent staff here at JFUMC, but they need to be paid as well. As the Bible says in both Deuteronomy and 1 Timothy, “Do not muzzle the oxen when they are treading out the grain.”

Bottom line is it costs to be the church. It was that way in the first Century, it’s been that way throughout the years, and it’s still that way now.

Giving to the church is a spiritual matter. It is a matter of the heart.

I asked Sarah Hugghins to break down our giving in terms of how many people give how much. Here is a graph that shows that.

Out of 224 giving units, this is how they break down: We have six giving units that give more than $20,000 a year. These six giving units contribute more than 34 percent of our entire budget. (Thank you, by the way!) We have one giving unit that gives between $15,000 to $20,000, five who give between $10,000 and $15,000, two who give between $8,000 to $10,000, 15 who give between $5,000 and $8,000, 28 who give between $3,000 and $5,000, 54 who give between $1,000 and $3,000, and 114 that give between $1 and $1,000.

And we also have 69 people who, unless they give cash in the plates that Sarah can’t count, who don’t give any.

Now I want to be clear that as pastor I don’t know who gives what. That is by my choice. As a matter of fact, that goes against what us pastors are told by stewardship specialists. They say pastors need to know what everyone in the church gives. But the reason I don’t want to know is that I don’t want to even subconsciously treat someone differently when it comes to pastoral care.

So, as you fill out your estimate of giving card please know that I will not see it. Sarah Hugghins, our financial secretary, is the only one that sees them. The only one I see is the one that Pam and I fill out and turn in. (And yes, we do turn one in, in case you are wondering.)

Also be aware that the estimate of giving card does not obligate you by legal contract to give that amount to the church. It is an estimate of giving, and if changes in your financial situation changes happen during the year your estimate of giving can change. We’re not going to send some guy named Guido to track you down in hit you in the knees if you get behind. No. Sarah sends out quarterly statements, and that’s it. No guilt, no pressure.

Let’s talk about terminology for a minute. Let’s talk about tithes and offerings. The Bible tells us to give a tithe of our income. Well, what is a tithe? A tithe is 10 percent of your income. There is some debate as to whether that is gross or net income, which is something you need to decide for yourself. But a tithe is 10 percent.

Offerings are anything above that, those gifts that you give in addition to your tithe.

As Christians we are obligated to support the church with our giving. As United Methodists when we join we make a covenant agreement to support the church with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” We don’t get to pick and choose which those we want to do and which ones we don’t want to do. It’s all of them, and that includes gifts, both monetarily and in other ways as well.

Giving is a part of who we are as Christians, as United Methodists, and as members of Jacksonville First United Methodist Church.

So my challenge to you today is to be generous in your gifts to the church. Before you turn in your estimate of giving consider raising it one or two percent. You don’t even have to do the math. Just write “+ 2 percent” beside your estimate. Sarah will do the calculations for you. Help us to continue the legacy that those that have gone before us were instrumental in establishing.

And if you only have two pennies, let me know. I don’t want you to give it to the church. Meet me after church and we will get you some groceries. After all, we are the church.

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

Meeting Jesus: The Boy with Five Loaves and Two Fish

Meeting Jesus: The Boy with Five Loaves and Two Fish
A Message on John 6:1-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 13, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 6:1-14 (NRSV)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

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Here’s a little Bible trivia for you today. Of all the miracles Jesus performs in the Bible, how many of those miracles appear in all four gospels?

The answer is one. (If you count the accounts of his resurrection as a miracle of his own doing then it would be two, but most people don’t associate the resurrection with the miracles that Jesus performed.) It’s the scripture we read today about feeding the multitudes with two fish and five barley loaves.

This miracle appears in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The version we read today is the one in John.

Now it’s easy to get confused when discussing feeding the multitudes because according to some scriptures it happened twice, not once. In addition to the one we read today, the scriptures in Matthew 15 and Mark 8 include Jesus and the disciples feeding 4,000 people with seven fish and “a few” loaves. In that account the disciples picked up seven baskets full of leftovers. So don’t get confused.

The scripture we read today from John happens right after Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, and gets into a debate with the religious officials who are upset that he did. Jesus tries to convince the religious leaders that he is, indeed, the messiah, but they are stubborn and hard hearted and don’t want to believe it. They just don’t get it.

So Jesus withdraws by going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but the problem is that large crowds followed him. The man just can’t get any rest. He goes up on a mountain and starts teaching, but the crowd continues to get larger and larger.

Jesus asks Phillip where they are going to be able to buy bread to feed everyone. Now it’s not that Jesus didn’t know the answer, but he was basically testing the disciples and setting them up for what was about to come.

Phillip responds that even six-months wages wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for everyone. Andrew points out the young boy with five loaves and two fish, and that is what Jesus uses to perform the miracle.

Now there are some significant things about this scripture that I think we need to know. First of all the scriptures tell us the boy had barley loaves of bread, not wheat. Barley is a grain that is still grown today. When I think of it I think about Cambell’s soup, but it can also be ground like wheat and used to make bread.

Barley is the earliest grain to mature. Planting and harvest times for grain in the Holy Land are pretty close to what it is here in this part of Texas, believe it or not. The seeds of barley, wheat, oats and other grains are sown usually in November, and then the grain is harvested around April and May. Barley has a shorter life cycle than wheat and oats, so it is the grain that becomes mature first.

I did a little research and found out that it was a tradition in the Jewish community to present an omer, about 3.5 pounds, of the “first fruits” of barley, the first collection of the crop, as a sacrifice at the Temple at Passover. Even if it matured before Passover, it was kept and not eaten until after passover. Likewise the “first fruits” of wheat were presented at the Temple at Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.

So here’s what I think is the theological significance of the scripture we read today telling us what kind of bread it was: Verse four tells us that the Passover was near. That means the barley might have been ripe but that the wheat, unless it was held over from the previous year, was not available.

I propose that the five barley loaves the boy had might not have been for him and his family to eat, but perhaps was made from the first gleanings of the barley and thus was to be presented as a sacrifice. I’m no expert in bread, except when it comes to eating it, but if I was to have to guess I would say that an omer of ground barley, about 3.5 pounds of barley flour, would make about five loaves of bread, which is what the boy had. Now this is speculation on my part and I may be reading too much into it, but I think it makes sense.

So when the boy gives the five barley loaves to Jesus he was still in effect giving it to God as a sacrifice, only instead of giving it to the priest at the Temple he gives it to Jesus, the incarnation of God. This emphasizes the divinity of Jesus Christ as God himself!

Jesus refers to himself as the “bread of life,” and of course he refers to bread as his body during the Last Supper in the Upper Room.

The boy also has two fish. Now when we think of fish to eat we think of fresh fish or frozen fish. What the boy had was probably neither of those two things. Fresh fish doesn’t travel well, so the boy probably had dried or salted fish. Think fish jerky. We have to remember that the people at the time didn’t have refrigeration or the ability to freeze food, so much of it was preserved by drying and/or salting. Drying and/or salting preserved the fish and made it able to be transported.

Now since they were at the Sea of Galilee it could have been fresh, that’s certainly possible, but then we come to the problem of how to cook it on a mountainside.

The fish is theologically significant. One third of the disciples were fishermen. Jesus calls them to follow him, telling them he will teach them how to fish for people. An early symbol for Christianity, when it was against the law, was the fish symbol. It’s still used today. There is even a saying, “You catch ‘em, He’ll clean ‘em.” (Hint: It’s not talking about fish.)

If it had happened in East Texas today we would have gotten gallons of peanut oil and put big pots on propane burners and had us a good ol’ fish fry with hush puppies, fried potatoes, cole slaw, and maybe even some green tomato relish. While that may not be as theologically significant, but it sure tastes good!

So the disciples get the loaves and fish and give them to Jesus. He then asks the people to sit down and then does something he will later repeat as an important part of the last supper: he asks God to bless it.

Now I think it’s important that we don’t skip over this fact. Jesus gives thanks to God for the fish and loaves, and at the Last Supper he gives thanks to God for the bread and the wine. Things always work out better when we ask God to bless something, because God will not bless something that is not good. But when it is good, and when God blesses it, great things happen.

So then they distribute the loaves and then the fishes, and everyone eats (it’s kind of like an “all-you-can-eat-buffet”). Not only does everyone get full, but they have leftovers, 12 baskets full, in fact. But only of the bread. No leftover fish. (It never tastes as good leftover anyway, right?)

There is significance in the number 12 here. After all, there were 12 sons of Jacob that made the 12 tribes of Israel, and there are 12 disciples. The number 12 represents God’s power and authority, completeness.

One more thing I think is important about this scripture we read today: Who is it that has the loaves and fish to begin with? A boy. Not a grownup, not a disciple, not a Pharisee, not a Sadducee, not a Scribe, but a boy. A kid.

Why? I think it’s the same reason that Jesus says not to keep the children from coming to him, because it is to them the kingdom of God belongs. I think it’s the same reason Jesus tell us unless we become like little children we will not enter the kingdom of heaven, or why Isaiah says “and a little child shall lead them.”

Children have hope. They are innocent, curious, and trusting. They have faith and find it easy and quite normal to believe in things they can’t see or understand.

So I think it is significant that it is a child that provides the loaves and fish for the feeding of the multitudes.

And he gave all that he had. It’s kind of like the Widow’s Mite. He didn’t have much, but he gave all of what he had.

I sometimes wonder if in giving the fish and loaves away he worried about getting in trouble at home? Would his parents be mad when he told them what had happened to the two fish and five barley loaves. “We told you to take them to the priest! What happened to them. What did you do with them? Surely you didn’t eat them all yourself, did you? I tell you one thing, if you did you are going to be grounded until the messiah comes, that’s for sure!”

We don’t know, only that he did give. And we are thankful he did.

So, what can we learn from this. What can we take from this ancient experience that is applicable to our modern, digital world?

I think there are a couple of things. The first is that it teaches us not to think in worldly terms.

Phillip, one of the disciples, tried to solve the problem facing them with worldly thinking. When Jesus asked the disciples how they were going to feed the people, Phillip talked about how much money it would take to buy food for everyone. And it was going to be a lot of money!

That’s worldly thinking, not heavenly thinking.

We’re guilty of that same kind of thinking, aren’t we? Our first reaction to a problem is usually a worldly reaction, isn’t it?

“How am I going to be able to afford this?”

“Oh, I can’t wait until I get revenge on ol’ So-and-so.”

“If only I could buy __ then my life would be complete and I would be happy.”

“Why can’t I be as lucky as __? They get all the breaks.”

“I wonder if I can I pay off my Visa bill with my MasterCard?”

You get the idea. How many times in our lives do we turn to God as the last resort instead of the first resort? We try everything in the world to fix it ourselves, but when all that crashes down only then do we take it to God.

It’s kinda like someone having problems with their car, so they get their tools out and tear the engine apart trying to fix it. But they can’t. And so then they have to have the car towed to an auto repair place to have it fixed and everything put back together the way it was supposed to be.

It sure would be more effective to take things to God to begin with. It’s also a lot less stressful.

Think heavenly, not worldly.

Another thing I think we can learn from this scripture is to be willing to give everything to God.

The boy gave all he had to Jesus. He didn’t say, “Hey Jesus, can you make do with just one fish and a couple of barley loaves? How about that? Cause I still need something for myself, you know. I’m hungry. And if you’re going to multiply it anyway it’s just a little bit more of a miracle for you, which is easy for you, being as you’re God and everything, right?”

Here’s a rhetorical question for you: In terms of percentages, how “sold out” are you to Jesus? How willing are you to give him everything, 100 percent?

Do you think about your faith only on Sunday? How often do you read your Bible? Do your actions, the way you live your life, reflect Christian love and charity on Sunday but self-centeredness and meanness the rest of the week?

With regard to your financial giving to the church, do you give God what’s leftover or do you give from your “first fruits”? Do you spend more on “triple, venti, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiatos” than you give to God?

And do you give your time and talents to the Lord?

Is Jesus Lord of all your life or just some of it. Maybe 35 percent? Or 45 percent on a good week?

There is a song by Audrey Assad titled, “Everything Is Yours.” The words of the chorus are:

“If everything is Yours
Everything is Yours
If everything is Yours
I’m letting it go
No it was never mine to hold”

Like the boy with two fish and five loaves we need to give everything to Jesus. He realized it wasn’t his to hold. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, if we are going to be disciples of Jesus Christ serious about the great commission to go and make disciples, then we have to be 100 percent in all the time.

So my challenge for you this week is two fold: 1. Don’t think in worldly terms and 2. Be willing to give all you have to Jesus. Jesus willingly gave his life on the cross for us. Let us willingly give to him.

And if you run across a kid with two fish and five barley loaves, you better pay attention to him.

(Artwork: Attributed to Ambrosius Francken the Elder)

Meeting Jesus: Zacchaeus

“Seek and You will Find”
A Message on Luke 19:1-10
Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
By Amber Jones, Associate Pastor
amberjones293@gmail.com

Luke 19:1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a

son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

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Do you remember the Nursery rhyme :

Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree
And said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I’m going to your house today.

Jesus, near the end of his journey to Jerusalem, is passing through the border town of Jericho. In that town is a man named Zacchaeus who is not just a tax collector but a chief tax ,he is rich. He wants to see Jesus, but because he is short, he cannot see over the crowds, so he climbs a tree. When Jesus arrives at the place where Zacchaeus rested himself on the tree, he calls him down and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home, which simultaneously brings Zacchaeus joy and shame.

For our time here together this morning I want to speak from the subject :

Seek and you shall find.

What is the first thing we do when we Lose something? We go and search for it.

The reason why we go and search for is because that thing that has been lost serves a purpose. You’re not sure where you had it last or what you need to start to do in order to find it but you do it even if you are the size of Zacchaeus. He we in my opinion to extreme measures to search for what seemed to be lost amongst a crowd of people.

But what do we do when we’ve not only lost something in the natural but in the spiritual aspect of life. What do we do to obtain our relationship, or our spiritual connection?

I believe in my sanctified imagination:

Zacchaeus was searching for HOPE!

A little background concerning Zacchaeus. The text offers up some warning sign pertaining to Zacchaeus, things what would offer a glimpse of some of the obstacles this man would face.

Today when we think of tax collectors, or the IRS, we probably do not have a warm fuzzy feeling come upon us.

If we are told we are about to be audited by the IRS, we probably are not feeling too well inside.

There was a great deal of dishonesty that was associated with this practice.

Zacchaeus was a man who would have been despised by his own people, even if he was honest because Zacchaeus was collecting taxes for Rome.

So red flag one, Zacchaeus probably felt alone and rejected.

Being rich is not a crime, but Jesus spoke a lot being rich and how that could inhibit one coming to God because they do not think they had the need.

God does not condemn wealth, but he wants us to not rely on that wealth rather to rely on God.

Imagine living a life where you are despised and forsaken.

Zacchaeus, a man who had it all, yet had nothing. Do you know people who are in that boat?

So here is a man without hope, yet he finds out Jesus is in town. Maybe he can find what he is looking for in Jesus?

Many came to Jesus to see if He would perform a miracle, others came out of curiosity, why did Zacchaeus seek to see Jesus?

I believe he was looking for hope.

Zacchaeus was searching for hope!

So, he knows the route Jesus would have to take, so Zacchaeus runs ahead of Jesus and he climbs a tree, PROBABLY HOPING to reach a low hanging branch.

This year in JUMY we are studying HOPE. Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

And we are encouraging our kiddos that although you cannot see it our faith in Jesus drives our HOPE.

Zacchaeus may have placed his hope in a number of areas, maybe even his wealth, yet something was missing. There was a hole inside of him. What could fill that empty spot in his heart?

How does a person like Zacchaeus seek after that hope? When he is feeling lost and rejected?

So, here is Zacchaeus, he must have looked a little ridiculous, a grown man, a wealthy man, a tax collector sitting up in a tree, hoping for something to change, hoping that HOPE would finally take note of him!

What is Zacchaeus expecting? I think he simply expects to see Jesus and hear Him teach and maybe get a feel for who He is.

BUT, true hope delivers beyond our expectations!

As Jesus approaches the tree in which Zacchaeus is perched, He looks at Zacchaeus and says ZACCHAEUS, YOU COME DOWN, FOR I AM COMING TO YOUR HOUSE TODAY.

He tells Zacchaeus to hurry down from the tree because Jesus said because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.

The way this statement from Jesus is phrased in the Greek, it means that Jesus considered it part of His mission to go to the home of Zacchaeus!

The word NECESSARY implies that it was mission essential that Jesus does this!

So, Zacchaeus hurries down from the tree and JOYFULLY welcomed Jesus!

My brothers and sisters in Christ I am here to let you know that the Sovereign Lord says in Ezekiel 34:11: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

Why did I read that passage? Because it is very important to know that God will provide and look after you no matter the situation.

We are reminded in Jeremiah 1:5

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.

So why would we doubt that God is not here when we need him the most. Before you we formed in the womb The lord knew that you would be in this opposition.

So where are you lord is the question that is resting on your heart. Know that God is always present. Despite your sin that you were forgiven of on that old rugged cross. Rest in the peace that God loves you and is willing to come and visit with you in the time of need. Hear the good news we are all seeking Jesus rather we have a good view or not. Seeking Christ in our every situation is what God has called us to do. Remember whatever circumstance that you may be facing your Destiny requires pain so that God can fulfill his promise within us, Imagine the pain that Zaccheaus was facing after being put in that position he was pushed to go and seek after God. Lastly, our HOPE in Jesus is all we need! Although we can’t see it!

I love this song by Hillsong worship:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name.

Christ alone, cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord, Lord of all

Zacchaeus climbed in a tree. How far would you go to search for Jesus? If you seek you will find. In the name of the Father , Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Meeting Jesus: The Seven Disciples

“The Miraculous Draft of Fishes” (1444), by Konrad Witz

Meeting Jesus: The Seven Disciples
A Message on John 21:1-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 8, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 21:1-14 (NRSV)
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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Today we continue our sermon series “Meeting Jesus” by looking not at one single person, but a group of people: the Seven Disciples.

At first glance this seems like a simple, straight-forward story from the Gospel of John, but if we dig into it we find some very interesting and unusual things.

First let’s set a timeline. Today’s reading begins with, “After these things…” So just what were those things?

If we back up a chapter in John to Chapter 20 we find John’s description of Jesus’ resurrection. He appears to Mary Magdalene, then appears to the disciples who are cowering behind locked doors. Thomas was not with them and didn’t believe what the other disciples told him about Jesus. Then Jesus appears to them one more time, this time with Thomas present, and “Doubting Thomas” believes.

That where we find ourselves at the beginning of the scripture we read today.

We don’t know how long it was between Jesus appearing the the disciples the second time and today’s scripture, but I speculate that it was at least a week or so.

If you think about it, the disciples were in a difficult situation. When Jesus was alive he was their leader, and they simply followed him and did–or tried to do–what he said. But when he was crucified that left a leadership void in the group.

They had to have had doubts. This man, who they had given up everything to follow, who they believed to be the Messiah, wasn’t supposed to die. It wasn’t supposed to go that way. Thomas gets the reputation as the doubting one but I think all of them had doubts after the crucifixion.

So what now? What happens next? What are we supposed to do?

They did what many of them did before they met Jesus: fish. Four of the twelve disciples were fishermen, so instead of just sitting around twiddling their thumbs they we back to what they knew how to do: catch fish.

They were fishing at night, which was not an unusual thing. The fish were closer to the surface at night, plus it was cooler. But remember they didn’t have electric lights, they didn’t have trolling motors or even any kind of motor. They might have had some moonlight and perhaps a few lanterns, but that would have been it.

Today some people like to fish at night. Mike Kellogg, our music director, said he likes to fish at night. I don’t. I have tried it before in my canoe and let me tell you, it gets spooky out there. I haven’t tried it in my kayak, and I don’t think I will.

So they are fishing at night and I speculate that it was hot, kind of like the weather we have been having here lately. I think this because Peter was naked. Now maybe he shed his clothes just to keep them from getting fish smell on them, but I kinda doubt it. I think it was more of a temperature thing.

Jesus, who they don’t yet know is Jesus, makes the first verbal contact, asking them if they have caught any fish. But he does it in a way the implies he already knows the answer. “Children, you have no fish, have you?” We might phrase it like, “Kids, you didn’t catch anything, did you?”

It had to be tough for the disciples to answer no. Us fishermen NEVER like to admit when we don’t catch any fish. We even have terms for it, such as getting “skunked” or “blanked” or “struck out.” I like to say that the fish had “lockjaw.” There’s even a saying, “That’s why they call it fishing and not catching.”

So this stranger then responds to their simple “no” with advice to put the nets out on the other side, the right side of the boat. Now I have to admit that if I had been one of the disciples I might have been a little perturbed about that advice. We were professional fishermen. We knew what we were doing because we had done it before. We weren’t dummies out here trying it for the first time. Who is this stranger that thinks he knows more than we do. But… oh, what do we have to lose. Let’s try it anyway.

So they do, and BOOM, the nets are suddenly full to overflowing. A whole night fishing and catching nothing, then all of a sudden it’s the motherload.

The “disciple who Jesus loved,” who most scholars believe to be John, tells Simon Peter, the de facto leader of the seven, that the stranger is Jesus. Peter gives up on the fish at this point. Ironically, he puts his clothes on before jumping out of the boat. Remember that earlier before Jesus was crucified Peter was the one who walked on water toward Jesus. It doesn’t say that he walked on water this time, just that he “jumped into the sea.” Now a lot of artwork depicting this moment shows Peter walking on top of the water toward Jesus, even though the scripture doesn’t specifically say so. I figure he jumped in the water and swam to shore towards Jesus.

So why put clothes on only to get wet? I have a theory, but it’s only that. I think it was because he didn’t want to be naked in front of Jesus. I think it serves as a good metaphor for our spiritual lives as well.

We don’t want to be spiritually naked before Jesus. We don’t want Jesus to know who we really are under the facades of religious clothes that we show the world. We don’t want to admit our sins, our shortcomings, our things we think are secrets that nobody knows.

Which is ridiculous when you think about it because Jesus, being fully God as well as fully human, already knows everything about us. And deep down we know that, but just don’t want to admit it.

So Simon Peter gets to Jesus first but the other six disciples struggle to shore with the boat and towing the nets full of fish. They get on the shore and go over to Jesus and notice that he has some fish roasting over a charcoal fire.

Now I’ve preached before about the symbolism of Jesus’ fire being charcoal. He didn’t just get some sticks of wood and start a fire. He used charcoal. Why?

I think it is again a metaphor. The way you make charcoal is to light wood on fire, and then deprive it of oxygen. In this first century this was done in earthen or brick ovens. Wood is placed in the oven, the fire gets going good, then the openings are closed and, as the oxygen is burned up, the fire goes out. What you have left is wood that is partially burned but that is left intact. It can then be transported and stored to use when you want to get a fire started quickly, like when you are traveling. (It’s also lighter than regular wood.)

This is a metaphor for Jesus’ resurrection. He was killed and buried in a tomb, and the tomb door was closed, much like a charcoal oven. Everyone, including the Jewish leaders, the Romans, and even the disciples, thought his “fire” had gone out. But it hadn’t. He didn’t stay dead. He resurrected. He transformed into something else. The stone was rolled away. I think the charcoal symbolizes that.

Jesus asks them to bring some of the fish they have caught. I find this interesting because Jesus already has fish cooking on the fire. He has fish, why does he need more?

Again, I think it is symbolic. Jesus, in calling the disciples, tells them to leave their nets and follow him, and he will teach them to be fishers of people. When the disciples bring the fish to Jesus, it is symbolic of the disciples bringing people to Jesus. And while Peter is the one that goes and gets the fish (perhaps because the other six disciples say, “Hey, you abandoned us when we were trying to get them to shore. You go get Jesus some fish”), I think it represents all of the disciples fishing for people.

Next Jesus invites them to come have some breakfast, and starts off by taking the bread and giving it to them. This is symbolic of the Last Supper that Jesus had with the disciples. Instead of wine he gives them fish. I think this is symbolic of feeding the multitude (5,000 and 4,000) with a few loaves of bread and a few fish.

So, what can we learn from this scripture that we can apply to our lives today? I want to point out two things.

The first thing we can learn is that Jesus shows up at the most unexpected times and places. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t also show up in the places where he is expected, like in prayer, in worship, in reading the scriptures, in fasting, and even in silence. What I’m talking about are those unexpected moments.

The seven disciples could not have imagined that Jesus would show up after a long night of unsuccessful fishing. They were tired, sweaty, stinky, frustrated and probably a little bit cranky. Hours and hours of work and nothing to show for it. Not a single fish. Not even a dink (which is what bass fishermen call a small fish.) The disciples probably just wanted to go home, get something to eat, and then get some sleep. It was, as a children’s book title points out, a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

And then Jesus shows up. Just like that. No warning, no angel choir to sing prior to his arrival, no light shining down from heaven. Just a guy by a fire on the shoreline.

Like the disciples, Jesus will show up in our lives when we least expect it.

Jesus may show up when you meet someone for the first time and you get a gut feeling that they are struggling with something.

Jesus may show up when you are busy with life and your schedule is full and your house is dirty, the sink is full of dirty dishes, you’re out of clean clothes, you’ve reused the same towel for three days in a row, and you need to go to the grocery store.

Jesus may show up when you read a scripture that you have read many times and yet this time it really touches your soul.

Jesus may show up when you are in your car and you hear a song on a Christian radio station and the music and the lyrics combine with the Holy Spirit to bring you to tears and you have to pull over on the side of the road because you can’t see because of the tears.

Jesus shows up when you least expect it.

The second thing I think we can learn from this scripture is this: life is better with Jesus than it is without him.

Life is better with Jesus, especially when the nets of our life get caught on the rocks and stumps of life, when things get tough, when it seems like we fish all night and catch nothing.

Life is better with Jesus when the medical report comes back as malignant, when an unexpected pregnancy happens, when you are at work and learn that you are being laid off, or when medical expenses wipe out your life savings.

Life is also better with Jesus during the good times, when you find the one person you want to spend the rest of your life with, when a baby is born, when you get your dream job, when you become grandparents, when you get a phone call from a good friend, or you experience a profound and deep sense of peace when you are kneeling at the altar rail receiving communion and you grasp just a little bit of how much Jesus loves you, that he would give his life for the forgiveness of your sins.

You’ll even sleep better with Jesus than you will without him. We had an elderly neighbor in Kilgore who lived all alone and seemed fine with it. I made the mistake of asking her one time if she ever got scared being by herself at night. She responded by saying, “Young man, let me give you some advice. When you go to bed each night, turn all your troubles over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway and there’s no use in both of you losing sleep.”

Life is better with Jesus, both during the bad and the good times.

So my challenge to you this week, brought to you by the Seven Disciples Fish Company, is to live your life with Jesus and get ready to expect the unexpected. Life really is better with Jesus so live fully into his word. Don’t be a part-time Christian (which is an oxymoron, anyway). Be fully committed to being a follower of Jesus Christ. And then be willing to cast your nets on the other side of the boat if he asks you to. You may be surprised at what you catch.

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

Meeting Jesus: Saul

Michelangelo, Conversion of Saul 1542-5.jpg

Meeting Jesus: Saul
A Message on Acts 9:1-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 1, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Acts 9:1-20 (NRSV)

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

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Today in the continuation of our sermon series “Meeting Jesus” we will examine someone that is very important in the Christian faith: Saul, also known as Paul.

Now let’s start with names first. There is a misconception that this person was named Saul until his conversion experience, and then from that point on took the name Paul. While that makes a good story, it simply isn’t true. He is referred to as Saul several times in the scriptures after his conversion. Which of the two names are used is based primarily on the audience. Saul is his Hebrew name, and Paul is his Greek name. Same person, two names.

Let me give you a modern example. Let’s take the English name “John.” In German it is Johann, in Dutch Jan, in French Jean, and in Spanish Juan. All the same name, but in different languages.

So, Saul/Paul is the same person. Same guy, just two names in two languages.

Saul was a Pharisee. He was a big wig in the religious and civic life of the Jerusalem area in the First Century. Saul was born in Tarsus, which is located in modern day Turkey. It was under Roman Control, so Saul had citizenship rights as a Roman Citizen.

Saul was smart. He attended the best schools and even studied under a famous teacher named Gamaliel. He had moved up the religious ranks to become a Pharisee, a leader of the Jewish people. He was smart, he was powerful, and he was passionate about his faith.

He was so passionate that he hunted down people of “The Way” who were causing trouble by talking about this person named Jesus.

Now it’s interesting to note that in all probability Saul never met Jesus in the flesh while Jesus was on the earth. The timelines just don’t work out right. Saul came along after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In researching the topic I came across one article that speculated on how Saul could have been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, or could have been present at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, or even present as his death. No. While that makes a good story, we have no scriptural support for that theory. Saul met Jesus after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Now Saul knew about Jesus, there’s no doubt about that. And he didn’t like what he heard about this man from Nazareth. He heard that Jesus riled up the Jewish people, that he had been arrested and killed by crucifixion on a cross. And even after his death his followers said he rose from the dead.

Saul made it his quest to hunt down and throw in prison–and even tacitly approve the killing of–those who believed that Jesus was the messiah.

We we think about Saul/Paul it’s important to remember just how huge a difference meeting the resurrected Jesus had on his life. Here is a man who goes from not only opposing Christians but actively persecuting them. (Saul held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen to death.)

And then, on the road to Damascus, where he was going on a mission of persecution, he meets Jesus. Not the bodily Jesus, but a voice from heaven. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Uh-oh. Snap.

Saul faced a dilemma. He could attribute his sudden blindness to some kind of disease or natural phenomenon, or even blame it on the devil and say his blindness was the devil’s way of punishing him for hunting those heathen Christians. Or he could admit that he was wrong. Big time wrong. He could switch sides and become one of the people he had hated.

Admitting that we’re wrong is a very difficult thing to do. We like being right. We hate being wrong. We hate it so much that we will even lie when we are confronted about being wrong.

Saul had to admit that he was wrong. To get a Pharisee to admit he was wrong was a really big deal. But what is even more amazing is that this Pharisee became a follower of Jesus Christ. Not only a follower, but a leader, one that ended up writing about one-four of the New Testament.

Jesus changed who Saul was. Jesus changes the lives of the people he meets. And Jesus changes you and me.

How has meeting Jesus changed you? If someone walked up to you and asked, “How has Jesus changed you?,” what would you say?

Saul/Paul goes on to write about how much Jesus changed him. We find one of his descriptions in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

He also writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

And in Galatians 2:19b-20 he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

One more from Ephesians 4:22-24 “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Here in Texas it’s still summertime, even though schools have started. But several weeks from now we will start getting some cool fronts coming through that will lower the heat and humidity for us.

It’s at that time that we will witness something incredible: a migration of monarch butterflies.

Yep, monarch butterflies migrate. You can see them after cool fronts, flying on the cool north wind outlined against a beautiful dark blue sky. The ones we see migrate to central Mexico for the winter where thousands upon thousands get together.

Now one of the interesting things is that no one butterfly makes the entire migration trip. Their lifecycles are too short. Yet there is something within the insects that is passed down from generation to generation which urges them to migrate onward.

Butterflies go through what is called complete metamorphosis. They start out looking like this. They are caterpillars, rather ugly things that voraciously eat the leaves of plants, primarily milkweed.

But after a while they form a cocoon inside of which they undergo an incredible transformation. They change. They change from an ugly, destructive caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. After leaving their cocoons, these butterflies, instead of being destructive, help plants by pollinating their flowers as they feed on nectar.

As Christians we are sort of like those Monarch butterflies. Before we meet Jesus we are like caterpillars, grounded on the earth and consuming the things of this world, caring only about ourselves, consuming things we want. But when we meet Jesus, we undergo a metamorphosis, we change. We go from self-centeredness to other-centeredness, serving God by serving others, pollinating love as we go. We are driven by the Holy Spirit to live lives of holiness and love.

Years ago a musician by the triune name of Steven Curtis Chapman recorded a song titled, “The Change.” Here are some of its lyrics:

Well I got myself a t shirt that says what I believe
I got letters on my bracelet to serve as my ID
I got the necklace and the key chain
And almost everything a good christian needs yeah

I got the little bible magnets on my refrigerator door
And a welcome mat to bless you before you walk across my floor
I got a jesus bumper sticker
And the outline of a fish stuck on my car

And even though this stuff’s all well and good yeah
I cannot help but ask myself

What about the change
What about the difference
What about the grace
What about forgiveness

What about a life that’s showing
I’m undergoing the change yeah
I’m undergoing the change

Like Saul, like the Monarch butterfly, we are called by God to change.

Has meeting Jesus changed you? Are you a different person now than when you met Jesus?

My challenge to you this week is this: every time you see a butterfly reflect on the ways you have changed since meeting Jesus. If you haven’t changed, then make it happen. Leave the cocoon of your worldly life and soar on the winds of change, sharing love everywhere you go.

That’s a lot better than munching on milkweed.

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

Meeting Jesus: Barnabus

Meeting Jesus: Barnabas 
A message on Acts 13:1-3; Romans 10:13-15
By Amber Jones Associate Pastor
Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 25, 2019

“Commissioned!”

Acts 13:1-3 
Barnabas and Saul Commissioned
13 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

This is the word of God for us the people of God, Thanks be to God!

God had a plan for Barnabas and Saul thus the reason he called them and they were blessed to go out. That same plan is what God has in store for us as a church.

A little history on Barnabas and Saul(Paul) He was a man that was received in the New Testament but wasn’t known that well.You could learn a lot from Barnabas when it came to faith. He played a big role in spreading the Gospel , but still wasn’t well-known like Paul. Barnabas was introduced to us in Acts 4:36-37. We find out about Barnabas’ character. We find out that Barnabas is a nickname given by the apostles. Barnabas name meant the “Son of Encouragement”, (That’s a Pretty cool name. I have a nickname but its not as cool as Barnabas (Mine is just Amber Alert). Barnabas loved to encourage others as well as help others. He sold his land and gave the money away to those that needed it. We find that in Acts 4:35.

Barnabas was a man greatly used by the Lord to reach many people for Christ. Acts 11:24 says, “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and many people were added unto the Lord.” Barnabas was mightily used to reach and disciple new believers for the Lord. Barnabas was known for encouraging Saul known as Paul. In doing so, God used Saul (Paul) in unbelievable ways to impact the world for God.

God had a plan for Barnabas and Paul! God has a plan for us a church today as well. Isn’t it good to hear that as followers of Christ that God has a plan for you, only not know the next step. Bummer! Right!? So, Barnabas and Paul and those around did something very special.They couldn’t just sit around and wait for the answers. They fasted and prayed for the direction of the Lord concerning their new direction. Then the holy spirit spoke to them.

Now I want to have a transparency moment for a second well just call this a commercial break . In my preparation for this sermon I struggled with the voice of the holy spirit and God’s direction that he wanted to take us as we examined Barnabas. It was not the character of Barnabas that God wanted us to focus on this morning however its important for us to know. But it’s about the work that Barnabas and Paul did in the cities for the glory of God.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program we see that after prayer and fasting,

The Holy Spirit selected these two men, Paul and Barnabas, to serve as that first missionary team. We heard, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:3).

When I think of Barnabas, he strikes me as one of those people who really understood the blessings of being with and serving along-side-of fellow Christians.

Encouragement is good when it comes from someone else. My grandmother once told me that you have to encourage even the ones that are strong because they sometimes are the weakest among you. You can receive encouragement from yourself,but I wouldn’t be the same as getting it from someone else that would be you talking to yourself. (Hey i do it a lot no one here to judge you. However, God knows that we need each other, fellow Colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ , to be with you and work with you. We need each other to achieve The Great Commission of Christ “To go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world this is GREAT for two reasons. It is great because it is a PRIVILEGE to think that God would ever select us,(Commissioned us) with all of our failures and faults for such an important job as taking his saving message to people. But it’s also great because it is a really BIG job! I mean “all nations” is a whole lot of people. Thank God that he doesn’t send us out alone, but that he gives us each other, fellow Christians to carry out that work together, to receive and to give encouragement.

This morning there are actually a few things that we could learn from “The man of encouragement” and the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul(Paul).

1. Be Willing to Take Risk “Be an Encouragement to one another”
When nobody wanted to extend the right hand of fellowship to this new believer, Barnabas responded in faith and embraced Paul as a new person in Christ. The impact that Paul had on the early church is overwhelming! However, if Barnabas had not been willing to mentor Paul he may not have made as much of an impact. It is a risk to reach out to people and love them, invest in them, care for them, and mentor them and most importantly to encourage them. However, if we fail in these areas, the church’s mission will be highly impacted in a negative way.

Barnabas’ life was cool and his ministry of encouragement was great but beyond that. It’s about the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit that moved through him when he moved to take the task of encouraging. So many people are discouraged, It is necessary and vital for ministry to be an encouragement for one another. Begin to pray and Ask God to make you a true and effective ‘encourage’ in His Church from this very day to push those that have the gifts and graces to enhance the kingdom of God.

Romans 10:13-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Those are some really challenging thought provoking questions to think about.

When I was in high school I couldn’t wait for the day that I would get an invitation to be someone’s date to the homecoming and winter ball dance. It was one thing I looked forward to but you know what didn’t happen. I didn’t get asked to dance now anyone that knows me knows I love to dance.

At the global leadership summit I attended a few weeks ago one of the speakers mentioned that too often we invite but we don’t ask them to dance.

2.Go Beyond The Invitation, Ask Someone to Dance!

I pray that as we are inviting and disciplining that we not only extending the invitation but we are being inclusive. Now i just want to brag on Miss Abby she literally invited me to dance last Friday and i had a blast. I then felt comfortable and invited my best friend to come along with me. Its that first step that makes a difference and it opens the doors for more ministry opportunities. Now am I saying join a dance group and invite them to a class no. I’m saying allow God to speak to you to encourage and invite and included them in your bible study, small groups, and be intentional about making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Barnabas and Paul were commissioned to go out and witness to those that needed a risen savior.

Here the good news we have been called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world don’t be afraid to take risk God is with you and most importantly God has placed someone alongside you to encourage you and remember it’s more than just an invitation, ask someone to dance.

We are like a chain we are as strong as the person next to us working together to transform the lives of those that need to know that God loves them. In the name of the father son and Holy spirit. AMEN

Meeting Jesus: The Syrophoenician Woman

 

Meeting Jesus: The Syrophoenician Woman
A Message on Mark 7:24-30
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 18, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 7:24-30 (NRSV)

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

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As many of you know I am one of six kids. Whenever we would go to family get-togethers or even dinners with other families there wouldn’t be a table large enough to hold everybody so there would be multiple tables. There were the “kiddie tables” and the “adult tables.”

I can remember being at those kiddie tables and thinking that I would never be old enough to sit at the adult table. And then I eventually did get old enough to sit at the adult table and guess what: it wasn’t as much fun as the kiddie table and I wanted to go back to the kiddie table.

One of the great things about being a kid was being one of the first ones to go through the line and get our food. It’s a cultural thing and, for the most part, the kids got to go first.

It wasn’t always the case. I remember talking to several “old timers” who would talk about how the adult men went first, then the women, and then the children.

There’s an old song by the late country singer Little Jimmie Dickins called “Take An Ol’ Cold Tater and Wait.” In it he talks about as a child having to wait until the grown ups ate before he could. His mom would tell him to “take an ol’ cold tater and wait.” Here are some of the verses:

Well i thought that I would starve to death
Before my time would come
All that chicken they would eat
And just leave me the butt
The feet and neck were all that was left
Upon the china plate
It makes ya pretty darn weak
To take an old cold tater and wait

In the scripture we read today Jesus uses metaphorical language of eating and the order of eating to make a theological point.

Jesus is up in the region of Tyre. That city is located in what is now Lebanon. It was a seaport, and as such was a crossroads of trade and business in the first century. There were actually two cities: one on an island in the Mediterranean and then one on shore.

It was certainly not a Jewish-only kind of town. While technically within the borders of the land promised to the Jewish people, it was right on the border. It still is, actually, as it is just 12 miles north of the border between modern day Israel and Lebanon.

Many different religions were practiced there during Jesus time, including the worship of all the Greek gods the Roman Empire borrowed from the Greeks.

So why is Jesus there? I think it was because he was “Tyred.” (Groan. I know.) Jesus was tired. Word of his teachings and his healings had spread throughout Judea and Galilee and he had trouble going anywhere in those areas without being recognized.

The scripture today says he “went away” to the region of Tyre. He needed a break. Although he was completely God he was also completely human, and I think the human part of him was just flat worn out. He had to be exhausted.

Our scripture today even says, “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.”

Jesus was trying to go on vacation. He needed rest.

But it was not to be. Even people 300 miles north of Jerusalem had heard about Jesus. So the people came to him anyway.

One of these was what we call the “Syrophoenician Woman.” The big long fancy name is simply a description of where the woman was from. She was from the region of Phoenicia in the Roman province of Syria.

She was a Gentile, meaning not Jewish. Jesus and his disciples, remember, were Jewish, and Jesus was the Jewish messiah, who came to save the Jewish people. The Jews believed that Jesus came ONLY for the Jewish people, no one else. They thought they had the trademark and the copyright to Jesus.

And yet… here in Mark’s gospel is a Gentile woman, a heathen, who approaches Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter who had an unclean spirit.

This would have been a very serious social faux pas. First of all women just didn’t walk up to men, especially men they didn’t know, and especially men of a different religion from them.

But she does. I imagine she is desperate. Her daughter is ill. She has probably already tried everything she knows how to make her better, but none of them have worked. Maybe this Jesus she has heard about can heal her daughter.

So she asks him. The scripture says that she “begged” him. Please. Pretty please.

Jesus’ response is… well… a surprise. It’s unexpected. It seems like he almost… well… insults her!

“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Did Jesus just call her a dog? Did he just do that?

Now there is a wide variety of theological views Jesus response. I have read many of them in preparing for this message today. And some of them are way out there. WAAAAAAYY out there.

One of them even suggested that the Syrophoenician Woman was the one that taught Jesus a lesson. Sorry. I can’t go for that.

I don’t think there’s anyway of getting around the fact that Jesus gives her a biting commentary as an answer. The symbolism is that the “children” are the Jews, the children of Israel, and the “dogs” are everyone else. God favors the Jews. It’s tough luck for everyone else. The Jews get to sit at the “adult” table, while the Gentiles have to sit at the “kiddie” table and eat what’s leftover, the crumbs. If your not a “child” of Israel then you are a “dog.”

Now in our society we like dogs. We think of dogs like this. (Show photo.) This is Annie, our new dog. She’s a sweetie.

But in the first century dogs were perceived differently. They were thought of more like this. (Show photo.) The Bible is not friendly with dogs. Just the opposite. Dogs roamed the streets and ate dead things, carried diseases, and were not perceived as the furry, loveable pets that we think of today.

So to compare this woman’s people with dogs was truly an insult.

So why did Jesus do this? This isn’t the “happy-clappy” version of Jesus that we like to think of. His comment is biting, acerbic, almost smart-alec. It’s almost like telling her to “take an ol’ cold tater and wait.” But why?

I think we find the answer if we keep reading. The woman pushes back. She’s witty. She takes Jesus’ analogy and takes it even one step further. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Ouch! Tou·ché!

Jesus may be the messiah for the Jewish people, but even the Gentiles, the “dogs,” benefit from the presence of the messiah.

The woman is very shrewd. She doesn’t respond to an insult with another insult. Instead she plays out the metaphorical language. No, she isn’t Jewish. She doesn’t lie to make Jesus think she is. (He would know, anyway.) But in spite of that she is bold enough to ask Jesus to heal her daughter. It’s just one young girl, just a “crumb” of all the work that Jesus, the “bread of life,” is doing.

Jesus is impressed. He responds to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” By the time she gets home her daughter is indeed healed.

Now a lot of times when Jesus heals people he points out their their faith has made them well. The hemorrhaging woman, the 10 lepers, the blind beggar, the woman who washes his feet with her hair, all of these were told that their faith made them well.

But in the case of the scripture we read today, Jesus credits what the woman said with being the catalyst for the healing, not her faith. Was it the woman’s tenacity? Her boldness for bucking the social norms and walking right up to Jesus and asking–begging–him to heal her daughter? Was it her sharp witted answer? Or was it really her faith, even though Jesus didn’t say so?

I think it is probably a combination of all of those things.

So what can we get from this scripture that we can apply to our lives today?

I think one good lesson for us is that Jesus chooses who inherits the kingdom, we don’t. It’s easy for us as Christians, and even as United Methodists, to fall into a thought process that we are the “chosen ones.” We become like the Jewish people of the first century who thought they had an exclusive contract with the messiah.

There is a saying that we will be surprised who all we see in heaven. I think there is some truth to that. No, I don’t believe in universal salvation, the belief that everyone goes to heaven and nobody goes to hell. But I do think it’s important for us to remember that Jesus saves, we don’t. Our job as disciples is to make the introductions and let the Holy Spirit do its work.

Another thing I think we can learn from this scripture is to be bold in our faith. The Syrophoenician woman wasn’t Jewish, but that didn’t stop her. She wasn’t supposed to approach Jesus, but that didn’t stop her. She wasn’t supposed to initiate a conversation with Jesus, but that didn’t stop her. She crashed through all those societal walls to bow down at the feet of Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter.

What are we willing to do to bow down at the feet of Jesus? How bold are our prayers? Do we fail to pray bold prayers because we don’t want the disappointment we will feel if those prayers aren’t answered in a way we want them to?

School is starting soon, and in some districts it has already started. What would happen if the students and teachers at the schools in our area were bold in their faith. Not breaking any laws about separation of church and state, mind you, but being bold in living out what it means to be a Christian. How about having lunch with the classmate no one likes, not participating in gossip or rumors about others, putting others’ needs before our own, etc. What a huge difference we could make in our community.

As Christians that is what we are supposed to do. Listen to this scripture from 1 John 5:14-15: “And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.”

What if we prayed boldly, having the faith that nothing is impossible for God? And then what if we are willing to live out that faith boldly? It’s one thing to pray it, and it’s another to live it out. But just think how we could change the world!

So my challenge to you this week is to live boldly and be careful not to judge. Every time you see a dog this week remember the scripture we read from Mark’s Gospel and how Jesus came for all of humanity, not just a chosen few. And let us be bold in our prayers and in our faith so that we may be true disciples of Jesus Christ, making disciples and changing the world.

That’s a lot better than having to take an ol’ cold tater and wait.

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

 

Meeting Jesus: Nicodemus

 

Meeting Jesus: Nicodemus
A Message on John 3:1-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 11, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 3:1-17 (NRSV)

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “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.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

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I want to let you know that I’m uncomfortable today. See this shirt and this tie? I’m uncomfortable about them. I’m not really sure that they match. And I’m not wearing a blazer or a jacket, so I’m uncomfortable in that way as well, even though it’s August in Texas and hot enough that I shouldn’t be worried about it.

Now I want to make you uncomfortable. So what I want you to do is to sit somewhere other than where you normally sit. I’m serious. Get up and move to someplace else in the sanctuary. It can’t be the same pew, and it can’t be the pew in front of you or the pew behind you. It has to be a significantly different spot from where you normally sit. Go on, I’ll wait.

(Pause)

How many of you are mad at me? Like really, really mad? How many of your feel uncomfortable sitting somewhere different? If so, good. That’s the idea.

Today as we continue our sermon series “Meeting Jesus,” we are going to talk about being uncomfortable and examine someone who felt very uncomfortable in meeting Jesus: Nicodemus.

As you sit there uncomfortably I want to tell you about a situation I found myself in that made me uncomfortable.

It happened in 1984. I had just graduated from East Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree double-majoring in journalism and photography and was looking for a good job in that field. I had several prospects, including a job as a photographer for the Plainview Daily Herald waaaaaay up in the panhandle of Texas. (If you’ve ever been to Plainview you know that it is appropriately named.)

The called me (there was no Internet back then) and made travel arrangements for me to fly out to Plainview and interview for the job. So early one morning I packed up my photography portfolio and newspaper clippings and got on a Southwest Airlines flight in Dallas bound for Lubbock.

The newspaper office told me they would have someone meet me at the airport to give me a ride to the newspaper office. The plane lands, I walk off the plane with my suit and tie on and carrying my portfolio.

A man walks up to me, shakes hands, and says, “How was your flight?”

“Fine,” I reply. “So are you the person that is going to give me a ride to the office?”

“Yes,” he said. “My car is right outside.”

Well, I was kinda liking this. We get in his car, which is a nice car, by the way, and start driving west from the airport. I notice that we pass under I-27. While we didn’t have Google Maps back in the day we did have Rand McNally Road Atlases and I was pretty sure that to get to Plainview I-27 was the road you took. So I asked him, “Uh, didn’t we just pass the road that goes to the office?”

The man replies, “Yes, but we’re going to the job site first and then to the office.”

This puzzles me. Job site? What’s he talking about? So after a while I get up the nerve to ask. “What job site are you talking about?”

“The job site for the new building you are designing.”

“Uh, I’m not designing a building.”

“Aren’t you an architect?”

“No! I’m a newspaper reporter and photographer and am here for a job interview with the Plainview newspaper!”

Awwwwwwkkkkkkkwwwwwwaaaaarrrrrrddddddd.

Yep, you guessed it. He picked up the wrong guy from the airport. And I got in a car with the wrong guy.

I don’t know who was more embarrassed, him or me, but it was very, very uncomfortable. He turned the car around and drove back to the airport. Even though it was only a few miles, it seemed like forever.

When we got there a reporter from the Plainview newspaper was on the phone saying, “He didn’t get off the plane,” and an architect, who was dressed much nicer than I was, was looking around for someone who was supposed to pick him up.

Things got straightened out and the interview went well (I turned down the job and took one in Stephenville) but it was a very, very uncomfortable situation.

The scripture we read today from the Gospel of John tells of another uncomfortable situation. Nicodemus goes to see Jesus at night and is confused by Jesus metaphorical language.

Now it may not seem to be that uncomfortable to us but we have to remember who–and what–Nicodemus was.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and also a member of the Sanhedrien. The Pharisees were the top religious experts in the Jewish community and as such were the top strata of society at the time. Like the other religious leaders, the Sadducees, they wore the best clothes, ate the best food, lived in the nicest houses, etc. People moved out of the way when they walked down the street.

The Sanhedrien were a group of religious leaders that served as a tribunal to hear not only religious but also legal cases (the religion and law were the same back then, with the exception of Roman laws forced onto the people from the Romans who ruled the area.).

So Nicodemus, to use East Texas terminology, was a “big wig.” He was SOMEBODY!

Much is made of the fact that Nicodemus went to see Jesus at night, painting him as somewhat cowardly that he didn’t do so during the daytime. I believe that is somewhat justified, but I also think that ol’ Nicky needs to be given credit just for going, period. As far as we know none of the other Pharisees sought out Jesus to try to understand who he was and what he was teaching.

It really was remarkable that Nicodemus sought out Jesus. Most of the Pharisees had their heels dug in the Mosaic law and the status quo. They knew the law, what was right and what was wrong, and didn’t need some 33-year-old nobody from Nazareth, who was not a Pharisee, a Sadducee, or even a scribe, walking around and stirring up the people with all sorts of nonsense.

But Nicodemus was different. He knew there was something special about Jesus. I credit to the Holy Spirit giving him a “gut feeling” that Jesus was indeed holy and sent from God.

So for Nicodemus to even make the effort to talk to Jesus, even if it was a night, was proof that Nicodemus was stepping way out of his comfort zone into a situation in which he had to be very uncomfortable.

And when he meets with Jesus he fails to pick up on Jesus metaphorical language. Jesus tells him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus responds in a very literal way, which is to be expected from a Pharisee: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Then Jesus explains: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

This had to be uncharted territory for Nicodemus the Pharisee. There was nothing like this in the Mosaic laws. It was way out of his comfort zone.

Now it is important to note in reading this scripture about Jesus and Nicodemus that this isn’t the end of the story. Nicodemus appears two more times in the Gospel of John. One happens in the seventh chapter where he comes to Jesus defense by pointing out to his fellow members of the Sanhedrin that they can’t rush to judge Jesus because the law requires that a person be given the opportunity to be heard before being judged. That had to be uncomfortable for him.

The second time occurs after the crucifixion of Jesus where Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea hastily prepare Jesus’ body for burial. His contact with a dead body would have made him “unclean” meaning he couldn’t go to the temple the next day, the Sabbath, and would have to go through extensive steps to once again be declared “clean.” It would have been uncomfortable and publicly humiliating for a Pharisee to be “unclean.”

Meeting Jesus has quite an impact on Nicodemus, moving him out of his comfort zone and into the world of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

The same is true for us today. Following Jesus pretty much guarantees that we will experience situations that make us uncomfortable.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to us, but often times we are reluctant to leave our comfort zone to follow Jesus. We proclaim that we are Christian, but there is an asterisk with a footnote attached to our name. We are willing to follow Jesus as long as it doesn’t threaten our comfort level.

I know about that because that is the way I used to be. I felt a calling to ministry but refused to answer because it would require me to get out of my comfort zone. I grew up in the Methodist church and knew that Methodist preachers didn’t make very much money and got moved a lot. Besides that they lived life like they were in a fishbowl where the whole world could see that they were doing and were all up in their business.

I was comfortable. I had a job I loved with good benefits and making okay money, a nice house that overlooked a park in a nice neighborhood. I had a good family, good friends, and good health. Life was good. Life was comfortable. I didn’t want any of that to change.

There is a word used primarily in science that describes my life at that time: homeostasis. An article in Scientific American describes it this way: “Homeostasis, from the Greek words for “same” and “steady,” refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival.”

As humans we like our lives to be that way. We like comfortable. We like things being the same and find comfort in routine and sameness.

As Andew Peterson points out in one of his songs, “I’m shackled by the comfort of my couch.”

But is that the way we are to live a Christians? Are we to be Pharisees that worship the status quo and resist Jesus’ call to uncomfortable places? Are we shackled by the comfort of our pew?

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book before he was executed by the Nazis in World War II. The book, The Cost of Discipleship, talks of cheap grace and costly grace. Bonhoeffer points out

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

He goes on to say, “Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.”

If you are following Jesus and in doing so do not find yourself in uncomfortable situations, then maybe you really aren’t following Jesus after all.

Jesus calls us to the uncomfortable places, but that’s alright! That’s how our faith grows. It’s not in the safety and comfort inside our homes, offices, and churches, but Jesus calls us outside our comfort zones to share the gospel with those who haven’t heard it or haven’t experienced it. He wants us to leave the 99 sheep who already know him and go in search of the one sheep that is lost.

So my challenge to you this week is to be uncomfortable. Be like Nicodemus, willing to go outside of his comfort zone in order to follow Jesus.

Talk to people you normally wouldn’t talk to. Take some faith chances, knowing that some of them might fail but also knowing that some of them might not! Step out in faith not knowing what the result will be, but trusting in Jesus that you will be planting seeds that will germinate, grow, and bear fruit.

Now it won’t be easy. It will make you feel uncomfortable, but that’s okay? It’s supposed to be! It’s not on the mountain tops, the times were everything is great, that our faith grows, but it’s in the valleys, those times of challenge and uncomfortableness, that it grows.

Oh, and if you ever have someone pick you up at the airport, make sure they are the right person before getting in the car with them.

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