Don’t Worry: Thankfulness

Don’t Worry: Thankfulness
A Message on Colossians 3:12-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 22, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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Back in September of 1620, 102 people walked aboard a wooden ship called the Mayflower in Plymouth, England and set sail for what was for them a new land. About half of them were what we now call Pilgrims: people seeking a place where they could worship God as they chose instead of having to conform to a national religion. After 66 days (that’s more than two months, folks!), the ship arrived and dropped anchor at Cape Cod, way north of their intended location of the Hudson River. (I guess their GPS wasn’t working right.)

After a month at anchor there, they set sail and crossed Massachusetts Bay before landing and setting about establishing a village that they named Plymouth.

Sailing was a tough adventure back then. It was brutal. Only about half of the people who boarded the ship lived to see the spring of 1621. During that first winter most of the survivors lived on the ship, where they suffered from cold, disease, and limited food.

In March of 1621 those that survived moved ashore where they were greeted by Native Americans. These native Americans helped the English out by showing them how to plant corn, hunt animals, catch fish in the rivers, harvest sap from Maple trees, and how to identify the edible plants from the poisonous ones.

That summer the crops grew and in November, when the corn was harvested, Governor William Bradford ordered a celebratory feast be held. The feast, which included the Native Americans who had helped out the colonists, lasted for three days. This was the original thanksgiving. [Source:]

I think there is somewhat of a parallel of Thanksgiving this year with the original thanksgiving. It hasn’t been a very good year in most respects, has it? We have a new disease that is not only disrupting our “normal” lives, but it is deadly and is killing people we know and people we love. And instead of things getting better and COVID-19 going away, it has become worse, rearing its ugly pandemic head yet again.

But just like the Pilgrims, we have reason to rejoice even in this difficult year.

We still have the freedom to gather and worship God the way we choose to instead of being forced to observe a government-mandated religion.

Hopefully none of us are suffering from malnutrition (I doubt any of us have scurvy, for example), and even in the midst of a word-wide pandemic we have safe, nutritious food to eat.

We have houses to live in to protect us from the elements, with heating and cooling to keep us cool or warm, depending on the weather. Those houses have beds to sleep in, running water, sanitation, lights, and other conveniences that have become so commonplace that we take them for granted.

There are so many things to be thankful for.

When we read the Bible we find out that a spirit of thankfulness goes back thousands of years before 1621.

Here are some example just from the Psalms:

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. Psalm 7:17

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. Psalm 9:1

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 106:1

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. Psalm 107:21

And, of course, our first reading today: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; Psalm 136:1-3

We find it throughout the New Testament as well. Here are some examples:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

And also the scripture we read today from Colossians, especially verses 15-17: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Within those three verses we find three references to gratitude or giving thanks, including a three word sentence: “And be thankful.”

As humans I think it is part of our human nature to focus on the negative and in doing so disregard the things we should be thankful for. We find this in what we call news. It’s not the cars that drive to Tyler and back each day safely that we find fascination with, it’s the ones who wreck and pique our interest. It’s even created a term for the cars traveling in the opposite direction of the wreck but who slow down to look at the carnage. That term is “rubbernecking.” You really see it in populated areas.

But as Christians I think we need to consciously focus on the good, on the things we should be thankful for. And I think that we need to do that every day.

This past Friday I drove to my hometown of Cooper, TX and to the United Methodist Church that I grew up in. I was asked to bring the funeral message for one of my high school English teachers, Mrs. Sandra Watkins. She died on Nov. 15 at the age of 77 from COVID-19, one day after her sister’s funeral.

Mrs. Watkins had a big influence on me when I had her for English my sophomore year in high school. I was a short, skinny, dorky kid when I was a sophomore. I wasn’t athletic nor was I overly smart academically. I was also very socially awkward.

Mrs. Watkins told me I had a talent for writing. She encouraged me and gave me confidence to write. Her words and encouragement later led to me earning a bachelor’s degree with a double major in journalism and photography with a second major in English composition.

I wasn’t the only one. Her daughter’s Facebook page had so many former students posting that Mrs. Watkins was their favorite teacher, that she was the “cool” teacher, and how she had encouraged and made them feel better about themselves and gave them confidence.

Looking back on things I might have told Mrs. Watkins “thank you,” but I don’t remember any specific instances of doing so. I wish I could remember doing it. It’s not that I am not grateful and thankful, but that I can’t remember telling her specifically, “Thank you.” I regret now not doing so.

We don’t say “thank you” enough, do we? Oh we kind of get in a habit I guess, like if you are eating at a restaurant and the waitstaff refills your drink or delivers your food. But in those instances it’s almost like a habitual, automatic response. And it’s a good one, don’t get me wrong. But it’s almost like hearing Elvis say, “Thank ya. Thank ya vury much.” It seems to sort of lack sincerity, doesn’t it?

As Christians we have a lot to be thankful for, and we should make it a point to offer sincere, heartfelt thanks to God multiple times every day. It should never become rote or lack sincerity.

Our thanks and gratitude should result as our response for the grace God has given us. This grace, the offer of his son Jesus Christ, who went to the cross even though he was without sin, is not something we are capable of earning. We are sinful and cannot be made righteous by our own actions. The sinless one, Jesus Christ, went to cross and was crucified in our place, and in doing so our sins are forgiven and wiped clean and we can obtain righteousness through grace. We are reconciled to God because of God’s overwhelming love for us. We become a resurrection people.

And because we are a resurrection people, our faith gives us not only gratitude but faith and hope as well. We can be confident that no matter what happens in our world that for those of us who believe something better is coming. We can ease our worries and our fears by remembering that we are given a promise by God (and God keeps his promises).

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:53-57

So my challenge to you this week is to be thankful. Be truly thankful for all the blessings we enjoy, and most especially be thankful to God for his son Jesus Christ. And let us express this thanks not only at Thanksgiving, but several times each day, regardless of the circumstances.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

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

Don’t Worry: Faith

Don’t Worry: Faith
A Message on Hebrews 11:1-3
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 15, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Hebrews 11:1-3 (NRSV)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

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There is a story about a man walking along a ridge line on a mountain. He loses his footing and slides off the side of a steep cliff. As he is falling down there is a tree branch sticking out that he grabs onto, hanging in mid-air. As he looks down at the several-hundred-foot-fall he knows he has no chance of surviving. He starts yelling. “Help! Help! Someone help me!”

No answer. He had been hiking alone and hadn’t seen another human being for several hours, so the odds weren’t good that someone would hear him. Still, he yells for help. “Help! Help! Please help me!”

Suddenly he hears a loud voice and knows it is the voice of God. The voice said, “I am here and I will help you. Do you have faith in me?”

The man answers back, “Yes! Yes I have faith in you!”

The voice responds, “Then let go and I will catch you.”

“Say what?” the man says, thinking he had misheard.

“Let go of the tree and I will catch you and keep you from harm.”

The man thinks about it for a while, then yells, “Is there anyone else up there that can help me?”

While humorous, (at least I hope it was humorous…) this story does a good job of illustrating what faith is and how difficult it can be to actually live out one’s faith, to trust God and let go of the things we hold so tightly.

In the scripture we read today from Hebrews, we find the author giving us a definition of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

It’s interesting that if you compare translations you’ll find several words that are used where the NRSV uses “assurance” and “conviction,”

Here are some of the other words other translations use instead of those:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (NIV)

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV)

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” (NLT)

“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.” (The Living Bible)

“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” (CEB)

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” (The Message)

I am always amazed when I read all those different translations because while there is some duplication there isn’t nearly as much as we see in other verses. And yet all of these I think can give us a better understanding of what the author is saying.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and if we look up the word for “faith” we find that the Greek word pistis is used. This word comes from the Greek god of good faith, trust, and reliability. (Those Greeks… they had so many gods!)

We really don’t know for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews. At first it was attributed to the Apostle Paul but since about the third century this has been disputed. The general agreement now is that it wasn’t Paul but we don’t know who it actually was.

Whoever wrote it was quite the Jewish scholar as much of the book seeks to prove how Jesus is the messiah and how Jesus fulfilled the Jewish prophecies about the messiah.

Here in the 11th chapter we read the beginning of it where the author talks about the importance of faith. But he doesn’t stop there. For the rest of the chapter the author gives examples from the Hebrew scriptures of people who believed in something they couldn’t see, people who exhibited faith. And he points out that these people of faith had righteousness because of their faith.

He starts way back in Genesis with Abel, who offered a more acceptable sacrifice than his brother Cain, who got jealous and killed him because of it.

Then he mentions Enoch, the father of Methuselah. Enoch, if you remember, didn’t die on earth. In Genesis 5:24 we read, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.”

Then he mentions Noah, whose faith that there was going to be a flood was greater than the humiliation of his neighbors who made fun of him for building a big ol’ ship.

He then mentions Abraham, whose faith was so strong that he was willing to sacrifice the son he and Sarah had so longed for, Isaac.

Then he mentions Moses and how Moses had enough faith to go before Pharaoh, putting his own life at risk, and asking Pharaoh to let his people go.

He mentions Rahab, a prostitute living in Jericho, who helped the Hebrew spies and in return was saved, both her and her family, when “the walls came a tumblin’ down.”

Then he lists other names of faith heroes: “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” Hebrews 11:32-34

So why did the author of Hebrews go to all this trouble to mention all these people? It’s because all of these people, these great heroes of the Bible, were just normal people but people who experienced faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” They didn’t know the outcome of things before they made decisions, they stepped out on faith and put their belief in God that things would turn out alright.

Today we are living in a time where we have the perfect opportunity to develop and practice our faith. This is a great time to illustrate “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I’m talking about the COVID-19 pandemic, of course. We hope for and pray for an end to the pandemic, but we don’t know when it will end. It’s something we can’t see, something we can’t reliably predict even using all the modern science and technology and super computers. We simply don’t know.

Now we can respond by wringing our hands and worrying about it and giving ourselves ulcers from the stress. We can live paralized by fear and anxiety. We can do that. Or…

Or we can trust in God, have faith, and live our lives with the “confidence of things unseen” that God is in charge. We can be okay with not knowing how or when the pandemic will end because we put our trust in God, in our risen savior Jesus Christ. Through our faith we can claim the promise made in Romans 8 “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

One of my youngest daughter’s heroes is Dolly Parton. She loves her music and can sing every one of Dolly’s songs. Even at the age of 74 years old Dolly is still creating music and has even ventured into the Contemporary Christian Music genre, singing “God Only Knows” with For King and Country and an extremely beautiful duet “There Was Jesus” with Zach Williams. (Both have great videos, too. Check them out!)

I found a transcript from years ago when Dolly was a guest on Larry King Live and he asked her about her faith. This was her response:

“I grew up in a very religious background. But I trust God for everything. I don’t do a thing without praying. I trust God, I love God, and I love the thoughts of it. Even if there was no God, I’d prefer to believe it, because I prefer to believe in something greater than we are. It takes all of the pressure off of you. You don’t have a bunch of ego problems. But I do believe in God, and I really gain strength from that in everything I do.” [Source:]

Now Dolly would be the first to tell you that she is not perfect and I don’t want to lift her up as if she is, but I do believe her faith keeps her grounded, keeps her humble, and helps her focus on what’s really important, like the fact she’s been married to the same man for 54 years in an industry where that is extremely rare.

So what if we as Christians lived out our faith with boldness, putting our trust in God and depending on him to know the future when we can’t. What if we had “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”?

We could change the world. Seriously. We would change the world. I’ve said many times that God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. Faith is an integral part of that.

Years ago back in early 2004 I was really struggling with going into the ministry. I had prayed, read the books and met with pastors and even met with a mentor pastor once a week for about eight months. I had done everything the United Methodist Church required and even suggested for a person considering a call to ministry. I knew that I felt a call to go into the ministry, but there was so much that was unknown.

Would we be able to sell our house that we had poured ourselves into and loved? Would we be able to survive financially if I went to seminary? And how would I pay for seminary? At the time it was $636 per semester hour, and a Master of Divinity degree required something like 84 hours. Our daughters would be uprooted from their friends in Kilgore and would be attending different schools in different communities that we wouldn’t even be choosing but that I would be appointed to. We had so many questions and few, if any, answers.

I even sat down and did the ol’ method of listing “pros and cons” on a sheet of paper, and I can tell you the “cons” outnumbered the “pros.” I can remember Pam and I sitting at our dining room table one evening talking about and trying to decide whether we should go into the ministry or not. What was the right thing to do, the thing that God wanted us to do? How could we be sure we were doing the right thing?

As we were talking about it the doorbell rang and it was Garry Mount, a friend of ours from church who had sponsored me on my Walk to Emmaus a couple of years before. Garry is one of the most humble yet faithful servants of Christ I have ever met, even to this day. He said he was looking at some CDs at a store and just really felt compelled to buy this one CD and give it to me. So he stepped out on faith, bought the CD, and was delivering it to me personally.

It was a CD by Casting Crowns, their self titled one that had come out a few months before. I put the CD on and started listening to it. “Voice of Truth” was the third song. Here are the lyrics at the beginning of that song:

Oh what I would do to have
The kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I’m in
Onto the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is
And He’s holding out His hand

But the waves are calling out my name
And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. “Boy, you’ll never win!”
“You’ll never win!”

The Chorus is:
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

I decided then, after hearing that song, that I would pursue the ministry. I didn’t know if I had enough faith to do it, but I decided to do it anyway.

Faith is stepping out of the boat when the waves are high and we’re not sure whether we will sink or not. Faith is not worrying but trusting in God. Faith is not knowing the outcome, but trusting that God will provide a way.

It wasn’t easy. I drove from Carthage to Dallas each week to take classes and spent the week in a “commuter” dorm room, a two room dorm room that I shared with three other guys. I saw my roommates more than my family. Pam and I went through our savings and the equity from the sale of our home. My income as a student pastor was so low that our kids qualified for free lunches at their school. I saw and heard things taught at seminary that were so bizarre that they were, in my opinion, not only wrong but bordering on–or even crossing into–heretical.

We did that for four years, plus another year as an internship where I didn’t have to drive back and forth but still had to read books and write tons of papers. (And pay tuition, of course.) But we did it, and I graduated and then a year later was ordained as an elder in the Texas Annual Conference.

I tell you this not to lift myself up but to tell you that if little ol’ me, an ol’ country boy from Delta County, can go through all that to become a United Methodist pastor, you can have the faith to do whatever it is that God is calling you to do. And God is calling you to do something, rest assured. The term “passive Christian” is an oxymoron. God calls each of us to step out in faith and do something for his kingdom.

So my challenge to you this week is to have faith. Whenever you find yourself worrying, turn that worry into a prayer and depend upon faith. Lean upon that faith in trying times such as now. Know that God is in control and that while earthly things may disappoint us and let us down that God is forever faithful and his love never ends.

No matter how steep your mountain looks, God, through faith, will help you climb it. We have to trust God and let go of the tree branch when he tells us to. We have to live boldly as a resurrection people, knowing that no matter what happens in this world, something better is coming, something so great that it is beyond our ability to comprehend. Something so great has been promised to us not because of anything we have or can do, but simply as a gift of grace from the one who loves us. Jesus’ death and resurrection have paid the price for us, and it is by faith that we accept that grace.

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

Don’t Worry: Planting Seeds

Don’t Worry: Planting Seeds
A Message on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 8, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 (NRSV)

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

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I was at a preacher’s meeting this past week with other pastors in our area discussing the challenges we face as United Methodist pastors during these unusual times. One pastor, whose identity will not be disclosed in order to protect the innocent, talked about walking into a parishioner’s home and seeing a small, strange looking, box-like contraption sitting on a small table in their living room.

Curious, he asked the parishioner what it was, thinking it might be some form of an Echo or Alexa or one of those voice activated devices. It wasn’t. It was a Joel Osteen Inspiration Cube. Seriously. I’m not making this up. A Joel Osteen Inspiration Cube.

Here’s a photo of it. See, it even has his name, “Joel,” across the top of it.According to the Joel Osteen website, “The portable Inspiration Cube gives you over 400 encouraging audio messages, personally selected by Pastor Joel! This audio device doubles as a Bluetooth speaker with high-quality sound and optional headphone port.” It goes on to say “Our thanks for a gift of any size.”

But wait, there’s more! For a gift of only $150 or more you get a gift package that includes not only the inspiration cube but also a “blessed serving board plus custom greeting cards of hope.”

Now let me be clear that I’m not a Joel Osteen hater. I have some serious disagreements with him both theological and otherwise, but I give him a tip of the hat for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ through his ministries. But really?

The reason this came up in the discussion among us United Methodist pastors was that during this pandemic we are finding it very challenging to keep our church members who have to restrict their out-of-home activities connected to the church. The in-person pastoral care methods we have practiced for years, the personal visits to homes, hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers, are no longer possible because of the coronavirus. Those places where we could meet with a person, hold a person’s hand, kneel beside them and pray for them, or just simply be present with them, are for the most part not possible now.

Instead we are wearing out our cell phones with phone calls and text messages, frustrated because we know that God’s message of hope and courage isn’t communicated as well this way. It’s kind of like being a chef trying to work without cooking utensils and having to serve Lunchables instead.

And while not necessarily a competition, my colleague finding a Joel Osteen inspiration cube in one of his parishioner’s homes does point out the fact that people are drawn to personalities in ministry just like in other areas of life. And if we are not careful, we begin to worship those personalities instead of Jesus Christ.

In the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, a city which still exists today in south-central Greece, we find that the early church had challenges with leader personalities back 2,000+ years ago.

As humans we are competitive. We see this even in little kids as they compete over little things such as being at the front of a line.

Back in the ancient Middle East the early Christians were competitive as well. Quarrels and arguing broke out among followers of Jesus Christ over which apostle was the best to follow.

Word of this had gotten back to Paul, who, ironically, was one of those that peoples were following. And this greatly disturbed Paul. Paul’s preaching, Paul’s theology, Paul’s life all were focused on one thing: Jesus. Paul never intended to be a “rock star” apostle with a group of fans following him.

Now I think it’s important to remember the religious environment of the area at the time. In the first century the city was at the crossroads of trade routes, and while the city had Greek origins it was under Roman occupation and control. Just as the city had different cultures it was also composed of different religions.

Both Greek and Roman religions worshipped multiple Gods. If any of you were forced to study Greek Mythology in school (I always wondered why it was okay to study Greek religion in school but not the Christian religion, but I digress…) you’ll remember that the Greeks had a god for pretty much everything. The Romans were polytheists as well, not only believing in multiple Gods but believing and worshipping the Emperor and his family as gods as well, creating what is known as a“cult of personality.”

So the concept of worshipping multiple gods and even religious or civic leaders as demi-gods or even full fledged gods was pretty common at the time.

In the 14th chapter of Acts we find Paul and Barnabas traveling to Lystra, which is located in modern-day Turkey. While there they are sharing the Good News when they come across a man who had been crippled from birth. The man had never walked. Paul perceived that the man had the faith to be healed, so he told him to get up and walk, and he did. People were amazed at the miracle and, as a result, said that the gods had come to earth and began to worship Paul and Barnabas.

They were claiming that Paul was Hermes, the god of language (among other things), and that Barnabas was Zeus, the ruler of all the gods on Mount Olympus. The people started bringing gifts to these two “gods” including oxen and garlands of greenery and flowers (“Bring me a shrubbery!”) and wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas were horrified. They tore their clothes and said to the people, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”

The scriptures go on to say, “Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.” But then the Jews showed up, the people who opposed those who followed Jesus Christ, and with their smooth talking won people over to their view that Jesus was not the messiah and that Paul was bad, and so they stoned Paul and left him for dead. They went from worshipping Paul to trying to kill him. Go figure. People are fickle, huh?

So Paul is experienced with people who claim to be followers of Jesus while also finding theological rabbit holes to go down that lead away from Jesus.

Paul says that the only thing anyone should focus on is Jesus. To emphasize this point Paul utilizes a metaphor: planting seeds.

Paul points out that it isn’t important who plants the seeds. It isn’t important who waters the seeds. The person that plants and the person that waters, if they focus only on what they are doing, will miss the truly wonderful and miraculous thing: the growth comes from God.

It is about humbleness.

I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating: I have never met a farmer who is an atheist. I grew up in an agricultural area and even worked as a farm hand. Every year these farmers took great gambles with their ability to provide financially for their family. Drought, pests, and disease were always threats, and in those few years when they experienced a bumper crop they often found the price for their harvest to be lower as a result.

Yet in spite of those factors I didn’t know a single farmer (or rancher, for that matter) who didn’t have a strong faith in God. They may not share that faith publicly, but I could see it in their actions. They knew that they may have prepared the soil, planted the seed, cultivated the crops, worked at controlling the pests and the weeds, and fertilized the soil, but they never forgot that it was God who gave the growth.

Spiritually speaking I think it is important that we as Christians remember this as well. We are called to cultivate our spiritual lives by practicing spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible reading, meditation, worship, service to others, and even fasting. There are things that we are to do.

We are called to plant seeds as well. We are called to share the Good News with others. We do this by how we interact with others. Our words are important, to be sure, but we tend to forget that our actions, the way we actually live our lives, speak louder than our words.

You can practice all the spiritual disciplines regularly, but if you then go out to eat at a restaurant and treat the waitress or waiter rudely and leave a miserly tip, then your actions are speaking louder than your words. You are planting weeds instead of good seed.

(By the way: wait staff at restaurants will tell you that the shift they dislike working the most is the one that encompasses Sunday noon. So many of the people they wait on, people who have been to church to worship God and proclaim they are followers of Jesus Christ, are the pickiest, rudest, and poorest tippers. That’s not acting like Jesus, folks.)

We are called to plant. We are called to water. But we are always to remember that it is not us, but God who gives the growth.

Knowing and regularly remembering this gives us hope in times like now that are full of anxiety. There still may be some uncertainty and anxiety in who our next president will be, but we can find comfort that God is still on the throne that really matters. Our hope doesn’t rest in government or human constructs, but in our savior Jesus Christ.

The rise in COVID-19 cases and knowing those close to us (and maybe it is even us) who are battling the disease, or even those who have lost loved ones to the disease, can cause us to have fear and anxiety. But we can be comforted by knowing that “the ‘Rona” doesn’t win because Jesus Christ won the ultimate victory by shedding his blood and rising from the dead 2,000 years ago.

Social unrest. Economic uncertainty. Job security. Personal finances. Relationships. All of these things that we tend to worry about, that we tend to fear and agonize over, that take our time and our energy and sometimes even our physical health. In all of these we can find comfort and peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.

We don’t tackle our troubles alone. Now don’t get me wrong. We are called to work on these things. We are to fight for justice (true justice, not a political ideology of justice), we are called to be good stewards with the gifts God has given us, we are called to support God’s church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. But we are not alone in doing these things.

Let us remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We are not followers of Christ who become passive observers. No. We are to work, but we are to always remember that the growth comes from God, not ourselves. We don’t do it on our own.

So my challenge to you this week is to be like the Apostle Paul, a servant of God planting seeds of faith but always knowing that God provides the growth. May all we say, everything we do, point to Jesus. May we bear his yoke not for our own recognition, but to point others to Jesus Christ.

If you ask me, that’s much better than a Joel Olsteen inspiration cube.

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

Don’t Worry: Eternity

Don’t Worry: Eternity
A Message on John 6:41-51
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 1, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 6:41-51 (NRSV)

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

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Today is All Saints Sunday, the day in the Christian calendar where we lift up and memorialize those of our congregation who have joined the church triumphant since All Saints Sunday last year.

The word “halloween” is actually a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve” and is the day before All Saints Day. So while our culture has made Halloween a holiday of pumpkins, trick-or-treat and haunted houses, for the church it is a holy day to honor the saints that have gone before us.

Today All Saints Day, which is always Nov. 1, and All Saints Sunday, which is the first Sunday on or after All Saints Day, fall on the same day. I love it when that happens!

In the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John Jesus is talking to a crowd that has followed him. If you back up in the sixth chapter of John we find Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish supplied by a boy.

The crowd follows Jesus and his disciples across the Sea of Galilee (this was when Jesus walked on water) and again gathered to listen to what Jesus had to say. He started telling them he was the bread of life and that those who eat the bread he offers will never be hungry or thirsty, and that Jesus will raise them up on the last day,

Well this really set the Jewish people off because they knew that only the messiah could promise this, and they certainly didn’t believe Jesus was the messiah.

That’s where we get to the scripture we read today. The Jews begin to grumble, saying that Jesus shouldn’t be saying these things because he couldn’t be the messiah. After all, they knew his parents, Mary and Joseph, right?

This past week there was a young man who was a contestant on the TV show “The Voice” who said he grew up near Cooper, TX. Well, that’s my hometown, but I didn’t recognize his name. He called himself Van Andrew.

That got things buzzing on Facebook among a lot of people from Cooper, me included! The comments started posting and before long I learned that his real name is Andrew Burkemeyer, that he lived out towards Charleston, that he was one of 10 siblings, that he was homeschooled, and that his family used to live down the road from So-and-so on the corner with the big pond out front.

But the comment I saw repeated the most was that he couldn’t have been from Cooper because in the interview with him that aired he mispronounced the name of the town. No one who is a native of Delta County would pronounce it “Cooooper.” No. We pronounce it like the word “cooker.” I always tell people, “Pressure cooker, just say Cooper.” Simple.

Therefore he wasn’t really from Cooper. The guy apparently sang great and got a couple of the judges to turn their chairs around for him, but he wasn’t really from Cooper.

Me and the folks from Cooper sort of dismissed him from being from our home town because of the way he pronounced the name of the town. He gave our little town worldwide attention, but still… We were kind of like the Jewish leaders who didn’t believe Jesus was the messiah because, well, they knew his mom and dad.

That doesn’t stop Jesus. He tells them, “I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Jesus points out that the Jewish people, as they wandered around in the desert after leaving Egypt (Remember? “Pharaoh, pharaoh, oooooo baby let my people go, ugh!?) were fed with manna, a starchy substance that came down at night like dew and which the people would then gather and eat. God provided that “bread of heaven” that the people ate, but they still grew old and died.

But the bread Jesus is offering provides eternal life, life that does not end. And while that claim alone caused grumbling among the Jewish people, that fact that he says, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” is even worse than mispronouncing Cooper.

Think about that statement from an Jewish perspective. There are so many laws about things that are clean and unclean, the things you can wear, the people you can be around, the things you can eat. Taking literally Jesus’ statement about the bread of life being his flesh makes that statement pop up on the radar on a whole bunch of those purity laws.

It’s important to remember that in the Gospel of John this happens before the Last Supper. This scripture in chapter six foreshadows what happens in chapter 13 when Jesus and his disciples meet in the Upper Room and he shares his last meal with them.

We remember Jesus as the bread of eternal life when we celebrate the Lord’s supper as we did today. As we each receive the bread and hear the words, “The body of Christ, given for you,” when we receive the wine (grape juice) and hear the words, “The blood of Christ, shed for you,” we remember that it is only through Jesus offering himself on the cross that we are even able to approach the table of the lord, much less to share in the meal.

And among those we share the meal with is not only those around the world that are sharing it with us, but also all those saints who have gone before us.

Got transcends time and space, and when we dine at the Lord’s Table we join the “cloud of witnesses” and the “communion of the saints” in transcending time and space as well.

We are reminded that Jesus is the bread of life, and it is through that bread of life that we are offered life after death. Our physical bodies may get old and worn out and not function properly, and eventually each one of us will draw our last physical breath. But for those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior their last breath on earth starts their first breath of eternity, an existence that is so wonderful, so perfect, that it is beyond our minds’ ability to comprehend.

So on this day when we celebrate those who have gone before us this past year, let us also cast aside our worries and anxieties and instead be grateful for the bread of life offered to us through Jesus Christ. The same bread that gave those who have passed from our world the crown of righteousness and eternal life is offered to us as well. The bread is offered to us freely, the price already being paid by the blood of Jesus on the cross.

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” Let us be people who believe. Let us feast on the bread of life, and let us look forward to eternity.

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

Don’t Worry: Jeremiah

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo, ceiling of Sistine Chapel

Don’t Worry: Jeremiah
A Message on Jeremiah 29:10-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 20, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NRSV)

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

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In spite of what the rock group Three Dog Night told us in 1970, Jeremiah was not a bullfrog. Nope. (You older folks will have to explain that one to the younger folks…)

Jeremiah was a prophet, known as the “weeping prophet,” who is credited with writing not only the book of Jeremiah but Lamentations as well.

One of the verses we read today from Jeremiah is rather-well-known, verse 11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” It was even our Bible verse for Mini Methodists this past week.

As with all scripture the context is very important. There are some who preach the “Prosperity Gospel” that use this scripture to try to convince people that the more money you give to their ministry the more money God will give you. It’s kind of like a spiritual stock market, I guess. Give enough money to the ministry and God will tweak the alignment of the Universe to make great things happen in your life and you’ll get rich! After all, God loves you and wants you to have everything your heart desires, right?

Uh, no. God is not an ATM machine that gives you money if you punch in the right code. No.

If we look at the context of that verse we find a much different meaning.

The timeframe is around 650-570 BC, and the Jewish people, who had been split into two kingdoms, were both invaded by foreign armies, their cities destroyed, and the people taken away into exile in Babylon.

The person who was writing this was named Jeremiah. He was the son of a priest, which I guess makes him a preacher’s kid. Jeremiah was a prophet, and because of that he had a pretty tough life.

You see prophets did more than predict the future. They served as the conscious of the people, calling them back to obedience to God’s word when they started straying from it. And as you can imagine people didn’t really like someone telling them what they were doing was wrong.

And what the people were doing was wrong. What’s the first of the 10 Commandments? Do you remember? “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:2-3

Well the Jewish people weren’t doing that. They started worshiping other gods like Ba’al and Moloch, even going so far as to sacrificing their children to Moloch by burning them alive!

So it wasn’t like the people had a tiny infraction here and there. This was some serious stuff!

Jeremiah was from the northern kingdom, Israel, but lived in Judah, the southern kingdom. He lived during the reign of five different kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.

Now when Jeremiah became a prophet the kingdom was not yet in exile. Josiah was king of Judah and was a pretty good king. He tried to get the people to turn back to God and had some success, but it didn’t last.

Jeremiah started his prophecy during the 13th year that Josiah was king of Judah, about 626 BC, telling the people (in the words of the rock group Santana), “you got to change your evil ways, baby.” (Well, probably not the “baby” part.)

It wasn’t easy to be a prophet. In addition to telling people what they didn’t want to hear (but that they needed to hear) prophets faced other dangers. It seems that the test of a prophet was whether or not their prophecies came true. If they did, great. If they didn’t, well then the punishment was being stoned to death. (Man, talking about not wanting to be wrong!)

So when Jeremiah started prophesying Judah was still it’s own country. Things were pretty good and the people just did whatever they wanted, ignoring God’s laws and failing to worship him only. It was in this environment that Jeremiah started telling them of the destruction that was going to come upon the nation, how they were going to be invaded by a foreign army if they didn’t straighten up and fly right. And the people just pretty much ignored Jeremiah.

Well, we know the people didn’t change their evil ways and what Jeremiah predicted happened. The Babylonians invaded, killed a bunch of people, destroyed much of the cities–including the Temple that Solomon had built–in 587 BC. Those that survived were marched off to Babylon where they lived the difficult life of an exile.

It was in this exile that we pick up with the scripture today from Jeremiah. Notice that the first sentence we read says, “For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” Jeremiah 20:10

Jeremiah was telling the people that they would be held captive for 70 years, but then, at the end of that time period, he would restore them back to their land and cities.

Now 70 years seems like a long time. But, it is a finite amount of time. Jeremiah was telling them that the exile wasn’t going to last forever. That it would eventually end.

Jeremiah was more than just telling them what was going to happen, he was giving them something they really needed: hope.

I have a friend in Houston that serves a branch of Chaplewood UMC that is called Mercy Street. They meet on Saturday evenings and minister to the least and the lost. They have former drug dealers, recovering addicts, those that have spent time in prisons and jails, and those who have gone through some severe emotional trauma. Basically it’s the people our society pushes to the edges. The church uses a term that I really like and that I’m going to steal… er, uh, “borrow” for today’s message. That term is “hope dealer.”

My friend, Rev. Melissa Maher, said the term was coined by a former drug dealer that turned their life around when they found Jesus at Mercy Street. They said something along the lines of, “I used to be a dope dealer, now I’m a hope dealer.” And it stuck. Their tag line is, “We’ve got the good stuff.” The ministry has been and continues to be a very successful one.

Jeremiah was a “hope dealer.” He gave the people hope by telling them that even though times were tough (and let’s face it, being an exile in a foreign land where you were forced laborers is a pretty tough time) that something better was coming! Jeremiah told them to have hope, that after 70 years they would go “home.”

If you think about it, the Bible is a book about hope. The Old Testament tells us of God’s love for his people, of God’s pursuit of his people, his forgiveness, and announcing that a messiah is coming.

The New Testament tells us of Jesus who comes to fulfill those scriptures. Jesus becomes the new covenant between God and his people, establishing a new hope that our debts are already paid and our sins forgiven, and that we have a hope and assurance of life everlasting.

As Christians we should all be “hope dealers.” And what the world really needs now are hope dealers.

While we are not captives living in exile, we are going through some difficult times. The Corona Virus has turned our worlds upside down. Nothing is normal anymore. I don’t know a single person that hasn’t been affected by this.

In addition to the pandemic it is an election year where it seems to be like both sides try to scare the other to death about how bad our country will be if the opposing candidate wins. And the national media covering all of this is like adding oxygen to a fire, increasing stress and anxiety levels.

Protests. Violence. Wildfires. Hurricanes. COVID-19. Sex trafficking. Disappearing young folks. There’s plenty in our world to make us worry.

And yet… as Christians we believe in hope. We know that no matter how much the world goes to hell in a handbasket, Jesus is Lord. He is our hope, our living hope.

Psalm 20:7-8 says, “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.”

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

1 Peter 1:3 tells us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

So my challenge for you this week is to be a hope dealer! Tell everyone you know the scripture we read today from Jeremiah: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

No matter how dark the skies of life may get, no matter how chaotic the world may be, no matter what difficulties and challenges we face, as Christians we can have hope because we know that Jesus’ death and resurrection is more powerful than anything the world can throw at us. We know that no matter how bad things get that Jesus is Lord and his unconditional love for us gives us the power to face the future unafraid. We don’t have to worry. We can be bold and be “hope dealers” to others because we indeed have hope.

Jeremiah was not a bullfrog. He was a hope dealer.

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

Don’t Worry: Supplication


Don’t Worry: Supplication
A Message on Philippians 4:4-7
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 13, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Philippians 4:4-6 (NRSV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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Today we are going to continue our sermon series “Don’t Worry” by looking at an act, something that we can actually “do” when we are worried, and that is to “supplicate.”

Now “supplicate,” or it’s noun form, “supplication,” is not a word that we use very much in our daily language use. We don’t say, “When the police officer pulled me over for speeding she still gave me a ticket in spite of my supplication.” It’s just not a word that we use much.

But it’s a good word, especially for us Christians! If we go back to the original language of the New Testament which is Greek, we find the word that is used is deēsei. It is translated into English as “supplication,” which comes from the Latin word supplicare, which means “plead humbly, beseech, kneel down.” It implies being a servant and making a respectful appeal to a higher power.

While the NRSV and KJV translates it as “supplication,” the NIV uses “petition,” which I can understand. But still, I like “supplication” better.

Supplication is about power in a relationship. The one doing the supplicating, which in the scripture we read today would be us, doesn’t have the power, but is in a way throwing themselves on the mercy of the one who does have power, in the scripture today being God.

As we mentioned earlier one of the implications of supplicating is to kneel down, or even to bow down with our face to the ground or even on the ground. Now it might sound kind of silly to us today but kneeling or bowing down had incredible symbolism in years past. Back when battle was done with swords and shields the party that had the high ground had the advantage. Even today in modern warfare the high ground is still preferred on the battlefield.

If one is kneeling or bowing down before another the one doing the kneeling or bowing is assuming a defenseless position. (Kneel down.) If you are bowed down before another with your face to the ground (illustrate) you are defenseless. You cannot see the opponent and therefore cannot make any defensive moves should that opponent move to strike you with hand or sword. You are at the opponent’s mercy, subject to whatever they want to do.

That bowing down, that acknowledgement that the other has power and you don’t, is supplication.

This past week I finished up the book I was reading, Grant by Ron Chernow. It was a great book and I highly recommend it. In the book Chernow goes into great detail about the end of the Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army was defeated by Union General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

Grant and the Union Army had the power in that situation. Lee and the Confederates, having lost the war, did not have the power. They were at the mercy of Grant and the Union troops.

The death totals during the war were horrific. It is estimated that between 618,000 750,000 soldiers died in the war. Even though they were the victors, the Union death toll was actually higher than the Confederate deaths.

Many Union supporters saw the leaders of the Confederacy as traitors, having committed treason by withdrawing from the United States and fighting against the Union. At the war’s end they wanted vengeance against the Confederate leaders and soldiers, calling for their punishment and even in some cases, their executions.

At Appomattox, though, Grant, even though he had the power, chose to show mercy not only to Lee but to the Confederate soldiers as well. He extended grace to them. He basically told them to just leave their weapons and go home.

Grant realized that a lot of work was ahead to heal the wounds caused by the war. In showing mercy to the Confederate troops he earned respect from many of them, a respect that was shown by how many former Confederates and southerners who actually voted for Grant when he ran for President.

In the case of the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the followers of Christ at Philippi, Paul is telling them–and us–to supplicate ourselves to God, to put ourselves at God’s mercy.

Now that’s hard for us to do today. Our society drills into us that we are never to show weakness, we are never to humble ourselves but are to aggrandize ourselves, telling ourselves and others how important we are. “Look at me! Look at how much better I am than others!”

We see this in sports. Football has started back, and especially in the NFL the self-aggrandizing celebrations have gotten out of hand, in my opinion. A running back or a receiver will make a touchdown and start dancing and celebrating and thumping their chest as if they scored all by themselves. They don’t thank the linemen who blocked for them or the quarterback that got the ball to them. No, they act like a three year old yelling, “I did it by myself!”

What’s worse, in my opinion, is when a team is getting blown out, losing really bad, and one of the players on the losing side makes a play and then starts celebrating like they single-handedly won the Superbowl. Uh, no. It reminds me of that old cheer, “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon rind, look at the scoreboard and see who’s behind.”

That is NOT supplication. Supplication is just the opposite. Supplication is acknowledging that you can’t do it on your own because you don’t have the power to do it. Supplication is bowing down to God with your face to the dirt and asking and depending on God to provide a solution. It is becoming dependent on God rather than yourself.

And an interesting–and wonderful–thing will happen when we supplicate ourselves before God.

Here is The Message paraphrase of Philippians 4:6-7,

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7, The Message

Did you catch that? When you turn your worries over to God you will receive a peace, a comfort, a sense that everything is going to be okay.

When we lived in Kilgore we had an elderly neighbor named AltaWelch. She was a widow and had no children and she kind of adopted us as family.

One day I asked her if she ever got scared living in her house alone, especially at night. “Lord no,” she responded. “I’m 90 years old. What do I have to be afraid of? Let me give you some advice: When you go to bed at night turn all your troubles over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway and there’s no need in both of you losing sleep.”

Paul, in the scripture we read today, is kind of saying the same thing. When you find yourself worrying, turn that worry into a prayer, humbly and with supplication give it to God. Admit that you don’t have the power to “fix” things, and turn it over to God who is much better equipped to solve problems than we are.

One other point about the scripture today: thanksgiving. Notice that it says, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Did you notice that “with thanksgiving” part? Yep, it’s there for a reason.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that being thankful to God during difficult times might not be the easiest thing to do or even at the top of our minds when we are stressed and worried. But the Bible clearly teaches us that we are to offer thanksgiving regardless of the circumstances.

Look at how the scripture we read today begins: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.”

In 1 Chronicles 16:34, as well as in many of the psalms, we read, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

If you are reading The One Year Bible (and I hope that you are, and encourage you to if you are not…) you’ll notice that the reading for this past Friday was from the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians. There Paul writes, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

We are to give thanks to God in all circumstances. It isn’t easy, but I view it as a spiritual discipline that becomes easier to do the more that we practice it. I find that it also helps to counteract worry. It’s hard to worry and be thankful at the same time.

Supplication also counteracts worry. If you turn all your troubles over to God you will find that you won’t worry near as much.

Now the trick is to actually turn them over to God and leave them there. I find myself sometimes turning worries over to God only to go back later and pick them up again. That’s why supplication is so important. Through supplication we are reminding ourselves that we don’t have the power that God does to deal with problems or issues and, if we supplicate ourselves before God, we are less likely to go back and try again to fix things ourselves.

So my challenge to you this week is to fight worry with prayer and supplication. When you find yourself worrying about something, turn that worry into a prayer. Supplicate yourself before God, turning the worry over to him completely, and then leave it there!

In the words of the chorus of an old hymn,

Leave it there, leave it there
Just take your burden to the Lord and leave it there
If you trust him through your doubt, he will surely bring you out
Take your burden to the Lord, leave it there

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

John: Persecution

John: Persecution
A Message on John 16:25-33
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 30, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 16:25-33 (NRSV)

“I [Jesus] have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. 26 On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

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Today’s scripture from the Gospel of John is a little disturbing. Jesus is telling his disciples that in following him, in living the way he lived, the way God wants us to live, we will be persecuted.

Now some translations of the Bible use the word “troubles” instead of persecution, and others use the word “tribulation.” But today we’re going to view it as persecution.

“In the world you face persecution.” Ouch! I don’t know about you, but I don’t like persecution, and I sure don’t like to be persecuted. Nope.

Many people don’t expect that when they become Christians. They think that when they accept Jesus as their savior that he will save them from all kinds of troubles as well. There is this belief that if we keep the commandments and do good and go to church and put money in the offering plate then there will be sort of this holy bubble of protection around them and that nothing bad will ever happen in our life.

We think we will always get the close up parking spaces at Walmart, that we will make more money, that our health will be perfect, that our children will behave and only make good choices, and that we will be held in esteem by everyone.

And when we think that way (or at least somewhat that way) it disturbs us when we read this scripture that says we will be persecuted. No, we don’t want to be persecuted. Yes, we want to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but we don’t want our faith to be challenged or to be persecuted.

It doesn’t work that way, though. The author of the Gospel of John knew this, and he wasn’t the only writer in the Bible that thought this.

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

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

And we have to remember what Matthew records Jesus saying in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

So how many of you are thinking right now, “Wait. I didn’t sign up for this.” Well guess what? You did. No takebacks.

Now it’s hard for us in our country and our society to comprehend being persecuted for our religious beliefs, although in the last few months it has been becoming more uncomfortable to be a Christian. Our society is becoming more and more secular and in many ways condemning Christians and almost rejoicing when a Christian leader falls from grace.

I predict that things will get more uncomfortable for Christians before they get better. But even then I think our persecutions will not be at the level that they are in other parts of the world today or as they have been in history.

I think of the members of ISIS, the Islamic sect, marching a long line of 21 Coptic Christians along the shore of the sea in Libya before having them kneel and brutally murdering them by slitting their throats and beheading them.

There are many places in the world today where Christianity is not only frowned upon, but it is actually illegal. Here are just a few: North Korea, China, Laos, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yeman, Somalia, Pakistan, and Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, just to name a few!

It’s hard to believe but in some places in the world today you can be killed for being a Christian. You can be killed for worshipping Jesus. The martyrs who died at the hands of ISIS prove it.

Throughout the history of the Common Era Christians have been persecuted. In 64 AD there was a huge fire that destroyed a large part of Rome. Emperor Nero, who many suspect of having the fire set on purpose, falsely blamed the Christians and thus started the government sanctioned persecution of Christians. Some were made to wear animal hides and were then torn apart by dogs, others were forced to wear shirts soaked in wax and burned alive as human torches. It was brutal.

Then came the unusually named Polycarp, who was the religious leader of the Christians in Smyrna, which is today Izmir, Turkey. (And no, his name doesn’t mean “many fish,” but “much fruit” in Greek.) Somewhere around 156 AD, when he was in his 80s, he was arrested, brought before the Roman authorities, and told to either worship the Roman Emperor or be put to death. When asked to deny Christ, his response was “Eighty-six years have I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

They then threaten to burn Polycarp at the stake. He responded, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”

So they did. When they went to nail him to the stake to prevent his escape he responded with, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle, without the help of your nails.” So they did.

He said a prayer and they lit the fire, and the witnesses said it formed “an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, and formed a circle around the body of the martyr.”

When the soldiers saw that his body was not being consumed by the flames they had an executioner pierce him with a sword, at which point fluids came out of his body and extinguished the fire.

Now that, folks, is persecution!

Now I’m not saying that we should all volunteer to be executed so that we can become martyrs. No. My point is that if this man can be persecuted to the point of death, and in going to his death glorify God and keep the faith as a follower of Jesus Christ, then we, as followers of Jesus Christ, should be able to withstand any persecution that comes our way and use that persecution to glorify God and our savior.

If it came down to denying your faith in Christ and living, or standing firm in your faith and dying, which would you choose?

I pray that none of us will ever have to make a decision like that.

I also pray that we remember those who did face that decision when we face minor persecutions for our faith. I pray that we can do as Paul writes in Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

Jesus tells the disciples, and us, that we will be persecuted for our faith. But that’s not how he ends the conversation. He follows that statement up with this: “But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

I think it’s good for us as followers of Christ to remember to have a Godly perspective rather than a worldly one. For example, if a good friend shuns us because of our faith the worldly perspective would have us feeding our anger and/or looking for revenge, but a Godly perspective would have us knowing that sometimes God puts people in our lives for a lifetime and others just for a season.

If we are suffering and hurting and it seems like time is going by so slowly, a worldly perspective is to focus on that suffering and hurt, wondering if we are being punished for something we did or how it might be interfering with the plans we had for our lives. A godly perspective is to know that our lives are but the smallest speck compared with God’s eternity, and to remember Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Take courage! Jesus has conquered the world! There is nothing in this world that is more powerful than the love of Jesus! No matter how badly we are treated by people in this world, no matter how much we are persecuted–even to the point of death, Jesus’ love is more powerful. Through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead Jesus has indeed overcome the world.

So my challenge to you this week is to have courage in the face of persecution. Don’t be surprised when it happens, as Jesus has told us that we will experience it. But Jesus also tells us to have courage to keep the faith as he has overcome the world. No matter how badly we are persecuted, those who are persecuting us do not win. They cannot win. Jesus wins, and because Jesus wins, we also win.

Praise be to God!

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

John: The True Vine

John: The True Vine
A Message on John 15:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 23, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 15:1-11 (NRSV)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

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I have learned a lot about growing grapes the past couple of years. About three years ago I bought a muscadine grape vine and planted it in the backyard of the parsonage. And that’s all I did to it other than water it when it got real dry.

Week before last I went out and picked the ripe muscadine grapes and made some muscadine jelly. There weren’t a whole lot of grapes, and the ones that were there were small, but I got enough to make jelly. (Well, not really. I needed 5 cups of juice and only got 4, so I added a cup of Welch’s grape juice to make up the difference. Okay, I know, but don’t judge. The jelly tastes great!)

Now my daughter Emily attends Texas A&M University (Whoop!) where she is majoring in Agricultural Communications and minoring in Horticulture. She knows about plants and growing things and the past several years she has been telling me over and over and over that I need to prune my grape vines during the winter when they are dormant. She begs me to prune them. And every year I don’t.

I’m not good at pruning things. It hurts my heart to prune. I figure if the plant is growing, just let it grow. As a result I have a real bushy plant (here’s a photo). I am disappointed year after year that I don’t get very many grapes from it and that the grapes I do get are very small. So I say that I’m going to prune the vines come winter but then I chicken out and say things like, “Well, if I water it more this year than I did last year I’ll get more and better grapes.” Except it never works.

Here are two photos. On the left are my grapes. On the right are what they are supposed to look like. Sigh… So why are mine so puny? I’m guessing it’s because I don’t prune the vines. The plant’s root system is spread too thin trying to get water and nutrients to too many leaves and stalks that it doesn’t have what’s necessary to raise good, large grapes.

Pam is much better at pruning than I am because she is more brutal than I am. Back before I went into the ministry we had rose bushes at our house. After seeing my feeble attempts at pruning and she would get the pruning shears and prune them properly. And every year I thought she had pruned too much and killed the plant. It would just be like a couple of sticks left and it looked so pitiful and I would think, “Well, she’s killed that bush. We’ll have to replace it this coming year.” (I would also think to myself, “I’m never letting her cut my hair. I wouldn’t have any left!)

But we never had to buy new rose bushes. In spite of my pessimism and her viscous pruning, the rose bushes would grow strongly and produce beautiful blooms.

In the scripture we read today from the gospel of John Jesus is talking about grape vines and the importance of pruning them. Even in the ancient world they, unlike me, knew the importance of pruning the vines so that they would produce more and better fruit.

Grapes were a very important part of the ancient world. In Genesis we find Noah being credited as the first person to plant a grape orchard. He planted grapes after he and his family got off their cruise. (He also got drunk off the wine from those grapevines, but that’s another sermon for another time.)

One of the things required for the sacrificial system, along with animals and grain, was wine. So it had significant religious purposes even in the Old Testament.

In Jesus’ parables we find the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). So grapes and vineyards and wine were important in Bible times!

And of course in the New Testament I hope you think of the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus told his disciples that the wine was his blood and that the bread was his body. It’s something so significant that we still celebrate it today (except for during this pandemic). I am SO looking forward to the day when we can celebrate it again!

Today I want to explore what Jesus means when he is talking about the true vine, pruning, and producing fruit.

First, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” This means that God is the vinegrower, and Jesus is the vine. Jesus, in doing the will of God, is the “true vine,” the connection to God.

Of course in Trinitarian theology we know that Jesus is not only the way to God but IS God, as is the Holy Spirit. God in three persons, all equal, all God. But Jesus is using a metaphor here, and when it comes to God all metaphors fall short.

Jesus is saying this for our benefit, to help us comprehend a theological concept. Jesus is telling us, through the terms “true vine,” that he is the real deal.

There is a variety of wild grapes that grow in the middle east, but they are not very good. The grapes themselves are small, dry, and not very productive. In Isaiah 5 we read about these wild grapes.

“Let me sing for my beloved, my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” Isaiah 5:1-2

Later in the chapter Isaiah writes this: “And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” Isaiah 5:5-6

Because the grapevines that are growing are wild grapes, the owner is destroying it, abandoning it. Isaiah is saying that because Jerusalem and Judea have not followed God’s laws and have turned away from God, becoming in effect “wild grapes,” then God will abandon them to their wicked ways. The vines in the orchard were not “true” vines.

Jesus is the “true vine.” As we read in the scripture last week from the previous chapter in John, Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Unfortunately there are many wild vines that lead us astray today. These vines look pretty, they are nice and green and look attractive, but they don’t produce any fruit. We water and fertilize them with our time, our energy, our finances, our relationships. We give them our attention, thinking that at any time they are going to bear the fruit we seek: completeness, wholeness, finding the meaning for our life.

But the fruit never comes, because it can’t. IT’s not the true vine. Only Jesus is the true vine, the only one that produces the fruit of righteousness, of grace, of love.

Now let’s talk about pruning. Pruning hurts. We don’t like to prune, and we don’t like to be pruned. But just as with grapes, pruning is necessary to bear fruit.

When we follow Jesus there will be times when it will be necessary for him to prune us. When we start thinking too much of ourselves and make everything be about “me,” when we begin thinking the world revolves around us, we need to be pruned in order to bear the fruit of humility.

When we begin to make idols and begin to worship them, things such as greed, popularity, possessions, careers, or hobbies, then we need Jesus to prune us in order to produce the fruit of worshiping only the one true God.

When we fail to feed the poor, to seek peace, to stand up for justice, to advocate for the oppressed, and to fight evil in our world, we need Jesus to prune us in order to produce the fruit of, well, being Christian.

The reality is that anything we think, say, or do that doesn’t bear fruit for the Kingdom of God needs to be pruned. It’s not pleasant, and it can be painful at the time, but it is what is necessary for us to be connected to the True Vine and produce good fruit.

The final topic I want to explore today is that of bearing fruit. As Christians, we are called to bear fruit, to further the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Christianity is not a self-centered religion. Unfortunately many people get the idea that the primary focus of being a Christ follower is our own salvation, of making that decision to follow Jesus and therefore, be “saved” which keeps us from burning in hell after we die. I call that “Jesus as fire insurance.”

But there is so much more to being a Christian than that! It is an important part, yes, but once we are “justified” (to use a Wesleyan term) then we are to work to move on to sanctification.

Remember is Wesleyan theology we have prevenient grace, which is God working in our lives, even when we don’t realize it or know it, before we come to Jesus. Justifying grace is when we accept that grace that Jesus offers us by making the decision to accept him as our savior, but the third expression of grace is sanctifying grace, those things that we do after we are saved that draw us closer to God and to–get this–bear fruit.

How are we to bear fruit? By telling others about Jesus. Not only that, but being active in leading others to Christ as well. When we are pruned from the world’s temptations and desires, then we will focus on God, being connected to the True Vine, and will lead others to Christ. We will fulfill the great commission found in the 28th chapter of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20

That’s how we produce fruit! Unlike my puny grapes, big, beautiful, gorgeous clusters of grapes!

So my challenge for you this week is three fold: 1. Remember to stay connected to the True Vine. 2. Prune anything out of your life that doesn’t lead toward producing fruit toward the Kingdom, and 3. Tell others about Jesus so we can bear fruit for the Kingdom.

And if you need your grapevines pruned, you better call Pam or Emily, not me.

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

John: Glory

John: Glory
A Message on John 12:36b-43
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 9, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 12:36b-43 (NRSV)

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. 37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

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In order for us to grasp what is happening in the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John we need to back up to the beginning of the 12th Chapter.

Jesus visits at the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and his sisters Mary and Martha, . Martha serves him and Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume, which drive’s Judas nuts because of the cost.

After that the Jewish leaders plot to kill Lazarus because of all the people coming to see him and people believing in Jesus because of him being raised from the dead.

Then Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey with huge crowds surrounding him and running ahead of him.

Once in Jerusalem talks about his death and says, “God, I glorify your name.” Then a voice comes from heaven that says, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

Some in the crowd thought the voice was thunder, while others thought it was an angel talking to Jesus. Jesus says, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Then the crowd starts arguing about whether he is the messiah or not, pointing out that the scriptures say the messiah will be with them forever and he is talking about being raised up.

That is when we come to today’s reading where Jesus leaves and hides from them. He has to get away from the crowds and the unbelief that so many in the crowd have about him.

The part of today’s scripture that I want to focus on today is the last paragraph: “Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

Here is The Message paraphrase of that scripture: “Isaiah said these things after he got a glimpse of God’s cascading brightness that would pour through the Messiah. On the other hand, a considerable number from the ranks of the leaders did believe. But because of the Pharisees, they didn’t come out in the open with it. They were afraid of getting kicked out of the meeting place. When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.”

First let’s talk about glory? Just what exactly is glory?

The first thing that comes to my mind is the Battle Hymn of the Republic and it’s refrain:

Glory, glory, Hallelujah! Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

It’s not a word we use much anymore but it is used in the Bible, 443 times to be exact (in the NRSV). In theology terms it means praise, worship, and thanksgiving given to God.

A new usage, which I didn’t know until working on this message, is that the word “glory” can also refer to the luminous ring or halo depicted in art around the head of Jesus or a saint. Hmmmm. You learn something new everyday…

Another way to think about “glory” is being “used to describe the manifestation of God’s presence as perceived by humans.” (That one is from Wikipedia, by the way.)

One of the ways I think of glory is when in the Old Testament Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. Here’s the way it is described in Exodus 24:13-15, “Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.”

The spectacle really freaked out the Jewish people. They were fearful of God’s glory and wanted Moses to intercede for them, which he did. And when he came down the mountain his face glowed, which also freaked them out, so much so that he had to wear a veil when he was around people.

And yet after all that, after seeing all those things, the people still became stiff necked and disobeyed.

Another way I think of glory is when it comes to the tabernacle and temple the Jewish people used to worship God. We find several references in scripture where the tabernacle, the place it was believed that God resided on earth, was completed. Here is Exodus 40:34-35, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

We find the same thing happening at the completion of the temple under the leadership of King Solomon. “… the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:13b-14

So we have that concept of glory from the Old Testament scriptures, along with Moses going into a cleft of a rock for protection when the glory of the Lord passed by, because no one can see the face of the Lord and live. (Exodus 33)

With that frame of mind, let’s look at that last paragraph of today’s scripture reading. “…for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

In our society today we glorify people in many different ways. A superstar athlete is glorified for their athletic skills (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Movie stars are glorified for their abilities to act (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Recording artists are glorified for their music (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Successful businessmen or politicians are glorified for their leadership (and sometimes their scandalous actions).

Fame is an interesting phenomenon.

I am currently reading a biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Rob Chernow that I find to be fascinating.

First, did you know his name really wasn’t Ulysses S. Grant? It was Hiram Ulysses Grant but when he was appointed to West Point he tried to reverse his first and middle name so that his initials wouldn’t spell HUG, but the paperwork got messed up and he went with Ulysses S. Grant, contending that the “S” didn’t stand for anything.

Also I found out that he was Methodist! Yep! Several times in the book the author refers to his attending Methodist churches and how his Methodist upbringing formed his moral values.

I also learned that he had several failures before he succeeded in moving up the military ranks and leading all the Union forces during the United States Civil War.

After winning the war for the Union, Grant became a celebrity even though he really didn’t want to be. He shied away from the spotlight but was unable to after the war. Whenever accolades were heaped upon him he deflected them from himself and gave credit to the brave men who fought under his command. He didn’t want glory for himself but sought to glorify those who fought, and the thousands who died, for the Union cause.

Grant was adamantly anti-slavery and worked hard after the war to protect and give full rights, including the right to vote, to the freed slaves. He even went so far as to buck President Andrew Johnson, who as vice president became president after the assasination of Abraham Lincoln. Johnson wanted to please southern plantation owners and was very racist in his views of the freed slaves.

Now Grant wasn’t perfect. He had a weakness for alcoholic beverages, something he fought throughout his career. He was naive and trusted people, many who took advantage of him and fleeced money from him.

But throughout the book (well, the parts of it that I have read so far) I have been impressed with his desire to give glory to others other than himself.

It’s difficult not to seek human glory, isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be admired, honored, acclaimed, celebrated, praised, and recognized? I think it’s part of human nature that we want to be liked by others, and another part of our human nature to be considered better than others.

But there is a danger in that. When we seek the praise and glory of others we are metaphorically creating a false idol that we begin to worship, instead of worshipping God.

Equally–or maybe more so–dangerous is our glorification of others. Like Dorothy and the characters in the Wizard of Oz we lift up others to the point of worship, only to find out when we look behind the curtains that they are only human, complete with human flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes.

We have to be aware of becoming like the Pharisees in today’s scripture who loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

We need to periodically pose the question to ourselves that the Apostle Paul writes in the first chapter of Galatians: “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

So my challenge to you this week is to be conscious of seeking human glory. Instead, seek to glorify God through the words you say, the actions you take, and by how you love others. Let us not be like the Pharisees, but let us be like Jesus Christ himself, giving glory and honor to our father in heaven.

Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

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

John: Blindness

Jesus Heals a Blind Man by Brian Jekel

John: Blindness
A Message on John 9:1-12, 35-41
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 26, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 9:1-12, 35-41 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

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The late cajun comedian Justin Wilson used to tell the story of coming across a group of cajuns holding up a long barn pole (kind of like a telephone pole). The group was having trouble keeping it upright, sticking straight up in the air, because at the top of a pole was a small Cajun boy holding a tape measure. The boy was trying to let out the tape measure to the ground and not having much success as the pole was wobbling back and forth as those on the ground tried to hold it still.

Justin walks up and says, “How y’all are! What are y’all doing?”

One of the men responds with, “Are you blind, hah? We tryin’ to measure how tall this pole is.”

Justin says, “Well den, why dontcha lay it down on de ground and measure it?”

The guy says, “You think we’re stupid? We done did dat. We know how long it is. We tryin’ to find out how tall it is!”

In the scripture we read today from the ninth chapter of John, we find the religious leaders kind of like those Cajuns trying to see how tall the pole was: they just didn’t get it.

The whole situation starts back at the beginning of Chapter 9 when Jesus comes across a blind man. The disciples travelling with Jesus ask him in a roundabout way why the man was blind. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

No that sounds may kind of sound ridiculous today but in the first century it was common thinking. I had a professor in seminary say that an oversimplification of theology in the Old Testament was this: “You do good, you get good. You do bad, you get bad.”

The thought process went something like this: since the man was born blind, then God must have been punishing him for some horrible sin he had committed, or been punishing his parents for some horrible sin they must have committed. The bottom line was that somebody must have sinned, and sinned bad, and God was punishing him/her/them by taking away this man’s sight when he was born.

As Christians we don’t believe that, of course. Or do we? I believe that sometimes we still do. I know that I used to. I think it’s part of our human nature to sometimes believe it. When things fall apart and we are in despair we ask ourselves if God is causing the bad things to happen as punishment toward us. In counseling with people after a tragedy I have heard people full of grief say things like, “Is God punishing me for something I did?”

My answer to such questions is “No.” Now God is all powerful and certainly has the ability to inflict punishment on us should he decide to, but in God’s grace he doesn’t. Our God is a loving God, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.” — Psalm 103:12

God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. He allows them to, but he doesn’t cause pandemics, car wrecks, cancer, etc.

In the scripture we read today Jesus tells his disciples that the man’s blindness wasn’t caused by his sin and it wasn’t caused by his parents’ sin, either. Then Jesus gives them a reason why the man was blind: “…he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Max Lucado, in his book, “It’s Not About Me” (which I highly recommend, by the way), he tells of a friend who was hospitalized with cancer. The prognosis was not good and the friend found himself doubting his faith as well-meaning friends told him that if he only had faith he would get better. He didn’t get better. Max met with him, heard his anguish, and responded with this:

“It’s not about you. Your hospital room is a showcase for your Maker. Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.” Oh, that you could have seen the relief on his face. To know that he hadn’t failed God and God hadn’t failed him— this made all the difference. Seeing his sickness in the scope of God’s sovereign plan gave his condition a sense of dignity. He accepted his cancer as an assignment from heaven: a missionary to the cancer ward. A week later I saw him again. “I reflected God,” he said, smiling through a thin face, “to the nurses, the doctors, my friends. Who knows who needed to see God, but I did my best to make him seen.” [Lucado, Max. It’s Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy (p. 126). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.]

I witnessed a similar thing with our own Darryl Bonner several years ago. Even as Darryl lay dying in a bed at a hospice care facility he exuded the love of Jesus to those who were taking care of him. He definitely, as Max put it, cranked up the volume of God’s song. Darryl had it booming in that room.

Jesus, in healing the blind man in today’s scripture, cranked up the volume of God’s song as well. Again, God did not cause the man’s blindness as a punishment of some sin he or his parents had committed. No. But in being healed from this blindness he became a witness to God’s glory.

So Jesus heals the blind man and the blind man becomes a witness to the miracles of Jesus. Now an interesting thing happens: some people refuse to believe him.

The scriptures tell us that some people didn’t believe he was the same man who used to be blind and beg. And if you read the part we skipped today, verses 13-34, we find the Pharisees pretty much harassing the man, refusing to believe him. They call him in to question him again and again.

The Pharisees even bring in the man’s parents, who are scared to death, and ask if the man really was born blind and if this is the same man. The parents respond, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” — John 9:20-21

After being questioned multiple times by the Pharisees, who keep questioning the man because they don’t like his answers. They kept saying that Jesus was a sinner and because of that he couldn’t have healed the man’s blindness. The man, getting frustrated with the Pharisees, finally has enough. He tells them, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” — John 9:30-33 The Message

The Pharisees, stung and offended, do what most people do when offended: offend back. They say, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” — John 9:34. And after they said that they drove him out of the temple, I’m sure pretty roughly.

That’s where we pick up the second part of our scripture today where Jesus finds out that they had driven the man out of the temple. He starts a conversation with the man and the man believes that Jesus is the son of man.

Jesus then says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” — John 9:39

Well the Pharisees, who hear this, are again offended by this stinging rebuke and bow up against Jesus. They say, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” (Again, remember that these people associated blindness with sin. So basically, “We are not sinners so therefore we aren’t blind.”)

Jesus responds to them: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Ouch! Or as the teenagers used to say years ago, “Booyah!”

Jesus is using blindness as a spiritual metaphor. The Pharisees, being not only the religious leaders but the social and cultural leaders of the Jewish people, believe themselves to be better than everyone else, especially those with disabilities, those that are cripple, blind, mute, or who have leprosy. After all, those people sinned and God is punishing them by giving them their disability.

They had eyes, but they did not see. Meanwhile, the blind man, who previously could not see, does believe in Jesus Christ.

It echoes what was written in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah sees a vision, the one where a seraph gets a hot coal from the altar with a pair of tongs and goes and touches Isaiah on the lips. God tells Isaiah, “Go and tell this people: ‘Listen hard, but you aren’t going to get it; look hard, but you won’t catch on.’ Make these people blockheads, with fingers in their ears and blindfolds on their eyes, So they won’t see a thing, won’t hear a word, So they won’t have a clue about what’s going on and, yes, so they won’t turn around and be made whole.” The Message

Jesus even quotes this scripture from Isaiah in the 13th chapter of Matthew. He ends it by telling his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” — Matthew 13:16.

As humans we are pretty bad about seeing only what we want to see. We see it in politics in this election year. Something will happen and one side of the political aisle sees it only one way, and the other side sees it as just the other. It’s the same event, but the perceptions are completely opposite. We see what we want to see.

It’s like the old adage of do you see the glass half full or half empty? (I say it depends on what liquid is in the glass.)

Here, let me show you a piece of artwork. This is called “On White II” by Wassily Kandinsky. What do you think about it?

Until Pam and I watched an old movie this past week I had never heard of Kandinsky, but apparently he was one of the pioneers of abstract art way back in the 1920s. This piece, “On White II” (which I guess means there was a “On White I”?), is one of his more famous pieces.

To be honest with you when I look at this I kinda go, “meh.” I like the bright colors and the cool geometric shapes, but that’s about it. I don’t see much beyond that. To me it kinda looks like a wristwatch exploded.

But according to those that know such things, there is much, much more to this piece of art. Here, I’ll quote to you from the official Kandinsky website about this painting: “As the title suggests, white is predominant in this painting, including the background. Kandinsky used white to represent life, peace and silence. The majority of the geometric shapes are presented in a variety of colours, reflecting the artist’s love for the free expression of inner emotions. Striking through the kaleidoscope of shapes and colours are bold, spiked barbs in black, representing non-existence and death.” []

Uh….. huh….okay… I guess?

After reading that I realize that my perception of this piece of art is a lot different from “those who see.” It makes me think that not only am I not in the deep end of the art appreciation swimming pool, but I kinda doubt that I am even in the kiddie pool.

As humans we see things differently. We perceive things differently.

Years ago there was a country song sung by John Conlee titled “Rose Colored Glasses.” In the song John sings of how his woman has cheated on him and doesn’t treat him well, and yet he still loves her. The words of the chorus are:

But these rose colored glasses
That I’m looking through
Show only the beauty
‘Cause they hide all the truth

In the first century the religious leaders of the day were metaphorically looking through rose colored glasses when it came to how they were spiritually leading the people. They were the smart ones, the ones who knew all the laws in the scriptures, and they were all too eager to enforce those laws on the Jewish people.

But those rose colored glasses, that they were looking through, kept them from seeing the real Jesus, from perceiving the truth.

Today as Christians we can also see things through rose colored glasses, being blind to the truth.

If we look down on others as being less important, less “holy” than we are, then we are like the Pharisees and are blind to the truth.

If we rationalize our theological views to make them match our political views, then we are blind to the truth.

If we say we are Christians and followers of Jesus Christ but put our own wants and needs in front of others, we are blind to the truth.

You get the idea.

So my challenge to you this week is to give yourself a spiritual eye exam. Ask yourself if you are seeing only the things you want to see, or are you seeing things through the eyes of Jesus.

In the words of singer songwriter Brandon Heath, in his song “Give Me Your Eyes,”

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see.

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

“On White II” by Wassily Kandinsky