Matthew 18:23-35
Christian Characteristics: “Mercy”
A Message on Matthew 18:23-25
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 21, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 18:23-35 (NRSV)
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

Today we are continuing our sermon series on “Christian Characteristics” by exploring the topic of mercy. One of the things I want you to keep in mind as we look into mercy today is this question: Can you be a Christian if you don’t show mercy?

In reading the gospels we find that Jesus, when he wants to make a point, tells a story. We call them parables and they aren’t just stories, but stories that have moral or spiritual points.
The scripture we just read from the Gospel of Matthew is one such example. Known as the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus uses this parable to teach on the subject of forgiveness and, more specifically mercy.

Mercy doesn’t get a lot of press in our society, which is sad. We hear quite a bit about compassion, which comes from the Latin words that meaning “to suffer with.” We hear a lot about forgiveness, too. And those are good qualities. But mercy comes from the Latin word merces which means “price” or “wages.” There is an equality associated with compassion and forgiveness, but disparity in mercy. In mercy one person has more power than another. Mercy really is about power.

Here’s a weird example. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but all this week I have had the same song going over and over in my head. (I looked up what that is called, by the way. Here’s what I found out at the ever helpful Wikipedia: “An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, sticky music, stuck song syndrome, or Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI) is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.”)

The song that I have had an “earworm” with this past week is a recording done years ago by the country group The Judds. I have been hearing Wynonna and Naomi Judd singing their song, “Have Mercy.”

Now it’s not a religiously significant song, but a song about a woman who discovers her man is being unfaithful to her and seeing other women. The words to the chorus are:

Have mercy on me
You treat me so bad I’m in misery
It’s breaking my heart, can’t you see
Baby, baby have mercy on me

The song does, however, represent one the key components of mercy: power.

Mercy is about someone in power extending grace to someone who has less power.

In the case of the Judd’s song, the singer is asking the man, who has the power of free will and being faithful or unfaithful not, (an we know which one he is choosing), to use that power he has to extend grace to the singer by stopping the infidelity and being loyal to her.

A more recent example of how power can be abused is with the scandals happening in Hollywood where directors and actors have used their power to take advantage sexually of others. There is a big power disparity in these cases. The stars and directors and producers have power over who they choose for roles in the movies and shows, and the victims are those who are wanting to get into the business and want to get those great roles to benefit not only their pocketbooks but their careers. As a result those in power abuse it when they abuse the women and men who don’t have as much power. It’s sad and inexcusable.

We see a different disparity of power in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant. The power in Jesus’ parable is about wealth and the power it brings.
The King calls in the people that owe him money. One servant that comes before him owes the huge amount of 10,000 talents.

It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around how much value 10,000 talents was. If we place a value of one dollar per talent, making it $10,000, then we think that yes, that’s a lot of money that the servant owes. It’s not chump change.

But here’s what is even more shocking: at the time one talent was worth about 15 years of a day laborers wages. So 10,000 talents comes out to 150,000 years of labor.

Let’s try to put it in terms of today’s dollars. A talent was actually a measurement of weight, and scholars don’t agree but the weight was probably somewhere between 75 and 110 pounds per talent.

It’s value as money was based on the weight of gold or silver and also the value of that gold or silver at the time. When I checked on Friday the value of gold was $1,336.30 per ounce.
So just for grins let’s take the low end of the weight of a talent at 75 pounds. There are 16 ounces in a pound, right, so if we multiply 75 pounds by 16 ounces we get 1,200 ounces per one talent.

So at the current price of gold that would make a talent of gold worth $1,603,560.

Get the picture? That’s for one talent. And the servant owed the king 10,000 talents!

At the current price of gold it comes out to more than $16 billion! That’s a lot of money. I think the point Jesus is trying to make is that it was an amount of money the servant would never be able to pay.

In the parable Jesus doesn’t tell us how the servant ended up with that kind of debt. We don’t know if he had a gambling problem, if it was given to him for purchases and he stole it, or if he racked it up in credit card debt. (Okay, probably not that last one.) We just don’t know.

What we do know is that he was in debt to the king big time. Deep debt. Deep, deep, deep, debt. I don’t know what the minimum payments on a credit card with a balance of $16 billion is but I think it’s safe to say he would have trouble making them.

So the servant comes before the king, and the king finds out that the man can’t pay what he owes, so the king orders the man, his wife, and his children, and everything he owns, to be sold as slaves and for the money to go against the debt the man owes.

When the servant hears this news he pleads with the king. He asks for mercy, for the king to give him time to pay back what he owes. (Which is interesting because, as we just discussed, it was going to be impossible for him to do so.)

Surprisingly, the king, who has the power, does show mercy on the servant, who is pretty much powerless in the situation. The king uses his power to extend grace to the man. He shows him mercy. He and his family and possessions won’t be sold to pay against the debt.

And then, even more surprisingly, the king cancelled the debt. Not only is the man and his family not sold as slaves, but the $16 billion debt is forgiven! Wow! That is huge! What a gracious king, right? What an act of mercy!

So the servant, who has to be so happy, leaves. On the way out he runs across another servant who owes the forgiven servant some money. The amount is 100 denarii.
Now at the time a denarius was the usually day wage for a laborer. I did some research and found out that last year the average wage for an agricultural worker was $16.88 per hour. Multiply that by eight hours a day and that comes to $135.04 per day.

So the modern equivalent of a denarius is $135.04. The second servant owed one hundred of these to the forgiven servant, so that comes to $13,504.
That’s a figure that can be paid over time. Hopefully no one here has $13,504 in credit card debt, but even if they do it can be paid over time (paying more than the minimum payments, of course) and be paid off.

But the first servant, who had just had $16 billion of his own debt forgiven by the king, refuses to show compassion to the second servant, who only owed him a measly $13,504. Not only that, he gets physical with him, grabbing him by the throat.

The second servant pleads with the first to give him some time and he will pay back what he owes, but the first servant, the recently-forgiven servant, tells him he wants his money right now. When the man can’t pay it, he has him thrown in prison until he could pay the debt.
Debtors prisons, as they became to be known, were prisons were people were incarcerated until they could pay their debts. Often the prisoners were forced to work in the prison not only to pay their debt but also the costs of their incarceration.

We don’t know the specifics of debtors prisons in the first century in the Holy Land, but it’s pretty safe to say it wasn’t a place a person wanted to be.
In Jesus’ parable the second servant was thrown in prison for not being able to pay his debt to the first servant. Well then as now word gets around, and other servants didn’t think it was fair for the first servant, who had such a great debt forgiven the by the king, to lock up his fellow servant. So they go and tell the king.
Well the king gets rightly upset and calls the first servant in before him. He then enforces his kingly powers to not only publicly scold the servant for not forgiving his fellow servant for his small debt when he had just been forgiven of such a huge debt, but also to sentence him not only to prison but also torture until his original debt could be paid, which we have already established would be impossible. The person who received mercy failed to show mercy to others, and therefore ended up being tortured for life.

Jesus concludes the parable with these words “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Ouch!

Now I hope you pick up the symbolism in this parable. God gives us a gift beyond monetary value through his son Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth, walked and taught among humans, and then was executed on the cross–even though he was innocent–in order for us to not only have our sins forgiven, but to have eternal life.

That, folks, is mercy. Ever since Adam and Eve blew it and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, sin has separated humans from God. In the Old Testament the animal sacrifice system was used where the blood of a innocent animal was used to atone for the sins of humans.

But the trouble with that kind of sacrificial system is that you have to keep doing it. You sin, then sacrifice an animal, then sin again, sacrifice another animal. But with Jesus Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, the son of God who was sinless was executed like a criminal. But because he was the son of God and willingly went to the cross, the perfect one atoned for all for humanity’s sins.

Jesus’ actions showed mercy. Jesus, being God, has power that we do not. Jesus has power, we do not. And yet Jesus died for the powerless, for sinful humans, and in doing so, in that expression of mercy, empowers us as children of God. Not because we deserve it. Not because we earn it. Simply because he loves us.

And Jesus tells us to do show mercy like he did. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7

Mercy is ultimately an expression of love. The king expressed love when he forgave the servant of all that the servant owed him. The servant, in turn, failed to show love when he insisted that the second servant pay him what was owed.

God shows us mercy–and love–by sending his only son to earth and allowing him to die on a cross. What a wonderful gift, worth much more than $16 billion! There is no monetary price tag on spending eternity in heaven.

And because God is so merciful to us, we should be merciful to each other. We, who have received mercy, are called to show mercy. We should not exploit the power we have over others for our own benefit. Instead, we are to show them mercy, just as God our Father shows mercy to us.

At the beginning of this message I asked the question: Can you be a Christian if you don’t show mercy. I don’t believe you can. It is that integral to the Christian faith.
So my challenge to you this week is to get mercy stuck in your head like an ear worm. Let us be grateful and recognize God for the mercy he has shown us, and let our response be to show mercy to others. Let us not be like the unforgiving servant, which I think should be called the unmerciful servant. Let us show mercy to others.

What if instead of a Judds’ song stuck in our head we got mercy stuck in our heads? What if our actions outside of the church buildings showed mercy upon all we come into contact with throughout our week, those we work with, fellow students, even strangers at the grocery store or in restaurants?

We could change the world, one person at a time. Are you up to the challenge? Are you ready to show mercy?

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

Christian Characteristics: “Hope”

Christian Characteristics: “Hope”
A Message on Romans 8:18-25
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 14, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 8:18-25 (NRSV)

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

I recently read a book titled Yellow Star, a short book based on the life of Sylvia Perlmutter. Sylvia lived in Lodz, Poland and was four-and-a-half years old when World War II started. Sylvia and her family were Jewish, and when Germany invaded Poland in 1939 their family, along with 270,000 other Jews, were rounded up and forced to live in a ghetto. It was an area of the city that was sealed off with gates and barbed wire fences, guarded at all times by Nazi soldiers.
It was a brutal existence. Sylvia witnessed the soldiers shooting people on the streets. The families in the ghetto had no heat in the winter, very little food (the soldiers shot little children who would sneak under the fence and smuggle food back in to their families), and sometimes had running water, and sometimes did not.
When food became extremely scarce, Sylvia’s mom would give her portion of watery soup to Sylvia. When Sylvia asked why she did this, her father said, ““From pain your mother gave you life, through pain she continues to give.”
And regularly families would be herded out of the ghetto and forced into box cars on train where they were told they were being taken to a place where they would have a better life. In truth, they were taken to the concentration camps and killed.
Sylvia survived. Her dad came up with excuses and ways to stay off the trains. She was 10 years old when those in the ghetto were finally liberated by Russian soldiers. Here’s what she said in an interview years later:
“In 1945, the war ended. The Germans surrendered, and the ghetto was liberated. Out of more than a quarter of a million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto. Of those who survived, only twelve were children. I was one of the twelve.”
Even in the midst of all this horror Sylvia and her parents hold on to hope, the hope that things will change, that they will get better.
“Life goes on in the ghetto. Spring breezes blow through the wire fence. The mood becomes brighter with the sun. Life goes on in the ghetto. There are weddings and dances and songs. Mothers take their new babies outside to show them off to the neighborhood. Pink faces swaddled in blankets stitched with yellow stars. Life goes on in the ghetto.”
If you read stories of survival like this one, whether it’s of floating in the ocean for weeks in a life raft or simply not having enough to eat, you’ll see on common thread among those who survive: hope.
Hope is a powerful force. A very powerful force, especially in the Christian faith.
It’s kinda hard to define hope. The dictionary says it is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” That’s pretty succinct and I think pretty accurate.
Here are what other people have said about hope:
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” — Desmond Tutu
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words — And never stops at all.” — Emily Dickinson
“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” ― Tom Bodett
“Our world today so desperately hungers for hope, yet uncounted people have almost given up. There is despair and hopelessness on every hand. Let us be faithful in proclaiming the hope that is in Jesus.” — Billy Graham
The Bible has a lot to say about hope, too. More specifically, the word “hope” is used 202 times in the NRSV of the Bible.
Here are just a few of those scriptures.
“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.” Jeremiah 29:11
“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7
“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:19-20 (I preached on this a couple of weeks ago, remember?)
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

“The hope of the righteous ends in gladness, but the expectation of the wicked comes to nothing.” Proverbs 10:28
And of course, the scripture we read today from the 8th chapter of Romans.
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:24-25

What Paul says in these three short sentences really gets my mind to thinking. What is it about hope that so fascinates me? I think it is the belief in the “not yet.” It deals with the future. We don’t hope for what is in the past, do we? No. Hope is about the future and yet it affects the present.
Think about something you have hoped for, really hoped for, and that actually came to be. Once it happens, you no longer hope for it, do you?
In hope we are saved. As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have hope. We have hope that when we repent of our sins God forgives us.
Hope is the fuel that gets us through the tough times in life, and we all will have tough times. (“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said.)
Hope is what we cling to in order to keep from being overwhelmed by death. Hope tells us that the love of God is stronger than death, and that our salvation, and the salvation of all believers, takes the victory and sting away from death. Death is conquered by the love of God expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And here’s one of the great things about hope: like joy, it’s contagious!
Early in the year 1736 John Wesley was on a ship bound for America, specifically Georgia. He was traveling to the “new world” to evangelize the Native Americans. While out on the ocean, however, the ship encountered a really bad storm. The main sail was split and waves washed over the boat.
Most of the passengers, and even some of the sailors, were freaking out and screaming. A group of German passengers, known as Moravians, were calmly singing hymns in the ship in the midst of the storm.
This made a huge impression on John Wesley, one which years later would have a significant religious experience and felt his heart “strangely warmed” at a Moravian worship service at Aldersgate Street in London.
It was the Moravians’ hope in the face of disaster that impressed Wesley. He saw how they had hope in a life-threatening situation, and it stuck with him. For years. He remembered that, and it ended up shaping his theology.
Do you have the kind of hope that inspires others? Is your faith so firmly grounded that when you have difficult times you don’t despair because you have hope? If not, it’s time to start working on that.
So my challenge to you today is to have hope. Work daily on your relationship with Jesus Christ so that it produces hope, not only hope in your life, but hope that will inspire others.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Christian Characteristics: “Joy”

Christian Characteristics: “Joy”
A Message on 1 Peter 1:3-9
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 7, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV)

3 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, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

Today we are beginning a sermon series on Christian Characteristics, where we will be exploring specific characteristics that Christians have.

I want to talk about the characteristic of “joy” today, and I want to start out with a willy, nilly, silly ol’ bear named Winnie the Pooh.

In the Winnie the Pooh books and movies we are introduced to a wide variety of Christopher Robin’s friends.

There’s good hearted Winnie, of course, who naive and sometimes dim witted, although sometimes he is very insightful. And his driving passion in life is to find and eat as much honey as he can.

There’s also Piglet, who is always quickly scurrying around worried about things. Piglet is always anxious and nervous, known for his saying of “Oh d-d-dear.”

Then there’s Eeyore, who sees the downside to every situation. A donkey with a tail that keeps falling off, Eeyore is alway pessimistic, ever glum, and sarcastic. His most famous saying is “Thanks for noticing.”

And there is Tigger, a joyous, rambunctious tiger who bounces on his tail. Tigger is spontaneous, outgoing, and loves to have fun.

Of course there is Rabbit, who is impatient and irritable. He insists that things be done his way and is obsessed with rules, planning and order. He is very picky when it comes to his garden and he is known for bossing others around.

And we can’t forget about Owl, a pompous bird that goes to great lengths to try to convince all the animals in the woods that he is the smartest and most intelligent, even though in truth he is often scatterbrained.

Kanga is a female kangaroo and the mother of Roo. She is the only female of all the characters and has a kind-hearted, motherly charm toward the other animals. She is patient, likes things to be clean and organized, and is quick to offer food and motherly advice to anyone who asks her.

So why am I going over these characters from Winnie the Pooh? Here’s why. I want you to think about your faith life, which of those characters would you say best describes where you are on your faith journey right now? In your walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, which Winnie the Pooh character most accurately represents you?

Are you Winnie? Do you have a naive, shallow understanding of the Christian faith? Does your passion for honey, or something that rhymes with honey, money, cause you to do things that get you into difficult situations?

Or are you Eeyore? Is your faith gloom and doom? Do you just know the world is going to hell in a handbasket and feel that nothing you can do will make a difference? Do you complain and moan and say, “Lord Jesus, come now”?

Or are you Rabbit? Are you all about the rules of religion and impatient and irritable if everything in the church isn’t done the way you think it should be done?

Are you motherly and compassionate to others like Kanga? Are you like Owl in that you try to impress others with how much you know about Christianity (even if you really don’t know that much) and talk about how good a Christian you are and how others aren’t?

Okay, get the idea?

Now there is one character that I haven’t mentioned and I did that on purpose: Tigger. I saved Tigger for last for a reason.

Today we’re talking about Christian Characteristics, right? And specifically we’re talking about joy, right? Tigger is about joy. And I believe our world seriously needs more Christians that, like Tigger, express joy.

The Bible has a lot to say about joy. The scripture we read today from 1 Peter is a good example.

Now if your remember Peter is the disciple that Jesus told would be the rock of the newly forming church. He was named Simon before Jesus gave him the name Peter which comes from the Greek word Petros which means rock. (Matthew 16:18)

He was a fisherman, along with his brother Andrew, who Jesus called to be disciples as he walked along the sea shore. In addition to being one of the original 12 disciples, he was one of the leaders of the disciples. He was the one that confessed Jesus as the Messiah, he was the one that denied Jesus three times and then wept afterwards, and was the disciple that preached on the day of Pentecost.

Eventually he was crucified in Rome and insisted it be upside down because he wasn’t worthy of being crucified in the same way as Jesus.

So that’s who Peter was. Even though Peter was a great leader of the disciples we don’t have many things in the Bible that he wrote. We have 1 Peter and 2 Peter, and that’s pretty much it. And these are letters, also called epistles, that he wrote to members of the early church.

Listen again to what Peter writes in verses 8-9: “Although you have not seen him [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Let’s read that again, this time from The Message: “You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him–with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what your looking forward to: total salvation.”

Here are some other scriptures about joy:

In Galatians 5 we find Paul listing the fruit of the Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22)

In Romans 12 Paul writes, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

In John 16 we find this: “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” (John 16:22-24)

And here’s a great scripture from Proverbs: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

As Christians we should be filled with joy. We have much to be joyous about! We have experienced God’s saving grace given to us not because we earn it, but because God loves us. We are so loved by God that he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to earth and allowed him to die on a cross so that by being the ultimate sacrifice for our sins we are forgiven and reconciled to God.

Like the song that the Lykins sang this morning, we should have the “Joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.” We should be so joyous, even when we’re going through tough times, that others who don’t know Christ should wonder what in the world is going on with us.

The late musician Rich Mullins used to tell of a time when he and his band were touring in Ireland. There’s a saying in Ireland in the pubs when there is one group of people who are joyous and laughing, and someone will say, “I’ll have whatever they’re having.”

Rich said that as Christians we should be the ones that are always joyous, so much so that those without a relationship to Christ will say, “I want what they’re having.”

Joy is such an integral part of Christians fulfilling the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Here’s an example. How many of you have gone into a fast food restaurant and you can tell that the person behind the counter really doesn’t like their job, doesn’t want to be there, and doesn’t really care about you as the customer. How many of you have seen the video of comedian Anjela Johnson’s character “Bon Qui Qui” working at “King Burger”? She’s working behind the counter of a fast food restaurant when a customer approaches the counter. She’s talking on the phone to a friend of hers about her relationships. The customer finally says, “Excuse me.”

Bon Qui Qui says, “Uh, do you see me in the middle of a conversation? Don’t interrupt…rude.”

Then she says to the person on the phone, “Girl, I’m gonna have to call you back,” and hangs up. She then looks at the customer and says, “Welcome to King Burger, where we can do it your way, but don’t get crazy…”

How many of you have been treated maybe not that bad, but something similar by someone at a a fast food restaurant. How does that make you feel? How does that affect your decision on whether to dine there again.

And how many of you have gone into a fast food restaurant where the person behind the counter has a smile on their face, they talk to you pleasantly, and you can tell that they enjoy working there? Doesn’t that make you want to go back?

This past summer my family was blessed to go do Disneyworld in Florida. The thing that really impressed me with Disneyworld is that every employee there that I came into contact with acted as if they loved their job. Every single one. I even talked to a couple of people whose job was to pick up and empty trash. I thought that maybe all this “happy-with-my-job” attitude might be fake or just an act. But it wasn’t. They really did have joy working at Disneyworld, even if it was picking up the trash.

What if we as Christians were less like Bon Qui Qui and more like the employees of Disneyworld? What if we actually lived as if the “joy of the Lord is our strength?” I think it would make it easier to fulfill the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ because unchurched folks would be saying, “I want what they’re having.”

So my challenge to you this week, and for the entire year, actually, is to be a joyous Christian. Let your faith life be more like Tigger and not like Eeyore. More like Disneyworld employees and less like Bon Qui Qui.

Let us believe in Jesus Christ like Peter says “and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,” so much so that others will say, “I want what they’re having.”

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

“Promises”

“Promises”
A Message on Hebrews 6:13-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Dec. 31, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Hebrews 6:13-20 (NRSV)

13 When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. 16 Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute. 17 In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, 18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. 19 We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

Raise your hand if you’ve ever made a “pinky promise.” You know, that kind of promise that is beyond just a promise. It’s much more serious, much bigger than just a promise. It’s a pinky promise.

It’s a way of saying that no matter what happens, the promise will not be broken. It’s like a legal contract, except that it isn’t legal, of course. But making a pinky promise, instead of just a regular promise, indicates the seriousness in which both parties take the commitment to uphold both ends of the promise.

Okay, so all of us who have made pinky promises, how many ever broken one? Come on now, tell the truth and shame the devil. I think all of us have, at one time or another.

I did a little research into the pinky promise and found something that is… Well… Uncomfortable to me. I found out that the idea actually originated in Japan. In that culture and at that time it meant that if one of the parties broke the promise the punishment would be to cut off the pinky finger of the offender.

So, now knowing this, please raise your hand if you’ve broken a pinky promise and our ushers will come by… No, don’t worry, we’re not going to start cutting off pinkie fingers.

As human beings isn’t it interesting the lengths we will go to in declaring a promise that we say we won’t break, but we end up doing anyway? In addition to the pinky promise when I was growing up we would also say something like,

“Cross my heart and hope to die,
Stick a thousands needles in my eye…”

When you think about it, that’s pretty serious stuff, especially for kids!

Ironically the reason we go to such extreme lengths to validate promises is that we’re really not very good at keeping them.

It could be argued that it all started in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. God tells them, “Hey, you have access to everything here and can eat anything except for this one tree.” I can just hear Adam or Eve turn their head quickly and say, “Which tree?”

And of course that is exactly the tree they eat from.

Throughout the Bible we find again and again covenants made between God and humans, and in every instance it is the humans that break the promise made. God never breaks the promise. Not one time. But humans? Well, that’s a different story.

There is a cycle that occurs in the Old Testament. Here’s how it goes. God says to obey his words and laws and worship only him and the people will have things go their way and everything will be great. And the people say, “Sure, we promise to do that.” And then it isn’t long before they are breaking that promise as they worship foreign gods, and ignore the laws. Well then the consequences of those actions start taking place and God allows foreign forces to come in and take over and kill a bunch of people and sending the survivors off to exile. Then, after they’ve lost everything and are desperate, they call out to God to deliver them, and God has compassion on them and does so. And then the cycle repeats itself.

I think breaking promises is just part of the sinful nature of humans. Sometimes greed wins out, or lust for power, or some desire that puts one’s needs above others.

Most of you know I was sick the past couple of weeks. (Boy, was I sick.) I got on Netflix and watch 10 episodes in a row of World War II in Color. As part of that program I was fascinated at how Hitler signed a pact with Russia about how he promised he wouldn’t attack Russia and they would split up the land between the two countries.

Hitler starts taking over all these countries around Germany and is having great success. But then after just two years he breaks that agreement with Russia and goes to war against them, all because he wanted more land than what the agreement gave him. Of course the Russians didn’t take to kindly to that and fought back, forcing Germany to fight wars on two fronts, and then three as Hitler came to the aid of Mussolini in Northern Africa and Italy.

And what really boggles my mind is how many millions of people, not just soldiers but civilians as well, died as a result. Russian losses alone are estimated at 20,000,000 people. That’s not a typo. Twenty million people.

Breaking a promise can have consequences. Tax time is coming up. When we sign at the bottom of our tax returns we are promising that the information we have given on the forms is accurate and true. If we knowingly break that promise, if we give information that isn’t true, and the IRS figures it out, then there are consequences we will have to deal with.

While humans are bad about not keeping promises we can take comfort as Christians in knowing that God always keeps his promises.

I think that’s what the writer of Hebrews is telling us in the scripture we read today.

Listen to The Message paraphrase: “When God made his promise to Abraham, he backed it to the hilt, putting his own reputation on the line. He said, “I promise that I’ll bless you with everything I have—bless and bless and bless!” Abraham stuck it out and got everything that had been promised to him.”

Remember the story of Abraham? God said “Trust me and leave everything behind and go to a foreign land and I will bless you.” And Abraham does. Now it’s not a trouble-free journey, but God keeps his end of the promise.

The writer of Hebrews continues: “When people make promises, they guarantee them by appeal to some authority above them so that if there is any question that they’ll make good on the promise, the authority will back them up. When God wanted to guarantee his promises, he gave his word, a rock-solid guarantee—God can’t break his word. And because his word cannot change, the promise is likewise unchangeable.”

We still appeal to higher authority when we make promises. Another program I watched a lot of when I was sick was “Cops.” (Yes, I know I need to work on my program selections…) When I watch those episodes I am fascinated by the promises people make to convince the officers of their innocence. “I swear to God those drugs aren’t mine.” I swear to God I didn’t (do whatever they are accused of, even though it’s all on videotape). “I swear to God I haven’t been drinking.”

And even when the evidence is overwhelming against them they still promise using God’s name they are innocent.

The writer of Hebrews continues: “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Now we need to know the significance of that name “Melchizedek.” If we go back to the 14th chapter of Genesis we find kings and nations at war with each other. Abram (who is later renamed Abraham) has a nephew named Lot who lived in Sodom, and the city is overrun and captured. Lot is marched off into captivity but word gets back to Abram. So he talks about 300 men and goes and attacks the army and frees Lot and other captives and gets back all the possessions the army had taken.

The kings of the area are glad of Abram’s success. One of the kings is named Melchizedek, who is King of Salem. He is also the high priest, which is the top of the Jewish religious life of the day. There is no human higher than him in religious terms. And King Melchizedek comes and blesses Abram.

“And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Exodus 14:18-20)

Now Abram goes on to become Abraham, one of the holiest figures of the Old Testament. Melchizedek as the priest is the one who intercedes for the people before God. Later on with Moses when the tabernacle is created it is the high priest, and the high priest only, who can go into the “Holiest of Holies” in the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was and where it was believed that God resided on earth.

So the writer of Hebrews is telling us that Jesus Christ is our high priest, the one who intercedes before God on our behalf. Jesus stands before God representing us.

Jesus’ blood overcomes the sins of all of our broken promises.

Now just because that is the case doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make promises or try to keep them. Just because our sins are forgiven doesn’t give us license to go and sin all we want to.

No. But it should make us more aware of the promises we make to God and do everything we can to keep those.

We make a promise, a covenant oath, when we are baptized and becomes members of the body of Christ. We publicly proclaim that we promise to follow Christ, that our words and out actions will fulfill the great commandment to love God and love others.

Back in 1755 John Wesley led a group of believers in a renewal service at what was known as the “French Church” at Spitalfield in London. The service was designed for those in attendance to remember the covenant, or promise, they made when they made the decision to become a Christian.

As part of that service the people recited a prayer. Now there is some debate as to who should be credited with the prayer. Wesley credited it to and English Puritan named Richard Alleine, but other scholars believe that it was also influenced by the German Pietist movement.

Anyway, I think it’s a great prayer. You will find it printed in your bulletin and I hope that you will clip it out and put it somewhere prominent so that you can recite it every day.

We are going to stand and say it now, on New Year’s Eve, as a reminder of the promises we made to God:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified i
n heaven.
Amen.

So my challenge to you this week, as we turn the page on the calendar and begin a new year, is for us to remember our promises to God. God is always faithful and always keeps his promises. Let us do our best to keep ours as well.

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

Because of Bethlehem: “God Has A Face”

Sermon Series on Because of Bethlehem: “God Has A Face”
A Message on Hebrews 4:14-16

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Dec. 10, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NRSV)

 

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

 

In his book, Because of Bethlehem: Love is Born, Hope is Here, Max Lucado tells the true story of a man named George Harley who moved with his wife to Africa in 1926 to become medical missionaries among the Mano tribe in Liberia. After arriving he became frustrated because the people he was trying to reach with the gospel message were not responsive. George had a burning passion for Jesus Christ and just couldn’t understand why the people he was living among weren’t interested in it.

 

George constructed a clinic and a chapel. The clinic was full and he treated thousands of people, but no one came to the chapel. Not a single person.

 

While in Africa George and his wife had a son. They named him Robert but called him Bobby. He was the apple of their eye.

 

Then when Robert was five he became ill. His dad, George, being a doctor, tried everything he knew of to try to cure his son, but nothing worked. In just a short period of time Robert got worse and then died.

 

Heartbroken, George went to his workshop and built a coffin. When it was finished, he placed Bobby’s body inside, nailed the lid shut, and then hoisted it on his shoulder and began carrying it toward a clearing where he planned to dig a grave for his son.

 

While he was on the way an older man of the tribe in the village came up to him and asked him what he was doing. George explained what had happened and what he was doing. The elderly man offered to help George carry the coffin, and the two of them carried it to the cleaning.

 

George later told a friend:

 

So the old man took one end of the coffin and I took the other. Eventually we came to the clearing in the forest. We dug a grave there and laid Bobby in it. But when we had covered up the grave, I just couldn’t stand it any longer . . . I fell down on my knees in the dirt and began to sob uncontrollably. My beloved son was dead, and there I was in the middle of an African jungle 8,000 miles from home and relatives. I felt so all alone. But when I started crying, the old man cocked his head in stunned amazement. He squatted down beside me and looked at me so intently. For a long time, he sat there listening to me cry. Then suddenly, he leaped to his feet and went running back up the trail through the jungle, screaming, again and again, at the top of his voice, “White man, white man—he cries like one of us.”

 

Max wrote about what happened next. “That evening as Harley and his wife grieved in their cottage, there was a knock at the door. Harley opened it. There stood the chief and almost every man, woman, and child in the village. They were back again the next Sunday and filled the chapel to overflowing. They wanted to hear about Jesus. Everything changed when the villagers saw the tears of the missionary. Everything changes when we see the face of God.”

 

Christmas is when we see the face of God. It celebrates the birth of Jesus, an ordinary yet extraordinary baby, born not in a palace of royalty, but the humbleness of a a stable.

 

Seeing the face of God is a big deal. A really big deal. If we go back and look in the Old Testament we find just how significant it is.

 

In the 33rd chapter of Exodus, we find God preparing the Hebrew people to enter the Holy Land. God has been speaking to Moses not only on Mt. Sinai where he gives him the 10 Commandments (twice!) but also in what is called the Tent of Meeting, a tent set up outside the camp where a pillar of cloud would appear at the entrance after Moses entered.

 

So God is giving Moses instructions. Moses asks God to go with the people, and God assures him that he will. Then we read of this exchange between Moses and God:

 

Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23)

 

Did you catch that? “…you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

 

God’s glory, God’s presence, is so holy, so powerful, that seeing God’s face would push humans beyond the ability to witness it and live. You’ve heard of people seeing things that are so shocking that they pass out, right? Can you imagine seeing something that is so powerful that it kills you?

 

And yet…

 

In a stable in Bethlehem, with no earthly fanfare, God’s face is seen for the first time. It comes to us as a baby boy. God puts on flesh and a face. God comes and dwells among us. The baby is Immanuel, God-with-us.

 

I think part of the challenge at for us as Christians living in the 21st century is in trying wrap our minds around what Christmas is really about, what the true meaning of Christmas is about.

 

We say it’s about the birth of Jesus, and that is right. But I think we miss the significance of that event.

 

Christmas has become so commercialized that the world seduces us into believing that it’s all about the giving and receiving of presents, that it’s about the decorations and parties and meals. In these respects Christmas takes on a life of its own, a personality of its own, one that is much, much different than God coming to earth in Bethlehem. And not only coming to earth, but doing so in such a humble way.

 

Let me show you something I ran across this past week. It’s a nativity scene that you can purchase. It sells for $109.99 on Amazon but hey, it qualifies for Amazon Prime free two day shipping.

 

It’s called the “Hipster Nativity Scene.”  Here, I’ll show you some close up photos of it. (Show photos.)

 

Set in our day today, it shows Joseph, with a man-bun, taking a selfie with Mary, who is holding a Starbucks coffee in one hand and holding up a peace sign with the other, while also showing “duck lips” for the photo. There are solar panels on top of the stable. The shepherd has an iphone or IPad with ear buds in his ears as he Snapchats news of the savior’s birth. The sheep is wearing a Christmas sweater and the cow has a sign saying “100% Organic” while eating “gluten-free feed.” The three wise men are on Segways holding boxes that say “Amazon Prime.”

 

I find this both funny and sad. It is funny in that it points out so many of stereotypes present in our society today. But it is sad in that it shows just how far from the true meaning of Christmas we have come. What’s possibly even worse is that it represents the theology of so many Christians today.

 

God has a face. God comes to earth. God walks among us, talks to us, teaches us, heals us, and offers us things that the world cannot give us. God gives us purpose and meaning for our lives. God gives us an example to follow in our interactions with others. God gives us hope when we think there is none. God offers us eternal life that defeats death and transcends time.

 

I think part of the problem with our perception of Jesus’ birth is that it has been cleaned up too much. Our society has removed the realism of it by making it an event where everything is perfect.

 

For example, one of the traditional Christmas Hymns is “Away in a Manger.” The lyrics of one of the verses says,

 

“The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

 

I am convinced that the writer of those lyrics went a little too far with the editorial license. When newborn babies wake up they cry. It’s what they do. They cry if they are hungry. They cry if they need a diaper change. They cry if they are gassy. It’s the way they communicate.

 

If Jesus was fully human when he was born, and I am convinced that he was, then there shouldn’t be lyrics in Christmas songs about how he doesn’t cry.

 

Here’s another example: “The Little Drummer Boy.” Now y’all know that I’m a drummer and I like drums, but this song makes no sense. The little drummer boy shows up to see baby Jesus and, because he is poor and has nothing to give the child, volunteers to play his drum for the baby. The lyrics say that “Mary nodded,” giving approval and permission for him to play.

 

Anyone who has ever had a newborn baby knows that song is a lie. When Pam had our girls, Sarah and Emily, the thought never entered my mind to play drums for them. I’m pretty sure if a kid showed up at our house wanting to play the drum for either of our newborn babies I’m pretty sure that Pam would have told him… well, I can’t really say that in this setting, but suffice it to say she would NOT have nodded yes.

 

The scripture we read today from Hebrews is not one we normally associate with Adent or even Christmas. But I think it is important and that it really does sum up accurately what the birth of Jesus Christ means.

 

Listen again to verse 15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

 

I think at the birth of Jesus we have focused too much on the divinity of Jesus instead of his humanness.

 

Jesus was born like all human babies. God came to earth not with a giant flash and special effects. He came to earth through the painful cries of a mother in labor. Andrew Peterson wrote a beautiful song titled “Labor of Love.” Here are some of the lyrics:

 

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyway that night
On the streets of David’s town


And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold.


It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love.

 

Jesus cried. Jesus spit up. Jesus needed his diaper changed. Jesus was just as human as any other baby.

 

Jesus was/is fully human and fully God. It wasn’t 50/50. It is 100/100. And while this isn’t humanly possible it certainly possible for God.

 

Remember verse 15 we read today? “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

 

Jesus’ humanness, his being fully human, means that he knows everything we go through. He knows about the temptations we face because he faced them as well. He was tested just as we are tested every day. The difference is that he didn’t sin. We do.

 

And because he didn’t sin, because he was perfect, it makes it even more amazing that he was willing to go to the cross to bear the sins of those of us who aren’t perfect.

 

So God does have a face. His name is Jesus. And because he came to earth and went to the cross, we have joy at Christmas because it leads to Easter.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to remember that God has a face. As we celebrate and shop and decorate may we never take our eyes of the fact that God has a face, the face of a baby born in Bethlehem. That is the real reason for the season. (And you can’t take a selfie with that.)

 

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

Run With the Horses: “The Potter”

Sermon Series on Run With the Horses: “The Potter”
A Message on Jeremiah 18:1-4

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 19, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Jeremiah 18:1-4 (NRSV)

 

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

 

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

 

When I was a kid I wasn’t very good at art. After a lot of hard work I finally could color within the lines, but that was about it. Even my stick figures looked bad.

 

My brother, Dalen, on the other hand, could draw anything. I’m talking like fine art stuff.

 

The only thing I felt even halfway skilled at (but still short of what I would consider competent) was sculpting with clay, or more often, Play-Doh. Now I was still light years from being able to sculpt like my brother, but when it came to art my sculpting was the best of my worst.

 

The trouble was that there was only one thing I could make: a dinosaur. Yep. That’s it. I couldn’t do a cow or a horse or dog or any animal that one could actually see, but I could do a dinosaur. A brontosaurus, to be exact.

 

I wondered if I could still do it, so this past week I went down to our Methodist Readiness School and asked to borrow some Play-Doh. I discovered that they make their own Play-Doh (which saves a lot of money) and they loaned me some. This is what it looks like. (Show picture.)

 

So I went back to my office and tried to made a dinosaur like I did when I was a kid. I discovered that my Play-Doh dinosaur making skills have not improved with time.

 

This is what I came up with. (Show picture.) Now I had to hurry and take this photo because the neck on my dinosaur wasn’t strong enough to hold up its head, and after just a few seconds the head drooped all the way to the table. It made the dinosaur look sad, like this. (Show picture.)

 

Pretty bad, huh? So I decided to just start all over. So I squished it down (Show picture) and started over. The second time around I got this. (Show photo of actual dinosaur display.)

 

No, not really. The second one would have looked just as bad as my first one. Now if my brother Dalen had done it, it would have looked like this. But mine didn’t.

 

My lack of skill in sculpting means that I am in awe with those who can actually do it, including potters.

 

Have you ever watched a potter at work? Someone who makes pottery sits at a wheel that spins around and by taking clay and placing it on the wheel they use their fingers and hands to form and shape the clay into what they want, maybe a bowl or a vase or a cup.

 

To me is mesmerizing. I love watching them do their work. They take what looks like mud, and when they are through and the pieced is hardened in the kiln then what results is really beautiful.

 

In the scripture we read from Jeremiah today we find Jeremiah being instructed by God to go down to watch the potter at work. He does, and while there he saw that the piece the potter was working on didn’t turn out right. Something went wrong with it. So the potter, instead of just throwing the clay away, he smashed it down and started working on it again.

 

The whole point of this was for God to show Jeremiah what was going to happen to the Hebrew people.

 

As we talked about last week the Hebrew people had drifted far away from following God. They still went through some of the motions of being the people of God such as going to Temple, but at the same time they led decadent lifestyles and worshipped other Gods, even to the point of sacrificing their own children.

 

Jeremiah and other prophets tried to convince them to change their evil ways, to turn from their sins and to follow the one true God.

 

After Jeremiah sees the potter with the messed up piece that is reworked into something else he tells Jeremiah this: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

 

Later on in verse 11 God tells Jeremiah to say to the people, “Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.”

 

Now there is rich symbolism in the metaphor of the potter.

 

First, let’s look at the raw product the potter uses. It’s clay. Mud. Earth. Dirt.

 

Marshall, Texas became somewhat famous for the pottery made there. There is still a Marshall Pottery company. And just outside of town is a creek named “Potter Creek” because that is where much of the clay came from to make the pottery.

 

Now referring to God’s people as clay has some very deep historical roots. If we go back to the second chapter of Genesis we find God creating humans. He takes dirt from the ground and breathes life into it to create man, whose name is Adam. Now the name Adam comes from the Hebrew word adamah, which means earth.

As humans we have a close connection to the earth. My dad, a lifelong gardener, has always said that there is something spiritual about getting our hands in the dirt. And I must say that of all the farmers I have met in my life (and I have met a lot of them) I have never run across one who was an atheist.

 

We are connected to the earth. Even at funerals we say, “This body we commit to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

 

So there is great symbolism in the clay that the potter uses.

 

There is also symbolism in the creative process. God is the great creator, who made not only heaven and earth and all of creation but humans as well. The Bible tells us that we are created in God’s image, and God is very creative!

 

I believe that God is creativity and that he works through painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, dancers, and writers. But I also believe God is the greatest creator, especially when I see something like all the millions of stars in a clear winter night sky or a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or taste a fresh peach or plum, or smell homemade bread cooking, or feel the hug of a family member or friend, or hear a mockingbird performing a repertoire of bird songs it has heard and learned to mimic.

 

I also believe that the potter and clay metaphor works well for reminding us of our purpose on earth.

 

There are some misconceptions about life. We often tell our children, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” That simply is not true.

 

As you can tell from my photos a little while ago I could not be a sculptor. It wouldn’t have mattered how hard I worked or studied or tried I would not have been successful as a sculptor. And that’s because God didn’t give me that talent or the ability to learn that talent.

 

Parker Palmer wrote a book years ago titled, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. In it he says, “Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. [Parker J. Palmer. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Kindle Locations 124-127). Kindle Edition.]

 

Now we can fight that. Because we have free will we can choose to try to be almost anything. But it is doubtful if we will be successful (using the Biblical definition) or find contentment doing it.

 

In other words, God the potter wants to make us into a cup, but we keep trying to be a bowl.

 

When you ask high school students what careers they want to have when the get older many of them will reply, “I don’t know, and I don’t really care as long as I can make a lot of money.”

 

If money is our main criteria in deciding a career then I predict and unhappy career. It’s not that there aren’t jobs and professions that pay well or that making money is a bad thing, but if it is your main motivational factor in choosing a career then the odds increase dramatically that unhappiness is on the horizon. There are a lot of wealthy yet unhappy people in the world.

 

As followers of Christ we should understand that God has a role for each of us to play in building his kingdom on earth. In the first scripture reading today from 2 Timothy 2:20-21 we heard Paul’s words: “In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.”

 

Now if we did what the Hebrew people did at the time of Jeremiah we may fight that and seek to do only what we want to do.

 

We create problems when we want to be the potter, not the clay. We want to make ourselves into vessels that we want to be, that the world tells us we ought to be.

 

The trouble is that we are not the potter, we are the clay. We should seek God’s will and be willing to be shaped and formed to the vessels he needs us to be for the work of his kingdom.

 

Now here’s another important aspect of pottery making that I think applies to our spiritual life. When the potter works and shapes the clay on the wheel, it is friction that brings it to shape.

 

The potter will often dip his/her hands in water to keep them moist and thus reduce friction, but the molding and shaping of the item takes place through physical friction. The clay is pulled up and out to take form. And once it takes form it has to go through the fire of the kiln before it can be useful.

 

Likewise in our spiritual lives it is during the tough times that we are molded and formed. When things are great we tend to forget about God. When times are tough we turn to God. I don’t believe God causes bad things to happen, but I believe he allows us to go through them to strengthen our faith. Years down the road we may be able to help someone else going through a similar situation, or be able to be compassionate and understanding toward someone else. We can be God’s vessels of grace and comfort for someone in need.

 

And going through the fire, going through those extremely difficult situations, can strengthen our faith and harden us against the things that draw us away from God.

 

Another thing I think Jeremiah’s description of the potter can teach us is that our God is the God of second chances.

 

When we make mistakes, when we mess up, God can renew us and make us into something better.

 

When the potter is working with the clay on the wheel and something happens and it doesn’t turn out like it’s supposed to, the potter and take the clay and start all over.

 

In a similar way God does the same with us. When we try to control our lives and form ourselves into what our own image is, and we fail, God can take what is left and form them into something completely different and something new. It may take some pulling and tugging, but if God is the potter and we are the clay we can become something better than we can imagine.

 

We can claim that promise because of Jesus Christ. Through his death and resurrection on the cross we are offered forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 

As Christians, as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are a new creation. We are renewed every day.

 

So my challenge to you this week is this: every time you use some type of pottery this week, whether it’s a coffee cup or a plate or a vase or whatever, remember Jeremiah at the potter’s house.

 

Remember that we come from the earth and will return to the earth. Therefore, let’s make every day count. Let us seek to do Kingdom things, not selfish, self-centered things.

 

Remember that God is the potter and we are the clay. He has a purpose for our life and as faithful followers of Jesus Christ we are to discern and fulfill that purpose.

 

Let God mold you and make you into the vessel he wants you to be. It may not be comfortable as he tugs and pulls and shapes you, but it will be worth it. Don’t try to mold yourself. Let God do it. He’s much better at it anyway!

 

And if you ever need someone to sculpt you a dinosaur out of Play-doh… I’ll call my brother.

 

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

Run With the Horses: “Don’t Believe the Lies”

Sermon Series on Run With the Horses: “Don’t Believe the Lies”
A Message on Jeremiah 7:1-4

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 19, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Jeremiah 7:1-4 (NRSV)

 

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

 

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

 

There once was a minister (not United Methodist) that told his congregation one Sunday, “Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17.”

The next Sunday, when it came time for the sermon, he asked the congregation members who had read the 17th chapter of Mark to raise their hands. Almost every hand went up. The minister smiled and said, “I see. Well, there are only sixteen chapters in the Gospel of Mark. So, I will now proceed with my sermon on the sin of lying.” [Source: http://www.beliefnet.com/followingjesus/features/top-christian-jokes.aspx?p=4#d1Fsqx5immyXamUf.99]

 

Today we’re going to talk about lying, but not so much about telling lies but in terms of believing lies.

 

Now you may be saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t need to hear this. I don’t believe lies.” Well now just hold on a minute. Because I think all of us do to some extent or another.

 

In the scripture we read today from Jeremiah we find God instructing Jeremiah to go stand at the gate at the temple and tell the folks going by, the ones heading to the temple, to not believe the lies that “This is the temple of the Lord. This is the temple of the Lord. This is the temple of the Lord.”

 

We need some background to help us understand what is going on. The Jewish people of the time were worshipping God in words only. And just because you say it doesn’t mean it’s true, right?

 

The Jewish society at the time wasn’t very serious about leading righteous and holy lives. Things had been good during that time. There was plenty of food, the economy was booming, things were good. And as is often the case, when things are good people forget about God.

 

That’s what had happened. Manasseh was the king when Jeremiah was very young, and as a leader he was bad. Real bad.

 

Here’s how Eugene Peterson describes him in his book, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best: “Manasseh was the worst king the Hebrews ever had. He was a thoroughly bad man presiding over a totally corrupt government. He reigned in Jerusalem for fifty-five years, a dark and evil half century. He encouraged a pagan worship that involved whole communities in sexual orgies. He installed cult prostitutes at shrines throughout the countryside. He imported wizards and sorcerers who enslaved the people in superstitions and manipulated them with their magic. The man could not do enough evil. There seemed to be no end to his barbarous cruelties. His capacity for inventing new forms of evil seemed bottomless. His appetite for the sordid was insatiable. One day he placed his son on the altar in some black and terrible ritual of witchcraft and burned him as an offering (2 Kings 21).”

 

That’s bad. You can read all about it in the 21st chapter of 2 Kings.

 

The temple, the holy place of the Jewish people, the place they believed that the Holy God resided on earth, was not immune to such depravity.

 

Again, Peterson describes it: “The great Solomonic temple in Jerusalem, resplendent in its holy simplicity, empty of any form of god so that the invisible God could be attended to in worship, swarmed with magicians and prostitutes. Idols shaped as beasts and monsters defiled the holy place. Lust and greed were deified. Murders were commonplace. Manasseh dragged the people into a mire far more stinking than anything the world had yet seen.”

 

Wow. So Manasseh was NOT a good king. But eventually he got old and died. As often was the case back then his son became King. Amon was his name. The people were watching to see if Amon was going to be different from his dad, but he wasn’t. He did the same evil things.

 

Well some of the people got upset about it and decided to act. Amon was king only two years before he was killed in a coup. After that, his son, Josiah, was named king, even though he was only 8 years old at the time.

 

But a strange thing happened. Josiah tried to do the right thing. Now there were people who opposed him, for sure, but as king he worked real hard to lead the people back to the only real God.

 

The first place he started was the temple. He kicked out all the pagan things and people and in the process, the priest found an old scroll over in a dusty corner. The scroll was what we know as the book of Deuteronomy, which talked about how to worship God as well as having instructions for moral living.

 

So Josiah, the good king, imposed more reforms based on the writing of the scrolls.

 

This is where Jeremiah comes in. Jeremiah received his calling when Josiah was king. And Jeremiah started helping in the reforms and we have several of his sermons in the book of Jeremiah that encourage people to turn from their evil ways and follow the true God.

 

The reforms happened, but the trouble was that for a lot of folks it was only skin deep. They created the impression on the surface that they were worshipping the true God, but the reality was that their hearts weren’t changed. They still surreptitiously worshipped the pagan gods and continued to do the evil things.

 

And yet on the sabbath they would come to the Temple, singing “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”

 

That’s where we find Jeremiah in the scripture we read today. Basically, Jeremiah tells them, “YOU LIE!”

 

They lie because they believe the lies that others are telling. They are believing the lies.

 

There are a lot of parallels between that time and the present day.

 

One is that we are followers of God on the surface only. We create a facade that we are followers of Jesus Christ, but deep down we not only sin but we like sinning. Our faith doesn’t go very deep. We don’t want the commitment that comes from being a true follower of Jesus Christ. It’s just too hard, to challenging, and moves us out of our comfort zones. And we want to be comfortable.

 

Another way I think society today is like the Hebrew people at the time of Jeremiah, we too listen to and believe the lies.

 

Here are some of the lies that I think we believe today.

 

“It’s all about me. I should put myself at the top of my priority list.”

 

“Greed is good.”

 

“The busier you are, the more important you are.”

 

“Work is more important than family.”

 

“Your self worth is based on how many people follow you on social media.”

 

“Image is everything.”

 

“You have to drink alcohol if your want to be cool.”

 

“You should look just like the model on this magazine cover/in this movie.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with premarital sex.”

 

“Truth is relative.”

 

“Religion isn’t important.”

 

Get the idea? We are bombarded with lies everyday and too often we believe them. And if we are really honest with ourselves, we believe so many of them because we want to believe them.

 

We want to believe the lies. We don’t want to believe Jesus.

 

Jesus tells us to leave the 99 sheep to go look for the one that is lost.

 

Jesus tells us that in order to be the greatest you must be a servant to all.

 

Jesus tells us that as we do to the least in our society we do to him.

 

Jesus tells us that where our treasure is there our heart will be also.

 

Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to forgive those who wrong us, to give to everyone who begs of us, to love others as ourselves, to love God with all that we are and have, and that through death comes resurrection.

 

Those aren’t lies. Those are truths. They’re hard. They’re difficult. But they are truths.

 

As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be Jeremiahs in today’s world. We are called to call out the lies, to proclaim the truth, not just in the words we say but in the way we live as well.

 

It’s not easy. It’s not pleasant sometimes. And everything we do and say needs to be done in love. But that is what we are called to do.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be a Jeremiah. Don’t believe the lies. Instead tell and show others the truth. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

 

Now for next week be sure and read the 17th chapter of Mark.

 

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

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Generosity”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Generosity”
A Message on Acts 20:32-35

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 15, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Acts 20:32-35

 

32 And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. 35 In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

 

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

 

Once there was a little boy who attended church with his mother. She gave the boy a dollar bill and instructed him to put it in the offering plate when it came by. Later on in the service the plate came down the aisle and stopped in front of the boy. He was holding the dollar over the plate but the mom could tell that he didn’t want to let go of it. She leaned over to him and said, “Drop that dollar bill. It’s tainted.” The boy reluctantly obeyed and dropped the dollar in the plate.

 

Later the boy asked his mom, “Why was that money tainted? Did you mean it was dirty?”

 

“No,” the mother replied. “I said that because that dollar ‘taint yours and it ‘taint mine, it’s God’s.”

 

Today is commitment Sunday, where we are asked to turn in our pledge cards with an estimate of our giving for the coming year so that we can prepare a budget for the coming year.

 

When it comes to giving to the church we are sometimes like that little boy: we are reluctant to let go of the dollars. We forget to remind ourselves that our money really “‘taint” ours anyway, but God’s.

 

We are concluding our sermon series on Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, written by Adam Hamilton, and today we’re going to look at the subject of generosity.

 

In the scripture from Acts that we read today we find Paul talking to the elders in the city of Ephesus. He is saying his goodbyes to them because he knows that he will never see them again. And as part of his parting speech he gives them some advice: financially support those who are unable to support themselves, the weak in their society.

 

And then he quotes Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than receive.”

 

Now some critics of the Bible will point out that none of the gospels in the Bible quote Jesus as saying that. But we have to remember that the gospel writers didn’t write down every single word that Jesus said, so it is very likely that Jesus did say that but that the gospel writers just failed to write it down. Nonetheless, Paul says Jesus said it, and that’s good enough for me.

 

It really is more blessed to give than receive, isn’t it? Don’t we feel good when we give someone a gift that they appreciate. Sure, it’s great to get gifts, too, but if you really want to warm your heart give someone to someone else.

 

Adam Hamilton points out in his book an experience he had when he and his family celebrated his birthday by going camping in the Teton mountains near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The had arrived at their destination and went into the town of Jackson Hole. He gave each of his daughters $20 to spend and emphasized to them that was all they were going to receive and to spend it wisely.

 

Well it wasn’t long until one of his daughters, Rebecca, found a baseball cap she really liked. She asked her dad what he thought of it, and he said he liked it but tried to talk her into postponing the purchase until they looked in some other shops because she might find something she liked better. She said she didn’t care, that she wanted that cap and that she wouldn’t want anything else.

 

So she bought the cap. They finished their shopping, took a walk around a lake, and then sat down on a picnic bench to watch the sunset. It was at that moment that Rebecca took out the cap she had bought, gave it to her dad, and said, “Daddy, I bought this for you. I love you. Happy birthday.”

 

Rebecca had taken the money that her father had given her and used it not on herself, but to buy her dad a present.

 

That, folks, is generosity.

 

Let me give you another example, one that I know personally. Pat Morchat and her husband Art are friends of ours who live up near Kilgore. We attended church at St. Luke’s in Kilgore together before I went into the ministry.

 

Pat is always a joy. She taught art at the high school (she is retired now) and is quite the artist herself. She has a great sense of humor and is very charming.

 

This past year another member of that church, Wilbur Yates, had some serious health problems. His kidneys weren’t working properly and he became a candidate for a transplant.

 

Pat had heard of Wilbur’s situation during a couple of church services last fall and felt that she needed to do something, but she didn’t. After the second mention she turned to her husband Art and told him, “I KNOW I’m a match for him.” But still she was hesitant to do anything about it

 

After a few weeks the Christmas movies started playing, telling of the life of Jesus Christ. Pat found it very difficult to watch them. This is what she wrote in a letter:

 

“I told Art to turn them off, especially when ‘The Passion’ was played. I remember crying as I watched Jesus being tortured and beaten and just so horribly abused. I asked myself then, crying so hard, if God let this happen to his Son for us, how could I not give a kidney to another child of God who needed help.”

 

Pat started the donor process a few weeks later. It took until June of this year for it to be finalized.

 

Pat was a match. And so the day of surgery was set, and on Wednesday, July 5 of this year the doctors took one of Pat’s perfectly healthy kidneys and surgically implanted it into Wilbur. And it worked.

 

Her friends celebrated by having a “going away” party for her kidney,  complete with a “Hello Kidney” cake and cans of kidney beans.

 

Now I don’t know how much human anatomy you may know but the kidneys are deep in the middle of our bodies. There’s no easy way for doctors to get there. As a result, recovery is painful and takes quite a while.

 

And yet this woman was willing to go through all of that just to give someone else the possibility of leading a normal life. That, friends, is generosity.

 

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, knew about generosity. John made quite a bit of money in his day, often from the sales of his books. (One of his best sellers was Primitive Physic, a guide containing home remedies for physical ailments.)

 

And John gave almost all of it away. Not 10 percent, but almost all of it.

 

In his sermon on “The Use of Money,” he asks Christians to remember that God “placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward.”

Wesley was very frugal. He didn’t believe in having a bunch of fancy furniture. He offered suggestions of how much meat to have a day, about six ounces if I remember correctly. (That’s per day, not per meal!) Simple meats, vegetables, and fruits were his preference for meals, and only water to drink.

 

When he’s talking about clothing, he doesn’t mean a trip to the mall with the charge card. He believed in plain, simple clothing, and later in his life even expressed regrets that he didn’t come up with a dress code for Methodists.

 

Some of you may not know this but Wesley believed it was healthy to take cold baths. Yep. Cold baths. He said it was for health reasons, and that may be true, but I believe that’s only part of the story. I think he took cold baths because by doing so it saved on the purchase of coal, which was burned to heat the water. And by saving money on coal, he had more he could give to the poor. Which he did.

 

The Bible is very clear that we are to generous. Listen to these words from 2 Corinthians: “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us…” (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

 

In Proverbs we read, “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

In our culture we have a problem with possessions. We want them, and when we get them we hang on tightly to them. They are ours. We become like a two-year-old with a toy, gripping it tightly and screaming, “MINE!”

 

We forget that we are only passing through this world. We’re renters in this world. We can’t take it with us.

 

We are reminded of who the ultimate owner really is in this scripture from the Old Testament: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23)

Here are some other scriptures about generosity: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

“…give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)

Even outside the Bible we can find some good theology about generosity. There is even a bumper sticker that says, “Tithe if you love Jesus. Anyone can honk.”

When it comes to giving to God it often feels like we are swimming against the strong current of or society. Society wants us to focus on the “me,” while God wants us to focus on “Thee.” We think about being generous, but then we come up with excuses as to why we can’t just now. And what God gets are then whatever we might have left over, and usually that’s not very much if any at all.

 

In his book Adam Hamilton uses an illustration created by David Slagle, pastor of Veritas Church in Decatur, Georgia, that is a great way to look at this phenomenon.

 

Let’s imagine that God has given us ten apples, which represent our wealth or income. God tells us that nine of these apples are ours to enjoy. We are to use some to care for ourselves and for our families, some to save for retirement, and some to give away to others. But the tenth apple is holy to God. Giving this apple to God first, before we consume the other nine apples, is a way for us to express praise, love, obedience, faithfulness, worship, and devotion to God. This also serves to supply the resources for God’s purposes to be accomplished in the world through God’s church.

 

Slagle then notes that our lifestyles are such that, for many of us, nine apples are not enough anymore. We think, How can I pay the bills and have all the stuff I want with just nine apples? So we decide the Lord will not mind if we take just a little bit of his apple. After all, there’s that trip we want to take, and it’s really important. So we take a bite out of God’s apple—the one that is holy to God and meant to be used for God’s purposes. The Lord will understand, we think. Then Christmas comes and we don’t have enough money for all the presents we want to buy, so we take another bite out of God’s apple. One day a medical emergency catches us by surprise. Because we didn’t set aside money in an emergency fund, we must take another bite from God’s apple. Buying a new car, eating out, spending on this or that—each expense takes a bite out of the apple that belongs to God. Soon all that is left is the core. So we give the core to God and say, “Here’s your portion, Lord.” God receives not our first fruits or our best gifts, but our leftovers.

 

What we give to God should not be leftovers. When we think of God’s generosity toward us, that Jesus Christ, his only son, died on the cross as atonement for our sins and to give us eternity in heaven, then God deserves the best we have to give.

 

God looks at our offerings differently than we do. For God they “are not financial transactions or business deals. Your offerings are a way of saying, ‘God, I’m returning to you a portion of what I have and what I’ve earned to say thank you and I love you. I hope you’ll use this somehow to make a difference in the world.’”

In just a moment we are going to come down to the altar and turn in our pledge cards and ministry menus. My challenge to you this week is to prayerfully search your heart and soul before you place your envelope in the basket. Pledge what God leads you to pledge.

 

God wants you to give “as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

 

Sarah Hugghins, our financial secretary, will probably kill me for this, but I don’t want you to pledge anything that God is not guiding you to give. If you don’t believe Paul’s words that it is more blessed to give than receive then turn in a pledge sheet with $0 written on it. And I’m serious.

 

I am also confident that won’t be the case. Let us be generous givers, and let us receive a blessing for giving.

 

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

 

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Contentment”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Contentment”
A Message on Philippians 4:11-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 15, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Philippians 4:11-13

 

11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><.

 

Years ago when Pam and I were newlyweds we used to go camping. We had a tent and we would go find a state park and camp. It was fun and we enjoyed it.

 

One of the things that amazed me when we got back home from tent camping was how LARGE our house seemed! It was AWESOME! And we had running water… in more than one place! And bathrooms that we didn’t have to walk down a path to! That was great as well! And we had AIR CONDITIONING! Oh man, that was awesome! And a refrigerator instead of an ice chest! How cool was that!

 

I always felt a little guilty during those moments of realization because I knew that most of the time I just took those things for granted. For a few weeks afterward I was very content with our house. But as time passed that feeling of contentment went away, replaced by a desire to have something different than what we had.

 

Contentment. It’s not a characteristic held in esteem by our society. It is overwhelmed by a society that emphases mass consumption of items, a society that tells us our self worth is determined by how many of the latest and greatest “things” we own. We become rats in the rat race, wearing ourselves out and going into debt both financially and spiritually as we compete with others in the never ending pursuit of the ever elusive cheese.

 

In the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the church members at Philippi we find the Apostle talking about contentment.  He writes, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.”

 

If we go back and study the life of Paul this statement increases in significance. We have to remember that Paul was a Pharisee, one of the top people in Jewish society. They were the not only the religious leaders of the day but also the top civil authorities. Now the Romans had military control of the Holy Land but they allowed the Jewish form of government pretty much alone to keep the population under control. As long as the taxes to Caesar kept coming in and there was no uprising, things were good.

 

Paul, being a Pharisee, would have lived in the nicest of houses in the best neighborhood. He would have had the finest clothing to wear, feasted on plenty of the best food, and would be held in such esteem that when he walked down the street people would get out of the way to make a path for him. He was SOMEbody.

 

So he knew what life was like at the top of the social ladder. And it was good!

 

But then he had the “Road to Damascus” experience where Jesus got ahold of him. He went from persecuting the followers of Christ to being one of the leaders of the movement. He gave up everything, literally, in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

He went from the top of the social ladder to the bottom. He went hungry. He was beat up numerous times, thrown in prison and put in chains, and even stoned so severely that the people doing the stoning thought he was dead!

 

So when he says he knows what it is to have little, and knows what it is to have plenty, he knows what he’s talking about because he has experienced both extremes. And he says he has learned how to be content regardless of the situation.

 

Now I don’t know about you, the I think it would be hard to be content when you are physically beaten up and then locked into shackles in a prison without committing a crime. But Paul was. He found contentment.

 

So what is it about human nature that keeps us from being content?

 

I think it’s just part of our sinful nature. The last of the 10 Commandments talks about a cousin of discontent: coveting. Coveting is seeing something that belongs to someone else and wanting it for yourself. The commandment tells us, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

 

But it’s so easy to covet, isn’t it? I know I’m guilty of it. I’ll see a nice, 4-wheel drive pickup and think, “Oh man, I’d like to have that! That would be awesome for carrying my kayak to the lake to go fishing in!”

 

Or a bass boat. Yeah, a nice bass boat, I dunno, maybe say something like a 2018 Skeeter FX 21 foot bass boat with a Yamaha V MAX SHO® VF25O engine with a foot throttle and pro trim as well as tilt hydraulic steering, dual power poles, and a Minn Kota® Fortrex 112 Trolling Motor, and with a Lowrance Carbon 12 Touch-Graph fish finder in the dash as well as a Lowrance Carbon 9 Touch Graph at the bow! Arg, arg, arg…

 

It’s easy to get caught up in that, isn’t it? I think part of the reason is that the world of advertising plays on our emotions to try to get us to purchase things. We participate in the “If only…” game. “If only we had a bigger house.” “If only I looked like ______ (fill in the blank with a movie star or celebrity. By the way, I want to look like J.J. Watt. Just sayin…) my spouse would love me more.” You get the idea.

 

The “If only…” game is the opposite of contentment. You can’t play the game and be content. It’s one or the other.

 

In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (ESV)

 

In his book, Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, Adam Hamilton points out four keys to cultivating contentment based on the scripture we read today.

 

The first is this: “Four Words to Repeat: ‘It Could Be Worse.” I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “Young Frankenstein” where things are going wrong for Dr. Frankenstein (“That’s Fronk-en-steen”) and Igor (“That’s Eye-gore”). Dr. Frankenstein makes a comment on how bad things are. Igor responds with, “It could be worse.” Dr. Frankenstein replies, “How in the world could it be worse,” to which Igor says, “It could be raining.” And of course, immediately after saying those words, it begins to rain.

 

I Timothy 6:6-8 says, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”

 

Food and clothing. Paul is talking about the bare basics. And notice he doesn’t say shelter. Paul suggests that if you only have the basics of physical needs you have enough to be content. And he doesn’t mean designer clothes and gourmet meals, but simple clothes and food, the bottom layer on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

 

“It could be worse.” No matter how bad you think things are for you, there is always someone else that have things worse. The fact that all of us can walk to the sink and get a drink of clean water means that we can do what 783 million people–basically one in every nine people–cannot do because they don’t have access to safe drinking water. (Source: The Water Project)

 

Keeping things in perspective and being aware of those who do not have what we take for granted everyday can help us not only to be content, but to use what we have to improve the lives of others.

 

The second is to ask yourself, “For how long will this make me happy?” How many of you have bought something, thinking it will make you happy, only to realize after a period of time that it doesn’t. I think a good example of this is when we buy little children expensive toys for their birthday or Christmas, and they end up playing with the box it came in more than the toy. Today’s newest smartphone (by the way, Apple is coming out with the iPhone X which costs $1,000) is usually replaced by a newer better model every six months to a year. “Things” don’t make us happy. “Things” CAN’T make us happy.

 

In Matthew 6:20-21 Jesus says, “…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust  consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)

 

Our treasure should be in heaven, not in “things.”

 

The third is an important one: Develop a grateful heart. This is something that is absolutely essential in order to have contentment. Over in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul writes that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” This is easier said than done, but an integral part of contentment.

 

If we are truly thankful for all the things we DO have, we find that we don’t focus on things we DON’T have.

 

In the fall of 1942 World War I pilot and ace Eddie Rickenbacker was sent on a mission to inspect the air force facilities in the Pacific and deliver a secret message to Lt. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Their plane became lost over the Pacific and they had to ditch. The seven men floated in the ocean in three life rafts, dehydrated and starving. Then on the eighth day, about an hour after they had held a prayer meeting in the raft, something really weird happened. Mysteriously a seagull flew down and landed on Eddie’s head. He quickly reached up and grabbed the gull. It was quickly dispatched and the starving and thirsty men ate it and used parts of it for bait to catch fish, which they also ate. They were lost at sea for 24 days before they were rescued. One of their group perished during the ordeal.

Rickenbacker said that after that experience he never again took a glass of water for granted. He was thankful and grateful for drinking water the rest of his life. And, according to some web sites, once a week he would walk down to the beach with a bucket of shrimp and toss them one by one to the seagulls. He had a grateful heart not only to God, but also to seagulls, especially the one that sacrificed its life so he and the others could live.

 

Gratitude leads to contentment.

 

The fourth key to cultivating contentment is what Hamilton refers to as “Where does your soul find true satisfaction?”

 

Blaise Paschal, a theologian and mathematician that lived in the 17th century, described humans as having a God-shaped hole in our souls. We have a yearning to fill that hole and we try to fill it with worldly things, only to find that it doesn’t work. Only in God can we find what our souls long for.

 

Saint Augustine once said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

 

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

 

There are many things we try to substitute for God: work, hobbies, money, possessions, alcohol, sex, drugs, the Internet, sports, etc. But they all fall short.

 

When the first priority in our life is God and when we lead active spiritual lives, practicing spiritual disciplines that produce spiritual fruit, we find contentment. We fill that God-shaped hole.

 

Just as Pam and I found contentment in things like running water and air conditioning after tent camping, most people in this world can be divided into two “tents.” One is con-TENT-ment, and the other is “discon-TENT-ment.”

 

Those who live in “discon-TENT-ment” seek to find meaning and significance in the things of the world.

 

Those who live in “con-TENT-ment” know that “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” They look to God as the source of all things in life, they give thanks for the things they do have and fight against coveting things they don’t have. They have a Biblical perspective about money and are generous in giving the first fruits, not the leftovers.

 

So my challenge to you today is to examine which tent you live in. Are you in the tent of “discon-TENT-ment” and seek after worldly things, or are you in the tent of “con-TENT-ment” looking to God as the top of their priority list and seeking treasures in heaven?

 

I don’t think Jesus willingly went to the cross and died for our sins so that we could seek after worldly things. I know what tent he would want us to live in.

 

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

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Treasure”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Treasure”
A Message on Luke 12:22-34

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 8, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 12:22-34

 

22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the  kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><.

 

As a kid growing up I didn’t watch much television. One of the reasons was for for a several year period the TV we had didn’t work and we just didn’t get if fixed. I don’t remember what we did for entertainment during those years but it must have not been too bad because all six of us kids survived.

 

When we did have a television that worked it was sketchy what we could pick up. Delta County is not located real close to a metropolitan area where the tv signals originate. We had to have a tall antenna and a “booster” and even then we could pick up three and maybe four channels. (No satellite tv back in those days, young folks. And no remote controls, either. You had to get up and walk to the tv to change the channel or the volume… or the tint.)

 

One of the shows we could get from time to time and that we watched some was “Let’s Make a Deal” with Monty Hall. The concept was simple, the audience dressed in crazy costumes and then were selected as contestants. Then they would be offered something of value and then would be given the chance to trade in that item for something behind one of three big closed doors without being able to see what was behind each one.

 

It might be a nice trip, or it might be a car, or it might be something worthless, which was called a “zonk.”

 

I remember on one episode someone decided to trade what they had for what was behind a curtain that they had picked. After much fanfare when the curtain was opened there was a donkey wearing a straw hat (with holes cut out for its ears) standing there. The music of the show played that “Woh, Woh, Woh” song and the people were so upset and sad because they won the donkey instead of a car or a trip or something more valuable.

 

Now as a kid I thought a donkey was a great prize! We had cows, we had horses, and we even had a pig for a while (before it ended up in the freezer) but we didn’t have a donkey, especially one with a straw hat! That would be awesome to have!

 

I couldn’t understand why the people weren’t thrilled to have a donkey! Why, having a donkey is a much better prize than a stupid trip to somewhere or even a car, right? Especially a donkey that would wear a hat!

 

For me and my brothers, a donkey was a treasure. A trip or car, not so much.

 

Treasure is in the eye of the beholder, right?

 

Today as we continue through the book Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity by Adam Hamilton, we’re going to talk about treasure.

 

The author of the Gospel of Luke talks about treasure in the scripture we read today. In it Luke quotes Jesus as telling his followers not to spend time and energy worrying about the things of this world, but to instead focus on things of heaven. If we will focus on the things of heaven then God will make sure to take care of the earthly things we need. Our “treasure” should be the things of heaven, not the things of this world.

 

It’s a simple concept but one that is hard to live out. I think part of the struggle comes because our society tries to brainwash us into believing that our value as human beings comes from us being consumers and collectors of “things.”

 

Adam Hamilton talks about this in the second chapter of his book. “What is your life about? Why do you exist? Do you exist simply to consume as much as you can and get as much pleasure as you can while you are here on this earth, or do you have a higher purpose? How do you understand your life purpose—your vision or mission or calling?”

 

We all have a purpose in this world. When we prayerfully discern that purpose we find that it has little to nothing to do with following the ways of the world, but instead true meaning and purpose can only be found in God.

 

Here’s how Hamilton puts it. “We were created to care for God’s creation. We were created to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We were created to care for our families and those in need. We were created to glorify God, to seek justice, and to do mercy. To be a Christian is to follow Jesus Christ and to seek to do his will in our lives. It is to say,’Here I am, all of me! I’m yours. Put me to work, help me serve, use me to accomplish your work.’

 

Hamilton gives an example of this in his book. He talks about a 19-year-old man named Johnny who worked in a grocery store. Johnny also has Down Syndrome.

 

One day a motivational speaker came and spoke to the grocery store employees about how what they did was more than just providing people with groceries. She told them that every person they came into contact with at the store was “an opportunity to bless someone, to live out a higher calling or mission.”

 

Johnny took those words to heart. Each night he would get in the Internet and look for inspirational sayings. He would pick one, copy it many times on a page, and then would print out that page and then cut the paper in strips, each with the saying. He would make 300 of them each night.

 

Then the next day at the grocery store he would place one of those slips of paper in the bag of a customer as he bagged their groceries. Then he would tell them, “I put a saying in your bag. I hope it helps you have a good day. Thanks for coming here.”

 

After a while the management started noticing something. The line at the register where Johnny sacked groceries was longer than the other lines. Sometimes other registers would be wide open with no customers and yet there would be a line at Johnny’s register. The management could come on the PA system and announce that there was no waiting on register so-and-so but people wouldn’t move. They wanted Johnny’s line. They treasured his slips of paper and his interacting with them.

 

Hamilton sums it up this way: “Each of us is called to be a blessing to others. We have a life purpose that is greater than our own self-interests, and how we spend our God-given resources reflects our understanding and commitment to this life purpose or mission.”

 

Here’s how The Message paraphrases Luke 12:26-32, “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.”

 

Now we can say, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. I’m going to do that.” But the probabilities are very high that if you don’t have a plan it won’t happen.

 

Hamilton offers a simple six-step plan designed to change our focus from the treasures of the world to the treasures of heaven. They are six key financial principles. Here they are:

 

  1. Pay your tithes and offering first. Now no, I’m not going to be like some of those televangelists that tell you if you give money to the church you God will bless you with a new car or a bigger house. Hamilton is not saying that, either. He is point out that if God really is the top priority in our lives then we should move or tithes and offering to the top of the list of where our money goes. Tithing and offering shouldn’t be given from whatever is “left over” at the end of the month, but the top item on the “to be paid” list.
  2. Create a budget and track your expenses. Back in the “old days” this took quite a bit of effort to reconcile the checkbook, go through receipts, and calculate what you spent on what. But guess what? Technology today makes it extremely easy to budget. My brother told me about a free software called “Mint” that connects with your bank account electronically and makes it a breeze to not only reconcile your accounts, but also it tracks your spending for you. You can even set it up to send you text and email notifications if you are getting close to going over you budget in a certain category. And when tax time rolls around it’s great at collecting all your expenses you can count as deductions. (Note: I am not a paid spokesperson for Mint, but I do use their product. I’m sure there are others out there that can do the same thing.)
  3. Simplify your lifestyle (Live below your means). This should be a no-brainer but unfortunately the seductiveness of the world can lead us down a path to where before we realize it we are spending more than we earn. We can’t financially support God’s work in this world if we spend more than we earn.
  4. Establish an emergency fund. Hamilton borrowed this (and many of these financial concepts) from Dave Ramsey, who has been extremely successful in introducing people to the financial practices of our grandparents and great grandparents that they learned during the tough times of the depression. (All of you here are much too young to remember the Great Depression, I am sure.) Ramsey says to start an emergency fund that is separate from your checking and savings accounts. Begin with $1,000 (or build up to it) and then keep adding to it until you have three months’ worth of income. Then leave it alone. Only spend it on emergencies. (A vacation trip to Hawaii is not an emergency, by the way.)
  5. Pay off credit cards, use cash/debit cards for purchases, and use credit wisely. Yes, it seem like this is an overwhelming task, depending on how much you owe, but you can do it, and the quicker the better. Hamilton points out in the first chapter of his book that most credit cards require only a minimum payment of 2 percent of the balance. If you think you can pay off the balance by making the minimum payments you are mistaken. He give the example that if you have a credit card balance of $9,000 and if the card requires a 2 percent minimum payment and charges 18 percent interest, that if you don’t add any other charges to that card and make the minimum payments it will take you 240 years to pay it off. Quit using the card, make double or triple the minimum payments, and put any extra money you have toward paying off that credit card debt.
  6. Practice long-term savings and investing habits. Hamilton points out that we should have three types of savings: 1. Emergency savings (see above), 2. Savings for wants and goals; and 3. Retirement savings. He says that saving money is the number-one wise money management principle everyone should practice. He also cautions against saving as a way of “hoarding” money. Don’t become a lover of money and turn into an Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

As we talked about last week, money itself is neither good nor bad. It is our attitude about money that we must be cautious about. Jesus talks about treasure in the scripture we read today from Luke and tells us that our where our treasure is that our hearts will be there as well.

 

Where is your treasure? Where is your heart?

 

As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to remember the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross. Because Jesus, who was/is fully human and fully divine, willingly allowed himself to be beaten and crucified, we are offered the greatest treasure ever: forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. Through our faith we accept this treasure offered to us by God and thus receive the promise of eternal life in a place that is perfect.

 

What a great treasure. How much more valuable is salvation than anything this world can offer?

 

My challenge to you this week is to ask yourself daily where your treasure is? Is it with things of heaven, or with things of earth? Practice these six financial principles in your life that Adam Hamilton recommends, not out of greed but so that you can financially support the things of heaven.

 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

And if you’re on a game show and you win a donkey wearing a hat, and you don’t want it, let me know.

 

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